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Tag Archives: Etymology

What a Buttload!

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Now, now… if you thought I was going to be rude, you don’t know me very well.  While I am certain that the term “butt” has led to countless jibes and jokes down through the centuries, it is (among other things) in fact an English measuring unit for wine.  A Buttload of wine is a unit for liquids which contains 126 gallons (~276 litres) which is one-half tun (252 gallons), and equivalent to the pipe (the latter also referred to the large container used for storing liquids or foodstuffs; now we rather use the terms cask or vat).  That they needed a term for a unit of wine that massive may seem odd at first; but when you remember that the water they had to drink was the same water that flowed downhill from the landlord’s latrine, the cows in the pasture, and the washer woman upstream, wine, beer and ale (depending on which harvest climate you lived in) was by far the safest thing to drink.  If wine was available in your area, it was stored in barrels and thus was drunk relatively young; also, to counter the effects of drinking it at every meal, wine was often diluted 4 or 5-to-1 with water; that took all of the buzz out of it (and added who knows how many bugs that they were drinking wine to avoid in the first place…).  Now you know.  What a buttload off my mind… I think it’s time for a glass of (undiluted) wine.

A Buttload of Wine

The Corryvreckan

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The world’s third largest maelstrom, the Corryvreckan, lies in wait between the isles of Jura and Scarba, Scotland.  Being where it is, it is bound to not only have a history worth repeating, but is bound to have stories, myths and tales attached to it.

The Western Isles of Scotland, and location of the Corryvreckan

The Western Isles of Scotland, and location of the Corryvreckan

One mention of the whirlpool comes from Donald Munro in 1549:  “ther runnes ane streame, above the power of all sailing and rowing, with infinit dangers, callit Corybrekan. This stream is aught myle lang, quhilk may not be hantit bot be certain tyds.1 (“There runs one stream, above the power of all sailing and rowing, with infinite dangers, called Corryvreckan.  This stream is eight miles long, which may not be handled but by certain tides.”).  Donald was a Scottish clergyman with the honorary title of “Dean of the Isles”; his father was chief of the clan Munro and 10th Baron of Foulis, and most importantly to history, Donald wrote a description of the Western Isles of Scotland.  Included in that is the Hebrides (Inner and Outer), which have been noteworthy since at least AD 83, when Demetrius or Tarsus wrote about his journey to one such island, the retreat of holy men.

The name itself comes from the Gaelic Coire Bhreacain – “Cauldron of the Plaid”, and is connected with a myth of Cailleach Bheur, an old hag who was said to stir the waters of the strait in order to wash her plaid.  Breacan was also thought to be the name of a Norse king – whether he gave his name to the maelstrom, or the modern name of the strait is a pun on his name, is debatable.  But he is said to have tried to escape from his father (another tale claims he was trying to impress a local princess – but perhaps there’s an element of truth in both the tales) and was swept into the current.

In 1947, George Orwell was nearly drowned in the Corryvreckan along with his three-year-old son and two companions; only because the currents changed were they able to row away from the danger, sans motor that got eaten by the maelstrom, and were then shipwrecked on an uninhabited rock, with no supplies.  They were rescued by a passing fisherman, and three months later the first draft of Nineteen Eighty-Four was complete.2

1(Source:  Wikipedia)

2 (Source: Taylor, D.J. (2003). Orwell: The Life. London: Chatto & Windus. pp. 385–7)

Hobson’s Choice

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Thomas Hobson EngravingThomas Hobson (1544-1631) is still famous through the idiom, “Hobson’s Choice”, which means basically “Take it or leave it”.  An innkeeper in Cambridge, England, he would hire out his horses (according to information at the Cambridge Guildhall, he apparently had an extensive stable of 40 horses, which was a sign of immense wealth in those days!).  To avoid the best horses being favoured and thus worn out more quickly, he devised a rotation system that became known as Hobson’s Choice:  The horse closest to the entrance, or none.  The idiom is sometimes used erroneously to mean a choice between two equally good (or bad) situations or solutions; but Hobson’s choice was really a choice between something or nothing.

I first came across the phrase when reading Frederick Hoffman’s “A Sailor of King George“:

I interrogated the next, who was a short, slight, pale-faced man. “And pray,” said I, “what part of the play have you been performing; were you ever at sea?” “No, sir,” said he; “I am a hairdresser, and was pressed a week ago.” “D——n these fellows!” said my captain; “they are all tailors, barbers, or grass-combers. I want seamen.” “Then,” said Captain N., who was the flag-captain, and had just come on board, “I much fear you will be disappointed. These are the only disposable men, and it’s Hobson’s choice—those or none.” “The admiral promised me some good seamen,” returned my skipper, rather quickly. “Then I fear the admiral must find them,” was the answer, “as I have not more than twenty seamen on board besides the petty officers. The last were drafted a few days ago in the Defiance. Will you take any of these men, Captain W.?” “What do you think,” said my captain to me; “shall we take any of them?” “Suppose,” returned I, “we take twenty of them and the tailor; they will all fit in in time.” I then picked out twenty of the best, who were bad enough, as they were the worst set I ever saw grouped. Their appearance and dress were wretched in the extreme. I reached the ship before the hour of dinner with my live cargo. “What, more hard bargains,” said the first lieutenant, “we have too many clodhoppers on board already. The captain told me we were to have seamen.” “Captain N.,” said I, “assured our noble captain that the Defiance had taken all the A.B.’s.*” “D——n the Defiance!” replied he; “I defy Captain N. or anybody else to match those gentlemanly ragamuffins.” The master’s mates were called, and they were given into their charge.

Captain Frederick Hoffman. A Sailor of King George (Kindle Locations 2063-2077).

*A.B.s – Able-bodied seamen

The Shilling

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2 Shilling "Florin" Obverse

2 Shilling “Florin” Obverse

Numismatics is an interesting field, and in doing research for an upcoming novel, I wanted to know just what currencies would have been used at the time (1750s, England), and what the value of the currencies were:  How much could be purchased or earned?  Would a Stirling pound have made a pauper a land owner or not?  That brought me to the current book I’m reading, called “The Splendid Shilling” by James O’Donald Mays.  Here are a few bits and bobs:

The Shilling was a form of currency used in Britain up until the 1970s; even after that, the coins continued in circulation as smaller denominations (1 shilling was 5 p, and 2 shilling was 10p) until 1990, when it was demonetized.  I remember using them until they were phased out and replaced by the smaller coins of 5p and 10p values, and kept a few for my coin collection.  One shilling coins were called “bobs”, and that led to programs such as “bob-a-job” fund raisers by the boyscouts, starting in 1914.  Two shillings were known as

2 Shilling "Florin" Reverse

2 Shilling “Florin” Reverse

Florins, or “two-bob bits”.

The word shilling most likely comes from a Teutonic word, skel, to resound or ring, or from skel (also skil), meaning to divide.  The Anglo-Saxon poem “Widsith” tells us …”þær me Gotena cyning gode dohte; se me beag forgeaf, burgwarena fruma, on þam siex hund wæs smætes goldes, gescyred sceatta scillingrime...”  “There the king of the Goths granted me treasure: the king of the city gave me a torc made from pure gold coins, worth six hundred pence.”  Another translation says that the gold was an armlet, “scored” and reckoned in shilling.  The “scoring” may refer to an ancient payment method also known as “hack” – they would literally hack off a chunk of silver or gold jewellery to purchase goods, services and land, and the scoring may have been pre-scored gold to make it easier to break in even increments, or “divisions”.  From at least the times of the Saxons, shilling was an accounting term, a “benchmark” value to calculate the values of goods, livestock and property, but did not actually become a coin until the reign of Henry VII in the 1500s, then known as a testoon.  The testoon’s name and design were most likely inspired by the Duke of Milan’s testone.

Duke of Milan's Testone

The Duke of Milan’s 16th century Testone

Henry VII Testoon

King Henry VII’s 16th century Testoon




The Varangian Guards

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Source:  Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

An elite unit of the Byzantine army from the 10th to 14th centuries, the Varangian guard was mostly comprised of Viking and Anglo-Saxon mercenaries whose job was to protect the Byzantine emperors as their personal bodyguards, and they were renowned for their loyalty, ferocity and honour; one of the greatest offences one could give a Viking or Varangian was to either question their honour or their courage – it usually ended in bloodshed.  So many Swedish left for this elite position that there was a law passed that no one could inherit land in Sweden while “in Greece” (the Swedish term for the Byzantine region).  These guards were prized, and hired not only in Byzantine, but also in London and in east Slavic tribes referred to as the Kievan Rus [Russia got its name from the Arabic term for the Vikings, perhaps related to the Old Norse word of Roþrslandi, “the land of rowing,” in turn related to Old Norse roðr “steering oar,” from which we get such words as “rudder” and “row”.]

My personal connection with this information is a story from the Skylitzes Chronicle:  In 1038 the Varangian were wintering in the Thracesian theme when one of them tried to rape a countrywoman; in the struggle she managed to take his sword, and killed him.  But instead of taking revenge, his comrades praised her and rewarded her with his possessions; they then exposed his body without burial as if he had committed suicide (an act of cowardice, and the highest of insults).  This story fit perfectly within a novel that I’m just finishing, and preparing for publication this month, called “The Cardinal“, an epic fantasy set in around A.D. 800 Scotland and Norway, and modern Scotland.  More news of that will be following!  In this particular case, the woman in the chronicle becomes the woman in my own tale, and she tells this very account as she tells of her life.  It’s these kinds of tales that I come across in research that add rich details of history to my characters!

