Berth - Encyclopedia


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BERTH, originally a nautical term, probably connected with the verb "to bear," first found in literature at the end of the 16th century, with the alternative spelling "birth." Its primary meaning is "sea-room," whether on the high seas or at anchor. Hence the phrase "to give a wide berth to," meaning "to keep at a safe distance from," both in its literal and its metaphorical use. From meaning sea-room for a ship at anchor, "berth" comes to mean also the position of a ship at her moorings ("to berth a ship"). The word further means any place on a ship allotted for a special purpose, where the men mess or sleep, or an office or appointment on board, whence the word has passed into colloquial use with the meaning of a situation or employment. From the Icelandic byrdi, a board, is also derived the ship-building term "berth," meaning to board, put up bulk-heads, etc.

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