Y is for Yarn, as in Spinning One

Today’s blog is a bit of a stretch but probably not as strange as tomorrow’s. I say that because I don’t have a clue yet what to write about that has something to do with “Z” and the craft of writing. Today we have the letter “Y.” The only good thing about that is knowing that there’s only one more letter after it in the English alphabet.

I wondered about the origins of the saying, “spinning a yarn.” It is a saying in the United States that means telling a tale, usually a tall tale. There I go again, using a term that readers in other countries might not be familiar with or have in their languages. A tall tale is a story that obviously stretches the truth, so “spinning a yarn” essentially means the same thing.

There are differences of opinion about the origin of “spinning a yarn.” Some sources say it dates back to the days when women would sit together and spin wool into yarn or flax into linen thread on a spinning wheel. To help pass the time, they would tell stories.

The online dictionary on http://www.dictionary.com states that “spinning a yarn” was originally a nautical term dating back to the turn of the 19th century; however, Bill Beavis and Richard G. McCloskey wrote in “Salty Dog Talk,” (published by Sheridan House in Dobbs Ferry, New York in 1995) and quoted online at http://www.phrases.org.uk, that yarn and ropes were spun on land before they was spun at sea. They concluded that “this is probably one of the few shore expressions adopted by seaman.”

Messrs. Beavis and McCloskey offer as further explanation that a spinner must continually stretch the fiber he or she is spinning to maintain a consistent thread. They wrote,

“Thus when the old-timers wanted to suggest that someone was stretching the truth they likened it to ‘spinning a yarn.’”

Those last two sentences make the most sense to me, but I guess I’ll never know for sure when or where “spinning a yarn” came into use.

Until my next blog post (which might be very short)

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult. If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.


4 thoughts on “Y is for Yarn, as in Spinning One

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