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off +‎ ing. Attested since the 1620s. Early texts also spell the term offin and offen.



offing (plural offings)

  1. (nautical) The area of the sea in which a ship can be seen in the distance from land, excluding the parts nearest the shore, and beyond the anchoring ground.
    • 1610, Samuel Argall, quoted 1625, by Samuel Purchas, Purchas His Pilgrimes, p84
      I came to an Anchor in seven fathomes water in the offing to Sea.
    • 1719, Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, section 5
      I, poor miserable Robinson Crusoe, being shipwrecked during a dreadful storm in the offing, came on shore on this dismal, unfortunate island, which I called The Island of Despair; all the rest of the ship's company being drowned, and myself almost dead.
    • 1851, Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, chapter 3
      That's the Grampus's crew. I seed her reported in the offing this morning; a three years' voyage, and a full ship.
    • 1902, Joseph Conrad, chapter I, in Heart of Darkness:
      In the offing the sea and the sky were welded together without a joint []
  2. (nautical) The distance that a ship at sea keeps away from land, often because of navigational dangers, fog and other hazards; a position at a distance from shore.
    • 1719, Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, section 3
      [] I saw the land run out a great length into the sea, at about the distance of four or five leagues before me; and the sea being very calm, I kept a large offing to make this point.
    • 1768-71, published 1893, James Cook, Captain Cook's Journal, First Voyage, chapter 8
      However, what with the help of this Ebb, and our Boats, we by Noon had got an Offing of 1 1/2 or 2 Miles, yet we could hardly flatter ourselves with hopes of getting Clear []
    • 1846, Frederick Marryat, The Privateersman, chapter 2
      We beat off shore during the whole of the night, when the weather moderated, and at daybreak we found out that we had not gained much offing, in consequence of the current []
  3. (figuratively) The foreseeable future. Chiefly in the phrase in the offing.

Coordinate terms[edit]

  • (nautical range of sight): ken

Derived terms[edit]



  1. present participle of off