Meaning of “Walk The Plank” Origin of Phrase with examples.

Walk The Plank


A form of execution in which victims were forced to walk, often blindfold and with hands tied, off a plank of wood and into the sea.


‘Walking the plank’ is as much a part of pirate folklore as eye-patches, peg-legs and squawking parrots, and the scene of hapless victims being prodded by cutlass-wielding pirates and ‘walking the plank’ to their certain death has often been used as a dramatic device in stories and films. It isn’t just a fiction; ‘walking the plank’ was really used as a form of impromptu execution in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Some reports date the phrase from 1769 when it is said that a seaman called George Wood confessed to a chaplain in Newgate Prison the he and his shipmates had forced others to ‘walk the plank. These reports derive from Douglas Botting’s authoritative book The Pirates, 1978. Whether this is a true report of an actual event is open to considerable doubt. Botting himself doesn’t set much store by it, describing the ‘alleged confession’ as ‘an obscure account… which may or may not be true, and in any case had nothing to do with pirates’.

There are documentary records of the phrase’s use dating from the late 18th century. Grose’s A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1788 defined the term:

WALKING THE PLANK. A mode of deftroying devoted perfons or officers in a mutiny on fhip- board, by blindfolding them, and obliging them to walk on a plank laid ever the fhip’s fide; by this means, as the mutineers fuppofe, avoiding the penalty of murder.


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