For many a household near and far today, Saturday, is wash day. When I think of wash day, Monday comes to mind. But then so do boiling tubs of water and water with bluing, a cool water tub and lye soap. Red beans and rice on the stove since the night before. That was when washing took all day and water had to be hauled up from the Mississippi to do it (well water was only good for washing floors and latrines). And then it all had to be hung out to dry in the humid air. But I digress. What's new?
Nautically speaking, the word wash takes on a number of meanings that frequently have nothing to do with the physical act of getting something clean. Of course that surely comes as no surprise to anyone who visits SMS regularly. Aboard ship, a word is rarely what it seems.
Wash could indicate silt or a shallow inlet or estuary where same might accumulate. It might mean a normally dry land now flooded. The term might also be used for the blade of an oar. A wash could mean the sea shore or beach.
A wash-strake was a removable board on a ship's or boat's gunwhales that kept the sea spray off the deck. They became popular for use on lower port holes in later ships. These were sometimes also called wash-boards. Wash-boards in earlier parlance - particularly in the French, American and Royal Navy prior to the mid-19th century - meant the white facings of an officer's uniform. Clean wash-boards were a must.
Washerman was the title for an elderly mate aboard a man-of-war. He might not necessarily see to the wash per ce, but he had a station, pay and a right to prize money. A wash-water was a ford, but not a fjord as seen in the far north.
Washing the hand was used by sailors to mean leaving a ship, particularly one that the sailor was glad to see the last of. "I am washing the hand of that tub." From this, at least in part, I'm sure we get our modern English "I wash my hands of it." Pontius Pilate not withstanding.
Washers, by the way, as in the rings used between screws and so on, were a part of maintaining ships from early times. Made successively of leather, copper, lead and iron in various gages for innumerable uses, they were known by the same name we call them today.
And I think that's enough about wash for one day. Plus, it sounds like mine needs to go in the dryer. How thankful I am to live in the here and now. Although red beans and rice are still a favorite Monday meal.