[PW] nautical expression for gaining an advantage

John Cowan cowan at ccil.org
Wed Feb 14 08:30:22 PST 2018

On Wed, Feb 14, 2018 at 11:10 AM, Ellen Krupar <kellen at vt.edu> wrote:

One phrase that might be a bit obscure is "trimming the mainsail" or
> "trimming the sails", which has the connotation of making the best of what
> wind you have by adjusting your methods, hopefully to better advantage than
> your opponent.

The metaphorical use of that expression is very negative, however: in
politics a "trimmer" is someone who adjusts his principles to the
prevailing political winds, like the Vicar of Bray (note the explicit
reference to the wind in the third verse):

In good King Charles'
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_II_of_England> golden
time, when loyalty no harm meant,
A zealous high churchman was I, and so I gained preferment.
To teach my flock, I never missed: Kings are by God appointed
And damned are those who dare resist or touch the Lord's anointed!

And this be law, that I'll maintain until my dying day, sir
That whatsoever king may reign, Still I'll be the Vicar of Bray, sir.

When royal James <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_II_of_England> possessed
the crown, and popery <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Popery> came in
The penal laws <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_Penal_Laws> I hooted
down, and read the Declaration
The Church of Rome <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catholic_Church>, I
found, did fit full well my constitution
And I had been a Jesuit <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesuit>, but for the
Revolution <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glorious_Revolution>.

When William <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_III_of_England> was our
King declared, to ease the nation's grievance
With this new wind about I steered, and swore to him allegiance
Old principles I did revoke; Set conscience at a distance,
Passive obedience <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passive_obedience> was a
joke, a jest was non-resistance

When Royal Anne <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anne,_Queen_of_Great_Britain>
 became our queen, the Church of England's glory,
Another face of things was seen, and I became a Tory
Occasional conformists
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occasional_Conformity_Act_1711> base; I
blamed their moderation;
And thought the Church in danger was from such prevarication.

When George <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_I_of_England> in pudding
time came o'er, and moderate men
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bangorian_Controversy> looked big, sir
My principles I changed once more, and I became a Whig
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whigs_(British_political_party)>, sir.
And thus preferment I procured From our new Faith's Defender
And almost every day abjured
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abjuration#Great_Britain_and_Ireland> the
Pope <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope> and the Pretender

The illustrious House of Hanover
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Hanover> and Protestant succession
To these I do allegiance
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oath_of_Allegiance_(United_Kingdom)> swear –
while they can hold possession.
For in my faith and loyalty I never more will falter,
And George <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_II_of_Great_Britain> my
lawful king shall be – until the times do alter.

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