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Who is the Singing Fisherman?
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Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey!
Once you learn this you can put down any suggestion that you are being rude.... In the old days of sailing ships, cannon balls were often stacked in what was called a "monkey", usually made of brass. When the weather got really cold the monkeys would sometimes contract forcing some of the cannon balls to fall to the ships deck. It had to be very cold to freeze the balls off a brass monkey!
Letting the cat out of the bag
Letting the cat out of the bag originates from bringing out the cat-o-nine-tails (a whip normally stowed in a bag) to flog some poor miscreant aboard ship.
Deep-six was the call of the lead-line handler when the water depth alongside a ship was somewhat less than six fathoms (were it exactly six fathoms, he would call out "By the mark, six")
Bear in mind
Bear in mind comes from "bear in with me," or bring your ship closer to my position.
Son of a gun
Read the following passage from the book: Desolation Island, p. 7 --
"...both had been bred to the sea from their earliest years - Bonden, indeed, had been born between two of the Indefatigable's lower-deck guns..."
Thus --if paternity of a child was uncertain the child was entered in the log as
"son of a gun".
Old clipper ships sported various sails above the mains. I am not certain of the order, but it went some thing like: skyscrapers, moonrakers, angel's foot stools, and finally, star gazers which were only set in dead calms.Skyscrapers would have probably been the highest "productive"sail on a ship. The others were mostly for show as they could not bear out a strong wind without being carried over the side.
Mind Your P's and Q's
In days of old, mariners serving aboard government vessels could always get credit at local waterfront taverns until pay-day. Because they would pay for those drinks which were marked up on the tavern keeper's tally-board, the tavern keeper had to be careful that no "Pints" or "Quarts" had been omitted from or added to each customers tally.
"Three Sheets to the Wind"
This expression originated from the days of the great sailing vessels. For a sail to be very useful, it has to be anchored down to the boat or ship. The lines used to tie down the sail were and still are called sheets.On ancient vessels, the sheets were tied at the corners of the sails, so each sail usually had four sheets. Mariners developed the habit of saying how drunk a companion was by referring to how many "sheets to the wind" he was. "One sheet to the wind" was inebriated, but still functional. "Two sheets to the wind" was barely able to hold his own. "Three sheets to the wind" was pretty well trashed. And, "Four sheets to the wind" was unconscious. Only one of these four has managed to stay in our language today, and is thought to have come into common slang in the 1820s.
Where did the term "GROG" originate?
Answer: In 1740, Vice Admiral Sir Edward Vernon ordered rum rations aboard British ships cut with three parts water. This was perceived as a very black day in naval history. This new watered down concoction became known as 'three water rum'. Lemon or lime juice was later added to prevent scurvy. As if diluting the rum was not drastic enough, the Admiral reasoned that if the rum were dispensed in two rations, six hours apart, it would have less affect on each mariner's well being. The second such ration of rum inspired the modern tradition of 'Happy Hour' at 1700. In an effort to insult the Admiral, mariners named this concoction "Grog," after the nickname already given to Vernon as "Old Grog". The admiral had a uniform made of a material called "groggin". This is why he was called old grog.
What is meant by "splicing the main brace"?
Answer: The main brace on a ship was always made of good cordage, because it handled the main yard carrying the primary sail of a square rigged vessel. If a brace gave out during a storm, a splice was the fastest way repair it. The best mariners on board were sought out for this difficult task. They were then rewarded with an extra ration of rum for 'splicing the main brace'. Today it means- 'Lets have a drink'!
In the old days of sail, speed was measured by tossing overboard a log which was secured by a line. The knots on a "tafrail" log were approximately 50 ft apart. A glass with sand which took one-half minute to run down was inverted and the 50 ft interval knots were counted. The resultant number of knots in the period of 30 seconds provides the boat speed in NM/hr or Knots. Today, the nautical mile measures 6,082.66 feet.
Before the Mast
Literally, the position of the crew whose living quarters on board were in the forecastle (the section of a ship forward of the foremast). The term is also used more generally to describe seamen as compared with officers, in phrases such as "he sailed before the mast."
A ship's sick-list. A binnacle was the stand on which the ship's compass was mounted. In the eighteenth century and probably before, a list was given to the officer or mate of the watch, containing the names of men unable to report for duty. The list was kept at the binnacle.
During the Spanish-American War, sailors wore leggings called boots, which came to mean a Navy (or Marine) recruit. These recruits trained in "boot" camps.
Brightwork originally referred to polished metal objects, and bright woodwork to wood which was kept scraped and scrubbed, especially topside. Bright it should be and work it is.
Charlie Noble is an "it," not a "he." A British merchant service captain, Charles Noble, is said to be responsible for the origin, about 1850, of this nickname for the galley smokestack. It seems that Captain Noble, discovering that the stack of his ship's galley was made of copper, ordered that it be kept bright. The ship's crew then started referring to the stack as the "Charley Noble."
Clean Bill of Health
This widely used term has its origins in the document issued to a ship showing that the port it sailed from suffered from no epidemic or infection at the time of departure.
