Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Start

Square rigged ship via BBC online

When modern English speakers refer to starting the washer, getting started and "Gentlemen, start your engines!", many are quite unaware that the word and it's modern usage came from the language of sailors. Well it does, and here is how that goes.

Navigators were using the term "start point" to mean the beginning of a vessel's journey as early as Republican Rome. This Latin terminology worked it's way into European sailing language and was co-opted by most of Europe's navies and merchant services by the Renaissance. It would seem that this is the usage from which the modern word derives. But there were other turns of phrase for this handy word which may have contributed, too.

To start a liquid was to pour it out, or pump it out in the case of water in the hold. Start pumps meant more than just get to pumping. Starting a barrel, anchor, lumber or other heavy object, on the other hand, meant to move it. This is distinct from weighing anchor, meaning to pull it out of the water. Starting dry provisions, biscuit, peas and the like, meant turning them out of the bag or box they came to the ship in and into the receptacle used for storage during a cruise (usually a barrel).

A ship may also start her water or cannon, or both, tossing barrels and guns over the side in an effort to lighten her load and escape an enemy giving chase.

The ship starting a butt-end meant a plank had come loose at one of it's ends, springing up due to the wear and tear put on it by the movement of the ship and her company. That'll need to be nailed down, mate. To give a bit of slack to a cable or sail is to start either, usually done during turning or tacking the ship. Thus the call of "Start tacks and sheets!"

People could also be started. A bosun or master would frequently carry a short rope with a knot at one end for "starting" wasters and lay-abouts. Hitting them hard once or twice would get their attention, and then get them back to work. Lazy lubbers.

And that's a good start for a Saturday, I'll say. Go out and start something, Brethren, even if it's just a cool mug o' grog. Tomorrow is Seafaring Sunday featuring that American genius and lover of all things sea worthy, Washington Irving.


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! You got a good early start this morning, Pirate Queen. But now it's time to start drinking... Happy Saturday to you and to all your followers. See ya tomorrow.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! And who can argue with the grog? Not I.