Whether the stormy weather comes from a hurricane, tornado, or simply a boss on a rampage, you need to at least be aware of whether you need to “button down” or “batten down” the hatches. One is the correct idiom. Neither are really something your sewing kit can handle.
This is an idiom that comes from a nautical origin—unlike toeing the line, which many assume has a beginning related with a great heave ho of sails but actually has more to do with where your feet are lined up at the start of a foot race. But that’s another conversion.
Returning to those hatches, a “hatch” is a door of sorts that allows entrance to the lower levels of a boat or ship. Whether those lower levels are for storage, the crew’s quarters, or otherwise, these openings are commonly set into the deck floor, as opposed to a more traditional vertical door.
Often these hatches are made of metal bars for fresh air down below. But then imagine that brewing trouble off on the horizon, the howling winds and the pounding rain. If a big storm is coming, big waves that crash aboard the ship could send water straight through the slats of the hatches, endangering a vessel by taking on too much water.
To “batten down” the hatches is to secure tarpaulins over the gaps, blocking the spaces where water could flow in. When used as an expression in everyday life, it’s simply to prepare for something rough coming your way.
No buttons are involved. No matter your sewing skills, I don’t think anything involving a needle and thread could really help. While I’m intrigued with other possible origin stories if this were the case—a button that survived a typhoon? pressing a button to activate a lock? a darn adorable craft idea on Pinterest?—it’s just not the right word.
Battening down the hatches would have much more success than buttoning them down. And note, we’re not talking about “batons” either.
Everyday expressions are often the ones that trip us up, especially when we hear them said more than we see them written out. But no matter what storms are in your future, at least you’ll know how to spell your preparations.
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