Saturday, August 1, 2009

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Strike

Happy Saturday to one and all! Today, we begin a new feature here at Triple P: Sailor Mouth Saturday. From here on in our Saturdays will be packed with words and phrases peculiar to sailing and sailors (and thereby those in the pirate and privateering professions) that have become parts of speech in our English language (and some others, too).

My husband is currently reading Arthur Herman's brilliant book "To Rule the Waves; How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World" and he suggested our first Sailor Mouth entry based on the information therein. Thusly, let's have a look at "strike" as it is used in common parlance to mean a work stoppage calculated to make management address workers' grievances.

Back in the day (the 16th and 17th centuries in particular), an able bodied sailor was paid - if at all - poorly. In 1585 a crewman's monthly wage was 10 shillings and not a single foremast jack saw any change in that amount for forty years. Now, that'll make me think twice about the measly 2% we get next time, won't it? Men were pressed into service, flogged for small infractions and generally treated like slaves and, if the Navy didn't happen to have enough money that month - or year - they simply neglected to pay anyone below the rank of warrant office. Tough nuts, Jack. We just don't have the cash.

And then they wondered why so many men took jobs aboard merchantmen, where the work was even harder but the floggings were few and the wage was better. Or, if they really had those tough nuts, signed aboard a buccaneer and never looked back.

When things became truly intolerable, as they obviously did with some regularity, a crew with their ship in port would take down the sails. The term for taking down aboard ship is "strike". The men would strike the sails so that the ship could not leave port until they were paid.

And so, today's Sailor Mouth Saturday comes to a close. Come back next week or sooner. We're always glad to have ya! Enjoy your weekend, Brethren!


Timmy! said...

Time for your cyber-stalker (me) to make his usual appearance, Pauline... Another good, fun, informative read. Keep up the good work!

Pauline said...

Ahoy Timmy! I wondered where you'd gotten off to...