Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Pennant & Pendant

Sailor Mouth Saturday is about as serendipitous as it gets around Triple P. Usually I've found some interesting or, contrarily, common word in my research during the week that sticks in my head like an annoying jingle. Once that happens your humble hostess has no choice but to pull out the sailor's dictionary of old and find out what the heck the deal is. That doesn't get done until Saturday, though, so to actually accuse me of planning ahead would be erroneous.

Today's words came up as I was thumbing through the glossary of my current read, David Cordingly's Cochrane: The Real Master and Commander. Cordingly is, of course, a preeminent historian with regard to all things nautical and I would never say otherwise. All the same, now that I am three chapters into this one, I realize I am reading it for four distinct and separate reasons. They are, in no particular order, 1) Thomas Cochrane spent at least half of his time at sea privateering and he kicked ass at it, 2) Research means my historical fiction is true and correct to the best of my knowledge and ability to make it so within the context of the story, 3) I plan to review the book here, and 4) I am a masochist. I will discuss all these when I finally get around to number 3.

What I will say now is that it appears the book's glossary needs a little tweaking. Either that or the entry on pennants and pendants was written for the most land loving of lubbers. The first sentence of the entry reads:

pendant (pronounced 'pennant') The term can be used for any long tapering flag.

Of course I could have left it at that and walked away. But you all know it is not like me to leave well enough alone. According to The Sailor's Word-Book of 1867, the words are destinct and seperate with different meanings.

First, pennant. This is indeed a long, tapering flag of the type we see waving in the breeze from HMS Brittania's mainmast in the picture at the header (her foremast is flying the Union Jack; click on the picture to enlarge). Single pennants were nine feet in length. They were two feet high at the mast and a foot or less at the end. The pennant denoted a commissioned ship-of-war and would not be flown if the ship was out of commission. Merchants do not fly these flags but privateers or pirates might fly a pennant as a ruse. A pennant with a swallow-tail indicates a commodore's "flag" ship. A pennant at half mast signals that the ship's captain has died. Pennants are of various color and design, depending on the navy using them.
Second, pendant. This is, in fact, part of a ship's rigging and there are more types of pendant than one would reasonably imagine. The pendant may be a piece of rope fixed on either side of a mast to which the hooks of tackles are attached. I honestly tried to find a picture of this, since it's relatively hard to explain, but no luck. There are also pendants which are essentially rope passing through block and tackle for hauling. In this case the names are endless: stay-tackle-pendant, brace-pendant, fish-pendant and so on. Also a ship may have a rudder-pendant which are cables attached to the rudder in order to prevent it being lost if it comes unshipped. In all the cases the pronunciation is indeed pendant.

I'm not trying to split hairs but I know, Brethren, that you do not come to Triple P to be treated like a lubber. The fascinating and action-packed life of Captain Thomas Lord Cochrane not withstanding, a pendant is not a pennant. And now we both know it.

I will say that the glossary's entry on quarter gallery is spot on:

quarter gallery A covered gallery with windows that projected from the side of the ship at the stern, used as a lavatory or toilet by the captain and officers.

As my mother always said, rank has its privileges.


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! And thankee for clearing that up for us all, Pirate Queen. I thought Cordingly was Mr. know-it-all about this stuff, but it's nice to see that even he may need to learn a thing or two from you. Keep up the good work. Oh, and thanks for the info on the quarter gallery. I didn't realize that the Captain's lavatory had windows too...

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! You know, Cordingly is an unsurpassed historian and it may be that in Cochrane's day pennant and pendant were the same, but... And, in all fairness, only ships-of-the-line, first and possibly second rates, would have had windows in their quarter gallery (which would have included a basin and not one but two toilets!). Even Jack Aubrey's Surprise didn't (as they so eloquently showed us in the movie). I know Juliette Flynn's Litha surely does not.

A naval bod said...

I think there may be some confusion here. Royal Naval ships are issued with pendant numbers to identify them - traditionally using flags (pendants) but in more recent times painted on the hull. But here's the thing: though spelt "pendant" it is pronounced "pennant" - such is human perversity! Possibly this oddity has been lost in crossing the Atlantic.

Pauline said...

Ahoy A Naval Bod and thankee for your input! Actually "The Sailor's Word Book of 1867" written by Admiral of the Royal Navy W. H. Smyth is quite clear about pennants and pendants and it is from Admiral Smyth's book that I took my information.

I am certain that things are quite different in the modern RN, as you point out, and of course they are in the modern U.S. Navy as well.

History, though, seems a little more interesting. At least to me.