Traditional Nautical Terms & Sayings Traditional Nautical Terms &



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Other non nautical terms in common usage.

                                         


159. A good 'Guy   An old English reference to Guy Fawkes Day. Guy Fawkes was a renegade who plotted to blow up the English Parliament by setting off barrels of gunpowder hidden below their chambers in the cellar. Discovered and hanged, his execution is now celebrated annually as a British holiday, accompanied by fireworks and hanging Guy Fawkes again in effigy. The dummy was usually constructed by street children out of rags and scrap wood, and the children would often beg passerby's for coins to purchase materials. 'A penny for the guy!', was the usual plea. The term was eventually used to describe any stranger or casual acquaintance: 'He's a good guy'. Note: 'Guy wires', or supporting lines, also had their origins from the rope used for his execution.
160. Aiguillette - This is the badge of office of a personal aide to a high-ranking officer, consisting of a shoulder device with a board and two loops ending in pegs and worn on the left shoulder. It dates from the 16th century when the "Aide de Campe" carried the rope and pegs for a general's tent, or for tethering his horse. Another variation states that the pegs were once indeed pencils to write down the general's orders.
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157. Wetting Down - A U.S. Navy tradition executed by an officer upon his promotion. It's based on the fact that the gold striping indicating rank on the Dress Uniform tarnishes with exposure to salt air. When an officer was promoted and added a new stripe to his sleeve, the new stripe looked out of place due to it's brightness, and told everyone who saw it that the wearer had only recently attained this rank. Therefore, the uniform with the new stripe was soaked in a bucket of salt water - a ‘wetting down’. A joking variation of this custom was for seniors to catch him unawares and splash him with buckets of seawater to perform the same purpose. In typical U.S. Navy fashion, this developed into an opportunity for someone to buy someone else a drink or to have a party.
158. Yacht - Dutch in origin. A shortened version of 'jaghtschip', or 'chase ship'. A small, light, and fast craft, originally intended for coastal patrol, quick transport of passengers, or raiding in coastal waters, since the design was not meant to carry great amounts of cargo or stores. It eventually became used to describe privately owned vessels of the wealthy class, since they had little or no commercial value, and thus were meant for pleasure trips only.
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37. Cocked Hat - The small triangular space usually found at the intersection of position lines on a chart when a ship's position is determined. With perfect observation and plotting, the three position lines should intersect at a single point; if they do not, a 'cocked hat' is formed. This is proof of error in the process of fixing the ship, often caused by a small error in the compass. If it is not large, navigators generally take the center of the cocked hat as the ship's position.
38. Con, or Conn - Old English in origin, first used in the present sense to guide a ship into harbor about 1510. Some scholars claim it has a close affinity to the word, 'cunning'.
39. Coxswain   An old Middle English word for small boats was 'cockle boat' (from 'cockle shells', or small clam and periwinkle shells along the beach), or 'cock boat'. This was combined with 'swain', or servant, meaning the sailor who cared for the boat and was in charge of it while it was being rowed. He steered the rudder and gave directions to the boat crew.
40. Crow's Nest - A basket or hooped station on the tallest mast of a sailing ship for the lookout. It is said that ancient Vikings kept a cage of crows up on the mast, since a crow would always fly towards land. Releasing one while lost or surrounded by fog gave them a direction to steer.

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41. Cumshaw - Something procured without official payment. Free, A lift. Unauthorized work done or equipment given to a ship or unit without official payment. It comes from the beggars of Amoy, China who said, "Kam Sia!", meaning, "Grateful Thanks!"


42. Cut of his Jib   The jib referred to the triangular sail that extended from the foremast to the bowsprit. It was used to take advantage of cross winds to make the ship turn faster than with just its rudder. Many navies had their own, distinctive style of making these jibs, and they could be recognized while a good distance away. Furthermore, sailors could tell by observing the angle, or 'cut' of another ship's jib against the horizon whether it was being handled smartly or in a clumsy fashion. More subtly, much could be told about a ship's behavior in this fashion. If the observed vessel used its jib to turn swiftly and aggressively towards them, it was probably hostile. If it came towards them gradually and in a leisurely fashion, then it was friendly and perhaps wanted a chat or an impromptu trading session. However, if it turned suddenly away, then it was afraid of them or had something to hide. This term was soon applied by observant sailors to other people they encountered.
43. Cut and Run   A common form of early sea warfare was sneaking into an enemy harbor at night and stealing the anchored ships or boats targeted by cutting their anchor lines and sailing away on the out going, or 'running' tide. This soon became used to describe any action or plan requiring speed and urgency. It also applied to an emergency action if an anchored ship was caught by surprise by a superior enemy force.
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154. Three Sheets to the Wind   Sails were often known as sheets (Old Middle English word "shete" for a broad piece of cloth) in the early sailing days. "Sheeting" was a maneuver whereby the crew would turn a sail as tight and as flat to the wind as possible, causing the ship to heel over sharply, thus increasing a turn. An emergency measure if a ship's side was holed was to turn all three sails into the wind in this manner, causing the ship to lean far over and nearly sail on its side, thus permitting the crew to patch the hole if it was not too far below the waterline. A ship sailing in this tilted manner presented an awkward, bobbing appearance, and was clearly not under full control. Thus the term was immediately applied to a drunken sailor.
155. Tow   Middle English in origin. "toh" meaning to pull. it was also used to describe the materials that made up a "tow", such as loose fibers, stuffing, and rope.
156. Turn a Blind Eye   Admiral Lord Nelson of the British Navy lost his left eye during a battle while still a Captain (At Tenerife). Later on, while a junior admiral or Commodore, he was in a battle (Copenhagen) under the over-all command of Fleet Admiral Earl St. Vincent. During the fighting, Vice Admiral Parker sent a signal to Nelson to get closer to him. Nelson, however, had seen a gap in the enemy battle line, and knew he could win the battle if he sailed into it instead, thus splitting the enemy fleet. Rather than flagrantly disobeying orders, he simply held up a telescope to his blind eye and said, "I don't see the signal," and thus went on to win the battle. Since that time, this term is used when a high ranking official chooses not to see a situation -If it's for the greater good, of course.

