The phrase ‘Shipshape and Bristol Fashion’ is due a revival!

Rope on a ship“Shipshape and Bristol fashion” is one of my favourite expressions. However, despite its charming historical origins in the West Country, we do not hear it often enough.

The Bristol Channel is funnel-shaped and has the second highest rise and fall of tides in the world. Bristol’s origins as a key trading port in the XVIII century were developed against these environmental factors, and an enviable reputation for standards of equipment and service for long voyages was founded. The Royal Naval ships, in particular, were sturdy and stout, and robust enough to avoid damage from being “beached” or “keeled over”. In turn, their on-board paraphernalia had to be stowed neatly, orderly and safely before setting sail.

The term “shipshape” refers to the neat order; “Bristol fashion” refers to the critical specifications that ships had to meet before entering Bristol Harbour. The phrase in its entirety means “neat, tidy and well-stowed”… lovely!

Wind forward three hundred years, and we have to ask ourselves what Bristol’s seafaring captains might have done before their blogs, newsletters and various marketing collateral were ready to set sail on the internet. Would our business and marketing materials have stood up to their pre-launch inspections? Would they have “signed-off” our grammar, spelling, punctuation, format and style as orderly stowed prior to departure?

Like Bristol’s naval captains, the proofreader arrives at the end of the writing process to check that the copy is robust, reliable and “ready to go”. The proofreader wears a different hat to the writer, and brings a different set of skills; he reads what he actually sees on the materials, making corrections where necessary, thereby giving the writer the confidence that the copy really “glistens”.

The term, “Shipshape and Bristol Fashion” is due a revival. With the current proliferation of blogs, reports, e-shots and newsletters being shared on the internet, presentation is everything. Let’s polish it up and use this phrase as a byword for proofreading our written copy prior to publication. The naval captains of old would have expected nothing less!


2014 01 UKBA Shortlisted Image


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Lindsay McLoughlin has a love affair with social media. She combines these tools to great effect with her other big love – blogging! She runs a copywriting, blogging, editing and proofreading service at She loves talking to and interacting with anyone that will “listen” over social media. Check out her blog at or connect with her on social media. She’d be delighted!

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4 Responses to The phrase ‘Shipshape and Bristol Fashion’ is due a revival!

  1. What a good analogy! Last night we saw Sting’s performance on TV, of his new musical, about shipbuilding in the North East of England, The Last Ship. So your blog is most timely! Congratulations on your new award, Linds. “Best loved Business in Henley” Brilliant! Well deserved.
    Lysette would like you to read Using a pedometerMy Profile

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