Today upon hearing reports about how Hurricane Earl was going to hug the Eastern Seaboard I couldn't help but think how strange this phrase is. Is "seaboard" used in any other contexts? What is the origin of this phrase? Does anyone in the US west coast considered their coastline the "Western Seaboard"?

4 Answers 4


The OED has the following general meaning of seaboard:

The line where land and sea meet, the coastline; the sea-shore or the land near the sea, esp. considered with reference to its extent or configuration.

The first citation of this seaboard is from 1788:

"The Gnats are almost as troublesome here, as the moschetoes in the low-lands of the sea-board."

The OED doesn't seem to draw this connection, but I imagine this meaning came about as an extension of another meaning for seaboard, which is:

With prepositions a, at, on, to seaboard, on or to the seaward side (of a ship, etc.). Obs.

If you connect that meaning with other sea terms like overboard, it would make sense that the seaward side of a ship would be called a seaboard. And then saying that the coastline is essentially the seaboard of a landmass is a small jump.

Nowadays, it seems like "Eastern Seaboard" has become an idiom or set name for a certain region, and we don't really use it in the general sense at all (although I don't know anyone in the fishing industry).

  • 4
    I wonder if this isn't related to the French word "bord" which means "side"? Thus seaboard == seadside Commented Sep 3, 2010 at 14:24
  • 5
    It is, and it is also related to the English word "border": etymonline.com/index.php?term=board
    – Kosmonaut
    Commented Sep 3, 2010 at 14:39
  • 2
    Seaboard as "on the seaward side" makes sense, as starboard means "on the steering (righthand) side".
    – Lisa
    Commented Jul 25, 2011 at 23:48
  • 1
    When I was a boy growing up in New York, it was common for people to say they were "going down to the seaboard" meaning "going to the coast". Now that you mention it, it is curious that Americans tend to talk about the "West Coast", the "Gulf Coast", and the "Eastern Seaboard". Though when we talk about them as a group, i.e. when you are actually talking about west and east in a single sentence, it becomes "West Coast" and "East Coast".
    – Jay
    Commented Dec 12, 2011 at 16:13
  • Frankly, “She sells seashells by the seaboard” just doesn’t sound as nice. I suspect that must be why the word has fallen into comparative disuse. Commented Jul 20, 2014 at 17:48

I think back to Physical Geomorphology -- the Eastern Seaboard in the US is a shoreline of emergence and the Western is not a "seaboard" -- because the west coast is a shoreline of nothing (it is totally different geologically).

There has to be something -- some journal -- that says Eastern Seaboard. I think it has something to do with the Louisiana Purchase (someone else on the comments said it) because we did not own a west coast at the time.

I have a PhD in Geography but I cannot remember the text.

  • 1
    Can you clarify what the technical meaning of seaboard is? Why is it (or is not) a shoreline (another technical term?)? And a shoreline of emergence? How is the west coast not that but the east is?
    – Mitch
    Commented May 13, 2013 at 1:55

The Eastern Seaboard consists of the original 13 Colonies all of which face the Atlantic (although three of their four "offshoots," (Vermont, Maine, West Virginia and Kentucky) do not. (That is all except Maine.)

It was the "board" or foundation from which America sprang. Until we reached the "Continental Divide" in the Rockies (late in the 19th century), all ocean bound traffic would head for the "seaboard" (or Gulf Coast), which "merges" into the Atlantic, past Florida.

The United States also has a "west coast" of course, but it has nothing of the historical significance of the "eastern seaboard." To a lesser extent, this is true of the Gulf Coast, which did not become a factor until the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, and whose importance was soon "undermined" by the Erie Canal across New York State in 1825, which effectively connected the Great Lakes to the Atlantic.

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    Do you have any citations for the claim that the name come from the metaphor that the 13 colonies were the "board" from which the nation sprang? That seems fanciful.
    – siride
    Commented Jul 21, 2014 at 3:38
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    Pennsylvania has no Atlantic coast.
    – phoog
    Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 6:11
  • @phoog: Pennsylvania abuts on the Chesapeake Bay which leads to the Atlantic, close enough. I said it "faces" the Atlantic, not that it was "on" it.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 15:07
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    @TomAu That's the Delaware River, which empties into the Delaware bay, separated from the Cheasapeake by the Delmarva peninsula. Where do you draw the line then? Navigability? Also, where do you get three "offshoots"? You seem to be overlooking Kentucky and arguably Tennessee,
    – phoog
    Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 16:56
  • @TomAu How do you reckon that? Virginia passed legislation to separate Kentucky from Virginia, how much more official does it need to be?
    – phoog
    Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 17:16

It's a term for "East Coast" which probably sounded more colloquial in the 19th century than it does in the 21st century.

  • Hi Bob. Can you include some cited source(s) for your answer? Commented Dec 22, 2015 at 21:35

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