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153. Tattoo - There are two meanings to this word, far different in their origins and application. One comes from old Dutch tavern keepers, who would say, "tap toe" when the town drummer or bugler would sound the call for everyone to return to their quarters for the night. It meant, "The tap", or bar, is "to" (To be closed). This is from the early days of gunpowder and walled cities, especially in the country of Flanders, when the night watch would be called by the bugle to go out to take up their duties, To English soldiers stationed in Flanders or Holland at the time, it sounded like, "tattoo', and became utilized to describe the next to the next to the last bugle call for the night. The final bugle call was "taps", which meant that all businesses and taverns were now shut down for the night, and everyone except the night watch should be at home or in their barracks.

The second definition of 'tattoo' concerns the art of decorating the skin by tiny punctures of indelible ink or injecting it just below the skin's surface. Some of the earliest practitioners of this art were the Polynesian Islanders of the South Pacific. Their word for this practice was 'tatau'. Early western sailors did this at first with a cross to identify the wearer as a Christian, in case he was lost at sea and his body later recovered* (*A further elaboration states that this is also why some sailors used to wear golden ear rings. -It was meant to compensate the finders of his body for giving him a Christian burial and having a priest pray over his grave). Quite naturally, it became a popular art form in its own right.

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44. Davit - Not used until 1811; which is the term for the tackle on the main and foremost shrouds for hoisting heavy boats aboard ship. -First called 'davitt', and by Captain John Smith, 'The David's End', in 1626. It itself is derived from 'Daviet', or 'David'; since it was the custom in those days to give proper names to implements, such as 'billy', or 'jack'. A few scholars have theorized that the true origin is related to the Biblical story of King David's son, Absalom, who was caught hanging from a tree branch by his hair.


45. Dago - An insulting English nick-name for a Spanish Sailor, originating from the early sea wars between England, France, and Spain. It eventually expanded to include sailors from Portugal and Italy as well. It is derived from the common Spanish sur-name of "Diago", just as "John" and "Jack" are common English names.
46. Davy Jones - Among old-time sailors, he is the spirit of the ocean, and usually depicted as a sea devil. According to sailors' mythology, he is the fiend that presides over all the evil spirits of the deep. Thus also, 'Davy Jones' Locker' referred to the bottom of the sea, which is the final resting place of sunken ships, dead sailors, and/or any other item lost or washed overboard.

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47. Dead Horse   Merchant sailors were sometimes unemployed for long periods of time between voyages, and often lived in boarding houses near the piers while waiting for ships to come in and take on fresh crews. In such circumstances, many of them ran out of money, and so the innkeepers carried them on credit until they were hired for another voyage. When a sailor was booked on a ship, he was customarily advanced a month's wages, if needed, to pay off his boarding house debt. Once aboard ship, he worked for nothing but "salt horse" the first several weeks or so. Salt horse was the staple diet of early sailors and not tasty fare. Consisting of heavily salted, low quality beef, it was stringy and tough to chew. When the debt had been repaid, then the salt horse was said to be 'dead', for now the sailor could buy better food from the ship's stores, or bribe the cook or purser. This was a time for celebration among the crew. Usually, an effigy of a horse was constructed of shipboard odds and ends, set afire, and then thrown overboard amidst cheers and laughter. Another definition that is related to the first, is the fact that the "Horse Latitudes" lay towards the southern climates (Tropic of Cancer) near the Equator, which was roughly about a month's sail from England and Europe. Because of the doldrums (Lack of wind) in the area, ships were often becalmed for many days or weeks at a time, causing a water shortage. Livestock, especially horses, died first, or were simply killed and thrown overboard to save water. Their carcasses were often sighted by other ships traveling in this area, and so the region acquired that name. A sailor who had a debt to work off rejoiced at the sight of one of these floating bodies, knowing that he would soon be getting wages. In today's Navy, a "dead horse" refers to a debt to the government for advance pay.

