Place—Words from the Ocean

Summary: No matter how far away we might live from the beach, we are culturally connected to the ocean and its resources. Students discover how some common English words and phrases can be tied to maritime history.

Concepts to teach: Language arts, social studies

Goals: Students recognize how the ocean’s prominence in our culture has shaped our language.


Specific Objectives:

  1. Identify how the modern meaning of several words has changed from the sense they originally had in maritime cultures.
  2. Construct hypotheses as to the original, ocean-related meaning of several everyday words.

Activity Links and Resources:

  • Two resources from Smithsonian’s Ocean Planet exhibition investigate how the ocean has influenced our language:
    • Words from the Ocean—This lesson plan asks student groups to guess the original meanings of several modern words. A worksheet and teacher answer key is provided.
    • Nautical Sayings—A list of eight common sayings and a description of their nautical roots.


  • Use worksheet to try to figure out how the original meaning of each word in the following list is connected to the sea and write your ideas in the space provided.
  • Pick one word and create a THEN and NOW poster contrasting the original meaning of a word or phrase with its modern meaning.