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[1350–1400; Middle English < Latin]


batten down the hatches To prepare for adversity, to ready one’s defenses. The expression is of nautical origin: battens are narrow strips of wood nailed down to secure the edges of the tarpaulin over the hatchways during rough weather at sea. The phrase is commonly used figuratively for the precautions necessary to prepare a dwelling against a literal storm of any sort; and by further extension, to take defensive precautions when faced with any upcoming trial or ordeal.

boots and saddle A U. S. Army bugle call for mounted drill and formation. This expression denoting a cavalry trumpet sound is a corruption of the French boutes la selle ‘put on the saddle,’ and consequently has no semantic relationship with boots. However, since boots are logically associated with horsemen, whether cavalry or cowboys, boots and saddle has come to carry connotations of the American West more than of the military.

get one-self in gear To ready one-self to take whatever action is necessary; to stop lazing about and get ready to go. This expression may derive from the use of gear. as in put in gear, gear up. or get in gear. all of which in literal use refer to the harnessing of an animal. Another possibility is a more modern use of gear. In this latter sense, in gear applies to the state of parts in which they are connected or meshed with each other. Both possibilities involve the idea of preparation and are plausible explanations for the current use of get one-self in gear. A variant expression is gear one-self up which refers to preparing one-self psychologically, or psyching one-self up to do something demanding or distasteful.

get up steam To get up energy, gear one-self up, psych one-self up, motivate one-self. The allusion is to the steam-operated engines formerly used to propel riverboats and locomotives. These engines were powered by boiler-generated steam, a certain amount of which had to be produced before the boat or locomotive could begin moving forward. Because of its use as a power source for engines, steam has come to be used

figuratively to mean energy, vigor, drive. The expression appeared in Francis Francis Jr.’s Saddle and Mocassin (1887):

“And he [the bull] came for you?”

“When he got up the steam he did.”

gird up one’s loins To prime one-self for a test of endurance or preparedness; to ready one-self for scrutiny. The expression appears in Proverbs 31:17:

She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.

The phrase may have derived from the loose-fitting clothes of ancient people, which needed to be tucked in or “girdled,” usually about the loins, in preparation for work.

It was necessary, therefore, to gird up our loins and walk. (Leitch Ritchie, Wanderings by the Loire. 1833)

The expression is the literary equivalent of the modern get psyched up. a colloquialism for putting one-self into a state of readiness.

grit one’s teeth To steel one-self to do what has to be done, to ready one-self for an unpleasant task or experience; to clench or grind one’s teeth in anger or determination; also to set one’s teeth. This expression, which dates from the late 18th century, is an allusion to the involuntary, reflexive clenching of one’s teeth in moments of extreme anger or stress.

The duellist gritted his teeth as he cocked the gun a second time. (The Southern Literary Messenger. 1840)

pave the way To prepare the way for, to lead up to; to smooth the way, to facilitate or make easier; to be the first step toward. Literal paved roads are, of course, much smoother to travel on than those of dirt and gravel. A variant of the expression was in use as early as the 16th century.

It was Einstein who paved the way for the big-bang theory. (Newsweek. March, 1979)

screw one-self up to concert pitch To prepare for a particularly challenging task; to ready one-self for superior performance; to psych one-self up. This expression is an extension of the literal meaning of concert pitch, i.e. the slightly higher-than-usual pitch to which instruments are tuned for a concert in order to heighten the effect and brilliance of the music.

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