A coxswain or cockswain was at first the swain (boy servant) in charge of the small cock or cockboat that was kept aboard for the ship's captain and which was used to row him to and from the ship. The term has been in use in England dating back to at least 1463. With the passing of time the coxswain became the helmsman of any boat, regardless of size.
A dogwatch at sea is the period between 4 and 6 p.m, the first dogwatch, or the period between 6 and 8 p.m., the second dog watch. The watches aboard ships are:
Noon to 4:00 p.m. Afternoon watch
4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. First dogwatch
6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Second dogwatch
8:00 p.m. to midnight 1st night watch
Midnight to 4:00 a.m. Middle watch or mid watch
4:00 to 8:00 a.m. Morning watch
8:00 a.m. to noon Forenoon watch
The dogwatches are only two hours each so the same sailors aren't always on duty at the same time each afternoon. Some experts say dogwatch is a corruption of dodge watch and others associate dogwatch with the fitful sleep of sailors called dog sleep, because it is a stressful watch. But no one really knows the origin of this term, which was in use at least back to 1700.
Down the Hatch
Here's a drinking expression that seems to have its origins in sea freight, where cargoes are lowered into the hatch. First used by seamen, it has only been traced back to the turn of the century.
A name given to a sailor's personal effects. Also spelled duffel, it referred to his principal clothing as well as to the seabag in which he carried and stowed it. The term comes from the Flemish town of Duffel near Antwerp, and denotes a rough woolen cloth made there.
The modern sailor's work clothes. The term is not modern, however, but dates to the 18th century and comes from the Hindi word dungri, for a type of Indian cotton cloth.
Although a fathom is now a nautical unit of length equal to six feet, it was once defined by an act of Parliament as "the length of a man's arms around the object of his affections." The word derives from the Old English Faethm, which means "embracing arms."
One superstition has it that any mariner who sees the ghost ship called the Flying Dutchman will die within the day. The tale of the Flying Dutchman trying to round the Cape of Good Hope against strong winds and never succeeding, then trying to make Cape Horn and failing there too, has been the most famous of maritime ghost stories for more 300 years. The cursed spectral ship sailing back and forth on its endless voyage, its ancient white-hair crew crying for help while hauling at her sail, inspired Samuel Taylor Coleridge to write his classic "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," to name but one famous literary work. The real Flying Dutchman is supposed to have set sail in 1660.
The fouled (rope- or chain-entwined) anchor so prevalent in our Navy's designs and insignia is a symbol at least 500 years old that has it origins in the British traditions adopted by our naval service.
The fouled anchor was adopted as the official seal of Lord High Admiral Charles Lord Howard of Effingham during the late 1500s. A variation of the seal had been in use by the Lord High Admiral of Scotland about a century earlier.
The anchor (both with and without the entwined rope) is a traditional heraldic device used in ancient British coats of arms. As a heraldic device, it is a stylized representation used merely for its decorative effect.
Soft sandstone, often used to scrub the decks of ships. Sailors had to kneel as if in prayer when scrubbing the decks. Holystone was often called so because it is full of holes.
A naval punishment on board ships said to have originated with the Dutch but adopted by other navies during the 15th and 16th centuries. A rope was rigged from yardarm to yardarm, passing under the bottom of the ship, and the unfortunate delinquent secured to it, sometimes with lead or iron weights attached to his legs. He was hoisted up to one yardarm and then dropped suddenly into the sea, hauled underneath the ship, and hoisted up to the opposite yardarm, the punishment being repeated after he had had time to recover his breath. While he was under water, a "great gun" was fired, "which is done as well to astonish him so much the more with the thunder of the shot, as to give warning until all others of the fleet to look out and be wary by his harms" (from Nathaniel Boteler, A Dialogicall Discourse, 1634). The U.S. Navy never practiced keel hauling.
The distress call for voice radio, for vessels and people in serious trouble at sea. The term was made official by an international telecommunications conference in 1948, and is an anglicizing of the French "m'aidez," (help me).
Boatswains have been in charge of the deck force since the days of sail. Setting sails, heaving lines, and hosting anchors required coordinated team effort and boatswains used whistle signals to order the coordinated actions. When visitors were hoisted aboard or over the side, the pipe was used to order "Hoist Away" or "Avast heaving." In time, piping became a naval honor on shore as well as at sea.
Port and Starboard
Port and starboard are shipboard terms for left and right, respectively. Confusing those two could cause a ship wreck. In Old England, the starboard was the steering paddle or rudder, and ships were always steered from the right side on the back of the vessel. Larboard referred to the left side, the side on which the ship was loaded. So how did larboard become port? Shouted over the noise of the wind and the waves, larboard and starboard sounded too much alike. The word port means the opening in the "left" side of the ship from which cargo was unloaded. Sailors eventually started using the term to refer to that side of the ship. Use of the term "port" was officially adopted by the U.S. Navy by General Order, 18 February 1846
An acronym standing for "RAdio Detecting And Ranging."
An acronym standing for "Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus."
The cask of drinking water on ships was called a scuttlebutt and since sailors exchanged gossip when they gathered at the scuttlebutt for a drink of water, scuttlebutt became U.S. Navy slang for gossip or rumors. A butt was a wooden cask which held water or other liquids; to scuttle is to drill a hole, as for tapping a cask.
