Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Boom

The word boom as we use it today – sonic boom or explosion noise for instance – descended unquestionably from its original use at sea. Boom migrated to land with the use of artillery, but remained at sea in its original form. A modern sailor and demolition export speaking of “booms” are talking about two very different things.

Boom originally came from the Dutch language where it meant pole or tree and that is essentially its meaning aboard ship as well. Very simply a boom is a long pole attached to a sail, usually at the bottom. The idea of the pole, technically known as a spar, is to extend the sail outward from the ship as in a jib-boom (pronounced “jiboom”), a spanker boom or a studding sail boom. The picture at the header (click to enlarge and really appreciate it) nicely illustrates the use of studding-sails on a schooner around the year 1900. The studding-sails fly out over the water on either side like wings, taking full advantage of every last breath of wind.

A boom can also be a chain or cable stretched across the mouth of a harbor to keep enemies out (see the post on Portsmouth for an example). From this comes the term boomage which means a duty or tax that covers harbor dues, anchorage and soundage.

A boom boat (not a bum boat) carries spars from shore to ship. A boom cover is a tarpaulin that covers said spars. The booms is the space where these spare spars are stowed. On large ships the boat known as a launch is frequently stowed between the spars.

A boom-brace pendant is a rope attached to the outer end of a studding-sail spar and fixed on deck to counteract the pressure of the sail on the boom. In large ships, such as men-of-war, a boom-jigger is added. This is a tackle for rigging out and running in the top-mast studding-sail booms.

The word booming arose out of the use of cannon aboard ship. As in modern English it referrs to the sound of the gun firing. Originally it referred to cannon fire at a distance but eventually morphed into it’s modern meaning of the sound of any explosion.

Finally there is the boomkin (also bumkin or bumpkin). This is a short spar at the bow on either side which assists in extending the lower corners of the foresail. Because this arrangement gives a ship rather an awkward silhouette (and was never favored among man-of-war’s men) it became a derogatory epithet meaning an uncouth person to which the descriptive “country” was later added.

So call that gawky cousin of yours a "boomkin" and let me know what comes of it. I'm always curious about people's reactions to the original uses of words. Good times. Happy Saturday, Brethren. See you tomorrow for Seafaring Sunday.


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Interesting about the origin of bumpkin coming from boom...

And that is a great picture, Pirate Queen.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! Right you are on both. I'm making a few leaps with the "boomkin/bumkin/bumpkin" thing but I don't feel too far off base. No matter how you slice it, it's funny!