Saturday, June 11, 2011

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Gulf and Gull

A gulf, as we all know, is a vast expanse. Poets are fond of musing about “the gulf between us” but the original meaning had more to do with water than empty space. And yes, there is more to gulls than just noisy birds.


Originally a gulf was a gulph, a spacious bay which can even be a sea when it is big enough. The Black Sea, for instance, is actually a gulf, as if the Adriatic. The former was originally known as the Gulf of Constantinople while the latter was called the Gulf of Venice. Technically, the Mediterranean is the largest gulf in the world. A gulf is different from a bay in that it is larger and deeper than it is wide. As has been much noted about the Gulf of Mexico in particular, the ocean at the mouth of a gulf is usually very hazardous because of the currents being exaggerated by the closeness of the shores. It goes without saying that such confined seas are prone to vicious storms.

The Gulf Stream originates in the Gulf of Mexico, carrying warm water up through the Caribbean, along the Atlantic coast of North America to Newfoundland. Here it veers off east toward Britain where it heads south and then west back to its origin. This current was much used by merchant vessels going between the Americas and Europe. Of course, it was also a favorite of pirates and privateers.

In the center of this round is the storied Sargasso Sea, which encircles the yet more fabled Bermuda Triangle. Here the so called “gulf-weed”, Sargasso seaweed, makes a home for all manner of sea life in its yellow-orange tentacles. It is a great hazard to small craft, however, and was notorious for sticking to wooden ships which did not have the benefit of coppered bottoms.

Gulls, as even the most steadfast lubber knows, are the sea birds featured at today’s header. There are many species among the genus Larus and, though some find these scavengers noisome and off-putting, I personally enjoy their constant chatter. Sea gulls, one must admit, go a long way to keep beaches and waterways clean, which is more than can be said for clever humans with their thumbs and beer cans.

Gull is also an old sailor’s word for someone who is green, raw, or new to the sea. A gull-sharper is therefore someone who cheats such a person. A gulpin is a credulous fellow, upon whom foc’sul jokes are easily played.

A gully, or gullet, is a stream or channel worn into the land by water running off snowy mountains. Gully squalls are common around such, particularly off the Pacific coast of Central America.

And that is enough of gulfs and gulls for today. Fair winds and full tankards until next we meet. Remember to mind the sea gulls out in the gulfs; they are, after all, a weather barometer. In particular one or more landing and settling on the ship means dirty weather ahead, and no mistake.

Header: Gulls on the Gulf of Mexico (photo by Kim Newberg)

2 comments:

Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! Back again after another weekend away from the computer, so no gulf between us, thankfully.

I'm also reminded of the seagulls in "Finding Nemo" who are constantly saying, "mine!"...

Pauline said...

Ahoy, Timmy! When I showed B the picture at the header that's what she said: "Mine! Mine! Mine!" I personally find gulls to be a bit smarter than that, but it's still funny.