Saturday, April 17, 2010

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Monkey

Monkey is a favorite word aboard sailing ships and, looking at the reefers pictured above, it's probably no surprise. When Charles Darwin aboard the Beagle called the seaman "simians" he wasn't referring to their ancient ancestors.

But monkey means other things, too. A heavy piece of pig iron attached to a pulley and then dropped from a great height to pound wooden blocks into decking - an original kind of pile driver - was known as a monkey. A wooden tankard for holding grog, also known as a kid, was a monkey. In Elizabethan England, a monkey was a kind of water taxi and there is still a half-decked Thames wherry known as a monkey-boat.

A monkey-block is used in merchant sailing vessels on the topsail-yards for running buntlines through. A monkey-jacket is a coat-like version of a fearnot cloak, for keeping warm on night watches. Monkey-spars are shortened masts with reduced yards in a ship used for training boys on rigging. A monkey-tail is a quoin for aiming a carronade. A monkey-pump is and old time sailors' word for a reed used as a drinking straw.

Monkey was also used euphemistically. A boy or man who worked the man ropes and rat lines was a monkey. Remember Errol Flynn shouting "Climb you monkeys! Climb!" in the movie Captain Blood. A man's monkey could be up, too, meaning he is angry. "Leave Jack alone, mate. His monkey's up." Finally, a man might simply have a monkey as a pet. They were far more common, particularly aboard pirates, than parrots ever thought of being.

A good Saturday to ya, Brethren. Mind your monkeys out there. Tomorrow is Seafaring Sunday.

5 comments:

Sarah from Scare Sarah said...

Oh, you learn something new every day! Er, I was born in the chinese year of the monkey!

Charles L. Wallace said...

Aye, and dinna forget the monkey's fist! :-)

Pauline said...

Ahoy Sarah and Charles!

Sarah: I myself am an ox. There is very little reference to oxen aboard ship. Damn!

Charles: Wouldn't dream of forgettin' her, mate. (I'm brought to mind of a Simpson's episode for some reason...)

Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! And a fine Saturday it was for our own Monkey, too, Pirate Queen.

And I just want to say one more thing about Monkeys. If you have a monkey as a pet... you could spank him.

That's all I wanted to say about that.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! There'll be no spankin' of monkeys on my watch, mate.