Ye Olde Spelling

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runesymbolsHave you ever wondered about the old-fashioned “ye” in shop signs?  It was a lazy printer’s solution to saving space for “th”, and should be pronounced as “the”, not “yee”!  The Old English character “y” was a graphic alteration of the Germanic rune “Þ” (which came over with the Viking raiders and the Danish King Canute and his rabble, but that’s another story).  When English printing typefaces couldn’t supply the right kind of “P” they substituted the “Y” (close enough, right?).  That practice continued into the 18th century, when it dropped out of use.  By the 19th century it was revived as a deliberate antiquarianism – to give a shop a pedigree, so to speak (read “marketing scam”), and soon came to be mocked because of it.  And now we think of it as the quaint way they used to write…

For a short, fun video on the topic, click on Ye Olde Web Link, below.


The Lambton Worm

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Myths and legends are often based in some distant, past reality; sometimes they are blown out proportion by the telling over time; what started out as a guppy eventually becomes a whale.  In the case of the Lambton Worm legend however, the dragon became a worm:  “Worm” to our modern minds doesn’t sound threatening at all; but the Old English wurm, a variant of wyrm, actually meant “serpent, snake, dragon, or reptile“.  I find it fascinating to read between the lines of such a story, to recognize the actual historical elements buried over time within the fantastical renditions; there may be elements of local geography, superstitions, explanations that arise over time, moral lessons to train children in a particular behaviour, and many other tidbits of history along the dusty road to modern versions of ancient tales.  To read more about this interesting legend, click on the image below.

Illustration from the Book, ‘The Curse of the Lambton Worm’

Illustration from the Book, ‘The Curse of the Lambton Worm’

The History of the Nativity & Christmas

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by Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337)

In 1223, in Greccio, Italy, Saint Francis of Assisi is accredited with creating the first Nativity Scene.  We tend to think of commercialism and materialism as a modern disease, but in fact Francis created that display to be a visual reminder of what Christmas was all about, and to counter what he felt was a growing emphasis on secular materialism and gift-giving.  It was to be a day of celebration and worship of thanks to God for what he had inaugurated through the birth of the prophesied Messiah, Jesus.

When we think of a modern nativity scene we think of a few elements as standard:  Shepherds, Jesus in a wooden manger of straw, three kings, angels, and cattle and donkeys and sheep.  In fact, the stable was more likely a cave or a small hand-dug dugout, a shelter for animals in cold weather or raids, and perhaps a place to store surplus grains or foodstuffs.  The manger was a feeding trough, much like modern feeding troughs found on small farms.  The shepherds “watching the flocks by night”  tells us that it was likely in spring or summer in that region; the day we celebrate as Christmas was adopted throughout Western Europe in the fourth century.  Imagine the scenario:  Rome had called for a census of the entire region, turning everything on its head as everyone was required to travel to their ancestral homes, including businessmen like Joseph, and innkeepers as well.  Hundreds of people descended en masse onto a sleepy little village unequipped with beds or food to cope with them all.  Perhaps Joseph had tried at several places; perhaps there was only one Bed & Breakfast in the entire village; turned away, they headed back to the stable to get their donkey, and uh, “Wait!  The baby’s coming!”

The kings were actually Magi, likely a caste of scientists and astronomers, from the “east” – i.e. east of Israel, which could have made them Asian, Indian, Caucasian, or African.  There were not three, but rather three gifts:  Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.  In reality their number might have been more like a small army (they would not have travelled such a distance with the quantities of gifts fit not only for a king but representing their own importance as well as the honour they wished to bestow on this new king, without protection!); the Bible records that King Herod and all Jerusalem were disturbed by their presence and the reason for their journey (Matthew 2).  The three gifts offered by the Magi were very telling:  Gold was a symbol of kingship, the wealth of the earth.  It is one of the only metals that, when heated, loses none of its nature, weight or colour, but allows impurities to surface.  It is used to symbolize faith and the process of refinement.  Frankincense represents priesthood and divinity.  It was familiar to most people in the ancient world, used in religious ceremonies.  Myrrh, unlike sweet Frankincense, is bitter.  It was used as a resin in a spice mixture used to embalm the dead, and was symbolic of Jesus’ purpose in coming:  His death, burial and resurrection.  It makes an appearance both at the beginning and the end of Jesus’ life on earth.  It was used medicinally as a pain killer (often dissolved in wine) which is the reason Jesus refused to drink it on the cross (Mark 15:23).  And note that the Magi did not show up at the manger in Bethlehem, but by the time they’d travelled that far and found Jesus, he was a child, and Mary and Joseph had set up house (Matthew 2:11)

ichthusLet’s address one more historical topic:  Xmas.  Many people think it’s a modern attempt to “X” Christ from Christmas; but in fact it is just the opposite, historically-speaking.  The X is the first letter of the Greek word Χριστός which comes into English translated as “Christ.” and such abbreviated references date back as far as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 1021.  Even further back, ΙΧΘΥΣ (Icthus) was an acronym meaning “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Saviour” used by ancient Christians.  It is often placed within the symbol of a fish, as Jesus called his disciples to become “fishers of men.”  Ichthyology is the study of fish, reflecting the Greek connection for the use of the symbol.

Modern Nativity scenes represent a condensed version of a historical event (there is more historical evidence for Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection than many other events in history people simply accept as fact); so the next time you see one, think about the significance, the reason for its inception by St. Francis of Assisi in the first place, and the Reason for the season.

Merry Christmas!  Or, Merry Xmas!

From the 1867 Sailor’s Word-Book: Nautical Orders

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Shot from the British mini-series "Hornblower", with Ioan Gruffudd.

Shot from the British mini-series “Hornblower”, with Ioan Gruffudd.

As part of my research for novels, I came across the 1867 “The Sailor’s Word-Book:  An Alphabetical Digest of Nautical Terms, including some more especially military and scientific, but useful to seamen; as well as archaisms of early voyagers, etc. by the late ADMIRAL W. H. SMYTH, K.S.F., D.C.L., &c.”  It’s a massive document, but below is a gleaning of the orders listed in the word-book.  It’s a fascinating insight into life and demands at sea in the 18th & 19th centuries especially.  Enjoy!

Nautical Orders

ABOUT. Circularly; the situation of a ship after she has gone round, and trimmed sails on the opposite tack.—Ready about! and About-ship! are orders to the ship’s company to prepare for tacking by being at their stations.

ADVANCED SQUADRON. One on the look-out.—Advance, or vanguard, that division of a force which is next the enemy, or which marches before a body.—Advance fosse, a ditch of water round the esplanade or glacis of a fortification.—Advance! the order to marines and small-arm men to move forward.

AFTER-ORDERS. Those which are given out after the regular issue of the daily orders.

A-LEE. The contrary of a-weather: the position of the helm when its tiller is borne over to the lee-side of the ship, in order to go about or put her head to windward.—Hard a-lee! or luff a-lee! is said to the steersman to put the helm down.—Helm’s a-lee! the word of command given on putting the helm down, and causing the head-sails to shake in the wind.

ALL. The total quantity; quite; wholly.—All aback, when all the sails are taken aback by the winds.—All ahoo, or all-a-ugh, confused; hanging over; crooked.—All-a-taunt-o, a ship fully rigged, with masts in and yards crossed.—All hands, the whole ship’s company.—All hands ahoy, the boatswain’s summons for the whole crew to repair on deck, in distinction from the watch.—All hands make sail! the cheering order when about to chase a strange vessel.—All hands to quarters! the call in armed merchantmen, answering to the Beat to quarters in a man-of-war.—All in the wind, when a vessel’s head is too close to the wind, so that all her sails are shivering.—All over, resemblance to a particular object, as a ship in bad kelter: “she’s a privateer all over.”—All overish, the state of feeling when a man is neither ill nor well, restless in bed and indifferent to meals. In the tropics this is considered as the premonitory symptom of disease, and a warning which should be looked to.—All ready, the answer from the tops when the sails are cast loose, and ready to be dropped.—All standing, fully equipped, or with clothes on. To be brought up all standing, is to be suddenly checked or stopped, without any preparation.—Paid off all standing, without unrigging or waiting to return stores; perhaps recommissioned the next day or hour.—All’s well, the sentry’s call at each bell struck (or half hour) between the periods of broad daylight, or from 8 P.M. to 4 A.M.—All to pieces, a phrase used for out-and-out, extremely, or excessively; as, “we beat her in sailing all to pieces.”—All weathers, any time or season; continually.

ARRAY. The order of battle.—To array. To equip, dress, or arm for battle.

ASSEMBLY. That long roll beat of the drum by which soldiers, or armed parties, are ordered to repair to their stations. It is sometimes called the fall-in.

AVAST. The order to stop, hold, cease, or stay, in any operation: its derivation from the Italian basta is more plausible than have fast.

AVAST HEAVING! The cry to arrest the capstan when nippers are jammed, or any other impediment occurs in heaving in the cable, not unfrequently when a hand, foot, or finger, is jammed;—stop!

AWAY ALOFT. The order to the men in the rigging to start up.

