Sailor’s Mouth: A Musing On Nautical Lingo
We’re pleased to feature another fascinating clipping from the Shavings archive (CWB’s Member Newsletter). This one’s about the innumerable lexicon of unique terminology and specific vocabulary used by those in ship building, in particular wooden boats, and those who sail these boats. there are words in here that the computer doesn’t even know, which nowadays is kinda rare, even for the omniscient inter-webs.
Anyways, have a read, and then have a cup of coffee and a think. Then, COME BACK and, by all means, have at it! We’d like to hear what you think. Just play nice, at least when using words we all understand. Here you go, mates, an editorial from Volume 2, Number 5, 1980:
ON FINDING THE CHANNEL
“They were held in a thrall of fear. . . afraid that a hunting crop ought really to be called a hunting whip, or a riding crop, or a riding whip, or a crop, or a whip, or a switch, or God knows what: terrified by the 100,000 taboos which were so irrational as to make it hopeless to be sensible about them and so numerous as to make it hopeless to remember then without being sensible. . . . “
“That’s how I feel at a CWB meeting, sometimes,” she said, and returned to her book. Well, shipmates, her comment stung. That all the nautical vocabulary I’d spent so many years of study and practice acquiring was somehow a barrier to her understanding and enjoyment of boats, had never occurred to me.
A week later, another member told me that he’d brought a friend to the regatta, a serious woodworker, a craftsman, and a lover of well-made things. After a few hours, the visitor cornered his host and, in an undertone, said, “Dave, the boats are great, but do you have some books to recommend, or maybe a dictionary? I don’t understand what people are talking about.”
Putting the two incidents alongside one another, I suddenly realized that we might be cutting ourselves off from a large group of potential members just when we need them most.
Now, I’m the last person to advocate abandoning the traditional vocabulary of the sea. But I am opposed to using what lawyers call “terms of art” to exclude or intimidate people who have, as their only short- coming, the fact that they don’t know a rabbet from a groove or a sheerline from the curve of the caprail. Even without meaning to, we’re all guilty of the “one-up” attitude now and then.
Let’s remember, seamen and shipwrights invented these words so they could carry on highly technical conversations. Later experienced bluewater men used them to exclude beginners from the freemasonry of those who could hand, reef, and steer.
The wooden boat revival is young. We can’t afford to exclude anyone. We need all the help we can get. To borrow an image from Marty Langland, I’d hate to see us in mid-channel on this wondrous voyage, sinking while people were being blocked from the pumps because they called the stem “the pointy end.”
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