What Is Meant By The Old Saying "Don't Spoil The Ship..."?


3 Answers

Will Martin Profile
Will Martin answered
"….For a ha'p'orth of tar." (Ha'p'orth = half pennyworth.) This is an old nautical saying, once in common use but now quite rare. Essentially it means that if you have done a good, complex job on something (eg you have almost finished repairing your ship) you should keep up the same high standards right to the end, and finish everything properly (the ship won't be properly watertight without tar.)

The saying makes perfect sense if you think how easy it is, when you've been working on something for a long time, to get to a point where you think, "That's it, I've had enough" and rush the last stages. The more common saying, "If a job's worth doing, it's worth doing well" has a similar idea but is less specific. There is also a poem beginning "For want of a nail, the shoe was lost, for want of a shoe the horse was lost…" which goes on to describe a complete disaster, all caused by someone failing to provide a horseshoe nail.
Anonymous Profile
Anonymous answered
It means you should not spoil something with a false economy. It is not nautical in origin. It was originally 'Don't spoil the hog for a hap'orth of tar'. It then was used interchangeably with 'sheep'. When expressed in English dialects it became 'ship'. It still made sense as the change occurred during the great age of sail. The original expression occurred was sited in 1678 in John Ray's book 'English Proverbs'.
Sylvia Browning Profile
Sylvia Browning answered

This proverb or saying means that you should not spoil something fine and good, which you are in the process of creating or achieving, by economising on one small part of it,  just to save a little money, time or trouble. 

You should ensure that equal importance is given to even the smallest of details, so that the finished product or result is as good as it can be.  For example, you want to make a cheesecake, and have bought each ingredient freshly.  You then realise that a vital ingredient - the ricotta cheese - is past its sell by date.  What should you do?  Remember -"Don't spoil the ship for a halfpenny worth of tar!". Go and buy fresh ricotta cheese, so that your finished cheesecake will be as good as you can make it.  It will then taste delicious, just as the author of the recipe had intended, and you will be happy to serve it to friends and family.

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