Saturday, April 23, 2011

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Broad

Todays is a word that everyone who has seen an historically set nautical movie has at least a passing familiarity with. Who, after all, has not heard the term “broadside’? But let us save that for last, and look at other seafaring meanings of the word broad first.

Square sails, particularly on a ship-rigged vessel, were often referred to as broad cloth even though they were almost universally made of canvas. A broad pennant is the familiar long, swallow-tailed piece of cloth at the masthead of a man-of-war. This pennant was the signal that she was the “flag” ship of a Commodore and in both the Royal and U.S. navies one speaking of a “broad pennant” might actually be discussing the Commodore himself. This pennant is long and tapers to its end, marking it as distinct from the triangle flags known in Britain as cornets.

Also a Royal Navy term is the Broad R (or Broad Arrow). This is a seal placed on government stores to mark them as royal property. To remove the mark was a felony. According to The Sailor’s Word Book, the seal’s design was originally a Celtic rune. A broad axe is one used for the making of masts by carpenters. They were also kept on ships particularly to cut away tangled rigging or even masts that might put the ship in danger of capsizing. This axe may have been the original beheading axe. It struck fear into nobles who ran afoul of their king because of the axe man’s propensity to strike not once but twice before finishing the job. A French swordsman was considered far more capable, and humane.

Broads were fresh water lakes and the term was used to distinguish them from rivers or inlets. A broad of water was then a very large lake that had access via a river or channel to the ocean making it possible for shallow draft ships to find safe anchor therein.

A broadsword was originally a medieval two-handed sword which most people will recognize in the Scottish claymore. The term was often used during the heyday of the buccaneers to indicate a cutlass, the sword we know today as having a curved blade and heavy pommel. These were extremely popular aboard ship because one did not need much room to wield them with deadly force.

And now for the broadside. Originally, doubtless before the advent of cannon, this was the side of a vessel above the waterline. It came to also mean half the guns on the vessel but is usually thought of in our modern day as the discharging of all guns on one side of a ship. The weight of metal or broadside weight of metal is the amount of iron, by weight, that can be discharged from those guns when all are loaded with single shot. As an example, a broadside of ten twelve-pound guns would equal a weight of metal of 120. A broadside, in naval speak, is also a dressing down or verbal castigation from a colleague or – in particular – from a superior. Interestingly, what we now refer to as broad sheets were called broadsides prior to the 19th century.

And that is a broad enough overview, I should think. Keep yer broadsides loaded, mates and far winds and fat prizes to all the Brethren.

Header: Lady Washington and Lynx exchanging broadsides via The Historical Seaport Blog


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! I hope I don't receive any broadsides anytime soon, I think I've had enough bad news for one week (at least)...

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! I agree; it's time for fair winds and a following sea for you, brother.

Charles L. Wallace said...

Broad on the ____; means exactly so. For example, another ship might be off to starboard somewhere. If it is right at 090 Relative, you would say it is "Broad on the starboard beam".

Fair winds and following seas.... in modern naval usage, that is what you wish to a shipmate who is retiring from the service or otherwise departing (and not returning) =:-0

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Charles! I remember "broad in the beam" being my parents' phrase to refer to ladies who had a little extra junk in their trunk. Thanks for the added info. (Sorry for the late response; been down with a bug).

Blue Flamingo said...

I once knew a man who said he couldn't live with out the three B's: Broads, Booze & Butts (as in cigarettes). So, while this isn't piratical in nature, it is another use of the word broad and I thought you might get a chuckle from it! So good to see you and your mates!

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Blue Flamingo! Right back to the "broad in the beam" phrase which may or may not be the origin of the word's use in reference to women in general.

It was good to see you, too; I hope your trip home was nothing but far winds and a following sea.