Away or Aweigh?
When choosing between away or aweigh, a writer is dealing with homophones: words that sound alike but are spelled differently and have different meanings.
How do you know whether to select away or aweigh? Most of the time, I’m guessing, away is probably the word you mean.
But when The Los Angeles Times covered the announcement that Norah O’Donnell would leave CBS This Morning to take over anchoring duties at the CBS Evening News, an earlier version of the story began with this line:
It’s anchors aweigh at CBS News.
The story was updated by Monday afternoon and the phrase had vanished.
It was almost a clever play on words: since the news presenters are called “anchors,” it would have been a nice pun based on a famous Naval phrase. But for the pun to have worked, the actual phrase, “anchors aweigh,” should have been replaced with the wrong version: “anchors away.”
It’s interesting that many people may hear the phrase “anchors aweigh,” and assume what is being said is actually “anchors away.”
The ears, after all, are one of the worst receptors of information since we usually have one chance to process what we hear. (Or, in some cases, what we think we hear.)
If you think about it, “anchors away” wouldn’t make sense. That phrase would imply a ship is either dropping its anchors or cutting them loose because they can’t retrieve them.
Away or Aweigh?
First, away, the more common of the two words, can be an adverb, adjective or noun. In the latter two examples, the most common use is in sports, when a team plays an “away game,” meaning it’s played at the competitor’s home stadium.
As an adverb, it means to or from a particular person, place or thing.
Randy ran away before the bully could hit him.
It can also mean set aside in the proper place.
Deidre told her daughter to put away her toys before going to bed.
That brings us to aweigh, which is a nautical term. (That fact alone should reinforce the fact that aweigh is usually not the most common of the two words.)
Aweigh is an adjective meaning raised above the water level of a body of water — everything from a river or lake to a sea or ocean.
The word weigh in this sense comes from the archaic word meaning to heave, hoist or raise. Aweigh means that that action has been completed. The anchor is aweigh when it is pulled from the bottom. This event is duly noted in the ship’s log.
Calling “anchors aweigh” means to raise the anchor so that the ship can set off on its next mission.
The opening line mentioned at the top of the post should have used away instead of aweigh because it’s referring to anchors moving out of one broadcast and into others — moving “away.”
That would have made the phrase a true play on words.