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Uncertain, but likely from the fact that scrubbing is done while down on one's knees, just as in prayer, hence holy +‎ stone.



holystone (plural holystones)

  1. (nautical) A block of soft sandstone used for scrubbing the wooden decks of a ship, usually with sand and seawater; sometimes called a bible.
    (Can we find and add a quotation of Totten to this entry?)

Usage notesEdit

Smaller blocks for awkward places are prayer books.



holystone (third-person singular simple present holystones, present participle holystoning, simple past and past participle holystoned)

  1. (transitive) To scrub the decks with a holystone.
    • 1861, T[homas] Spencer Wells, “Boils”, in The Scale of Medicines with which Merchant Vessels are to be Furnished, by Command of the Privy Council for Trade; with Observations on the Means of Preserving the Health of Seamen; Directions for the Use of the Medicines, and for the Treatment of Various Accidents and Diseases, 2nd edition, London: John Churchill, New Burlington Street, page 92:
      The boils called sand boils, which form on the front of the knee, are generally produced by small particles of sand being rubbed beneath the skin when the men are kneeling to holystone the decks. Very troublesome sores are thus produced. Great care should, therefore, be taken never to kneel with the bare knees upon a sanded deck.
    • 1911: Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary (under Sabbath)
      Six days shalt thou labor and do all that thou art able,
      And on the seventh holystone the deck and scrape the cable.