AWAY SHE GOES. The order to step out with the tackle fall. The cry when a vessel starts on the ways launching; also when a ship, having stowed her anchor, fills and makes sail.

AWAY THERE. The call for a boat’s crew; as, “away there! barge-men.”

AWAY WITH IT. The order to walk along briskly with a tackle fall, as catting the anchor, &c.

AYE, AYE, SIR. A prompt reply on receiving an order. Also the answer on comprehending an order. Aye-aye, the answer to a sentinel’s hail, from a boat which has a commissioned officer on board below the rank of captain. The name of the ship in reply from the boat indicates the presence of a captain. The word “flag,” indicates the presence of an admiral.

BACK-HER. The order, in steam-navigation, directing the engineer to reverse the movement of the cranks and urge the vessel astern.

BACK OFF ALL. The order when the harpooner has thrown his harpoon into the whale. Also, to back off a sudden danger.

BADGER, To. To tease or confound by frivolous orders.

BEAT TO QUARTERS. The order for the drummer to summon every one to his respective station.

BECKET, The Tacks and Sheets in the. The order to hang up the weather-main and fore-sheet, and the lee-main and fore-tack, to the small knot and eye becket on the foremost-main and fore-shrouds, when the ship is close hauled, to prevent them from hanging in the water. A kind of large cleat seized on a vessel’s fore or main rigging for the sheets and tacks to lie in when not required. Cant term for pockets—”Hands out of beckets, sir.”

BELL. Strike the bell. The order to strike the clapper against the bell as many times as there are half hours of the watch elapsed; hence we say it is two bells, three bells, &c., meaning there are two or three half-hours past. The watch of four hours is eight bells.

BOUT. A turn, trial, or round. An attack of illness; a convivial meeting.—‘Bout ship, the brief order for “about ship.”

BRACE UP AND HAUL AFT! The order usually given after being hove-to, with fore or main top-sail square or aback, and jib-sheet flowing, i.e. haul aft jib-sheet, brace up the yards which had been squared, for the purpose of heaving to.

BRAIL UP! The order to pull upon the brails, and thereby spill and haul in the sail. The mizen, or spanker, or driver, or any of the gaff-sails, as they may be termed, when brailed up, are deemed furled; unless it blows hard, when they are farther secured by gaskets.

BREAK-OFF. “She breaks off from her course,” applied only when the wind will not allow of keeping the course; applies only to “close-hauled” or “on a wind.”—Break-off! an order to quit one department of duty, to clap on to another.

BRIGADE-ORDERS. Those issued by the general officer commanding troops which are brigaded.

BRING-TO, To. To bend, as to bring-to a sail to the yard. Also, to check the course of a ship by trimming the sails so that they shall counteract each other, and keep her nearly stationary, when she is said to lie by, or lie-to, or heave-to.—Bring to! The order from one ship to another to put herself in that situation in order to her being boarded, spoken to, or examined. Firing a blank gun across the bows of a ship is the forcible signal to shorten sail and bring-to until further pleasure.—Bring-to is also used in applying a rope to the capstan, as “bring-to the messenger.”

BRING-TO AN ANCHOR, To. To let go the anchor in the intended port. “All hands bring ship to an anchor!” The order by which the people are summoned for that duty, by the pipes of the boatswain and his mates.

CAPSTAN, To come up the. In one sense is to lift the pauls and walk back, or turn the capstan the contrary way, thereby slackening, or letting out some of the rope on which they have been heaving. The sudden order would be obeyed by surging, or letting go any rope on which they were heaving. Synonymous to “Come up the purchase.”

CAPSTAN, Surge the. Is the order to slacken the rope which is wound round the barrel while heaving, to prevent it from riding or fouling. This term specially applies to surging the messenger when it rides, or when the two lashing eyes foul on the whelps or the barrel.

CEASE FIRING. The order to leave off.

CLAP ON! The order to lay hold of any rope, in order to haul upon it. Also, to “Clap on the stoppers before the bitts,” i.e. fasten the stoppers; or, “Clap on the cat-fall,” i.e. lay hold of the cat-fall.—To clap a stopper over all, to stop a thing effectually; to clap on the stopper before the bitts next to the manger or hawse-hole; to order silence.—To clap in irons, to order an offender into the bilboes.—To clap on canvas, to make more sail.

CLUE UP! The order to clue up the square sails.

COME NO NEAR! The order to the helmsman to steer the ship on the course indicated, and not closer to the wind, while going “full and by.”—Come on board, sir. An officer reporting himself to his superior on returning from duty or leave.—Come to. To bring the ship close to the wind.—Come to an anchor. To let go the anchor.—Come up! with a rope or tackle, is to slack it off.—Comes up, with the helm. A close-hauled ship comes up (to her course) as the wind changes in her favour. To come up with or overhaul a vessel chased.—Come up the capstan. Is to turn it the contrary way to that which it was heaving, so as to take the strain off, or slacken or let out some of the cablet or rope which is about it.—Come up the tackle-fall. Is to let go.—To come up, in ship-building, is to cast loose the forelocks or lashings of a sett, in order to take in closer to the plank.

DEPRESS. The order to adjust the quoin in great-gun exercise; to depress the muzzle to point at an object below the level, in contradistinction to elevate.

DOWN ALL CHESTS! The order to get all the officers’ and seamen’s chests down below from off the gun-decks when clearing the ship for an engagement.

DOWN ALL HAMMOCKS! The order for all the sailors to carry their hammocks down, and hang them up in their respective berths in readiness to go to bed, or to lessen top-weight and resistance to wind in chase.

DOWN KILLOCK! Let go the grapnel; the corruption of keel-hook or anchor.

DOWN OARS! The order on shoving off a boat when the men have had them “tossed up.”

DOWN WITH THE HELM! An order to put the helm a-lee.

EASE, To Stand at. To remain at rest.

EASE AWAY! To slacken out a rope or tackle-fall.

EASE HER! In a steamer, is the command to reduce the speed of the engine, preparatory to “stop her,” or before reversing for “turn astern.”

EASE OFF! Ease off handsomely, or Ease away there! To slacken out a rope or tackle-fall carefully.

EASE THE HELM! An order often given in a vessel close-hauled, to put the helm down a few spokes in a head sea, with the idea that if the ship’s way be deadened by her coming close to the wind she will not strike the opposing sea with so much force. It is thought by some that extreme rolling as well as pitching are checked by shifting the helm quickly, thereby changing the direction of the ship’s head, and what is technically called “giving her something else to do.”

ELEVATE! In great-gun exercise, the order which prepares for adjusting the quoin.

EVERY INCH OF THAT! An exclamation to belay a rope without rendering it.

EVERY ROPE AN-END. The order to coil down the running rigging, or braces and bowlines, after tacking, or other evolution. Also, the order, when about to perform an evolution, to see that every rope is clear for running.

FALL IN, To. The order to form, or take assigned places in ranks.

FILL THE MAIN-YARD. An order well understood to mean, fill the main-topsail, after it has been aback, or the ship hove-to.

FIRE! The order to put the match to the priming, or pull the trigger of a cannon or other fire-arm so as to discharge it. The act of discharging ordnance.

FOOT IT IN. An order to stow the bunt of a sail snugly in furling, executed by the bunt-men dancing it in, holding on by the topsail-tye. Frequently when a bunt-jigger has parted men have fallen on deck.

FRESH HAND AT THE BELLOWS. Said when a gale freshens suddenly.

FULL FOR STAYS! The order to keep the sails full to preserve the velocity, assisting the action of the rudder in tacking ship.

FULL SPEED! A self-explanatory order to the engineer of a steamer to get his engine into full play.

GET-A-PULL. The order to haul in more of a rope or tackle.

GIVE HER SHEET. The order to ease off; give her rope.

GIVE WAY. The order to a boat’s crew to renew rowing, or to increase their exertions if they were already rowing. To hang on the oars.

GO AHEAD! or Go on! The order to the engineer in a steamer.

GO SLOW. The order to the engineer to cut off steam without stopping the play of the engine.

HALF-SPEED! An order in steam navigation to reduce the speed.

HALF-TURN AHEAD! An order in steam navigation.

HALT! The military word of command to stop marching, or any other evolution. A halt includes the period of such discontinuance.

HANDS REEF TOP-SAILS! The order to reef by all hands, instead of the watch, or watch and idlers.

HANG ON HER! In rowing, is the order to stretch out to the utmost to preserve or increase head-way on the boat.

HARD-A-PORT! The order so to place the tiller as to bring the rudder over to the starboard-side of the stern-post, whichever way the tiller leads.

HARD-A-STARBOARD. The order so to place the tiller as to bring the rudder over to the port-side of the stern-post, whichever way the tiller leads.

HARD-A-WEATHER! The order so to place the tiller as to bring the rudder on the lee-side of the stern-post, whichever way the tiller leads, in order to bear away; it is the position of the helm as opposed to hard-a-lee . Also, a hardy seaman.

HAUL OF ALL! An order to brace round all the yards at once—a manœuvre sometimes used in tacking, or on a sudden change of wind; it requires a strong crew.

HAUL OUT TO LEEWARD! In reefing top-sails, the cry when the weather earing is passed.

HEAVE AND A-WASH. An encouraging call when the ring of the anchor rises to the surface, and the stock stirs the water.

