learn the ropes

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Of nautical origin. The phrase "he knows the ropes" written on a seaman's discharge meant that he was inexperienced and only familiar with a ship's principal ropes.

  • 1981, Snelling, Charles, Nomenclature of Ships, Naval Sea Systems Command:


learn the ropes

  1. To learn the basics or master introductory knowledge.
    Work slowly and cautiously until you have learned the ropes.
  2. To learn some skill requiring specialist knowledge.
    And, of course, on such momentous occasions as these, Manning was in his element. None knew those difficult ropes better than he; none used them with a more serviceable and yet discreet alacrity. In every juncture he had the right word, or the right silence; his influence ramified in all directions, from the Pope's audience chamber to the English Cabinet.
    (Lytton Strachey, Eminent Victorians, 1918ː Folio Society edition, 1979, pp 98-99)

Related terms[edit]

  • know the ropes
  • show one the ropes
  • teach one the ropes


See also[edit]