Traditional Nautical Terms & Sayings Traditional Nautical Terms &



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off port, waiting for the moment.' It has evolved into English as the word, 'opportunity', meaning, 'the right moment'.
109. Parish-Rigged - Any ship with cheap or second-hand rigging, cheap equipment, cheap food, and cheap accommodations. Almost certainly to be paying cheap wages as well. A term used to describe any ship with owners who wish to maximize profits and reduce overhead to the barest of minimums. - Closely related to "poor as church-mice", meaning a poor parish or country church.

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102. Master   at  Arms - A senior petty officer charged with keeping order aboard ship. Naval records show these "sheriffs of the sea" were keeping order aboard ship since the time of King Charles I of England. At the time, they were charged with keeping the swords, pistols, carbines and muskets in good working order as well as ensuring that the bandoleers were filled with fresh powder before combat. Besides being the 'chief of police' at sea, the sea corporals, as they were called in the British Navy, had to be experienced with swords, pikes, and small arms, and able to train seamen in hand to hand combat. In the days of sail, the MAAs were truly "master at arms." The Master at Arms in the US Navy today can trace the beginnings of his official rating to the Union Navy of the Civil War.


103. Mayday - The international voice radio distress call. French in origin. -"Venez m'aider," (Come help me). It is widely used because its pronunciation is easily recognizable even when it is very faint or there is loud background static.
104. Mess - Middle English in origin. - 'Mes', meaning a dish. Hence the term, 'a mess of pottage'. The word in English originally denoted four, and at large or formal dinners, the guests were seated in 'fours'. The average gun crew size was eight men (2 sets of four), and they worked, ate, stood watches, and slept together as a unit. This is the true origin of 'mess decks', where the ship's crew take their meals. The other application of the word 'mess', or confusion, is derived from the German word 'mischen', meaning to mix.
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90. Keelhaul   To be 'keelhauled' today is merely to be given a severe lecture from a senior for some violation, and/or extra tasks beyond the normal work load. In the days of sail, however, it was a much more extreme punishment, and was often fatal. An offender was bound securely by both hands and feet and then lowered over the side with a long line running to the other side of the ship. He was slowly dragged along the length of the keel, or from one side of the ship to the other, allowing the barnacles to rip at his body. The shock and trauma sometimes made him lose consciousness, which could cause him to drown.
91. Khaki - A durable, impregnated cloth light brown in color and first used by the British Army as a uniform in the late 1800's. Derived from the Ghurka (Northern India tribe from the Himalayan Mountains) word for 'mud'. It has since become the distinctive color in the American Navy to mark off officers and Chief Petty Officers.
92. Knots   The line tied to a ship's casting log to determine its speed was marked off by knots tied along its length. The length of the knot was derived from the proportion that one hour (3,600 seconds) is to 28 seconds as one nautical mile (6,080 ft.) is to the length of a knot (47 ft. 3 in.). The faster a ship went, the more 'knots' were paid out before a given amount of time.
93. Leatherneck   The fond nickname for a US Marine. Derived from their earliest uniforms, which featured a stiff, upright leather collar as a protection against sword cuts while boarding an enemy ship.
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94. Letting The Cat Out of the Bag (Or, "Don't Let the Cat Out of the Bag!")  This has its origins in the grim ceremony of removing the rope or rawhide "cat o' nine tails" from its carrying bag in preparation of flogging an offender. It was eventually applied to any other untimely, if less serious, revelation, which could lead to legal action or punishment.
95. Limey   Insulting nick name for a British sailor. Derived from the times when the British Navy regularly carried limes (a citrus fruit) aboard ship to serve to the crew and thus avoid scurvy.
96. Log Book   In the old days of sail, literally the only way of determining a ship's speed was to cast a small log secured to a line from the bow of the ship. By paying out the marked length of the line and timing how long it took for the log to reach the stern, the ship's speed could then be calculated. During each watch, the log had to be cast every hour, and the ship's speed and compass course noted in a book so the captain could use it for his navigation. It soon became customary and then required to note other observations such as weather conditions, time of sunrise and sunset, moonrise, sea state, and any happenings on board the ship.
97. Loggerhead - A word derived from 'logger-heat', which was a piece of iron on a long wooden handle used for melting pitch and/or applying it to the wooden seams of a ship. The iron after heating was dipped into a bucket of cold pitch, which softened and congealed around the iron, and then could be applied to the needed area. However, it could be a handy and deadly weapon when sailors fought each other, or were at 'loggerheads'.

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98. Lower Deck Justice - The sea-going equivalent to 'barracks justice' in the army. This is when the enlisted men, who live on the ship's lower decks, punish a thief or wrong-doer among themselves, usually by beating him or forcing him to run a gauntlet. The terms, 'sock party' (putting weights inside a sock), 'blanket party', and 'falling down a ladder', have the same meaning.


99. Lubber   Middle English in Origin. 'lobar' or 'lobar'. A big, clumsy fellow. It was applied to brand new sailors with no skills of seamanship. Fit only for hard, simple work.
100. Lubber Line   The line drawn across the face of the ship's compass that is aligned with the center line of ship itself, thus enabling an observer to tell which direction the ship is sailing in.
101. Mark Twain   Pen name for American author Samuel Longhorn Clemens("Tom Sawyer", "Huckleberry Finn", etc). He took it from his days as a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi. Sounding ropes had a mark at each fathom of length, or six foot intervals. Safe depth for a paddlewheel steamer was around 12 feet or so. Leadsmen when casting out the line would call, "By the Mark, Twain!" if there were two fathoms on the line, "By the Mark, Three!" or "By the mark, Four!" for each fathom. Just to save time, the two-fathom mark on the line was often marked with a special rag to make it stand out from the others. When the leadsman cast it out and it went below the surface, he knew that the depth was at least twelve feet, and so he would simply call out "Mark Twain!", since all the pilot was really interested in was whether or not he had safe passage.

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