"at the helm" = playing the most important role?/ "allegorical" = allusive; suggestive; referential

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Thu Aug 13 19:39:41 UTC 2009

At 8/13/2009 09:07 AM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>How, moreover, can the forces (or even the high command) of one nation ever
>be "at the helm" in a war?  Wouldn't that mean that they were "in overall
>control," i.e., stage-managing all events from behind the scenes?  That's
>essenially what would be required for the customary meaning of "at the helm"
>to be operative here.

I don't want to get into "force" vs. "generals" or "behind the
scenes" in the Korean war, but just at whether "at the helm" can mean
"in overall control".  In researching "patroons" in colonial
Charleston, S.C., in order to explain a perhaps-obscure term, I used
two sources:

"The patroons had charge of the [plantation] boats."  Quotation from
Edward McCrady's _History of South Carolina_, 1899. Quoted in Peter
Wood, _Black Majority_ (1974), p. 202.

"He was ... 'very knowing by water and an exceeding good Boatman,
having been many years a patroone [helsman].'"   Interior quotation
from the South Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, 1766.  Quoted by
Philip Morgan, "Black Life in Eighteenth-Century Charleston", in
_Perspectives in American History_ (1984), p. 198.

So here "person in charge" = "patroon" = helmsman, although I concede
that the connection is indirect.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list