According to Webster’s, the English word cockade comes from the French cocarde which itself originated from the French word for rooster: coq. The item is a badge, originally of ribbons knotted together, that was first worn by French King and eventual Saint Louis IX as a symbol of his commitment to the disastrous Seventh Crusade. The term cockade is often shortened to cock at sea, probably derogatorily as it was unusual in the Napoleonic era for anyone below the rank of Rear-Admiral to dandify their uniforms with such fluff. The U.S. Navy in particular abhorred the things, imagining them as signs of status and class. All that said, there are more cocks to deal with at sea than just those made of ribbon.
Of course there is the cockswain or coxswain who is in charge of any given crew aboard a ship’s boat and often reports directly to the captain. Then we have the cockpit in a man-of-war, and sometimes smaller ships as well, which is the area below the afterhatchway and under the lower gundeck, right next to the orlop where the ship’s surgeon tends the ill. This was generally the place where midshipman, warrant officers and any civilian passengers would berth; in ships of the line they might even have small cabins. The forecockpit near the manger was often the location of storage for the bosun, gunner and carpenter’s supplies. Midshipman and warrant officers mates were sometimes referred to as cockpitarians.
A cock boat is small and used for going inland by river. Originally, any yawl sized boat was called a cock. Fish often get tagged with the moniker as in the cock paddle, which is a type of lump, or the cockle, a familiar mollusk in the northern seas. A cockandy is a British term for the bird we Alaskans know as a puffin.
Cockets are lists of items that should be allowed aboard a ship inspected by revenue officers or custom house men. It is also a term for counterfeit papers and in the galley cocket bread is the same as hard tack.
A cockling sea is one that shows persistent waves that go in various directions, actually breaking against one another. A cocksetus is a boatman. A sailor in high spirits is said to be cock-a-hoop. Cock bill refers to an anchor out of its cathead and ready to drop. Cock-a-bill, on the other hand, is things in a bit of a shambles and at sixes and sevens, a situation to be addressed immediately. Yards a-cockbill are topped by one side being lifted to an angle as illustrated at the header. This is a sign of mourning for someone of extreme importance to ship and crew. Finally, from the days of muskets onward, guns and pistols have a cock to discharge the piece by percussion.
Fine weather and fair winds, Brethren. I’ll see you on the morrow for Seafaring Sunday.
Header: HMS Surprise in mourning by Geoff Hunt, drawn to commemorate the death of the master, Patrick O’Brian, January 2, 2000