My parents named me after the famous (some of us might say infamous) Catholic Saint who was originally named Saul. I’ve never been fond of my name per ce (thus my insistence on using “Pauline”), particularly since that lazy habit of just adding an “a” to any masculine name pretty much tells the whole story. But you can’t help being drawn to something so close to you, after all. That’s why I’m amused by the particular use of the word at sea.
As is common with most nautical words, paul first and foremost represents a tool. Pauls, more frequently spelled pawls in the modern era, are iron bars which keep the capstan from recoiling on the men who are pushing against it. They act as a way of securing the available purchase so that anchors or other heavy materials can be lifted safely. The paul bitt, which is generally made of wood, serves to support the system of pauls. The paul rim is the iron ring in the ship’s deck on which the pauls act. The pauls, interestingly, are the part of the capstan – or in smaller ships the windlass – mechanisms that give them their melodic clicking sound.
Perhaps because of these rather common pieces of machinery, or perhaps because seamen, as Hilaire Belloc noted, simply speak a different language, there are some interesting expressions using the word as well. When someone says “My hearty paul there,” they mean – in no uncertain terms – that the person they are speaking to has said more than enough. This is basically a civilized way for a sailor to tell his mate to shut up. The other curious phrase, “That is a pauler,” means “Well, you’ve stumped me,” or “There’s no answer for that question.” Why you may ask? As noted, your guess is as good as mine.
Happy Saturday, mates. I hope you’re celebrating Mardi Gras/Carnival where ever you are. It only comes once a year, after all.
Header: Under the Pallas Half-Deck by an anonymous artist c 1805