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150. Tarpaulin Muster - The custom of a crew or watch section pooling their money for a night's fun ashore or some such enterprise. It comes from the early days of sail when a spare hatch covering (tarpaulin) cloth or piece of sail was spread out on the deck, and every man on board going ashore was required to empty his pockets before going over the side. The entire proceeds thus collected were totaled by the senior man present and divided equally among the shore party, or else paid in total to a single bar or tavern where the group intended to frolic
151. Tars   Sailors. Pitch or tar was often used by British sailors to keep their hair from blowing into their eyes during heavy weather (The modern kerchief of a bluejacket's uniform was originally tied around his forehead to keep the tar from dripping into his eyes. The back flap of his jumper was originally meant to protect his uniform from tar dripping off of the back of his head). It also refers to 'tarpaulin', which was an early form of water-proof cloth made by soaking it in a mixture of pine-pitch distillate and resin. It became a nick name for sailors in general.
152. Tart   In the old sailing days, left-over flour was often rolled and pressed on a hot grill, with jams from stored fruits ladled into the middle and then folded over, grilled, and served as a hot, simple desert or quick treat for the crew (Captains often had their own personal store of such fruits, and sometimes used them as a reward for good behavior or for a successful action). Because of age and storage, fruits often had a 'sharp' taste to them. It became a nick name for a prostitute or young lady of easy virtue.

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145. Stateroom - Officers' quarters aboard a warship and/or passenger cabins aboard a passenger liner. It is derived from the paddlewheel riverboats that steamed up and down the major rivers and waterways of the United States during the 1800's. The first-class cabins aboard were named after various states in the union (New York, Virginia, Pennsylvania, etc).


146. Stranded   'strand' is used to describe the long, narrow strip of beach that divides the sea from the land, and often is used to describe a long peninsula. Unlucky sailors left on the beach by shipwrecks or by dishonest captains who did not want to pay their wages when the voyage was over were thus 'stranded'.
147. Sucking the Monkey - Stealing liquor from officers' stores. In olden days, sea captains used to hang a small keg of their favorite wine or spirits outside their cabin windows where they could cool in the breeze and shadow of the stern. Agile but dishonest sailors would sneak their way down to the keg with a straw or small drinking tube that they would insert between the seams of the keg or its stopper.
148. Sundowner   A harsh disciplinarian. Some early captains were so strict that they ordered their crews to return to their ships by sunset if they were sailing in the morning.
149. Swallow the Anchor - To retire or be put ashore after a life at sea.
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48. Dead Marine - Any empty wine, beer, or liquor bottle left on the table during a party or celebration. Said to be first used by King William IV while he was still the Duke of Clarence. While at dinner on board one of his ships, he ordered the steward to remove the 'dead marines'. When a marine officer present objected to the term, he explained that the bottles, like the marines, they had done their duty nobly, and would soon be ready to do so again (once they were refilled). The army has an exact equivalent: 'Dead Soldier'.
49. Dear John   The farewell letter a sailor's sweetheart writes him when she has fallen in love with another while he is away at sea. It is now a term applied to any branch of the service when a uniformed individual is away on duty and is forsaken by the loved one at home. NOTE: a 'Dear Joan' letter is when the REVERSE happens.  Sometimes the uniformed individual falls in love with someone ELSE while stationed away from home, and so writes a farewell letter to the loved one left behind.
50. Deep-Six - To deliberately throw something overboard in deep water to be lost for good. It comes from the fact that deep water is measured in "fathoms", or measurements of six feet. The depth of the average grave is also six feet.
51. Derrick - Named after Thomas Derrick, a famous executioner at the time of Queen Elizabeth. He was an ingenious hangman who devised a beam with a topping lift and pulleys for his hangings, instead of the old-fashioned rope over the beam method.
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52. Devil to Pay   Today the expression "devil to pay" is used primarily as a means of conveying an unpleasant and impending happening. Originally, this expression denoted the specific task aboard ship of caulking the ship's longest seam. The "devil" was the longest seam on a wooden ship, and caulking was done with "pay" or pitch. This grueling task of paying the devil was despised by every seaman, and the expression came to denote any unpleasant task.
53. Dog Watch   Dog watch is the name given to the 1600 1800 and the 1800 2000 watches aboard ship. The 1800 2000 4 hour watch was originally split to prevent men from always having to stand the same watches daily. As a result, sailors dodge the same daily routine, hence they are dodging the watch, or standing the 'dodge' watch. In its corrupted form, dodge soon became dog and the procedure is referred to as "dogging the watch" or standing the "dog watch." (P.S. It is always FIRST and LAST Dogwatch, never FIRST and SECOND)
54. Doughnut (or, Donut) - when first invented, it was a ring of bread dough deep-fried in fat and flavored with sugar, honey, or molasses. A popular treat in early American history, both out West and at sea. Legend has it that an early New England sea captain by the name of Hansen Gregory designed them so that helmsmen on watch could slip them over the spokes of the ship's wheel.

Thus making them handy for eating or allowing them to cool if they were freshly made.


