(WYTV) — Why do we say that an escaped prisoner is at large? Or, if your dog ran away, your dog can be at large. Why did at large come to mean freedom?
Here’s one theory.
“Large” is an old sailing term and we still use it on tall ships with tall sails. When the wind is behind your boat you are said to be “sailing large.”
Your square sails are set and your ship is able to travel freely downwind so “at large” would mean you’re free to sail with no obstructions ahead, like someone running free, on the loose.
But what if the wind is blowing toward you?
That’s called sailing “by the wind” and you must use other sails to tack into the wind if you’re going to make any headway.
So, a trip that takes you against the wind and also with the wind, means you are sailing by and sailing large.
And that led to another expression, an adverb actually, by and large meaning in general, for the most part, everything considered.