To the left we see a ship approaching the coast. A sailor is sounding the depth. The anchor is hanging ready at the bow. To the right a man is standing on the shore, also sounding the depth with a line provided with a large lead weight.
Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus, 1555
The plummet-line was a devise used by the sailor to test the depth of the water. It consisted of a lead weight attached to a thin marked rope. The nautical term of "swinging the lead" is used to describe the act of throwing the lead weight overboard for the purpose of measuring the water depth. The lead was thrown out ahead of the boat, then retrieved after the boat had passed over. Depth sounding was the easiest job on a ship and so today the term is used to describe someone who is doing nothing of importance or someone who is not 'pulling their weight'.
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