I had an assignment to write an article about survival skills--teaching kids basics so they can one day live on their own.
Eventually I went with a nautical/sailing/ship theme and reached out to a few writing friends for ideas. Susan led me to Wikipedia's Glossary of Nautical Terms, and I spent at least 30 minutes sorting through the jargon. Who knew so many of our figures of speech had nautical origins?
For instance, my new favorite is "There's not enough room in here to swing a cat." (Very useful for spouting off when you enter my son's room that is overflowing with musical equipment, books and dirty clothes.) Apparently unruly sailors were often flogged with a "cat-o'-nine-tails," a short nine-tailed whip. Everyone on board was brought on deck to witness the beatings and often there was not much room to "swing the cat" without hitting a bystander. Also, getting the "cat out of the bag" came from taking the whip from its baize bag, where it was kept when not in use. And here I thought someone had routinely taken an actual cat by its tail and circled it overhead, people ducking to get out of the way.
Other terms such as chock-a-block, cut and run, pitch in, nipper (a small boy), and footloose had nautical origins. Or so says Wikipedia.