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written by John Masefield
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Abaft the beam.—That half of a ship included between her amidship section and the taffrail. (For ‘taffrail,’ see below.)

Abel Brown.—An unquotable sea-song.

Advance-note.—A note for one month’s wages issued to sailors on their signing a ship’s articles.

Belaying-pins.—Bars of iron or hard wood to which running rigging may be secured or belayed. Belaying-pins, from their handiness and peculiar club-shape, are sometimes used as bludgeons.

Bloody.—An intensive derived from the substantive ‘blood,’ a name applied to the Bucks, Scowrers, and Mohocks of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Blue Peter.—A blue and white flag hoisted at the fore-trucks of ships about to sail.

Bollard.—From bōl or bole, the round trunk of a tree. A phallic or ‘sparklet’-shaped ornament of the dockside, of assistance to mariners in warping into or out of dock.

Bonded Jacky.—Negro-head tobacco or sweet cake.

Bull of Barney.—A beast mentioned in an unquotable sea-proverb.

Bumpkin.—An iron bar (projecting out-board from the ship’s side) to which the lower and topsail brace blocks are sometimes hooked.

Cape Horn fever.—The illness proper to malingerers.

Catted.—Said of an anchor when weighed and secured to the ‘cat-head.’

Chanty.—A song sung to lighten labour at the capstan sheets, and halliards. The soloist is known as the chanty-man, and is usually a person of some authority in the fo’c’s’le. Many chanties are of great beauty and extreme antiquity.

Clipper-bow.—A bow of delicate curves and lines.

Clout.—A rag or cloth. Also a blow:—‘I fetched him a clout i’ the lug.’

Crimp.—A sort of scoundrelly land-shark preying upon sailors.

D.B.S.—Distressed British Sailor. A term applied to those who are invalided home from foreign ports.

Dungaree.—A cheap, rough thin cloth (generally blue or brown), woven, I am told, of coco-nut fibre.

Forward or Forrard.—Towards the bows.

Fo’c’s’le (Forecastle).—The deck-house or living-room of the crew. The word is often used to indicate the crew, or those members of it described by passengers as the ‘common sailors.’

Fore-stay.—A powerful wire rope supporting the fore-mast forward.

Gaskets.—Ropes or plaited lines used to secure the sails in furling.


Guffy.—A marine or jolly.

Gullies.—Sea-gulls, Cape Horn pigeons, etc.

Heave and pawl.—A cry of encouragement at the capstan.

Hooker.—A periphrasis for ship, I suppose from a ship’s carrying hooks or anchors.

Jack or Jackstay.—A slender iron rail running along the upper portions of the yards in some ships.

Leeward.—Pronounced ‘looard.’ That quarter to which the wind blows.

Mainsail haul.—An order in tacking ship bidding ‘swing the mainyards.’ To loot, steal, or ‘acquire.’

Main-shrouds.—Ropes, usually wire, supporting lateral strains upon the mainmast.

Mollies.—Molly-hawks, or Fulmar petrels. Wide-winged dusky sea-fowls, common in high latitudes, oily to taste, gluttonous. Great fishers and garbage-eaters.

Port Mahon Baboon, or Port Mahon Soger.—I have been unable to discover either the origin of these insulting epithets or the reasons for the peculiar bitterness with which they sting the marine recipient. They are older than Dana (circa 1840).

An old merchant sailor, now dead, once told me that Port Mahon was that godless city from which the Ark set sail, in which case the name may have some traditional connection with that evil ‘Mahoun’ or ‘Mahu,’ prince of darkness, mentioned by Shakespeare and some of our older poets.

The real Port Mahon, a fine harbour in Minorca, was taken by the French, from Admiral Byng, in the year 1756.

I think that the phrases originated at the time of Byng’s consequent trial and execution.

Purchase.—See ‘Tackle.’


Sails.—The sail-maker.

Santa Cruz.—A brand of rum.


Soger.—A laggard, malingerer, or hang-back. To loaf or skulk or work Tom Cox’s Traverse.

Spunyarn.—A three-strand line spun out of old rope-yarns knotted together. Most sailing-ships carry a spunyarn winch, and the spinning of such yarn is a favourite occupation in fine weather.

Stirrup.—A short rope supporting the foot-rope on which the sailors stand when aloft on the yards.

Tack.—To stay or ’bout ship. A reach to windward. The weather lower corner of a course.

Tackle.—Pronounced taykle. A combination of pulleys for obtaining of artificial power.

Taffrail.—The rail or bulwark round the sternmost end of a ship’s poop or after-deck.

Trick.—The ordinary two-hour spell at the wheel or on the look-out.

Windward or Weather.—That quarter from which the wind blows.

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