To Swing the Lead (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Origin of the Saying "To Swing the Lead"?

Before the days of sonar, ships would determine the depth of the water by posting a sailor at the front of the ship with a lead weight attached to a long rope. The rope would have a knot in every fathom (6 feet). The sailor's job was to swing the weight forward into the water and, when the ship passed directly over the weight, determine the depth of the water. As retrieving the lead weight was hard work, a lazy sailor would swing the lead as if he were about to release it. He would keep swinging it until such time as he thought he was being watched and only then release it into the water. Therefore, a sailor who was swinging the lead was being lazy.
To Swing the Led (Origin)

Examples of Use:

  • Why are you cleaning the hose? Help us move this log! Stop swinging the lead.
  • I felt bad when I saw you on crutches. I thought you were swinging the lead.
  • Leanne swung the lead for the entire course. How did she get top marks?

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