HEAVE AND A-WEIGH. Signifies that the next effort will start the anchor from its bed, and make it a-trip. “Heave and a-weigh, sir,” from the forecastle, denotes that the anchor is a-weigh; it inspirits the men to run it to the bows rapidly.

HEAVE AND IN SIGHT. A notice given by the boatswain to the crew when the anchor is drawn up so near the surface of the water as to be seen by its muddy water surrounding it.

HEAVE AND PAUL. Is the order to turn the capstan or windlass till the paul may be put in, by which it is prevented from coming up, and is something similar to belay, applied to a running rope.

HEAVE AND RALLY! An encouraging order to the men at the capstan to heave with spirit, with a rush, and thereby force the anchor out of the ground. When there is a rising sea “heave and rally” implies, “heave and stand to your bars,” the pauls taking the strain, and the next wave probably lifting the anchor.

HEAVE OUT THERE! The order to hasten men from their hammocks.

HOLD-FAST. A rope; also the order to the people aloft, when shaking out reefs, &c., to suspend the operation. In ship-building, it means a bolt going down through the rough tree rail, and the fore or after part of each stanchion.

IN-BOATS! The order to hoist the boats in-board.

IN-BOW! The order to the bowman to throw in his oar, and prepare his boat-hook, previous to getting alongside.

KEEP YOUR LUFF. An order to the helmsman to keep the ship close to the wind, i.e. sailing with a course as near as possible to the direction from which the wind is coming.

LANE. “Make a lane there!” An order for men to open a passage and allow a person to pass through.

LASH AND CARRY. The order given by the boatswain and his mates on piping up the hammocks, to accelerate the duty.

LASH AWAY. A phrase to hasten the lashing of hammocks.

LAUNCH-HO! The order to let go the top-rope after the top-mast has been swayed up and fidded. It is literally “high enough.” So in pumping, when the spear sucks, this term is “Cease.”

LAY IN. The opposite of lay out. The order for men to come in from the yards after reefing or furling. It also applies to manning, or laying in, to the capstan-bars.

LAY OR LIE ON YOUR OARS! The order to desist rowing, without laying the oars in.—Lay out on your oars! is the order to give way, or pull with greater force.

LAY OUT. See Lie Out!

LET DRAW! The order to let the wind take the after-leeches of the jibs, &c., over to the lee-side, while tacking.

LET FALL! The order to drop a sail loosed from its gaskets, in order to set it.

LET GO AND HAUL! or Afore haul! The order to haul the head-yards round by the braces when the ship casts on the other tack. “Let go,” alluding to the fore-bowline and lee head-braces.

LET RUN, or let go by the Run. Cast off at once.

LIE IN! The order to come in from the yards when reefing, furling, or other duty is performed.

LIE OFF! An order given to a boat to remain off on her oars till permission is given for her to come alongside.

LIE OUT! The order to the men aloft to distribute themselves on the yards for loosing, reefing, or furling sails.

LONG STROKE. The order to a boat’s crew to stretch out and hang on her.

LOWER HANDSOMELY, Lower Cheerly. Are opposed to each other; the former being the order to lower gradually, and the latter to lower expeditiously.

LUFF, or Loofe. The order to the helmsman, so as to bring the ship’s head up more to windward. Sometimes called springing a luff. Also, the air or wind. Also, an old familiar term for lieutenant. Also, the fullest or roundest part of a ship’s bows. Also, the weather-leech of a sail.

LUFF AND TOUCH HER! Try how near the wind she will come.

MAIN-SAIL HAUL! The order given to haul the after-yards round when the ship is nearly head to wind in tacking.

MAIN-TOPSAIL HAUL! The order used instead of main-sail haul, when the main-sail is not set.

MAKE A LANE THERE! The order of the boatswain for the crew to separate at muster, to facilitate the approach of any one whose name is called.

MAKE IT SO. The order of a commander to confirm the time, sunrise, noon, or sunset, reported to him by the officer of the watch.

MAKE READY! Be prepared.

MEET HER! The order to adjust the helm, so as to check any further movement of the ship’s head in a given direction.

MUZZLE TO THE RIGHT, or Muzzle to the Left! The order given to trim the gun to the object.

OARS! The order to cease rowing, by lifting the oars from the water, and poising them on their looms horizontally in their rowlocks.—Look to your oars! Passing any object or among sea-weed.—Double-banked oars.

ORDER ARMS! The word of command, with muskets or carbines, to bring the butt to the ground, the piece vertical against the right side, trigger-guard to the front.—Open order and close order, are terms for keeping the fleet prepared for any particular manœuvre.

OUT-BOATS. The order to hoist out the boats.

OUT-OARS. The order to take to rowing when the sails give but little way on a boat.

PIPE DOWN! The order to dismiss the men from the deck when a duty has been performed on board ship.

PUMP SHIP! The order to the crew to work the pumps to clear the hold of water.

PUT OFF! or Push off. The order to boats to quit the ship or the shore.

READY ABOUT! or Ready Oh! The order to prepare for tacking, each man to his station.

READY WITH THE LEAD! A caution when the vessel is luffed up to deaden her way, followed by “heave.”

RETREAT. The order in which a fleet or squadron declines engagement. Or the retrograde movement of any body of men who retire from a hostile force. Also, that beat of drum about sunset which orders the guards and piquets to take up their night duties.

RIGHT THE HELM! The order to put it amidships, that is, in a line with the keel.

RIG THE GRATINGS. Prepare them for punishment.

RODE OF ALL. Improperly so written for rowed of all. The order to throw in and boat the oars.

ROUSE AND BIT. The order to turn out of the hammocks.

ROW DRY! The order to those who row, not to splash water into the boat.

ROWED OF ALL! The orders for the rowers to cease, and toss their oars into the boat simultaneously, in naval style.

RUN AWAY WITH IT! The order to men on a tackle fall, when light goods are being hoisted in, or in hoisting top-sails, jib, or studding-sails.

SENTRY GO! The order to the new sentry to proceed to the relief of the previous one.

SET ON! The order to set the engine going on board a steamer.

SHEET HOME! The order, after the sails are loosed, to extend the sheets to the outer extremities of the yards, till the clue is close to the sheet-block. Also, when driving anything home, as a blow, &c.

SHIFT THE HELM! The order for an alteration of its position, by moving it towards the opposite side of the ship; that is, from port to starboard, or vice versa.

SHOVE OFF! The order to the bowman to put the boat’s head off with his boat-hook.

SHOW A LEG! An exclamation from the boatswain’s mate, or master-at-arms, for people to show that they are awake on being called. Often “Show a leg, and turn out.”

SLACK OFF, or Slacken! The order to ease away the rope or tackle by which anything is held fast; as, “Slack up the hawser.”

SO! An order to desist temporarily from hauling upon a rope, when it has come to its right position.

SOAK AND SEND! The order to pass wet swabs along.

SQUARE YARDS! The order to attend to the lifts and braces, for going before the wind.—To square a yard. In working ship, means to bring it in square by the marks on the braces. Figuratively, to settle accounts.

STAMP AND GO! The order to step out at the capstan, or with hawsers, topsail-halliards, &c., generally to the fife or fiddle.

STAND BY! The order to be prepared; to look out to fire when directed.—To stand by a rope, is to take hold of it; the anchor, prepare to let go.

STAND CLEAR OF THE CABLE! A precautionary order when about to let go the anchor, that nothing may obstruct it in running out of the hawse-holes. Also, a warning when idlers obstruct quarter-deck duty.

STAND FROM UNDER! A notice given to those below to keep out of the way of anything being lowered down, or let fall from above.

STASH IT THERE! An old order to cease or be quiet.

STATIONS FOR STAYS! Repair to your posts to tack ship.

STEADY! The order given to the steersman, in a fair wind, to steer the ship on her course without deviating; to which he answers, Steady it is, sir.

STOP HER! An order to check the cable in being payed out. Also, a self-explanatory phrase to direct the engineer of a steamer to stop the action of the engines.

STRETCH OUT! In rowing, is the order to pull strong; to bend forward to the utmost.

STRIKE DOWN! The order to lower casks, &c., into the hold.

TAIL ON, or Tally on. The order to clap on to a rope.

THUS, Very well Thus, or Dyce. The order to the helmsman to keep the ship in her present direction, when sailing close-hauled. This truly sailor’s motto was adopted by the Earl St. Vincent.

TOE A LINE! The order to stand in a row.

TOP-SAIL HAUL! or Main-topsail Haul! When the main-sail is not set, this is the order given to haul the after-yards round when the ship is nearly head to wind in tacking.

TOSS IN YOUR OARS! The order to desist rowing, and throw the oars in out of the rowlocks.

TOSS THE OARS UP! Throw them up out of the rowlocks, and raise them perpendicularly an-end; the act is intended as a compliment to a superior officer rowing by. Also, the order to a boat’s crew to get the oars ready for rowing, and to salute the officer on his entering the boat.

TRICE UP—LIE OUT! The order to lift the studding-sail boom-ends while the top-men move out on the yards, preparatory to reefing or furling.

TRIM THE BOAT! The order to sit in the boat in such a manner as that she shall float upright. Also, to edge aft, so that her steerage becomes easier, and she does not ship heavy seas.

TURN AHEAD! A self-explanatory order to the engineer, in regulating the movement of a steamer.

