The other night I was on a sail boat coming back from a race when someone mentioned “heaving to”, which is a particular way of setting the sails. I had heard of it — and had an idea of how you go about it — but I never knew why you’d do it. Since none of us had ever done it, the skipper decided we should try it.
Though it was a very windy night, heaving to stabilized the boat almost immediately. After we completed the maneuver I asked why someone would do it and one of my fellow crewmembers said, “Oh, it’s a great thing to do if you’re out by yourself and you’ve been sailing for a long time and you want to get a bit of a kip, you just heave to and go below.”
A kip? I’d never heard that word. From the context I gathered it meant a nap — but I wasn’t sure. So, of course, as soon as I got home I looked it up. I smiled when I read the second entry listed for the word on Merriam-Webster.com:
What made me smile was the notation indicating that it’s mainly a British expression. Given who had used the term — an older Canadian of British origin — that made perfect sense.
I decided kip should be word of the week not just because it’s a word I learned this week, but because the dictionary entry reminded me that when trying to derive the meaning from the context, it can be useful to look at context in the bigger picture — not just the sentence a word is used in, but things like who used the word.