Shows his true colors
Early warships often carried flags from many nations on board in order to elude or deceive the enemy. The rules of civilized warfare called for all ships to hoist their true national ensigns before firing a shot. Someone who finally "shows his true colors" is acting like a man-of-war which hailed another ship flying one flag, but then hoisted their own when they got in firing range.
Tending the side with side boys, as we know it in modern practice, originated long time ago. It was customary in the days of sail to hold conferences on the flagships both when at sea and in open roadstead; also, officers were invited to dinner on other ships while at sea, weather permitting. Sometimes the sea was such that visitors were hoisted aboard in boatswain's chairs. Members of the crew did the hoisting, and it is from the aid they rendered in tending the side that the custom originated of having a certain number of men always in attendance. Some have reported the higher the rank, the heavier the individual; therefore, more side boys.
The exact date and origin of the smoking lamp has been lost. However, it probably came into use
during the 16th Century when seamen began smoking on board vessels. The smoking lamp was a safety
measure. It was devised mainly to keep the fire hazard away from highly combustible woodwork and
gunpowder. Most navies established regulations restricting smoking to certain areas. Usually, the
lamp was located in the forecastle or the area directly surrounding the galley indicting that
smoking was permitted in this area. Even after the invention of matches in the 1830s, the lamp was
an item of convenience to the smoker. When particularly hazardous operations or work required that
smoking be curtailed, the unlighted lamp relayed the message. "The smoking lamp is
lighted" or "the smoking lamp is out' were the expressions indicating that smoking was
permitted or forbidden.
The smoking lamp has survived only as a figure of speech. When the officer of the deck says "the smoking lamp is out" before drills, refueling or taking ammunition, that is the Navy's way of saying "cease smoking."
SOund NAvigation Ranging. An acronym for underwater echo-ranging equipment, originally for detecting submarines by small warships.
Nautical term, dating from at least the early 1600s, meaning the outfit of sails used by a ship. The term was revived after World War II, when a Navy ship's complement of electronics could be referred to as its electronics suit, and its total armament might be called its weapons suit. The word is sometimes incorrectly spelled "suite."
Tar Jack Tar
Tar, a slang term for a sailor, has been in use since at least 1676. The term "Jack tar" was used by the 1780s. Early sailors wore overalls and broad-brimmed hats made of tar-impregnated fabric called tarpaulin cloth. The hats, and the sailors who wore them, were called tarpaulins, which may have been shortened to tars.
Toe the Line
The space between each pair of deck planks in a wooden ship was filled with a packing material
called "oakum" and then sealed with a mixture of pitch and tar. The result, from afar,
was a series of parallel lines a half-foot or so apart, running the length of the deck.
Once a week, as a rule, usually on Sunday, a warship's crew was ordered to fall in at quarters -- that is, each group of men into which the crew was divided would line up in formation in a given area of the deck. To insure a neat alignment of each row, the sailors were directed to stand with their toes just touching a particular seam.
Another use for these seams was punitive. The youngsters in a ship, be they ship's boys or student officers, might be required to stand with their toes just touching a designated seam for a length of time as punishment for some minor infraction of discipline, such as talking or fidgeting at the wrong time. A tough captain might require the miscreant to stand there, not talking to anyone, in fair weather or foul, for hours at a time. Hopefully, he would learn it was easier and more pleasant to conduct himself in the required manner rather than suffer the punishment.
From these two uses of deck seams comes our cautionary word to obstreperous youngsters to "toe the line."
Rot Gut Whiskey
In Baltimore, in the mid 1800's there was a man who sold corpses to the hospital for research. He stored the cadavers in cheap whiskey to ferment them before turning them over to the researchers. He then sold the whiskey to the medical students... thus the term "rot gut."
It was the accepted practice in Babylonia 4,000 years ago that for a month after the wedding, the bride's father would supply his son-in- law with all the mead he could drink. Mead is a honey beer, and because their calendar was lunar based, this period was called the "honey month" or what we know today as the "honeymoon."
Rule of Thumb
Before thermometers were invented, brewers would dip a thumb or finger into the mix to find the right temperature for adding yeast. Too cold, and the yeast wouldn't grow. Too hot, and the yeast would die. This thumb in the beer is where we get the phrase "rule of thumb."
After consuming a bucket or two of vibrant brew they called aul, or ale, the Vikings would head fearlessly into battle often without armor or even shirts. In fact, the term "berserk" means "bare shirt" in Norse, and eventually took on the meaning of their wild battles.
In 1740 Admiral Vernon of the British fleet decided to water down the Navy's rum. Needless to say, the sailors weren't too pleased and called Admiral Vernon, Old Grog, after the stiff wool grogram coats he wore. The term "grog" soon began to mean the watered down drink itself. When you were drunk on this grog, you were "groggy", a word still in use today.
Wet Your Whistle
Many years ago in England, pub frequenters had a whistle baked into the rim or handle of their ceramic cups. When they needed a refill, they used the whistle to get some service. "Wet your whistle," is the phrase inspired by this practice.
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