Scuppered or scuttled, the BAE-EADS deal is sunk

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Tip of the cap to the Financial Times editors who shoehorned the delightful verb “scuppers” on to their homepage after news broke that the BAE-EADS deal was dead in the water:

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Stateside, the nautical term of art for sinking a merger might have been “scuttle.”

So is there a difference? When you are in the midst of scuttling are you also, de facto, scuppering? And if they mean the same thing, why are there two words?

Upon quick investigation, we found that both verbs do indeed offer a quick and handy way to describe the process of inflicting significant structural damage to a seagoing vessel so that it eventually sinks. But it seems the issue is where you do the damage.

As best we can tell, if you’re scuttling a ship, you’re putting a hole somewhere in the bottom, in the hull. On the other hand, if you’re in the mood for a bit of scuppering, you’re likely punching a hole in the side of the ship. (Scuppers are deck level holes that allow water to drain off the ship.)

Of course, these details raise many far-reaching implications about accuracy, usage, and nautical terminology in headlines. For instance, from whence did the “wrangling” that ended the BAE-EADS deal actually come. If it was indeed “side wrangling” rather than “bottom wrangling” —a particularly touchy form—then it seems the FT can rest assured it picked precisely the right word.