I get a kick out of language and the humorous side of difficult situations. Since we are currently watching and waiting to see what Hurricane Dorian is going to do, this is a perfect time to look at all the catch phrases that leap out of our mouths when a really bad storm is threatening our way of life.
I don’t know how many times I’m encouraged to “batten down the hatches,” “hunker down,” and “ride out the storm.” Last I checked, hurricanes aren’t horses. I’m not sure I can hunker in a wheelchair. I’m pretty sure I don’t have any hatches to batten down, and I am not sure how to go about battening down anything, much less a hatch. Despite my asking people what this means, I have so far garnered only puzzled looks from the speakers of these phrases. They are as clueless as I am, so I decided to do some research in between the battening time and the hunkering time.
Now I know the phrase “batten down the hatches” is a nautical one. According to the Oxford dictionary, it refers to securing a ship’s hatch-tarpaulins in preparation for a storm. So when a storm threatens, everyone in the US, including those in landlocked states, turn into a bunch of shipmates, using nautical terminology that otherwise stays locked away in Davy Jones’s locker (Google this if you don’t know what Davy Jones’s locker is. I don’t have time to explain jokes while I’m preparing to hunker down. Hint: It has nothing to do with a late British pop star of Monkees fame.). I’m rather surprised we don’t go buy macaws to sit on our shoulders and start sprinkling our conversations with outcries of “har!” and “ahoy!”
So once we’ve battened down our hatches, we have to await the arrival of bad weather so we can start hunkering down. One definition of hunkering is to squat or crouch down low.” I know I can’t do that so I will have to improvise in my wheelchair. Another definition is to “apply oneself seriously to a task.” College students, when someone tells you to hunker down, this is what they mean: “Study hard and don’t waste that money I’ve spent a lifetime saving!”
If you’re going through a bad storm, you need to crouch in a defensive position. Face it, you’ll be better prepared to bend over a little farther and kiss your arse goodbye, which is particularly appropriate if you’re in the path of a Category 5 hurricane.
Now that we’ve battened down our hatches and are prepared to hunker down, we just have to “ride out the storm.” This idiom is explained by the Cambridge Dictionary thus:
ride (out) the storm. to manage not to be destroyed, harmed, or permanently affected by the difficult situation you experience: The government seems confident that it will ride out the storm.
What is particularly disconcerting about this definition is their example of usage about the government. I’m not so confident that our country will not be permanently affected by our current administration. Nor am I confident that we will all ride out Hurricane Dorian without being permanently affected. At least one family in the Bahamas will certainly be permanently affected by the storm. Their seven-year old boy has drowned.
So while we bandy about these otherwise unused phrases, let us pray for those who are already being adversely impacted by the storm, figuratively and literally. Peace be to all and mercy.