TURN OUT THE GUARD! The order for the marines of the guard to fall in, on the quarter-deck, in order to receive a superior officer on board.

UP BOATS! The order to hoist the boats to the stern and quarter davits.

UP COURSES! The order to haul them up by the clue-garnets, &c.

UP SCREW! The order in steamers to lift the screw on making sail.

WALK AWAY! The order to step out briskly with a tackle fall, as in hoisting boats.

WALK BACK! A method in cases where a purchase must not be lowered by a round turn, as “Walk back the capstan;” the men controlling it by the bars and walking back as demanded.

From the 1867 Sailor’s Word-Book: Nautical Verbs, K-Z

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Nautical Compass

Nautical Compass

Every profession develops its own jargon, a kind of short-hand between those in the know.  The sailing profession is one of the oldest on the planet, and has developed over the centuries; many of its terms have made it into everyday language.

Below is a gleaning of nautical actions from a digitalized version of the 1867 “The Sailor’s Word-Book:  An Alphabetical Digest of Nautical Terms, including some more especially military and scientific, but useful to seamen; as well as archaisms of early voyagers, etc. by the late ADMIRAL W. H. SMYTH, K.S.F., D.C.L., &c.”  For those of you interested in this topic you’ll appreciate the richness of life at sea represented here; for those of you interested in language, it’s a great source of history and etymology.  Because of the length, I’ve broken it down into two sections; here’s the second part, K-Z.  Enjoy!



KEN, To. Ang.-Sax. descrying, as Shakespeare in Henry VI.:— “And far as I could ken thy chalky cliffs.”  —Ken, a speck, a striking object or mark.

KICK THE BUCKET, To. To expire; an inconsiderate phrase for dying.

KICK UP A DUST, To. To create a row or disturbance.

KIDNAP, To. To crimp or carry off by artifice.

KREE, To. A north-country word: to beat, or bruise.

KRINGLE, To. To dry and shrivel up. Also a form of cringle.

LABBER, To. To struggle in water, as a fish when caught. To splash.

LACE, To. To apply a bonnet by lacing it to a sail. Also, to beat or punish with a rattan or rope’s-end. Also, the trimmings of uniforms.

LARRUP, To. An old word meaning to beat with a rope’s-end, strap, or colt.

LASK, To. To go large.—Lasking along. Sailing away with a quartering wind.

LATHER, To. To beat or drub soundly.

LAUNCH, To. To send a ship, craft, or boat off the slip on shore into the water, “her native element,” as newspapers say. Also, to move things; as, launch forward, or launch aft. Launch is also the movement by which the ship or boat descends into the water.

LAVEER, To. An old sea-term for beating a ship to windward; to tack.

LAY, To. To come or go; as, lay aloft, lay forward, lay aft, lay out. This is not the neuter verb lie mispronounced, but the active verb lay.

LAY A GUN, To. So to direct it as that its shot may be expected to strike a given object; for which purpose its axis must be pointed above the latter, at an angle of elevation increasing according to its distance.

LAY HER COURSE, To. To be able to sail in the direction wished for, however barely the wind permits it.

LAY IN SEA-STOCK, To. To make provision for the voyage.

LAY THE LAND, To. Barely to lose sight of it.

LAY-TO. To bring the weather-bow to the sea, with one sail set, and the helm lashed a-lee.

LAY UP A SHIP, To. To dismantle her.

LET DRIVE, To. To slip or let fly. To discharge, as a shot from a gun.

LET FLY, To. To let go a rope at once, suddenly.

LET IN, To. To fix or fit a diminished part of one plank or piece of timber into a score formed in another to receive it, as the ends of the carlings into the beams.

LET OUT, or Shake out, a Reef, To. To increase the dimensions of a sail, by untying the points confining a reef in it.

LIE ALONG, To.  A ship is said to lie along when she leans over with a side wind.—To lie along the land, is to keep a course parallel with it.

LIE ATHWART, To. When the tide slackens, and the wind is across tide, it makes a vessel ride athwart.

LIE BY, To. Dodging under small sail under the land.

LIE THE COURSE, To. When the vessel’s head is in the direction wished.

LIE-TO, To. To cause a vessel to keep her head steady as regards a gale, so that a heavy sea may not tumble into her. She has perhaps a main-topsail or trysails, and comes up to within six points, and falls off to wind abeam, forging rather ahead, but should not altogether fall too much to leeward.

LIE UNDER ARMS, To. To remain in a state of preparation for immediate action.

LIFT AN ANCHOR, To. Either by the purchase; or a ship if she has not sufficient cable on a steep bank lifts, or shoulders, her anchor.

LIGHT, To. To move or lift anything along; as “light over to windward,” the cry for helping the man at the weather-earing when taking in a reef. Each man holding by a reef-point helps it over, as the lee-earing cannot be passed until the man to windward calls out, “Haul out to leeward.”

LIGHTEN, To. To throw ballast, stores, cargo, or other things, overboard in stress of weather, to render the vessel more buoyant.

LINE, To. To cover one piece with another. Also, to mark out the work on a floor for determining the shape of a vessel’s body.—To line a ship, is to strike off with a batten, or otherwise, the directional lines for painting her. (See Toe a Line.)

LIST, To. To incline to one side; as “the ship has a list to port,” i.e. leans over to that side.

LIVE, To. To be able to withstand the fury of the elements; said of a boat or ship, &c.

LIVELY. To lift lightly to the sea; as a boat, &c.

LOCK, To. To entangle the lower yards when tacking.

LOOK, To. The bearing or direction, as, she looks up, is approaching her course.—A plank looks fore and aft, means, is placed in that direction.

LOOM, To. An indistinct enlarged appearance of any distant object in light fogs, as the coast, ships, &c.; “that land looms high,” “that ship looms large.” The effect of refraction.[456]

LOOSE, To. To unfurl or cast loose any sail, in order to its being set, or dried after rain.

LOOSE A ROPE, To. To cast it off, or let it go.

LOSE WAY, To. When a ship slackens her progress in the water.

LOWER, To. The atmosphere to become cloudy. Also, to ease down gradually, expressed of some weighty body suspended by tackles or ropes, which, being slackened, suffer the said body to descend as slowly, or expeditiously, as occasion requires.

LUFF INTO A HARBOUR, To. To sail into it, shooting head to wind,[459] gradually. A ship is accordingly said to spring her luff when she yields to the effort of the helm, by sailing nearer to the wind, or coming to, and does not shake the wind out of her sails until, by shortening all, she reaches her anchorage.

MAKE, To. Is variously applied in sea-language.

MAKE BAD WEATHER, To. A ship rolling, pitching, or leaking violently in a gale.

MAKE FAST. A word generally used for tying or securing ropes. To fasten.[465]

MAKE FREE WITH THE LAND, To. To approach the shore closely.

MAKE LEE-WAY, To. To drift to leeward of the course.

MAKE SAIL, To. To increase the quantity of sail already set, either by letting out reefs, or by setting additional sails.

MAKE STERN-WAY, To. To retreat, or move stern foremost.

MAKE THE LAND, To. To see it from a distance after a voyage.

MAKE WATER, To. Usually signifies the act of a ship leaking, unless the epithet foul be added. (See Foul Water.)

MAN, To. To provide a competent number of hands for working and fighting a ship; to place people for duty, as “Man the barge;” “Man the capstan;” “Man the yards,” &c.

MANARVEL, To. To pilfer small stores.

MANGONIZE, To. To traffic in slaves.

MAN-HANDLE, To. To move by force of men, without levers or tackles.

MARINATE, To. To salt fish, and afterwards preserve it in oil or vinegar.

MARL, To. To souse fish in vinegar to be eaten cold.

MARLE, To. To wind marline, spun-yarn, twine, &c., about a rope, so that every turn is secured by a kind of knot, and remains fixed, in case the rest should be cut through by friction. It is commonly used to fasten slips of canvas, called parsling, upon the surface of a rope, to prevent its being galled, or to attach the foot of a sail to its bolt-rope, &c., with marling hitches, instead of sewing it.

MARRY, To, the Ropes, Braces, or Falls. To hold both together, and by pressure haul in both equally. Also so to join the ends of two ropes, that they will pass through a block.

MEND SAILS, To. To loose and skin them afresh on the yards.

MOOR, To. To secure a ship with anchors, or to confine her in a particular station by two chains or cables, either fastened to the mooring chains or to the bottom; a ship is moored when she rides by two anchors.

MOOR ACROSS, To. To lay out one of the anchors across stream.

MOOR ALONG, To. To anchor in a river with a hawser on shore to steady her.

MOOR QUARTER-SHOT, To. To moor quartering, between the two ways of across and along.

MOOR THE BOAT, To. To fasten her with two ropes, so that the one shall counteract the other, and keep her in a steady position.


MOUNT, To. When said of a ship-of-war, implies the number of guns she carries.—To mount, in a military sense, is also to furnish with horses.

MOUNT A GUN, To. To place it on its carriage.

MOVE OFF, To. To defile.

MOYLE, To. To defile; an old term.

MUFFLE THE OARS, To. To put some matting or canvas round the loom when rowing, to prevent its making a noise against the tholes, or in the rowlocks. For this service thole-pins are best. In war time, rowing guard near the ships or batteries of the enemy, or cutting out, many a pea-jacket has been sacrificed for this purpose. Whale-boats have their oars muffled to prevent frightening the whales.