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141. Spin a Yarn   Early ropes and lines were made from yarn, which was spun by hand and later spliced or woven into larger sizes or used to repair existing ones. Leisurely, relaxing work, it required only the use of the hands, and sailors could sit around and tell stories or gossip as they did so ("Ropeyarn Sunday" comes from this, also). Tales, jokes, and anecdotes became known as "yarns" because of their origins from this activity.
142. Splice The Main Brace   In the Royal Navy, when it became time to issue the rum ration, the word was jokingly passed to "splice the Main Brace", an indication of how important liquor was to the crew. It is used today whenever sailors go ashore and into a drinking establishment.
143. Squared Away   Square rigged sailing ships would set the backs of their sails directly into the wind for their best speed. A ship standing out smartly from harbor with every sail thus set presented a neat, purposeful appearance. The term soon became applied as a compliment to any competent sailor.  In particular one with a neat appearance.
144. Starboard   Before the rudder was invented, sailing ships were guided by a large oar or "steering board" set towards the stern of the ship, usually on the right side. To avoid damage from the dock or pier, the ship was tied up on its left side while the ship was in port. Thus the left side of the ship became the "port" side, and the right the "starboard." This soon became known as the "star board", and designated the right hand side of the ship. When in Port, the vessel would tie up on its left side, away from the steering oar; and so thus became known as the "Port" side.

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139. Smoking Lamp   Many old-time sailors enjoyed a good smoke, just as some do, today. Lighting up a cigar or pipe was done with the flame of a handy lantern or "lamp" that was kept burning for this purpose. However, there were times working aloft when smoking would be a distraction or even a hazard (especially when loading or working with gunpowder). Passing the word, "The Smoking Lamp is out" soon became a warning that smoking was to cease no matter where a crewman was, just as passing the word that it was lit often meant that they could take a short break or that it was the end of the working day.


140. Son of a Gun   A male child conceived on a man of war's gun deck. There was a time in sailing history when wives, lovers, and ladies of pleasure were permitted on board to entertain the men while in port. In most cases,  especially during war, crewmen were not permitted to leave the ship for the very plausible fear that they would desert. Thus were visitors allowed. Since the only place a couple could find any privacy was between the massive cannons of the ship's armament, the term was applied to the child that resulted. Purists argue the term should be applied only to the male child that was actually born in these circumstances, since this sometimes occurred as well, but far less often. A further elaboration states that women experiencing difficulty during child birth were laid next to one of these cannons, which was then fired in the belief that the noise and shock would be enough to hasten the birth.
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55. Down a Peg or Two - During the days of sail, flags had their heights regulated by a series of pegs at the base of the mast where their hoisting ropes were secured. An admiral had the right to fly his own personal flag, which was placed at the highest point of the mast to signify his rank and prestige to all within view. However, if an admiral of higher rank appeared on the scene, then his flag had to be taken down by a peg or two, according to his lower seniority. It became a very popular means to describe how someone's pride or ego could be dealt with.
56. Down-Easterner - A unique nick-name for someone who comes from the state of Maine in New England. Derived from the early colonial days of North America, when what is now Maine was Officially part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Since there were few roads and no railroads, travel between Boston and the Maine area was by sea. Due to the local prevailing winds, and the northward flow of the Gulf Stream, a ship sailing away from Boston to Maine was said to be going "Down Wind.", or, "Down" to Maine. Since Maine actually projects Eastward further than Boston and Cape Cod, most traffic was sailing North and Eastwards, and so the two terms were combined. Eventually, it came to denote anyone who lived at that destination.


57. Down the Scuppers   A 'scupper' was an opening cut through the waterway and bulwarks of a ship so that water falling on deck could wash through and overboard. Careless sailors who dropped their pipes, coins, or other small but valuable objects were very apt to lose them for good right before their eyes. This saying soon became applied to any hopeful chance or opportunity lost.

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58. Drumhead, i.e., Drumhead Courts-Martial - On board the larger sailing ships, the head-post of the huge rudder was covered by a large, circular construction made of wood planking. Because of its shape, it was known as the 'drumhead', and doubled as a dining table and convient working surface for the ship's officers, since it was located aft in their berthing area. It also became the center-point of formal inquiries and/or court-martial trials.


59. Dungaree - In the early days of the British East India Trade company, merchants began to import a rough, durable cloth made of cotton and impregnated with tar, pitch, or gum. The Hindu name for this was "dungri", and was chiefly used for tents and sails. Early sailors, who quickly appreciated its toughness, began fashioning working clothes from them, especially pants. It soon spread throughout the seas and became known as "dungarees". A very close parallel occurred in America during the gold-rush days, when a tailor named Levi Strauss did the same thing with canvas, which was used for tents at the mining camps.
60. Dutch Courage - Alcohol. Derived from the English and Dutch wars of the early 1600's. It was the Dutch custom in those times to give their sailors liberal doses of gin or whiskey before going into battle.
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136. Slipped His Moorings   Originally, it referred to a sailor's death. A ship or boat that was carelessly or loosely tied to a dock would sometimes slip its moorings at high tide during the night, since the vessel's rise would pull the loops of the ropes right up over the posts they were tied to. As the tide receded, the boat would drift away with it and right on out to sea. In the morning it would be gone, after disappearing mysteriously during the night. Sailors fatally ill would often pass away during the night in the same manner. In more recent times, it referred to a careless or mis-directed sailor who was 'drifty',
137. Slops - The name given to ready-made clothing carried in old warships and issued to seamen on repayment against their pay when drawn. The name comes from the old English word 'sloppe', meaning breeches. 'Sloppy Clothing' originally referred only to the baggy trousers worn by seamen, since the ship's tailor made them all extra-large to ensure they could be worn by anyone.
138. Slush Fund   A small, usually illegal fund raised on ships from the misappropriation and sale of grease, rope, rags, and odds and ends to other ships or local citizens ashore. This was used to pay for small, often shady expenses, like an extra rum ration. This originally comes from the cook's habit of skimming the grease off the meat as he boiled it (Cooks often had the nick-name of 'slushy' for this reason). He would sell the grease in small pots to the sailors to spread on their biscuits when the butter had turned rancid or was used up. Or, he would sell it to the ship's purser to make into candle wax. Sea cooks were usually disabled or elderly seamen with wages much lower than a prime sailor's..

