Today is National Maritime Day established in 1933 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The date was established as May 22nd based on the first successful transoceanic voyage under steam propulsion. The steamship The Savannah set sail from Savannah, Georgia, on May 22, 1819 (1).
National Maritime Day is the perfect day to acknowledge and recognize the large number of English words that have washed up on shore and been adopted into everyday speech. Many words we use today have their origins in the salty talk of sailors. Below are some examples from An Ocean of Words: A Dictionary of Nautical Words and Phrases by Peter D. Jeans:
Blowhard: Sailor’s slang for a wind-bag.
Debacle: Referred to the break-up of ice on a river or navigable channel.
Filibuster: Originally a term for a buccaneer, pirate, or other person who obtained plunder. It later evolved to refer to the use of obstructive tactics in the legislature.
Nausea: From the Greek nausia, meaning seasickness.
Vogue: From the French, voguer, ‘to be carried forward on the water.’ No doubt it comes from the figurative sense of being in fashion – that is being in the swim, going with the flow or current, or moving with the tide (2).
In addition to words with nautical origins, there are boatloads of idioms and common expression we use every day. For example, if one of your co-workers is a “loose cannon,” it means he or she does not conform to the rules and might say or do something at any time that might hurt the company. Few people realize that this term originates from the actual heavy metal cannon that were tied and secured to a ship’s side. If a cannon became loose, it could cause a lot of damage to the ship and the crew.
Here’s a list of more expressions:
All hands on deck , Ship shape , Full steam ahead, Like a fish out of water, Turn the tide, To make Waves, To Stem the Tide, To run a tight ship, Rock the boat, To have bigger fish to fry, Two ships that pass in the night , In deep water, A big fish in a small pond, The coast is clear, The tip of the iceberg, The world is your oyster, Happy as a clam, Above board, Don’t rock the boat, We’re all in the same boat
Today’s Challenge: A Net-full of Nautical Words
What are some examples of words in English that you associate the sea? Although there are many words like tide, wave, and vessel that have clear associations with the ocean, many of the words we use frequently have a hidden nautical history. Select two of the words below, and research each word’s etymology to find out how its origin or former meaning was sea-related. Contrast any former uses of the words with current dictionary definitions.
Ahoy, Bamboozle, Cranky, Derelict, Exonerate, Fairway, Guzzle, Handsome, Idler, Junk, Kickback, Listless, Mayonnaise, Noggin, Over-rated, Posh, Quarter, Rummage, Scope, Trick, Victuals, Wash-out, Yarn
(Common Core Language 4 – Knowledge of Language)
Quotation of the Day: There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away. –Emily Dickinson
2- Jeans, Peter D. An Ocean of Words: A Dictionary of Nautical Words and Phrases. Secaucus, New Jersey: Birch Lane Press, 1993.