MUSTER, To. To assemble in order that the state and condition of the men may be seen, and also at times to inspect their arms and clothing.

NAIL, To. Is colloquially used for binding a person to a bargain. In weighing articles of food, a nail is 8 lbs.

NAUFRAGIATE, To. An old expression, meaning to suffer shipwreck. It occurs in Lithgow’s Pilgrime’s Farewell, 1618.

NEGOTIATE, To. The duty of a diplomatist; the last resource and best argument being now 12-ton guns.

OBSERVE, To. To take a bearing or a celestial observation.

OCCUPY, To. To take military possession.

OPEN LOWER DECKERS, To. To fire the lower tier of guns. Also said of a person using violent language.

OUT-FLANK, To. By a longer front, to overlap the enemy’s opposite line, and thus gain a chance to turn his flank.

OUT-SAIL, To. To sail faster than another ship, or to make a particular voyage with greater despatch.

OVER-PRESS, To. To carry too much sail on a ship.

OVERSHOOT, To. To give a ship too much way.

OWN, To. To be a proprietor in a ship.




PARCEL, To. To wind tarred canvas round a rope.

PARLEY. That beat of drum by which a conference with the enemy is desired. Synonymous with chamade.—To parley. To bandy words.

PART, To. To break a rope. To part from an anchor is in consequence of the cable parting.

PASS, To. To give from one to another, and also to take certain turns of a rope round a yard, &c., as “Pass the line along;” “pass the gasket;” “pass a seizing;” “pass the word there,” &c.

PAY A MAST OR YARD, To. To anoint it with tar, turpentine, rosin, tallow, or varnish; tallow is particularly useful for those masts upon which the sails are frequently hoisted and lowered, such as top-masts and the lower masts of sloops, schooners, &c.

PAY A VESSEL’S BOTTOM, To. To cover it with tallow, sulphur, rosin, &c.

PAY ROUND, To. To turn the ship’s head.

PEAK, To. To raise a gaff or lateen yard more obliquely to the mast. To stay peak, or ride a short stay peak, is when the cable and fore-stay form a line: a long peak is when the cable is in line with the main-stay.

PICK UP A WIND, To. Traverses made by oceanic voyagers; to run from one trade or prevalent wind to another, with as little intervening calm as possible.

PITCH IN, To. To set to work earnestly; to beat a person violently. (A colloquialism.)

PLANK IT, To. To sleep on the bare decks, choosing, as the galley saying has it, the softest plank.

PLASH, To. To wattle or interweave branches.

PLY, To. To carry cargoes or passengers for short trips. Also, to work to windward, to beat. Also, to ply an oar, to use it in pulling.

POINT A GUN, To. To direct it on a given object.

POINT A SAIL, To. To affix points through the eyelet-holes of the reefs.

POWDER, To. To salt meat slightly; as Falstaff says, “If thou embowel me to-day, I’ll give you leave to powder me, and eat me too, to-morrow.”—Powdering-tub. A vessel used for pickling beef, pork, &c.

PRESS, To. To reduce an enemy to straits.

PRIME, To. To make ready a gun, mine, &c., for instantaneous firing. Also, to pierce the cartridge with the priming-wire, and apply the quill-tube in readiness for firing the cannon.—To prime a fire-ship. To lay the train for being set on fire.—To prime a match. Put a little wet bruised powder made into the paste called devil, upon the end of the rope slow-match, with a piece of paper wrapped round it.[544]

PRISE, To. To raise, or slue, weighty bodies by means of a lever purchase or power.

PROVE, To. To test the soundness of fire-arms, by trying them with greater charges than those used on service.

PULL FOOT, To. To hasten along; to run.

PURCHASE A COMMISSION, To. A practice in our army, which has been aptly termed the “buying of fetters;” it is the obtaining preferment at regulated prices. At present the total value of a commission in a regiment of infantry of the line ranges from £450 for an ensigncy, up to £4540 for a lieutenant-colonelcy, and higher in the other branches of the service.

PURSUE, To. To make all sail in chase.

PUSH, To. To move a vessel by poles.

PUT BACK, To. To return to port—generally the last left.

PUT INTO PORT, To. To enter an intermediate or any port in the course of a voyage, usually from stress of weather.

PUT TO SEA, To. To quit a port or roadstead, and proceed to the destination.

PYKE, To. A old word signifying to haul on a wind.

PYKE OFF, To. To go away silently.

QUADRATE, To. To trim a gun on its carriage and its trucks; to adjust it for firing on a level range.

QUICKEN, To. In ship-building, to give anything a greater curve; as, to quicken the sheer, opposed to straightening it.

RACE, To. Applies to marking timber with the race-tool.

RADDLE, To. To interlace; as in making boats’ gripes and flat gaskets.

RAISE, To. To make an object subtend a larger angle by approaching it, which is the foundation of perspective, and an effect increased by the sphericity of our globe: the opposite of laying.

RAISE A SIEGE, To. To abandon or cause the abandonment of a siege.

RAISE THE METAL To. To elevate the breech, and depress thereby the muzzle of a gun.

RAISE THE WIND, To. To make an exertion; to cast about for funds.

RAM HOME, To. To drive home the ammunition in a gun.

RANGE, To. To sail in a parallel direction, and near to; as “we ranged the coast;” “the enemy came ranging up alongside of us.”

RANSACK, To. To pillage; but to ransack the hold is merely to overhaul its contents.

RATE A CHRONOMETER, To. To determine its daily gaining or losing rate on mean time.

RATTLE DOWN RIGGING, To; or, To Rattle the Shrouds. To fix the ratlines in a line parallel to the vessel’s set on the water.

RAZE, To. To level or demolish (applicable to works or buildings).

REAM or Reem Out, To. To enlarge the bore of a cannon with a special tool, so that it may take a larger projectile.

RE-ASSEMBLE. To gather together a fleet, or convoy, after having been scattered.

REAVEL, or Raffle. To entangle; to knot confusedly together.

REDUCE, To. To degrade to a lower rank; or to shorten the allowance of water or provisions.

REDUCE A CHARGE, To. To diminish the contents of a cartridge, sometimes requisite during heavy firing.

REDUCE A PLACE, To. To compel its commander to surrender, or vacate it by capitulation.

REEVE, To. To pass the end of a rope through any cavity or aperture, as the channel of a block; to unreeve is the opposite.

REINFORCE, To. To strengthen a fleet, squadron, army, or detachment, by additional means and munitions.

RELIEVE, To. To put fresh men or ships upon a stipulated duty.

REPEAT SIGNALS, To. Is to make the same signal exhibited by the admiral, in order to its being more readily distinguished at a distance, or through smoke, &c. Frigates and small vessels out of the line were deemed repeating ships, and enforced signals by guns. The repeat from a superior intended to convey rebuke for inattention, is usually accompanied by one gun, or several.[569]

REPLENISH, To. To obtain supplies of water and provisions up to the original amount.

REPORT ONE’S SELF, To. When an officer returns on board from duty, or from leave of absence.

RE-SHIP. To ship again, or ship goods that have been imported or conveyed by water.

RESOLVE, To. To reduce a traverse, or day’s work, to its exact limits.

RET, To. To soak in water, as in seasoning timber, hemp, &c.

RETURN A SALUTE, To. Admirals are saluted, but return two guns less for each rank that the saluting officer is below the admiral.

RIDE, To. To ride at anchor. A vessel rides easily, apeak, athwart, head to wind, out a gale, open hawse, to the tide, to the wind, &c. A rope rides, as when round the capstan or windlass the strain part overlies and jams the preceding turn.—To ride between wind and tide. Said of a ship at anchor when she is acted upon by wind and tide from different directions, and takes up a position which is the result of both forces.

RIG, To. To fit the shrouds, stays, braces, and running-rigging to their respective masts, yards, and sails. Colloquially, it means to dress.—To rig in a boom, is to draw it in.—To rig out a boom, is to run it out from a yard, in order to extend the foot of a sail upon it, as with studding-sail booms, &c.

RIG THE CAPSTAN, To. To fix the bars in the drumhead in readiness for heaving; not forgetting to pin and swift.

RISK A RUN, To. To take chance without convoy.

ROLL UP A SAIL, To. To hand it quickly.

ROUND-IN, To. To haul in on a fall; the act of pulling upon any slack rope which passes through one or more blocks in a direction nearly horizontal, and is particularly applied to the braces, as “Round-in the weather-braces.” It is apparently derived from the circular motion of the rope about the sheave or pulley, through which it passes.

ROUND-TO, To. To bring to, or haul to the wind by means of the helm. To go round, is to tack or wear.

ROUSE, To. To man-handle. “Rouse in the cable,” haul it in, and make it taut.

ROW, To. To propel a boat or vessel by oars or sweeps, which are managed in a direction nearly horizontal.

RUN ATHWART A SHIP’S COURSE, To. To cross her path.

RUN DOWN A COAST, To. To sail along it, keeping parallel to or skirting its dangers.

RUN DOWN A VESSEL, To. To pass over, into, or foul her by running against her end-on, so as to jeopardize her.

RUN OUT A WARP, To. To carry a hawser out from the ship by a boat, and fasten it to some distant place to remove the ship towards that place, or to keep her steady whilst her anchors are lifted, &c.




