The Sailors Word Book of 1867

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Ever listened to us old grizzled seafarers and wondered...
"What the hell are they yammering about?"
Well here is great source to assist in understanding the language of the seafarer from the middle of the 19th century.

The Sailor's Word Book by the late Admiral W.H. Smyth K.S.F., D.C.L., &c.
First published in 1867

An amazing collection of arcane terms and usages that would have been the common tongue of the seafarer for more than 200 years but which was rapidly fading as sailing ships were being replaced by steam ships.

The file is in HTML frmat from Project Guttenburg and I have added it to the files section for downloading or perusing here:

From the introduction:
From the causes already stated, my project of a full sailor's dictionary fell to the ground; yet in course of time, and at the age of seventy-seven, finding leisure at last on hand, I thought it feasible to work my materials into a sort of maritime glossary. The objects of such a digest are to afford a ready reference to young or old, professional or non-professional, persons, who by consulting it may obtain an instant answer to a given question. Now although many of the explanations may be superfluous to some seamen, still they may lead others to a right understanding of various brackish expressions and phrases, without having to put crude queries, many of which those inquired of might be unable to solve. Nor is it only those afloat who are to be thus considered; all the empire is more or less connected with its navy and its commerce, and nautical phraseology is thereby daily becoming more habitual with all classes of the lieges than of erst. Even our parliamentary orators, with a proper national bias, talk of swamping a measure, danger ahead, taking the wind out of an antagonist's sails, drifting into war, steering a bill through the shoals of opposition or throwing it overboard, following in the wake of a leader, trimming to the breeze, tiding a question over the session, opinions above or below the gangway, and the like, so rife of late in St. Stephen's; even when a member "rats" on seeing that the pumps cannot keep his party from falling to leeward, he is but imitating the vermin that quit a sinking-ship.

This predilection for sea idiom is assuredly proper in a maritime people, especially as many of the phrases are at once graphic, terse, and perspicuous.[7] How could the whereabouts of an aching tooth be better pointed out to an operative dentist than Jack's "'Tis the aftermost grinder aloft, on the starboard quarter." The ship expressions preserve many British and Anglo-Saxon words, with their quaint old preterites and telling colloquialisms; and such may require explanation, as well for the youthful aspirant as for the cocoa-nut-headed prelector in nautic lore. It is indeed remarkable how largely that foundation of the English language has been preserved by means of our sailors.

Enjoy me hearties!



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