20

I ran into this excerpt from the book Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson:

I can see, can't I? I've tried my fling, I have, and I've lost, and it's you has the wind of me.

Source: Google Books

I tried googling but was able to find only the meaning of 'to get wind of something' (The Free Dictionary) which I think doesn't fit here.

So I have two questions:

  1. What is the meaning of the phrase 'to have the wind of someone'?
  2. How 'wind' is pronounced in this phrase: [wɪnd] or [waɪnd]?

Thank you.

  • 3
    Regarding pronunciation, the sentence appears to be in dialect (judging by the spelling) so it is probably non-standard in this case. – marcellothearcane Jul 24 at 15:00
  • 3
    It is probably pronounced as wind as in "breeze" but not "turn". These are sailing folk to whom wind is very important, but either way I guess he means that Captain Hawkins has the advantage over him. – Weather Vane Jul 24 at 15:03
  • 2
    @marcellothearcane I don’t see anything in the spelling that would indicate dialectal writing. The only dialectal feature I can detect is the elision of the relative subordinator who, which hardy counts as spelling. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 24 at 18:06
  • 2
    @Janus I read it in my head in an accent :) – marcellothearcane Jul 24 at 18:11
  • @JanusBahsJacquet There's no requirement that dialect be represented by nonstandard spelling. Word choice and order are equally valid indicators. Pleonasms indicative of an English dialect, possibly Cornish: "I have" is technically redundant, but indicates emphasis; "It's you has.." instead of "You have" is another indicator of dialect. Reading the full passage confirms that marcellothearcane is correct about this being dialect even if he was wrong about it being due to spelling. – barbecue Jul 26 at 13:17
38

It means: you've got the better of me. "You has the wind of me" (dialect for: "You have taken the wind from me") refers to the nautical trick of "stealing" another boat's wind. In the days of wind-powered boats (and in modern-day sailing competitions), if you can place your own boat between another boat and the on-coming wind, you can slow the other boat down and overtake it. See also:

Take the wind out of his sails – to take away someone’s initiative, disconcert or frustrate them. This could derive from the art of sailing so that you “steal” the wind from another boat. A boat under sail can be slowed down if another boat sails between it and the wind, preventing their sails from filling.

Nautical Sayings and Phrases

So, yes: it's pronounced [wɪnd], not [waɪnd].

  • 12
    "Have the wind of me" is probably a reference to weather gage, where the upwind ship in combat has a decided advantage in maneuvering, rather than being a reference to the racing technique of stealing someone's wind. – Mark Jul 25 at 19:45
  • 1
    Also related to "he has the wind and the weather" or all things are going in their favor. – Eric Brown - Cal Jul 25 at 20:52
  • 4
    It's not dialect for "you have," it's a shortening of "it's you [who] has the wind of me." – David Conrad Jul 26 at 15:44
  • @DavidConrad Maybe, but how would you paraphrase it? – Mick Jul 26 at 15:49
  • Maybe "You have my wind"? Or, "It's you who has a better position with respect to the wind than I do." – David Conrad Jul 26 at 16:16
23

welcome to EL&U. It's a long time since I read Treasure Island but to me this piece of dialogue sounds like the castaway Ben Gunn. If it isn't him then it's another of the pirates. This means that the dialect is the rather strange "Cornish" one that Stevenson put into the mouths of the pirates. Having passed through TV adaptation in the late 1950's this accent became the origin of the idea that pirates said "aarrrr" all the time.

In addition the dialect is not only supposed to be Cornish but also full of pre-steam maritime terms so the word refers to the flow of air rather than the action of rolling up thread and the 'i' is short.

Having the wind of someone refers to the tactical advantage one sailing ship would have over another in naval conflict by being upwind of the the other. This is also called having the 'weather gage' of it.

The piece of dialogue uses you have the wind of me as a metaphor for someone having a powerful advantage over the speaker.

  • I've checked your linked article, and can't see how Captain Aubrey could have been using the term 'weather gage' correctly. That's films for you. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 24 at 15:40
  • @EdwinAshworth The expression is frequently used in exactly that sense in Patrick O'Brian's books and, as far as I remember, in the film too. – Kate Bunting Jul 24 at 16:06
  • In the scene I remember, if I've got it right, 'HMS Surprise' is about half a mile dead astern of 'Acheron'. I thought it meant that Aubrey could use forward-facing guns to demolish Acheron's rudder if he could get close enough. If my memory's working properly, it was almost certainly a misusage. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 24 at 18:37
  • Stevenson's pirates speak in Cornish dialect?? That doesn't make much sense in terms of in-story logic, only thematically. I've asked a follow-up question. – Rand al'Thor Jul 27 at 10:10
  • It's not Ben Gunn, it's Israel Hands. Thanks for your answer as well. – Dmytro Jul 30 at 8:36
4

It is, unsurprisingly considering the source, a sailing term. Scroll down to Taking the wind out of his sails. The idea is, if you can get your sail upwind of another boat, you can cause the other boat to be in your wind shadow. So they lose wind and get becalmed. Read more about this in this Wiki article relating to sailing nearly upwind. What it means is, if two boats are sailing nearly into the wind, the boat in the lead can take a commanding lead and be very difficult to catch.

Note that it only works upwind. If you are sailing downwind, then the back boat can steal wind from the front boat, meaning the back boat can catch up, and they will tend to switch off again and again who is in front.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.