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We’ve all heard coxswains and coaches say it a thousand times. “Weigh enough!”

Or was it “Way enough!” Or maybe “Weigh off!” I’ve even heard “Way enup!” which I thought was completely bonkers until I read a Wikipedia article about it being an acceptable pronunciation.

No matter how it’s spelled (my preference, merely out of habit, is weigh enough) the phrase means to stop whatever it is you’re doing – rowing, carrying the boat, and sometimes I even let it slip on land when I’m with non-rowers: “Don’t hit that car! Weigh enough!” or “I’m about to drop this sofa on the stairs! Weigh enough so I can adjust my grip!”) The term bears weight, and is always meant to be taken as a cue to – without question – cease whatever activity is underway.

Etymology & Debate

Do some research on the term and you’ll find a range of opinions, with some coxswains and coaches like me hanging on to the somewhat archaic weigh enough and others picking up the mid-20th century American derivative way enough.

The verb weigh came into English from the Anglo-Saxon wegan, meaning to lift or to move, which is also a root for way (as in “Do you know the way to the store?”) suggesting a route and moving towards something. The Nautical Dictionary of 1863 includes under weigh as a means of expressing that a ship is moving through the water.

According to research done by Andy Anderson for his 2001 Rowing Magazine article about this subject, The Voyage to Japan – published in 1613 – includes “The 14th in the morning we wayed for Japan.” But a sailing log from 1647 states “We weighed from Limehouse.” And in 1846, Charles Dickens wrote in Cricket on Hearth: “Oh do Way, John! Please.” (John was a horse.) Apparently the debate has been centuries in the making.

A slew of nautical texts, including A Vocabulary of Sea Phrases and terms of art used in seamanship and naval architecture (British Navy, 1799), The Midshipman’s or British Mariner’s Dictionary (1805), and The Naval Times (1952), make no mention of “weigh enough” and instead confirm the use of “way enough.”

In an April 2000 Row2k article, Rob Colburn clarifies that Americans spell “‘way enough’ (as in ‘enough motion’) as ‘weigh enough.’ They also drive on the wrong side of the road and drink their beer weigh to cold.”

Kourtney de Haas of the Austin Rowing Club made a solid case for way enough in a 2010 article in which she pointed out that “The rationale behind the use of ‘weigh enough’ was the extension of the phrase ‘weigh anchor’ (which describes the raising of the anchor in preparation for making way) to the action of oars, as in ‘weigh oars’ (which describes the raising of the oars out of the water). That this extension presents itself as a paradox of actions (the former describes preparation to make way, while the latter describes preparation to cease making way) should be enough evidence of the erroneous substitution of ‘weigh’ for ‘way’ in the command ‘way enough.’”

Or we could end this whole debate simply enough by adopting the phrase the Brits use: Easy oars.