SAGG, To. To bend or give way from heavy weight; to press down towards the middle; the opposite of hogging. In Macbeth the word is figuratively applied—

“The mind I sway by, and the heart I bear,
Shall never sagg with doubt, nor shake with fear.”

SAGGING TO LEEWARD. To drift off bodily to leeward. The movement by which a ship makes a considerable lee-way.

whose chief at that time was the redoubtable Saladin.

SALAM, To. To salute a superior; a very common term, borrowed from India. Overdoing it does not please Jack, for he dislikes to see his commander “salamming like a captured Frenchman.”

SCOUR A BEACH, To. To pour a quick flanking fire along it, in order to dislodge an enemy.

SCOUR THE SEAS, To. To infest the ocean as a pirate.

SCUTTLE, To. To cut or bore holes through part of a ship when she is stranded or over-set, and continues to float, in order to save any part of her contents. Also, a trick too often practised by boring holes below water, to sink a ship, where fictitious cargo is embarked and the vessel insured beyond her value.

SEDUCE, To. To inveigle a man to desertion.

SEND, To. To rise after pitching heavily and suddenly between two waves, or out of the trough of the sea.

SERVE, To. To supply the gun with powder and shot. Also, to handle it through all the changes of station.

SERVE THE VENT, To. To stop it with the thumb.

SET THE CHASE, To. To mark well the position of the vessel chased by bearing, so that by standing away from her on one tack, she may be cut off on the other.

SET UP RIGGING, To. To take in the slack of the shrouds, stays, and backstays, to bring the same strain as before, and thus secure the masts.

SHAKE, To. To cast off fastenings, as—To shake out a reef. To let out a reef, and enlarge the sail.—To shake off a bonnet of a fore-and-aft sail.—To shake a cask. To take it to pieces, and pack up the parts, then termed “shakes.” Thus the term expressing little value, “No great shakes.”

SHAKE IN THE WIND, To. To bring a vessel’s head so near the wind, when close-hauled, as to shiver the sails.

SHEER OFF, To. To move to a greater distance, or to steer so as to keep clear of a vessel or other object.

SHEER TO THE ANCHOR, To. To direct the ship’s bows by the helm to the place where the anchor lies, while the cable is being hove in.

SHEER UP ALONGSIDE, To. To approach a ship or other object in an oblique direction.

SHIEVE, To. To have head-way. To row the wrong way, in order to assist the steersman in a narrow channel.

SHIFT A BERTH, To. To move from one anchorage to another.

SHIN UP, To. To climb up a rope or spar without the aid of any kind of steps.

SHOOT, To. To move suddenly; as “the ballast shoots on one side.” Also, a ship shoots ahead in stays. Also, to push off in a boat from the shore into a current; to descend a rapid. The term is well used thus amongst the powerful rivers of N. America, of which perhaps the finest example is given by the St. Lawrence at La Chine, there reported to rush in spring-time at the rate of 40 miles an hour. Thus the shooting Old London Bridge was the cause of many deaths, and gave occasion to the admirable description in the Loves of the Triangles (anti-Jacobin), when all were agreed:

“‘Shoot we the bridge,’ the vent’rous boatmen cry;
‘Shoot we the bridge,’ th’ exulting fare reply.”

SHOOT THE COMPASS, To. To shoot wide of the mark.

SHOOT THE SUN, To. To take its meridional altitude; literally aiming at the reflected sun through the telescope of the instrument. “Have you obtained a shot?” applied to altitudes of the meridian, as for time, lunar distances, &c.

SHORTEN, To. Said of a ship’s sails when requisite to reduce those that are set. And shorten in, when alluding to the anchor, by heaving in cable.

SHUT IN, To. Said of landmarks or points of land, when one is brought to transit and overlap the other, or intercept the view of it.

SIDE OUT FOR A BEND, To. The old well-known term to draw the bight of a hempen cable towards the opposite side, in order to make room for the bight being twined to coil it in the tier. The most expert and powerful seamen were selected for this duty, now rare.[625]

SIGHT THE ANCHOR, To. To heave it up in sight, in order to prove that it is clear, when, from the ship having gone over it, there is suspicion that it may be fouled by the slack cable.

SIGNALIZE, To. To distinguish one’s self; a word also degraded to the meaning of communicating intelligence by means of signals or telegraph.

SILT-UP, To. To be choked with mud or sand, so as to obstruct vessels.

SINGLE, To. To unreeve the running part of top-sail sheets, &c., to let them run freely, or for harbour duty.

SIZE, To. To range soldiers, marines, and small-arm men, so that the tallest may be on the flanks of a party.

SKEDADDLE, To. To stray wilfully from a watering or a working party. An archaism retained by the Americans.

SKELP, To. To slap with the open hand: an old word, said to have been imported from Iceland:— “I canno’ tell a’;
Some gat a skelp, and some gat a claw.”

SLING, To. To pass the top-chains round the yards when going into action. Also, to set any large article, in ropes, so as to put a tackle on, and hoist or lower it. When the clues are attached to a cot or hammock, it is said to be slung; also water-kegs, buoys, &c., are slung.

SLUE, To. To turn anything round or over in situ: especially expressing the movement of a gun, cask, or ship; or when a mast, boom, or spar is turned about in its cap or boom iron.

SNAGGLE, To. To angle for geese with a hook and line properly baited.

SNAPE, To. In ship-carpentry, is to hance or bevel the end of anything, so as to fay upon an inclined plane: it is also designated flinch.

SPAN IN THE RIGGING, To. To draw the upper parts of the shrouds together by tackles, in order to seize on the cat-harping legs. The rigging is also “spanned in” when it has been found to stretch considerably on first putting to sea, but cannot be set up until it moderates.

SPEAK A VESSEL, To. To pass within hail of her for that purpose.

SPILL, To. Whether for safety or facility, it is advisable to shiver the wind out of a sail before furling or reefing it. This is done either by collecting the sail together, or by bracing it bye, so that the wind may strike its leech and shiver it. A very effeminate captain was accustomed to order, “Sheevar the meezen taus’le, and let the fore-topmast staysail lie dormant in the brails!”

SPIN A TWIST OR A YARN, To. To tell a long story; much prized in a dreary watch, if not tedious.

SPOOM, To. An old word frequently found in Dryden, who thus uses it, “When virtue spooms before a prosp’rous gale,
My heaving wishes help to fill the sail.”

SPREAD A FLEET, To. To keep more open order.

STAND, To. The movement by which a ship advances towards a certain object, or departs from it; as, “The enemy stands in shore;” “We saw three sail standing to the southward.” “That ship has not a mast standing,” implies that she has lost all her masts.[650]

STAND IN SHORE, To. To sail directly for the land.

STAND SQUARE, To. To stand or be at right angles relatively to some object.

STAVE, To. To break a hole in any vessel. Also, to drive in the head of a cask, as of spirits, to prevent the crew from misusing it in case of wreck.—To stave off. To boom off; to push anything off with a pole.

STEER HER COURSE, To. Going with the wind fair enough to lay her course.

STEER LARGE, To. To go free, off the wind. Also, to steer loosely.

STEER SMALL, To. To steer well and within small compass, not dragging the tiller over from side to side.

STEP OUT, To. To move along simultaneously and cheerfully with a tackle-fall, &c.

STOKE, To. To frequent the galley in a man-of-war, or to trim fires.

STOP THE VENT, To. To close it hermetically by pressing the thumb to it.

STORM, To. To take by vigorous assault, in spite of the resistance of the defenders.

STREAM THE BUOY, To. To let the buoy fall from the after-part of the ship’s side into the water, preparatory to letting go the anchor, that it may not foul the buoy-rope as it sinks to the bottom.

STRETCH ALONG A BRACE, To. To lay it along the decks in readiness for the men to lay hold of; called manning it.

STRIKE, To. A ship strikes when she in any way touches the bottom. Also, to lower anything, as the ensign or top-sail in saluting, or as the yards, topgallant-masts, and top-masts in a gale. It is also particularly used to express the lowering of the colours in token of surrender to a victorious enemy.

STRIKE SOUNDINGS, To. To gain bottom, or the first soundings, by the deep-sea lead, on coming in from sea.

STRIP THE MASTS, To. To clear the masts of their rigging.

SUCK THE MONKEY, To. To rob the grog-can.

SUGG, To. To move or rock heavily on a bank or reef.

SUPPORT A FRIEND, To. To make every exertion to assist a vessel in distress, from whatever cause. Neglect of this incurs punishment.

SURGE THE CAPSTAN, To. To slacken the rope heaved round upon its barrel, to prevent its parts from riding or getting foul.

SWAGG, To. To sink down by its own weight; to move heavily or bend. Synonymous with sagg. Also, the bellying of a heavy rope.

SWAY UP, To. To apply a strain on a mast-rope in order to lift the spar upwards, so that the fid may be taken out, previous to lowering the mast. Or sway yards aloft ready for crossing.

SWIG OFF, To. To pull at the bight of a rope by jerks, having its lower end fast; or to gain on a rope by jumping a man’s weight down, instead of hauling regularly.

SWILKER, To. A provincialism for splashing about.

SWIM, To [from the Anglo-Saxon swymm]. To move along the surface of the water by means of the simultaneous movement of the hands and feet. With the Romans this useful art was an essential part of education.

