Anybody here know what the post title means? You’re wondering how you can iron a shirt with a cold iron, right? Boy, are you barking up the wrong tree. Here’s a representative quote: “The Brooklyn Paper has an article on a setback in a Red Hook blogger’s quest to reduce port emissions through cold ironing.” Here’s another: “The Juneau cold ironing system provides both electric power and steam.” (I know, steam from a cold iron?? How does that work?) I’ll let you think about it for a minute and try guessing.
…OK, time’s up. The Wikipedia article, which is where I cured my own ignorance after running into the phrase and experiencing utter befuddlement, explains it well: it is “the process of providing shore-side electrical power to a ship at berth while its main and auxiliary engines are turned off. Cold ironing permits emergency equipment, refrigeration, cooling, heating, lighting, etc. to receive continuous electrical power while the ship loads or unloads its cargo.” And why is it called that? That’s the beauty part: “Cold ironing is a shipping industry term that first came into use when all ships had coal fired iron clad engines. When a ship would tie up at port there was no need to continue to feed the fire and the iron engines would literally cool down eventually going completely cold, hence the term ‘cold ironing’.” Most enjoyable etymology I’ve seen in a while.


  1. My favorite etymology right now: toffee and taffy were originally the same word, taffy being the Northern English and Scots form, and in fact they start out as the same thing, but toffee is poured into a mold and then broken up when cold, whereas taffy is, as all American children ought to know, pulled.
    My favorite etymology I made up: toff ‘aristocrat’ is short for toffee-nose ‘snob’. The OED thinks otherwise, but pooh-pooh to them.

  2. I prefer Extreme Ironing.

  3. Siganus Sutor says:

    The expression “ironing” also exists in the field of geotechnical engineering. And since there is no heat involved in the process, I suppose it is also a kind of cold ironing.
    Dynamic Compaction Tampers
    “We also own several tampers specifically designed for near-surface compaction, often called “ironing.” Because their static cont[r]act pressure is o[n] the order of 500 ps[f] or less, these weights compact the near-surface soils effectively, without significant penetration.”

  4. Trond Engen says:

    In my long gone days of service in the Norwegian Coast Guard we used the straightforward compound ‘landstrøm’ “land electricity” (“lit. “land current”). I see that this is still the term in use.
    We always connected to ‘landstrøm’ as the first thing after, er, mooring (a new English word to me), and for twenty years I’ve just assumed that this is what ships do. I can still feel that sweet sensation of the moment when we had connected to land, the lights blinked briefly and came back with a sharper and more even glow, and the sound and the vibrations of the engines came to a stop.

  5. clodhopper says:

    There I be blowed, I ‘tort’ it meant that you put your long pants into trouser press and wait out the night snoring, thus no heat required.

  6. clodhopper says:

    taffy; another myth gone, I tort it was toffee using salty water from the river Taff

  7. Allow me to mention in the context of a contradictio in adjecto the phrase inland marine, an insurance term covering things which are being conveyed over land, nowadays usually in trucks, but also potentially on barges or such non-marine vessels.

  8. Yes, interesting.
    Minor possible correction ?
    I doubt the engines were “iron-clad”, more probably “iron” ie made of iron ? Iron-clad is associated with armoured ship hulls I believe.

  9. You’re probably right; if you’re sure enough, go ahead and correct the Wikipedia article.

  10. Taffy is good and toffee is also good. If someone understand the pronounced word than its fine because its just language and language means if someone can understand you that’s called language.

  11. Spammer good for a laugh here.

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