Origins of ‘Gostan’

And Other Nautical Metaphors


‘Gostan’ is actually a Malay contraction of a nautical term to “go astern”. It can be pronounced “go stunt” or expressed “gostan balik” (reverse back). Today it is used as an instruction to reverse one’s vehicle or turn it around.

“You can gostan your car some more. Still got space behind.”

Similarly the term “go head” was originally “go ahead”

a•stern (əˈstɜrn)

1. in a position behind a specified vessel or aircraft.
2. in a backward direction.


Nautical Metaphors in the English Language

“Unfortunately English-speakers often express ideas in terms of a metaphor rather than by a literal description. So when we talk about being ‘all at sea’, we do not literally mean that we are out in the ocean, but rather that we are unsure about what to do, as though we were drifting on the water without the reassurance of firm ground beneath our feet.”
– Oxford University Press

Others include:


  • Batten down the hatches = Prepare for trouble.
  • By and large = On the whole; generally speaking; all things considered.
  • Flagship = e.g. A company’s important store.
  • Flash in the pan = Something which disappoints by failing to deliver anything of value, despite a showy beginning.
  • High and dry = Stranded, without help or hope of recovery.
  • Let the cat out of the bag = Disclose a secret.
  • Mainstay = A person or thing that provides crucial support.
  • Sail close to the wind = Warning someone that they are doing something dangerous or illegal.
  • The devil and the deep blue sea = In difficulty, faced with two dangerous alternatives.
  • The devil to pay = Impending trouble or other bad consequences following from one’s actions.
  • Three sheets to the wind = Very drunk.
  • To the bitter end = To the limit of one’s efforts – to the last extremity.
  • Under way = Begin a journey or a project.

Check out Nautical metaphors in the English language for historical explanations of all the above.

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