SWING, To. A ship is said to swing to the wind or tide, when they change their direction while she is lying at anchor.—To swing ship for local attraction and adjustment of compasses. This is done by taking the bearings of a very distant object at each point of the compass to which her head is brought; also, by using a theodolite on shore, and taking its bearing from the ship, and the observer’s head from the theodolite.

TAKE WATER ON BOARD, To. To ship a sea.

TALLY, To. To haul the sheets aft; as used by Falconer— “And while the lee clue-garnet’s lower’d away,
Taut aft the sheet they tally, and belay.”

TEACH, To. In marine architecture, is applied to the direction which any line or curve seems to point out.[676]

TELEGRAPH, To. To convey intelligence to a distance, through the medium of signals.

TELL OFF, To. To divide a body of men into divisions and subdivisions, preparatory to a special service.

TEND, To. To watch a vessel at anchor on the turn of a tide, and cast her by the helm, and some sail if necessary, so as to keep the cable clear of the anchor or turns out of her cables when moored.

TERTIATE, To. To examine whether a piece of ordnance is truly bored and has its due proportion of metal in every part, especially at the vent, the trunnions, and the muzzle.

TEW, To. To beat hemp.

TOP A YARD OR BOOM, To. To raise up one end of it by hoisting on the lift, as the spanker-boom is lifted before setting the sail.

TOP THE GLIM, To. To snuff the candle.

TOP THE OFFICER, To. To arrogate superiority.

TOSS UP THE BUNT, To. In furling a sail, to make its final package at the centre of the yard when in its skin.

TOUCH UP IN THE BUNT, To. To mend the sail on the yard; figuratively, to goad or remind forcibly.

TOUT, To. An old term for looking out, or keeping a prying watch; whence the revenue cruisers and the customs officers were called touters. The name is also given to crimps.

TOW, To. To draw or drag a ship or boat by means of a rope attached to another vessel or boat, which advances by steam-power, rowing, or sailing. The Roman method, as appears by the triumphal arch at Orange, was by a rope fastened to a pulley at the top of the mast. They also fastened a rope to the head of a boat, and led it over men’s shoulders, as practised on our canals at the present day.

TRAIL A PIKE, To. To hold the spear end in the right hand, and the butt trailed behind the bearer.

TRANS-SHIP, To. To remove a cargo from one ship to another.

TRAVEL, To. For a thimble, block, &c., to run along on beams or ropes.

TRAVERSE A YARD, To. To get it fore and aft.

TREAD WATER, To. The practice in swimming by which the body is sustained upright, and the head kept above the surface.

TRENCH THE BALLAST, To. To divide the ballast in a ship’s hold to get at a leak, or to trim and stow it.

TREND, To. To bend or incline, speaking of a coast; as, “The land trends to the south-west.” Also, the course of a current or stream.

TRICE, To. To haul or lift up by means of a lashing or line.

TROUNCE, To. To beat or punish. An old word; in Mathew’s translation of the Bible, 1537, we find, “The Lord trounced Sisera.”

TRUSS UP, To. To brail up a sail suddenly; to toss up a bunt.

TRY BACK FOR A BEND, To. To pay back some of the bight of a cable, in order to have sufficient to form the bend.

TRY DOWN, To. To boil out the oil from blubber at sea in whalers.

TURN A TURTLE, To. To take the animal by seizing a flipper, and  throwing him on his back, which renders him quite helpless. Also applied to a vessel capsizing; or throwing a person suddenly out of his hammock.

TURN IN, To. To go to bed.—To turn out. To get up.

TURN IN A DEAD-EYE OR HEART, To. To seize the end of a shroud or stay, &c., securely round it.

TURN OVER MEN, To. To discharge them out of one ship into another.

TURN THE HANDS UP, To. To summon the entire crew on deck.

TURN TO WINDWARD, To. To gain on the wind by alternate tacking. It is when a ship endeavours to make progress against the wind by a compound course inclined to the place of her destination; otherwise called plying or beating to windward.

TWIG, To. To pull upon a bowline. Also, in familiar phrase, to understand or observe.




UNBEND, To. To cast off or untie; to remove the sails from their yards and stays; to cast loose the cables from their anchors, or to untie one rope from another.

UNBITT, To. To remove the turns of a cable from off the bitts.

UNDER-RUN A HAWSER OR WARP, To. To haul a boat along underneath it, in order to clear it, if any part happens to be foul. To under-run a tackle, is to separate the several parts of which it is composed, and range them in order, so that the general effort may not be interrupted when it is put in motion by the parts crossing, or by thorough-foots.

UNDER-SHORE, To. To support or raise a thing by putting a spar or prop under it, as a ship is shored up in dock.

UNLIMBER, To. With a gun on a travelling-carriage, to release it from the limber, by lifting the trail off the pintle and placing it on the ground, thus bringing it to the position for action.

UNREEVING. The act of withdrawing a rope from any block, thimble, dead-eye, &c., through which it had formerly passed.

UNRIG, To. To dismantle a ship of her standing and running rigging.—To unrig the capstan is to take out the bars.

UNSHIP, To. The opposite of to ship. To remove any piece of timber from its situation in which it is generally used, as “unship the oars,” lay them in the boat from the rowlocks; “unship the capstan bars,” &c.

VAIL, To. An old word signifying to lower, to bend in token of submission; as, “Vail their top-gallants.” Thus in the old play George a-Green, “Let me alone, my lord; I’ll make them vail their plumes.”

VEER, To. To let out, to pay out, to turn or change. Also, to veer or wear, in contradistinction from tacking. In tacking it is a necessary condition that the ship be brought up to the wind as close-hauled, and put round against the wind on the opposite tack. But in veering or wearing, especially when strong gales render it dangerous, unseamanlike, or impossible, the head of the vessel is put away from the wind, and turned round 20 points of the compass instead of 12, and, without strain or danger, is brought to the wind on the opposite tack. Many deep-thinking seamen, and Lords St. Vincent, Exmouth, and Sir E. Owen,[711] issued orders to wear instead of tacking, when not inconvenient, deeming the accidents and wear and tear of tacking, detrimental to the sails, spars, and rigging.

VEER A BUOY IN A SHIP’S WAKE, To. To slack out a rope to which a buoy has been attached, and let it go astern, for the purpose of bringing up a boat, or picking up a man who may have fallen overboard.

VEER AND HAUL, To. To gently tauten and then slacken a rope three times before giving a heavy pull, the object being to concentrate the force of several men. The wind is said to veer and haul when it alters its direction; thus it is said, to veer aft, and haul forward.

VEER AWAY THE CABLE, To. To slack and let it run out.

WADE, To. An Anglo-Saxon word, meaning to pass through water without swimming. In the north, the sun was said to wade when covered by a dense atmosphere.

WAIVE, To. To give up the right to demand a court-martial, or to enforce forfeitures, by allowing people who have deserted, &c., to return to their duties.

WALK SPANISH, To. To quit duty without leave; to desert.

WALK THE QUARTER-DECK, To. A phrase signifying to take the rank of an officer.

WATER, To. To fill the casks or tanks; to complete water.

WEATHER ONE’S DIFFICULTIES, To. A colloquial phrase meaning to contend with and surmount troubles.

WEATHER THE CAPE, To. To become experienced; as it implies sailing round Cape Horn, or the Cape of Good Hope.

WEED, To. To clear the rigging of stops, rope-yarns, and pieces of oakum.

WELD, To. To join pieces of iron or other metal by placing in contact the parts heated almost to fusion, and hammering them into one mass.

WELL OFF, To. A mode of shutting off a leak by surrounding it by timbers screwed home through the lining to the timbers, and carrying up this trunk, like a log-hut, above the water-line.

WEND A COURSE, To. To sail steadily on a given direction.

WHISTLE FOR THE WIND, To. A superstitious practice among old seamen, who are equally scrupulous to avoid whistling during a heavy gale.—To wet one’s whistle. To take a drink. Thus Chaucer tells us that the miller of Trumpington’s lady had “Hir joly whistle wel ywette.”

WIND A SHIP OR BOAT, To. To change her position by bringing her stern round to the place where the head was.

WIND AWAY, To. To steer through narrow channels.

WING UP BALLAST, To. To carry the dead weight from the bottom as high as consistent with the stability of a ship, in order to ease her quick motion in rolling.

WOBBLE, To. In mechanics, to sway or roll from side to side.

WOOD, To. A gun is said to wood when it takes the port-sills or port-sides, or the trucks the water-ways.—To wood. When wooding-parties are sent out to cut or procure wood for a ship.

WORK, To. Said of a ship when she strains in a tempestuous sea, so as to loosen her joints.

WORK A SHIP, To. To adapt the sails to the force and direction of the wind.

WORK DOUBLE-TIDES, To. Implying that the work of three days is done in two, or at least two tides’ work in twenty-four hours.

WORK UP JUNK, To. To draw yarns from old cables, &c., and therewith to make foxes, points, gaskets, sinnet, or spun-yarn.

WRING A MAST, To. To bend, cripple, or strain it out of its natural position by setting the shrouds up too taut. The phrase, to wring, is also applied to a capstan when by an undue strain the component parts of the wood become deranged, and are thereby disunited. The head of a mast is frequently wrung by bracing up the lower yards beyond the dictates of sound judgment.

WRONG, To. To out-sail a vessel by becalming her sails is said to wrong her.



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