The etyomology of the phrase "dire straits" is believed to have been started in the 15th century from the many straits around the world that sailors needed to navigate their vessels through. It took experience and a steady hand to make safe passage through the straits. Often the attempt would be difficult and perilous and could lead to a shipwreck. Eventually any difficult or perilous situation could be referred to as being in "dire straits".
-Mr. Mark Frees
professor of naval history
The term "dire straits" which means desperate circumstances has no particular origin. It is just one of those phrases which people adopted as a cliche to describe a particular thing.It is spelled strait - it has no relation to straight. A strait is a difficult circumstance.The word, dire, comes from the Latin word, dirus, which has a meaning close to terrifying. The word, strait, is a derivation of the word, straight, and originally had a similar meaning - tight and/or narrow. In the 14th century, it's meaning became more specified to mean narrow waterway.A literal translation for dire straits, then, would be terrifying narrow (or tight) waterway. A very nice metaphor for what we understand this phrase to mean.
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