Nautical Term/Phrase Wednesday: To The Bitter End

to finish no matter what obstacles or cost

1867 Smyth Sailor’s Word-bk. pg. 103 A ship is ‘brought up to a bitter’ when the cable is allowed to run out to that stop. When a chain or rope is paid out to the bitter-end, no more remains to be let go…”

From another site on the great big web dedicated to nautical phrases

The end of the anchor line secured to a sturdy post on the deck called a bitt. The line was paid out in order to set the anchor. However, if the water was deeper than anticipated the rope would pay out to the bitter end . . . ooops.

The “bitter end” of any line is the loose, unsecured end.

“Meanwhile the bosun and his mates, together with the most experienced forecastle hands and tierers, roused out the best cable the Diane possessed, the most nearly new and unfrayed, a seventeen-inch cable that they turned end for end – no small undertaking in that confined space, since it weighed three and a half tons – and bent it to the best bower anchor by the wholly unworn end that had always been abaft the bitts: the bitter end. There was thought to be good luck attached to the bitter end, as well as greater strength.”

[Patrick O’Brian, The Thirteen Gun Salute, p. 299]

Dr. M (1729 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, a National Science Foundation supported initiative. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (, a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web. His forthcoming book, Science of the South (, connects cultural icons of South such as pecan pie with the science behind them.