Saturday, September 4, 2010

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Flush

Flush is a word that brings to the modern mind, perhaps unfairly, plumbing. But its colloquial connotations may very well have sprung from the sea. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Two distinct origins for the word are given in Webster’s. First is the Middle English fluschen meaning to fly up suddenly. Second is the French word flux meaning flow or ebb. This gives us not only the flush hand in cards and the flushing of our commodes, but the English flux. Neither of these origins necessarily account for the word’s use aboard ship, but they can’t be discounted either.

In the oldest seagoing terms flush meant level or even. A deck or railing could be flush or a board could sit flush to its neighbor. A flush-deck was a continuous decking laid from fore to aft without breaks as in a pirogue that had no forecastle or quarterdeck.

Flush in the sense of showing excitement was used at sea. As shy was often used to mean cowardly, flush could mean overwhelmed by a victory or success or even flush in preparation, eagerness, for battle.

There is some speculation that it was from this meaning of flush that the adjective flustered sprang. At sea, flustered indicated performing one’s duty in a confused or distracted way. Further, it could be used to identify a seaman who was drunk but trying to go about his duty all the same.

Flux when used specifically in relation to the sea, refers to the ebb of the tide.

Flush colloquially, though, was a favorite word of pirates and privateers in particular. A man was flush with a fist full of prize money. And that kind of flush was music to every seaman’s ears.

Happy Saturday, Brethren. I’ll see you tomorrow for Seafaring Sunday.


Charles L. Wallace said...

Now daydreaming about a pirogue WITH a foc's'le AND Quarterdeck.... that would be quite a sight! hahaha

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Charles! They're kinda funny looking things to begin with so yeah. The kids would point and giggle for sure. I think I feel a children's book coming on: "The Little Pirogue Was Different"...

Charles L. Wallace said...

"The Little Pirogue That Could!"

Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Finally getting caught up on the blog after a long holiday weekend (mostly) away from the computer (aside from my fantasy football draft last Friday night)... While I wouldn't say that I'm feeling flush, I will say that my favorite thing about this post (aside from the chuckle-worthy comments) is the picture at the top... Very cool, Pirate Queen.

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! That's a Union ship during the Civil War. Her planking and the uniforms on the guys, not to mention that ship-shape rope, make a fine picture indeed.