Sailor Dictionary of Terms

I lost the address of the person who sent me this. Please respond so I can give credit where it is due. - Rick


Above Board - Above decks, therfore, meaning to be out in the open, visible to all; honest, straight forward, etc.

Bend - A knot used to join two ropes, lines, cables to one another or to an object, such as an anchor's shackle. A knot, more properly, usually involves untwisting the individual strands of a rope for the purpose of tucking them under and over one another to make a Stopper Knot or a Turk's Head or similar knot.

Bos'n- Short for Boatswain, pronounced "bosun", the person in charge of the deck crew, and the deck and rigging in general. In the modern Navy the Bos'n is a Warrant Officer, while a Bosn's Mate is a Petty Officer.

Brass Monkey Weather - Refers to very cold weather.

Charley Noble - Many a rookie sailor has been sent to find Charley Noble. Usually after much searching and being unable to find the person named, he will eventually discover that Charley Noble is the galley stove pipe. This is akin to being put on lookout duty for the mail buoy.

Deep six - To discard something, specifically to throw it in the water. Water depth is measured in fathoms, six feet to a fathom. The term "deep six" comes from the throwing of the lead to determine water depth and indicates a depth "over six fathoms."

Fid - Similar to a Marlin Spike, but usually larger, and made of wood. Used in the same way as a Marlin Spike but usually for larger rope and cable. See Marlin Spike.

Freezing the Balls off a Brass Monkey - A brass monkey is a brass triangle which is put on the ground and used to keep cannonballs in a neat pile or pyramid beside a gun. When the weather gets very cold the brass triangle contracts more than the iron and causes the cannonballs to roll off, hence the saying.

Head - Toilet, square rigged ships sailed down wind (that means the wind blew from the stern to the bow), that was the nature of the beast. With no indoor plumbing sailors would do their thing over the side. No experienced sailor would piss in the wind, so he would go the the head (front) of the ship to take care of his needs.

Loggerhead - To be at loggerheads; whalers, when a whale was harpooned, would fasten the line to a timber in the boat called a loggerhead, which would take the strain of the whale's pull. Also, to have a disagreement.

Marlin Spike - A steel rod, tapered to a point at one end, the other usually has a wider head. Used to open up the strands of a rope in order to tuck another strand under. Used in splicing rope. See also Fid.

Marlin Spike Seamanship - A general term referring to the working of rope, cable, etc. Encompasses tying of knots, bends, lashing and other activities. Sailors, even modern day ones, often take great pride in their marlinspike seamanship. Even on modern missile cruisers, it is not unusual to see a Knot Board, made by a member of the crew, displaying many different kinds of knots, both usefull and decorative.

Rigging - There is, generally, two types of rigging, even on a modern steam ship, standing and running rigging. Standing rigging is that rigging which is fixed in place, such as halyard and stays which support a mast, and are not intended to be easily adjusted or changed. Running rigging is that which is easily adjustable, such a the main sheet, used to adjust the main sail, or the rigging on a ships crane which raises and lowers cargo.

Pitch or Roll - The ships motion swaying when from side to side. Pitch means to rock fore and aft. Thus, the old salt's crusty remark

"roll, roll you son of a bitch, the more you roll, the less you'll pitch."

Rope - There is some confusion over the term rope. Rope is considered to be the bulk source of line. While the rope is stored waiting for use it is properly termed "rope." Once it has been taken from storage and put to use it should then be called line.

Shake a Leg - There was a time when women went to sea with their sailors on certain ships. The crew and their women slept in hammocks, slung on hooks. When the Bos'n rousted out the crew for a sail change or other evolution he would yell "Shake a leg". He could then tell by the leg if it was a crewman that had to be rolled out.

Son of a Gun - Many people use this, with no inkling of the original meaning. Going back to the days of sail, when a woman gave birth on (or under) the gun deck, the child was said to be a son of a gun. Usually the father's name was not known, hence calling some one a son of a gun is short of calling him a bastard.

Weigh - To weigh anchor means to lift on the anchor until it is clear of the bottom. The instant the anchor is free of the bottom the anchor is said to be aweigh, signifying that the ship is now free to maneuver, as in the U.S Navy song "Anchors Aweigh."

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