Saturday, October 3, 2009

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Scuttlebutt

Scuttlebutt. Webster gives two definitions but if you ask the average lubber he'll probably tell you that it means gossip or an unverified rumor. The scuttlebutt in the picture above would have something to do with mutiny. But originally the scuttlebutt was a tangible item and a fixture on board ship.

What was then known as a cask and what we now call a barrel was lashed in place on deck, generally to the mainmast on larger ships such as frigates or men-of-war. In the sloops and schooners popular with pirates and privateers you might find it tied to the foremast or somewhere else on the forecastle (that would be the foc'sul to you, mate). A square hole was cut out at the bung (feel free to giggle like Mike Rowe on "Dirty Jobs"; it is a funny word) and fresh water was poured into the cask. A ladle or dipper was hung from the hole and men could stop and refresh themselves whenever needed. That cask was the scuttlebutt and it was found on almost every ship, although in times of short rations it might be empty.

Sailors off duty or between chores might stop at the scuttlebutt for a drink and then hang out a while, like judges at a bar. Of course the ship's gossip would come up and that is were the term as it is used today came from. "What's the scuttlebutt, mate?" was a common question and it carried over to time spent on land. Even when there wasn't a scuttlebutt to drink from, there was scuttlebutt to discuss.

So go forth and get the scuttlebutt, Brethren. Let me know what you find out.


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! So, the scuttlebutt was the original water cooler... Who knew? That's right, you did. And now the rest of us know too. Thankee, Cap'n.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! It's just the cats in the scuttlebutt that but me! Gah!