Raising Awareness with Seafaring Terms

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Maritime charity, the Royal Alfred Seafarers’ Society, has launched a nationwide campaign designed to mark the Year of the Seafarer and to capture modern-day seafaring sayings, which will form part of the maritime linguistic inheritance that we perhaps unknowingly use every day.

As part of the campaign, the Society is teaming up with the author of naval slang and jargon guide ‘Jackspeak’ Rick Jolly OBE, a former Royal Navy surgeon-captain, to produce a new compendium of modern nautical terms for the next edition of his book.

The Society is calling on serving and retired members of the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy, fishermen and port workers nationwide to get involved in the ‘Royal Alfred Gung Ho Language Workshop’, inviting them to send in the modern words and sayings they use in everyday language, inspired by their time at sea. Suggestions can be submitted online at www.royalalfredseafarers.co.uk or by post (see details below).

Dr Rick Jolly said: “The beauty of nautical language, just like all language, is that it is constantly evolving.  Shaped by changing times and technologies, the expressions used often carry that classic mariner sense of humour - inherent in sayings such as ‘kecks’ which are underpants (or trousers in Liverpool!) and ‘spondoolicks’, a 19th century word for money!  Projects like this are vital in preserving the significance and awareness of nautical language and we look forward to hearing from today’s seafarers who may have their own ‘first rate’ suggestions or may really ‘know the ropes’ when it comes to modern-day sailor speak!”

Commander Boxall-Hunt, Chief Executive of the Society, said: “Seafarers do literally have their own language which is evident every time our residents socialise together, but it’s astounding how much of this language is used by everyone – every day. 

“This heritage must not be lost or forgotten, which is why we are embracing today’s generations of seafarers alongside the generation we care for at our residence in Surrey, to take that understanding to the wider public and celebrate it.”

The Royal Alfred Seafarers’ Society canvassed its retired resident seafarers at its flagship nursing and residential home in Surrey to reveal their top ten favourite phrases coined from a life at sea.  Most of these will have passed into metaphorical usage and their nautical origins mostly all but forgotten among the wider public:

1.        The cat’s out of the bag – originates from the instrument of punishment in the Old Navy, the ‘cat o’nine tails’.  It would be taken out of its special storage bag before a flogging

2.        Brass monkeys – originates from the saying ‘cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey’. Freezing temperatures would cause the brass monkey, a plate beside each gun on a ship to hold iron cannon balls, to contract and some of the balls to fall off

3.        Batten down – meaning to prepare for trouble or bad weather, originating from ships ‘battening down the hatches’ when bad weather was expected

4.        Splice the mainbrace! - the order given on ships for everyone on board  to enjoy an additional serving of rum as part of a traditional naval celebration. Nowadays this is used to describe a toast to Royalty

5.        Three sheets to the wind – originates from an old description of a square sail flapping almost uncontrollably in the wind; now often used to describe an inebriated person!

Surgeon-Captain Rick Jolly OBE is a former Royal Marine doctor with extensive experience of combat medical support gained in Northern Ireland and the Falklands War of 1982. He also spent six years with the Merchant Navy, including with Saga Shipping and upon RMS Saint Helena.

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