I have to be honest with you, Brethren. The last thing I used to think of when I heard the word “nook” was the sea or seafaring. Even though blue water seems to have been somewhere in my mind all of my life, nook didn’t make me think of it. Instead I thought of a pacifier for a baby. NUK, after all, is the name of that German company that makes the ones that are supposedly good for palates and future teeth. I gave them to my kids. Don’t judge me.
But as it turns out the Middle English word nok, now spelled nook, has a long seafaring tradition. In fact, the word at sea probably precedes the word as it is used most commonly in modern English.
On the water nooks are defined as small indentations of land within a larger bay or harbor. They are comparable to cays or coves but are technically smaller. Nooks are the bane of the cartographer and the soundings-taker. Each one needs to be fathomed and then delineated on a chart in order to make accurate and safe navigation possible. Because of their size and the unpredictability of the depth of the water within and around each one, however, that task can be daunting.
Shakespeare himself, who from his writing comes off as a closet seaman, hints at this in Henry V. Here the character of the Duc de Bourbon speaks of “… that nook-shotten isle of Albion” with undisguised frustration. So many places for the enemy to hide, he seems to be saying, and so little we can do about it.
As nook fell out of favor aside from within the technical language of shipping, its use continued on land. We all know of the dresser or closet filled with nooks and crannies for hiding trinkets and billets. Or a quiet nook in a room where one might think or read. Webster’s even gives us the word “nooky” defined as “like a nook; full of nooks.” I am not going any further than that.
Happy Saturday to one and all. May you find safe harbor, and a calm nook to spend a quiet night.