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131. Shanghaied   Shanghai was the major seaport in China during the Clipper ship days, and had the worst reputation. It was also a very long journey lasting many weeks and months at sea. Unpopular with sailors, China bound captains often had to trick or even outright kidnap men aboard ship to make the voyage. Thus the term was used to describe anyone making a voyage or performing a task against his will.


132. Shiver Me Timbers - Timbers were the largest, and therefore the main support beams for the decks and ribs of a ship. Only violent movements, such as heavy seas or a collision, could cause them to shake. This term came to be used for any deed or action that was deeply surprising or threatening to a sailor.
133. Sick Bay   In the early sailing ships, the bow area was the roomiest area below decks available to the crew, taking the shape of a bay when viewed from inside. It was the custom for the surgeon to use this area to do his work, especially if battle caused the need to have enough room for many men to be stretched out at once for his attention. It has now become the term for the ship's medical area on the vessel, regardless of its actual location.
134. Skedaddle   To sneak away from a working party.
135. Skylark   "Larking" meant to fool around and play. High spirited sailors often did this while aloft among the sails and out of the immediate reach of their officers.
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61. Fathom - The unit of measurement in most maritime countries for the depth of the sea or the lengths of ropes or cables. The word comes from the old English Word 'faedm', which means 'to embrace'. It is a measurement based on a man's out-stretched arms, and is roughly six feet. As a measurement of distance, a 'cable' is 100 fathoms. The saying, "I can fathom that," is now obsolete, but once referred to a person being able to understand the depth of something, or to measure it.
62. Flogging the Clock   Killing time or simply doing tasks in a slow and leisurely fashion. Originally derived from "Flogging the Glass", a practice from the early days of sail when time on deck was marked by an hour-glass. Young midshipmen entrusted with turning the glass over to mark the passing of an hour would tap on the side to make the sand fall through faster.
63. Flotsam and Jetsam - Two terms commonly used in literature, but quite distinct in origin and meaning, and once had very important differences under maritime law. 'Flotsam' derives from the Latin 'flotare', "to float". It referred to cargo or parts of a wrecked ship that floats upon the sea. If found with no survivors or between the water-marks of high and low tide on the beach, then full possession rights went to the finder. However, if it was 'Jetsam' (Coming from the Latin 'Jetare', "to throw"), it meant that the items were thrown overboard to save the ship or the cargo itself if disaster was very close. In this case, the items still belonged to the owner of the vessel or its survivors, and the finder would be entitled only to a salvage fee.
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64. Foclsle   English in origin. From "Fore Castle". In the very early days of sail, warships actually had castle like structures fore and aft for combat.
65. French Leave - AWOL, or Away Without Leave.

Some say it is an insulting reference from the British towards their French Opponents during the early Continental wars of the 16th, 17th and 18th Century. Other scholars argue that in the 1600's in France, it was perfectly acceptable in French etiquette for a person to leave a party or gathering without informing the host and asking his permission or 'leave'. -Not all the case among the more proper British.

66. Frigate - From the French word, 'Frigata'. Originally a class of Mediterranean vessels which used both oars and sails. The French were the first to use frigates on the ocean for war or commerce. By the eighteenth century, it became a term for a single-decked ship, or rather, a single gun-decked ship, with an upper, or 'weather' deck. (Often called a 'spar' deck, since replacement spars for the ship's masts were stowed there for easy access).
67. Frog   Insulting nick name for a French sailor. Derived from the fact that frog legs were a favorite food among the French. This is very much the same attitude that led to nick-naming British sailors as 'Limeys', since they often consumed lime juice as a protection against scurvy.
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127. Scuttlebutt   The cask, or butt, that contained the ship's daily water ration, built with a square hole, or 'scuttle' in the side at the half full mark (To deliberately sink, or 'scuttle' the ship, has the same origin) This ensured that only half a butt would be available for use each day. Sailors often tarried during water breaks to swap rumors,  or "scuttlebutt". It is now the drinking fountain found aboard ships.
128. Sea Lawyer   An argumentative sailor. Usually one who quotes confusing rules and regulations, and makes accusations against seniors to his advantage.
129. Sea-Going Bellhop - From the US Navy. It is an insulting term for US Marines. So given due to the fact that their dress uniforms are much fancier than a sailor's.
130. Shake a Leg   In the British Navy of King George III and earlier, many sailors' wives accompanied them on long voyages. Also, wives were allowed to stay for the night when the ship was in port. This practice could cause some problems, but some ingenious bosun solved the situation which tended to make reveille a hazardous event: The problem of distinguishing which bunks or hammocks held males and which held females. To avoid dragging the wrong "mates" out of their hammocks, the bosun asked all to "shake a leg" or "show a leg." If the leg was shapely and/or adorned with silk, the owner was allowed to continue sleeping. If the leg was obviously male, such as being hairy and/or tattooed, then he was rousted out. In today's Navy, showing a leg is a signal to the reveille petty officer that you have heard his call and you are awake.

