Answered By: Jeffrey Orrico
Last Updated: Feb 13, 2017     Views: 7898

As you might suspect, this phrase originated as a nautical term:

  • "Shipshape" means generally "Tidy, neatly arranged." 
  • "Bristol-fashion" references the English city of Bristol, a large ship-building and repair center, with a reputation for excellence.  Thus, the phrase means "Maintained in mint condition." 

Lenfestey, Thompson.  The Facts on File Dictionary of Nautical Terms. New York, NY : Facts on File, 1994.  [REF V23.L467 1994].

When searching for the definition of phrases, particularly colloquial, slang, idiomatic, regional, and terms-of-art, take a look at the specialized dictionaries in the library's collection.  You can find these in the catalog by searching the subject heading for your area of interest followed by the word "dictionaries", for example, "nursing dictionaries".  You can find slang dictionaries listed under the SUBJECT heading "English language slang dictionaries".

Often, websites maintained by associations, museums, and enthusiasts include glossaries and background information on special terminology used.  Find these using a good search engine, such as Google, with a search including your word or phrase and "definition" or "terminology".  Evaluate any sites you find to assess the accuracy, currency, and reliability of the material presented.  Terminology, usage, and meaning in rapidly changing fields such as technology, culture, politics, etc. can change rapidly.

Regarding your phrase, "shipshape in Bristol fashion", here are websites with additional details:

Sprague, Dan.  "Keep you boat lines in Bristol Fashion," digital compass shop (blog).  11 March 2012.

Martin, Gary. The Phrase Finder. Accessed 19 May 2012.


Comments (1)

  1. Needs to have the first usage origin. As a librarian, I get asked for the date first noted.
    by Cindersgirl on Aug 10, 2017.

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