[Note: This entry was previously astern the lighter and incorporates behind the lighter.]
astern of the lighter adv phr, adj phr Also astern the lighter, behind the lighter [Naut, the orig sense being “in danger of missing one’s ship” as in quot 1831 below, presumably because the lighter, a barge used in loading a moored ship, would normally provide the last opportunity for getting aboard before it sailed.] esp NEast Cf behind the lighthouse adv phr
Fig: behindhand, backward, short of some expectation or standard.
1809 Lindsley Love & Friendship 30, [Play:] I have important business for you; you must be my second in— Jack. You are a stern [sic] of the lighter there, sir; for I told mr. Portrain all about the danger as every honest tar should his shipmate. 1828 United States’ Telegraph (Washington DC) 22 Oct /3, Bucks county [PA]. Much was said by the whole pack of Adams men as to their carrying here by 1200 majority. When the returns were received, the majority was reduced to 175. Thus the estimate of the false prophet Binns is only 1025 behind the lighter. [1831 NY Eve. Post (NY) 12 Mar /5, “For heaven’s sake don’t stop me,” cried the tar, “the sloop’s off, and if I don’t bear a hand I shall fall astern of the lighter.”] 1852 Boston Post (MA) 25 Feb /3 (newspaperarchive.com), Some petitions that came in “behind the lighter” were now presented. Adjourned. 1862 Eve. Press (Providence RI) 14 Feb /4, Our people have been somewhat “astern of the lighter” in testifying the satisfaction which they really feel at the brilliant success of the expedition under the gallant Burnside. 1892 Boston Daily Globe (MA) 3 Dec 3/2 NYC, You . . thought you were about big enough team to beat the whole of New York. But you’re behind the lighter now, and I’ll make ye wish ye’d minded yer own business. 1896 Jewett Pointed Firs 26 ME, “Then you were wrecked?” I asked, as he made a long pause. “I wa’n’t caught astern o’ the lighter by any fault of mine,” said the captain gloomily. 1916 Macy–Hussey Nantucket Scrap Basket 124, “Astern the Lighter”—Tardy, lagging behind; a lighter being a slow-moving craft used for transferring cargo, to be “astern the lighter” is to be rather a laggard, and the term is used in a contemptuous sense, as “Oh, he’s always astern the lighter!” 1929 AmSp 5.119 ME, A late man was “always behind the lighter.” 1929 Starbuck My House 27 Nantucket MA, And housewives when the work dragged would sometimes say, ‘I’m behind the lighter to-day; it seems as if I should never fetch night.’ 1945 Colcord Sea Language 118, Nantucket has a rather incomprehensible term meaning belated—astern the lighter. “You’re astern the lighter a’ready with all your garden chores.”