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124. Route - Said to be Dutch in origin. Dutch Pilots and Navigators kept their own separate logs (They were called "Reuters", and often handled in great secrecy by merchant companies) from the captain's log. Here, they recorded copious notes and descriptions of landmarks, weather and sea conditions, tides, hazards, and even interviews with local seamen, fishermen and other skippers along the way. This was known as a "Reuters Log" or "Reuters Guide", which was invaluable to other ships to find a destination.


125. Sally Ship   French in origin. From "sally" to rush forward. In the days of sail, when a ship ran aground or touched bottom at low tide, it was possible to break free by ordering the crew to "sally ship". They would run from side to side in unison, thus creating a violent rocking motion.
126. Schooner - Old Scottish, or Gaelic in origin. 'Scone' meant 'to skip', such as when a flat stone is skipped across the water. Used to describe small, fast vessels with broad, fin-like sails that stretched fore and aft when rigged, instead of the more traditional ones that went from side-to-side of a ship. It is reported that it began when Captain Andrew Robinson built the first vessel of this type in Glocester, Massachusetts in 1713. At the time of her launching and first 'sea-trial' in the harbor, a Scottish by-stander exclaimed, "Oh, how she 'Scoons'!". Captain Robinson took up the remark and applied it to all later vessels of this type. The spelling is also reported to be based on how the word, 'school' is spelled, which has the same pronunciation.
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68. Gee-Dunk - World War II in origin. It was the slang nick-name given by sailors for the pre-mixed concentrate (Often labeled as 'General Dairy' products on the containers) that was loaded aboard American warships to be made into ice cream while at sea. Some scholars argue it was originally intended to be a substitute for the rum ration privilege given to British sailors, while others point out that ice cream was a popular American treat anyway, and could be easily made aboard ship. In either case, American warships since WW II have had sea-going ice cream soda shops or fountains, where this commodity could be regularly sold to members of the crew for a small sum. Gradually, other snack foods such as candy bars, chips, cookies, etc. were added to the stocks. The term is now generally applied to all "junk" food that is not on the ship's regular menu.
69. Gig List   The word 'Gig' has the same origins as 'Jig', which refers to the old French method of fishing by jerking a series of gang hooks through a crowded school of fish. In this case, the hooked 'fish' are sailors listed on a list for some minor infraction, such as a below standards uniform or general over all appearance.
70. Grog   This once referred the ration of rum issued twice a day to Royal Navy crews (It was looked upon as a way to prevent mutiny and relieve some of the hardships of naval life). It was originally nick-named for the grogham cloak worn by Admiral Edward Vernon. In 1740, he devised the formula of three parts water to one part rum. By hoarding his rations, a sailor could get himself drunk, or in other words, "groggy."
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71. 'Gone West' - To die. It's from ancient Viking days. When a mighty chief or king died, his body was often placed upon a special bier and then put aboard a longship. The steering oar was lashed straight, the sails were set, and the war-craft was set loose to sail into the sunset with its sleeping warrior to honor him.
72. Gun-decking   False claims of completed tasks, cheating, or short-cutting. In the days of fighting sail, the exclusive domain of the enlisted men was the lower deck where the ship's heaviest cannons were installed. This was known as the gun deck, and here the crew, 8 to 10 men per gun, slung their hammocks, set up their mess tables, and hung their personal belongings in "ditty bags". At the beginning of a normal working day, the Captain or First Mate would write in the Deck Log Book the maintenance, minor repairs, or cleaning jobs that he wanted done. Many of the these tasks were assigned to senior enlisted men who were entrusted to find the necessary men and resources to do them. Skilled but illiterate, they would verbally report to the Officer of the Deck when a particular job was finished. He would then refer to the log book, find the ordered task, and write for example, "Accomplished by gun-deck party, Seaman Jones or Petty Officer Kentworth in charge." Over the years, "Accomplished by the gun-deck" was shortened to "gun-deck", and eventually came to describe any task that was performed without detailed supervision. Sometimes, however, unscrupulous seamen would do the job hastily or perhaps even not at all, and the Officer would just accept their word.
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121. Quarter-deck - That part of the upper deck of a ship which is abaft, or just to the rear, of the mainmast, or where the mainmast would be if the ship was a sailing ship. In very early English ships in medieval times, it was where a small religious shrine was set up, and so every man going by would take off his hat in respect or salute it as he passed. This was the origin for saluting the Quarter-deck which still persists today. It also became the place where the men were gathered to muster and receive orders from the officers up on the raised, or "poop" deck in the stern area. This was also the origin of the "Watch, Quarter, and Station Bill, and also the origin of "Beat to Quarters", when drums were used to summon the crew to battle stations.
122. Quartermaster - The Quarter-deck area was originally officers' country, and enlisted men were not allowed there unless called for. However, seasoned, trusted seamen were allowed up there as helmsmen. Because they had to know how to steer a given course, they also had to learn how to read a compass and then care for it as well. So too with the ship's chronometer, and then gradually the sextant, charts, and other navigating equipment. Eventually, selected sailors became "masters" of the Quarter-deck area, particularly when it came to navigation.
