By The Board

Meanings of “By The Board”

The phrase “go by the board” means to finish something by throwing it overboard in the literal sense. In a figurative sense, it means to end or finish something entirely.

Origin of “By The Board”

A board is decking or the side of a ship. The phrase “by the board” has been derived from the ships and marine industry. Originally, the term “go by the board” was first used in the 17th century in nautical terminology. However, its printed usage has appeared in its short form “by the board” in John Taylor’s book, Works, published in 1603. Since then it has been used interchangeably in the same sense but with different words.

The phrase began to be used in the figurative sense from the mid-19th century when The Gettysburg Republican Compiler wrote: “Those banks that do not resume speedily will go by the board.”

Examples in Literature

Example #1

O’ Sailor by Fiona Apple

O’ sailor why’d you do it
What’d you do that for
Saying there’s nothing to it
And then lettin’ it go by the boards
O’ sailor

The singer asks the sailor why he has let the thing gone overboard, for it is now gone forever. The use of the apostrophe as “O’ sailor” in the beginning and the end of the sentence and then the use of this phrase makes the meanings clear. Italicization of the phrase also lends credence to its literal meanings of letting something be wasted.

Example #2

The Naval Chronicle, Volume 3 by Captain Darby

It being very darn and rainy, we could not see the damage the mast had received till next morning; when we found the main mast entirely gone, it being only support of two of its pieces, and them partly shivered. The cap, top, and the main shrouds being still on the mast, made us apprehend the mast would go by the board every minute. The decks were covered entirely with chips and splinters of the masts.

The excerpt has been taken from an old book of naval expeditions of the British writer. In this passage, he talks about an accident in which all of their masts are gone. The phrase has been used to tell how the last mast is going to be torn up by the wild wind. The next sentence where “chips and splinters” show the torn masts spread across the deck of the ship. Therefore, the meanings of the phrase are clearly denotative rather than connotative.

Example #3

Nelsons Battles by Oliver Warner

At length, we had the satisfaction of seeing three lower masts go by the board, as they had been shot through below the deck, and carrying with them all their sharpshooters, to look sharper in the next world; for all of our boats were shot through we could not save one of them. The crew was then ordered, with the second lieutenant, to board her. They cheered, and in a short time carried her. They found the gallant admiral Magon killed at the foot of the poop latter, and the captain dangerously wounded. Out of eight lieutenants, five were killed, with three hundred petty officers and seamen, and about one hundred wounded.

The scene the passage presents is of a naval skirmish. The writer talks about the extent of damage on both sides by using the phrase “go by the board”. The phrase is used in the very first line with reference to tearing apart of the masts. It means that all three lower masts have been torn by the shots of the rifles. The meanings are clearly denotative, making good use of denotation, a literary device that shows the literal meanings of the phrase or word.

Example #4

George Norris, Going Home: Reflections of a Progressive Statesman by Gene A. Budig, Don Walton

The voice of the people had been raised against all that Norris stood for, against all that he had labored for and battled and endured. That’s what he feared: all the progress that had been hammered out through the sweat and tears of forty years of social struggle might go by the board. Were the people ready to toss away progress, turn their backs on it just when it need them most?

The passage has been taken from an autobiographical sketch of a politician, George Norris, by the writer. It shows that Norris has created a persona of his own for social progress and mobility. The phrase has been used with reference to the social struggle that it would be wasted. It means that the phrase is not reserved or limited to naval contexts. It can be used in other contexts too.

Example in Sentences

Example #1: “He looked at the masts going by the board and turned to his crew in alarm. He knew they were all going to die and he was going to do all he could to save as many lives as he could.”

Example #2: “The ship couldn’t survive the fires shot by the enemy and the everything on the ship started going by the board.”

Example #3: “The captain looked at his crew in triumph knowing that they had won the war as they watched everything on the ship opposite to their going by the board.”

Example #4: “As he received the call from his manager, he realized that all his efforts and hard work had gone overboard.”

Example #5: “It is sad when people give up and let everything go by the board, instead of trying harder. Giving up should never be an option.”