Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Marine

It probably goes without saying that the word marine comes from the Latin word for ocean so, technically, anything at sea is “marine”. As Admiral Smyth notes, marine can be defined as “belonging to the sea.”

A marine lagoon is any inlet or lake formed by the introduction of water from the sea and, again in the words of the good Admiral, “the deposits of fluviatile action.” Such inward waterways are favored by smugglers for their general off the beaten path status in comparison to both open shore and inland rivers.

A marine barometer is manufactured differently than those used by land. It generally has a contraction at a certain point in the tube that keeps the mercury from moving with the pitch and roll of the ship which would otherwise put the instrument in danger of giving a false reading. Marine engines are so called to distinguish them from those of a locomotive, which at one time they were essentially the same as. A marine railway, on a completely unrelated note, is a large slip employed to haul vessels up for repair. Marine glue was used in ship’s carpentry and made from a combination of mineral oil, gum and after the mid-18th century caoutchouc now more commonly known as natural rubber (to distinguish it from the modern, man-made varieties).

Marine insurance is perhaps one of the first forms of what we imagine when we use the word. The owner of a ship – usually a merchant vessel – would pay the insurer premium to cover any loss of vessel or cargo in the course of a voyage. The money would of course revert to the insurer if the ship arrived safe and intact at her destination but the insurer would be obliged to return the money should the opposite occur. While ancient civilizations, notably the Romans, had forms of this kind of insurance regulated by the state, the version we are familiar with did not arise until the 1680s with the establishment of Lloyd’s of London. Crewmen were not insured or insurable until the early 20th century when Germany instituted workers’ compensation.

Also falling under this heading would be Marines who make up that branch of the service which originated in England with the Royal variety. These were men trained for combat both on land and sea and placed on ships not only to fight the enemy but to keep the peace among the sailors. A Marine officer was stationed aboard larger ships and areas such as the Marine clothing room and storeroom were set aside specifically for his men. Marines also had a designated area to sling their hammocks and they formed their own mess.

Traditionally in the Royal Navy, Marines imagined sailors as undisciplined and possibly even criminal while the sailors in turn fancied Marines were stupid and good for very little besides polishing boots and firearms. Among each other sailors referred to the Marine Sergeant as “an empty bottle”, meaning an object with no good use to it. Marines in turn adopted the empty bottle slur and morphed it to mean someone who had “done his duty and was ready to do it again” referencing the bottle’s ability to be refilled.

When the United States adopted the military structure of Britain, she seems to have liberated herself of this type of infighting. The saying in the Royal Navy, “Tell that to the Marines” was a response to someone telling a fish story or other tale so outlandish that only a simpleton, or a Marine, would believe it. In the U.S. the same phrase became a response to one sailor telling another of something so difficult that it must be impossible.

“Not a soul could storm a fortress like that,” one might say in astonishment at a well-fortified enemy.

“Tell that to the Marines,” would be the reply meaning they would doubtless take the challenge and overcome it. Probably before lunch.

The only thing left rankling on this side of the pond is the U.S. Marines’ claim to being the “oldest branch of the service” in our country. While it is true that the U.S. Navy was temporarily (and as it turns out foolishly) disbanded in 1783, both services were brought into being in 1775. In fact, the Navy came first on October 13 with the Marines instated on November 10. As my father used to grumble whenever he saw a commercial for Marine recruitment: “No Navy, no Marines.”

But that’s all in the family, really. Anyone who risks their life on the ocean gets a virtual pass around here.  In the end, we are all sons (and daughters) of Neptune.

Header: The Bombardment of Algiers 1816 by George Chambers Sr.


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! My favorite part of this post is the history about the armed services and the diferences between the U.S. and Royal Marines. Good stuff.

Timmy! said...

I almost forgot, I love the painting too, Pauline.

Pauline said...

Timmy!, I think part of that is a symptom of the U.S. just trying to be a new entity and part of it is the reality that the Marines saved more than one sailor's butt in the early years (particularly the Barbary Wars - shores of Tripoli and all). Which, of course, inspired my choice of painting.

Yacht Sales said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now. Keep it up!

Pauline said...

Thankee indeed for your encouraging words, YS; I appreciate it very much. And I also agree with you. Triple P is very much a "work in progress". I hope to hear from you again, and soon.