123. Round Robin - The custom of rebellious or mutinous sailors of signing their names to a protesting letter or petition by signing their names radiating outward like the spokes of a wheel. This way, there would be no leading names on the list. Some scholars say that this is also the origin of the term, 'ring-leader'.
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118. Pooped   What happened to any unfortunate seaman caught standing on the aft, or poop, deck when a giant wave from a following sea crashed down.
119. Posh   This comes from the days of Britain's East India Company. Aboard the ships that sailed from England to India, the most comfortable quarters were found on the PORT side of the ship going OUT to India (Because the sun rose in the east, thus warming that side of the ship first, and setting in the west, which cooled that area earlier from the heat of the day). Returning from India to England, the more comfortable quarters were now on the opposite side of the ship for the same reason, or STARBOARD HOME. Naturally, these quarters were much more expensive for passengers traveling by ship. Thus, only the more wealthy families could afford to have the initials P.O.S.H. (Port Out, Starboard Home) entered into the ship's log book when they made their reservations.
120. Quarters - The two after parts of a ship, behind the mainmast on each side of the center-line were referred to as the "quarters". It was where the officers and wealthy passengers had their living spaces. It also became a rough method of telling direction by dividing a ship in four parts from its center. Thus, when the wind was blowing "from the port quarter", it meant the wind was blowing from about 225 degrees relative, or 45 degrees away from 180 degrees relative, which is dead astern.
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73. Gunnel (Gunwale) - Anglo-Saxon in origin. 'Wala', or 'weal', which was a strip or a ridge. First used in England around 1330. The top row of guns on early fighting ships were fired over planking which had been reinforced by 'wales' for extra strength. Hence the term, 'gunwales'.
74. Handsomely - Derived from the Swedish word 'hinna', or 'hands', which originally meant, 'easy to handle'. It became a term in the old navy (16th Century) to describe an action to be done slowly, carefully, and steadily.
75. Hammock - from the old Bahamian word, 'hammack'. Columbus in 1498 noted how the natives of the Bahamas used woven cotton nets as beds, suspending them off the ground. The Spanish changed the word to 'hamaco'. Sailors of all navies quickly realized the convience and utility of using sails in a similar fashion, since they were easy to stow and freed up valuable working space by day.
76. Hawser   Middle English in origin.  'Halse', and Old Norse, 'Hals', meaning 'neck'. This is a thick, large rope (about the size of a man's neck') used for towing or securing a ship to its anchor, or tied to a pier. This is also the origin of the word, 'hawsepipe', which refers to the hole in the bow area where the ship's anchor chain runs out.
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77. Head Call   Since interior plumbing was not available aboard sailing ships, toilet facilities consisted of simple holes cut into planking extending over the side. Officers and passengers had theirs located aft, while the enlisted crew had theirs forward, toward the "head" of the ship. In proportion, there were fewer "spaces" available for the crew, and they often had to remain aloft for many hours while doing their duties. To provide the necessary time and to avoid offending female passengers, the word "head call" was passed during the changing of the watch. This gave women and children a discrete hint to get below and out of the way for a short time.
78. Holystone   A small abrasive stone of pumice or rough slate that was used to smooth and polish the wooden decks of a sailing ship. For ease of handling and stowage, it was almost exactly the same size as the average Bible, or "holy" book. Another origin of the term is that fragments of broken monuments from the abbey of Saint Nicholas (located in Great Yarmouth, England), were used at one time to scrub the decks of the British Navy.
79. Honcho   Japanese in origin. "Han" (squad) and 'cho" (head) which was combined to mean "squad leader". Loosely applied to mean "Boss" or "Big Shot". Adopted by the US Pacific Fleet after WW II and popularized during the Vietnam War.
80. Hooker   An old and clumsy ship, from the Dutch 'hoeker', a fishing boat. It became an affectionate, but disparaging, sailor's term for old prostitutes. Some argue the term is from the US Army, and is named after a Civil War General who had a number of camp followers in his train.
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114. P's and Q's   In the days of sail when sailors were paid pittance, seamen drank their ale in taverns whose keepers were willing to extend credit until payday. Since many salts were illiterate, keepers kept a tally of pints and quarts consumed by each sailor on a chalkboard behind the bar. Next to each person's name, a mark was made under "P" for pint or "Q" for quart whenever a seaman ordered another draught. On payday, each seaman was liable for each mark next to his name, so he was forced to "mind his P's and Q's" or get into financial trouble. To ensure an accurate count (Not all inn-keepers were honest), sailors had to keep their wits and remain somewhat sober. Sobriety usually ensured good behavior. Hence, the meaning of "Mind your P's and Q's."
115. Play Hob   Middle English in origin. Abbreviated nick name for 'Robert' the name given to a mischievous ghost or goblin. Often referred to as 'hobgoblin'. It became a term for a series of troublesome accidents of mysterious origins.
