from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun A final, painful, or disastrous extremity.
  • noun Nautical The inboard end of a chain, rope, or cable, especially the end of a rope or cable that is wound around a bitt.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun Nautical, that part of a cable which is abaft the bitts, and therefore within board, when the ship rides at anchor.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun nautical that part of an anchor cable which is abaft the bitts and thus remains inboard when a ship is riding at anchor
  • noun idiomatic The end of a long and difficult process.
  • noun nautical the final six fathoms of anchor chain before the point of attachment in the chain locker of modern U.S.naval vessels, with these six fathoms often painted blue, white and red to warn deck hands of the end of available anchor chain.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun (nautical) the inboard end of a line or cable especially the end that is wound around a bitt
  • noun the final extremity (however unpleasant it may be)


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[English bitter, bitt (bitt + –er) + end. Sense 1, influenced by bitter.]


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  • A nautical term--specifically a knot-tying nautical term--referring to the loose end of a rope (as opposed to the standing end, which takes the strain). The name arises from securing hawsers on large ships. After a rope was winched tight, the strain on the hawser was temporarily taken up with a second rope attached to the hawser with a rolling hitch. The hawser was then taken off the winch, and the end, now loose, was transferred to the bitts--the strong posts to which the rope was secured. The term "bitter end" derived from this practice.

    January 9, 2008

  • See usage note on bitts.

    March 5, 2008