“Board” the history and development of an English word

Board – vocabulary developed from floors and boats

As I said in my article   Board – a simple word, with many uses, BOARD is a magical word in the sense that a simple piece of wood has become many things; this shows how a free language can evolve and take shape.

Let’s look at how it could have developed:


Boards were first used to make floors in houses. The “floorboards” were laid on other pieces of wood to raise the floor off the ground.

This technique was adapted for boats as well. The wooden boarded floor was where the sailors moved around to control and manoeuvre the sails. Under this floor was the storage area, or hold. With time the crew* would say they were “on the boards”, which later became “on board”  Soon “on board” had the meaning of “on the ship”

If a person falls off a ship into the water, we say “the man fell OVERBOARD

If the engine (motor) of a boat is outside the boat that it drives we say that it is an OUTBOARD motor.

Now we can say that someone goes “on board” a ship to mean that they go onto the ship.

– People going on board now also is “the passengers are boarding

But this phrase can also now be used for trains or planes. The typical railway guard in the films blows his whistle and shouts “all aboard” so that the passengers get on the train because it is going to leave.

At airports you check the screen to see when you have to get on your plane, when the sign changes from “Wait in departure lounge” to “now boarding” you know that your plane will be leaving soon.

So just following the simple idea of a wooden floor we arrive at an internationally recognised phrase: “boarding now at Gate 23”

In another article we  will see how board is now an important word in hi-tech and big business

For more vocabulary go to Vocabulary index

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