116. Pogy Bait   "pogy" is an old coastal Indian (Algonquian) term for a small fish of the herring or sardine variety. Cabin boys, young midshipmen, and boys who served as "powder monkeys" were known as "pogies" to the older members of the crew. Thus candy, sweetmeats, cookies, and other treats were known to attract them.
117. Pongo - The sailor's nick-name for a soldier. The term is said by some to have been borrowed from Africa where it is used to indicate a gorilla, or any other great ape.
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110. Purser - Paymaster. This comes from the medieval word, 'bursar', who was the nobleman's keeper of the cash. Hence the word, 'disburse', when referring to payments or salaries to the crew.
111. Pea-Coat - Believed to come from the Dutch word 'pij', which was a coarse, woolen cloth. Another possible origin lies in the fact that early Navy coats were made from a heavy material called, 'pilot cloth', hence, 'P-Coat'.
112. Porthole - King Henry VI of England ordered his shipbuilder, James Baker, to install heavy guns on his ships. Too heavy to be stable on the upper decks, Baker pierced the sides of his ships and used the French idea of mounting watertight doors over them to close the openings when the guns were not in use. This door was called a port. Later on, it was discovered that round holes distributed the strains of a ship's motion evenly around it, rather than making weak points at the joints and corners.
113. Port and Starboard   Nautical terms for designating the left and right sides of a ship or vessel. "Port" came from the early days of sail when ancient ships had a steering oar instead of a rudder. Because the average man is right handed, the steering oar was traditionally lashed or mounted on the right side of the vessel. As vessels grew larger, so did the steering oar until it became quite literally a board, or "steering board".
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81. Irish Pennant   A loose thread protruding from a sailor's uniform. It is an insulting reference made by old English sailors towards Irishmen.
82. Jack   Sailor (Nick name for 'John', which was a very common name in England, and thus came to be used for anyone) In the days of sail, it referred to a bar of iron at topgallant masthead to support a royal mast and spread the royal shrouds.
83. Jack of the Dust - Ship's Baker. Given because the man could have such a covering of flour dust while working as to make him unrecognizable, hence the given but common name of 'Jack'.
84. Jacob's Ladder   A Jacob's ladder is a portable ladder made of rope or metal and used primarily as an aid in boarding ship. Originally, the Jacob's ladder was a network of rope lines leading to the skysail on wooden ships. The name alludes to the biblical Jacob, who dreamed of a ladder that reached into Heaven. To a sailor who is climbing a Jacob's ladder while carrying a seabag, it does seem that the climb is long enough to take him up into the clouds.
85. Jaunty   This was once the nick-name for the ship's master at arms. It comes from the French word 'gendarme'. He was an official who supervised floggings and other disciplinary actions. Along with his military duties, The master-at-arms' role was also that of enforcing shipboard discipline. Knowing his power, he was a man apt to swagger about the decks with a 'gendarme', or 'jaunty' type of gait.
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86. Jibe   'Jibe' is the maneuver used when a sailing jib is utilized to turn the ship sharply back and forth, causing enemy gunners to throw off their aim or to gain a maneuvering advantage. It was also used to bring a ship's mainsails into the wind. Thus, the term, "That jibes with what I heard," refers to confirming a belief. Conversely, "I've had enough of your jibes," means the speaker is tired of the other person's joking or erratic behavior.
87. Jig's Up   From the old French word "giguer" to dance, and the old High German word "gigue" for fiddle. It was first used to describe a lively, springy dance. It was also used to describe an early French fishing method ('giguer') of using a series of gang hooks and jerking them up and down through a crowded school of fish, thus hooking them by surprise. It thus became used to describe the moment when a joke, prank, or clever game is finished.
88. Junk   Worn out rope, or old salted meat that looked and tasted like it. Junk rigging was sold by the mate to a "junkman."
89. Jury rig   Any hastily devised, or temporary construction to perform a task or repair. Usually referred to a broken mast fixed with braces and planks to create a makeshift mast until safe harbor could be reached. Some scholars argue it comes from the term. 'injury' to a ship that had to be repaired, while others contend that the repairs were done by a group of men called hastily together to perform a 'quick-fix', which is a sarcastic reference to how legal juries are said to function.
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105. Mickey Mouse - Trivial, petty. The term comes from WW II and Walt Disney's famous cartoon character. At the time, the US Navy established a number of 'boot camps', which were officially termed, 'Military Indoctrination Centers', or MIC's. The discipline, regulations, and restrictions placed upon the new recruits were not very welcome, and they quickly combined the official term with the cartoon to denote anything ridiculous, non-sensical, or unimportant, but which had to be followed or obeyed.
106. Moor - From the Dutch word 'marren', meaning to tie or fasten.
107. One Good Turn Deserves Another   Old sailor's advice to keep a ship or anything else of value tied up secure by taking yet another turn of the rope around the mooring bits.
108. Opportunity - Even this term has a nautical origin. In the days of sail, ships depended upon the incoming, or flood tide, to take them into port. If they arrived early or late, then they had to stand off outside of the harbor's entrance to wait for the right time. The ancient Romans referred to this as "Ob Portu", which literally translated as, 'standing
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