Wednesday, December 5, 2007


Today nautical language is about nil, knowbody knows what you are talking about if you say go swab the deck or soogie the bulkhead. Downstairs they don't go down below anymore, they go downstairs. Decks are floors, lines are ropes, and the other day one kid call a mooring wire a cable.

Unfortunately the vocabulary of the mariner is ignored and those who have been working around ships for any length of time are not happy about it. I think this is because so many landsmen rush to the water on weekends to play, and most of what is written and filmed in the United States about living and working on the water is directed toward, and produced by, these neophyte admirals who do not understand that the language of the sea is steeped in tradition. Nautical vocabulary allows those aboard ship to communicate orders and ideas clearly and concisely in a manner that is not open to misinterpretation. For this reason it is important that the shiphandler use proper shipboard terminology when giving orders.

While practitioners in the medical, legal, engineering, and scientific fields have and use a specialized vocabulary peculiar to their profession, the language of the sea is now being misused with regularity. This is sad since seafaring is not just a job, it is a way of life, and the seaman's vocabulary captures the very essence and spirit of life on the water.

The argument has been made by some that the seafarer should "modernize" nautical language so it could be immediately understood by all, even though this would actually mean that it would be clearly understood by no one. Without a unique nautical vocabulary it would be impossible to accurately express ideas or describe conditions in the marine environment. A whole series of long and ambiguous sentences would be needed to express the same thoughts that the seaman can now convey with but a few words. Consider the paragraph of instructions that would have to be given to a seaman tending the spring line to get the same reaction that the mariner gets from the three words: "Check the spring." Just as doctors or lawyers would not bastardize the language of their professions, nor tolerate others in their field who do not master that language, neither should the mariner accept the misuse of the language of the sea. It is another aspect of professionalism.