Starting over with a “clean slate”

Clean Slate history as a nautical termart by Tacita Dea 

A clean slate. It’s something we’re all talking about this first week of January. It’s a fresh start. A blank page. A new calendar year. It’s a way to start over on goals we may have fallen short of in the past. It’s a new beginning to old habits we want to change or new ones we want to create.

But a “clean slate” didn’t always mean to start anew. So what does “a clean slate” mean? Or, more accurately, where did the whole “clean slate” phrase come from?

Well, according to my highly scientific internet research, two sources (1 & 2) confirm that our whole “clean slate” obsession stems from an old nautical task. The watch keeper of the ship would record speeds, distances and more on a slate during his (or her?) watch. If there were no problems, the slate would be wiped clean at the end of his watch. Then, the new watch would “start over with a clean slate.”

Now, I don’t plan on climbing aboard any ships any time soon, but I like a clean slate as much as the next sailor.

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