Friday, August 21, 2009

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Thwart

Ahoy Brethren and welcome once again to Sailor Mouth Saturday. I'm at the Alaska Writers Guild workshop Saturday and Sunday, so this post comes to you kinda early for me.

Now, I'm an equal opportunity kind of privateer (on some issues anyway) and so today I'm posting a picture of C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower. Yep. He's no Jack Aubrey by half but that's how the cards were dealt. Besides, we're talking about his hat here, not his looks or personality. That said, let us cast off.

"Athwart" is a word that was bandied about by sailors from the 16th century on. Maybe earlier for all we know. The point is that, though it sounds strange and old-timey to us, it would have been common parlance aboard the ships of everyone from Blackbeard to Dominique Youx and beyond. Well, Youx would have said it in French but you get my drift.

The word literally means from side to side and was the opposite of fore and aft - from front to back. Anything crossing the line of a ship's direction was said to be athwart that ship. "Athwart hawse" was the term for anything - a boat, a whale, a tree trunk - accidentally drifting across the path of the ship. Ships would fire a warning shot athwart an enemy to make her heave to and surrender without damage. Firing "athwartships" was big with pirates and privateers. Just scar 'em a little and keep the prize intact. Finally, during the Napoleonic wars, old school officers like Nelson (and our buddy up there who was named after him) were said to wear their bicorn hats athwartships as opposed to the more modern fore-and-aft style.

As the term came down to us, it was shortened to thwart and took on the meaning of crossing an adversary. To stop someone from accomplishing something. To thwart them. I like athwart better myself, and I refuse to wear my bicorn fore-and-aft regardless of peer pressure. So there.

Happy Saturday, Brethren. See you in the week ahead!


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! I hope the Writer's Guild Workshop didn't thwart your weekend too badly. Thanks for another informative post and Happy Monday to you...

Pauline said...

Ahoy Timmy! I think Monday is thwarting me. Been up for three hours and Can't. Get. Motivated.