What’s in a name?

I thought it time to change things up a little and post something a bit more light-hearted and less academic, and in light of recent events in my home town of Calgary, Canada, I thought this would be fitting.

Late last month Calgary, and areas across southern Alberta, were hit by severe flooding the likes of which have never been seen before. Over 100,000 people were evacuated, thousands lost their homes, four people lost their lives and the clean up bill will easily be in the billions.

I watched in helpless shock and horror as the natural disaster unfolded before my eyes via streaming online news footage from my current home on the other side of the world.  The one beacon of hope was the way in which the crisis was aptly, tactfully and charismatically navigated by the Mayor, Naheed Nenshi, who can only be described as a legend. One need only look to his Twitter account, and the ‘Nap for Nenshi’ campaign that emerged imploring him to go to bed after he spent several sleepless days and nights leading the crisis response team for evidence of this.


Nenshi’s response is very much reflective of that good ‘ol fashioned Prairie fighting spirit. We Canadians, especially those in the west, seem to have an indelible sense of resolve and determination. Personally I think its embedded in our cultural DNA by generations of pioneers who endured the elements to create a better life for themselves and their families. From the earliest First Nations Peoples who managed to flourish and persevere despite the elements, to early European settlers eking out an existence in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, to recent immigrants from around the globe who pick up their roots and settle in the harsh extremes of the Canadian prairie: When bad stuff happens we all roll up our sleeves and get to work – we “get ’er done.”

This sentiment is reflected in the quaintly belligerent war cry coined in support of Calgary’s annual city-wide epically-boozy pancake-breakfast-fuelled-corporate-cowboy party, the Stampede, which was set to kick off two weeks after the flood hit. The entire stampede grounds, the parade route and all official Stampede facilities were virtually decimated by the flooding, yet City and Stampede officials insisted that the show would go on – Come Hell or High Water’.

I know, right? You can now purchase tee shirts sporting this slogan in support of the Canadian Red Cross’s recovery efforts.

Hell or High Water

If you’ve ever wondered about the precise origins of this phrase fear not! I have an answer (note: ‘an’ answer, not ‘the’ answer).

Now, I have absolutely no idea if the information I am about to convey is in any way accurate, but it’s something I read as a child and it stuck. If this is definitively incorrect, or if you have any hard evidence to support this, please comment away. If anything, I see this as an opportunity to channel my inner Cliff Clavin.

As a youngster my grandmother gave me a book about the nautical origins of every day expressions, which was called Scuttlebutt. Over the years many friends, acquaintances…unsuspecting supermarket cashiers, have fallen victim to the after-effects of its anecdotes being emblazoned on my psyche at an early age. Well, it just so happens that ‘come hell or high water’ is one of them, as are the related expressions ‘between the devil and the deep blue sea’, and ‘hell to pay’.

According to the authors of Scuttlebutt, during those golden years of imperialism when Britain ruled the waves, ‘hell’ or ‘the devil’ was the nickname given to a horizontal seam running high up along the ship’s wooden hull. For whatever reason this seam was prone to letting water in, particularly in rough seas (high water). The solution was to have someone dangle overboard from a rope with a bucket and a brush and slather it in tar (or pay) to seal it. The unfortunate soul was then literally stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Paying hell in high water was a dangerous and loathsome task reserved as a punishment for sailors who broke the rules. This difficult, ardours and necessary job took so much determination to complete without sustaining major injury that ‘come hell or high water’ entered the vernacular, and voila! Stampede slogan.

Again, I cannot vouch for the authority of this information, but I hope it has amused you as much as it amused me.


All silliness aside, donations to the Canadian Red Cross to help victims of the southern Alberta floods are greatly appreciated!

And if kitsch tee shirts aren’t your thing and indie music is, my band is giving away free music to people who donate as well.


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