to batten down the hatches


Senior Member
French - France
Hello all,

I know this phrase can be used both literaly and figuratively, and in my context, I don't know which one to chose.
It's from an American TV series. People are hiding from a missile (which is going to be launched soon) in the tunnels of an old cement factory.
Somebody asks:
You almost finished battening down the hatches?
Yeah. For what it's worth. When that missile breaks through here...

Can it be used literaly? Can there be hatches in a cement factory? Or do I have to understand it figuratively?

Thanks a lot for your help!
  • PaulQ

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I'm translating for the French TV ... :cross:
    I'm translating for French TV ... :tick:


    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    Well, actually, there's one in our building, at the top of a ladder leading to the roof. But "batten down the hatches" is still a nautical metaphor.

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    On a wooden sailing ship you put tarpaulins over the hatches, to stop water coming into them in rough seas.

    If you battened the tarpaulins down, you fixed battens over them so that the wind wouldn't blow them away in a storm.

    Battening down the hatches was, therefore, an action taken in preparation for a storm.

    These days ships' hatches usually have hinged covers which can be firmly closed.

    Figuratively the expression has taken on the meaning of getting ready for bad trouble.
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