Saturday, January 7, 2012

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Elevate

Generally speaking when using today’s word, a seaman is referring to the “great guns” aboard his ship. In navies around the world during the Great Age of Sail, exercising the gun crews was habitual among captains who were obsessed with not just accuracy but even more so timing. The faster guns could fire, reload and fire again the more likely a ship was to attain victory in a firefight. The Brethren will remember that very well done scene in Master and Commander where Jack Aubrey, if nothing else a fighting captain, is working his gun crews to the limit; and how well it pays off.

According to Webster, the word comes from three Latin roots. Elevatus, meaning to raise or lift up, and levare, to make light, or levis, light. This will become an important point as we go along; bear with me.

First, a few meanings not related to artillery. The elevated pole is either the terrestrial pole north or south, depending on the perspective of the individual or ship. In all cases, the elevated pole is the one which appears above the horizon. In ship building, an elevation is the vertical and longitudinal view of a vessel. This is the same as a sheer draught; the part of the design concerning height and length.

In gunnery, the angle of elevation is elegantly explained by the dear Admiral Smyth:

that which the axis of the bore makes with the plane of the horizon. It is attained by sinking the breech of the gun until its axis points above the object to be fired at, so that the shot may describe a curve somewhat similar to a parabola, counteracting the action of gravity during its flight, and alighting upon the mark.

This is a little bit of physics at which truly gifted artillerists, like our old friend Dominique Youx, excel. It is also the same principle that allows another truly gifted adoptive son of New Orleans to complete a pass with such accuracy and elegance.

Finally, the order “Elevate!” is an artillery call signaling the gun crew to adjust the quoin of their weapon, not just up necessarily but perhaps down depending on the need. This may speak to the Latin root word levare, to make light; repositioning the quoin is sometimes said to “lighten” it, thus the possible reference. Given tomorrow’s auspicious anniversary, I feel compelled to note that many an historian has referred to Andrew Jackson’s “malapropism” at the Battle of New Orleans when he called out: “Elevate them cannons a little lower!” This was, in fact, no goofy error on the part of the General, but an absolutely correct artillery order. Aside from grammar, which one imagines was the last of Old Hickory’s worries at the time, Jackson’s order was perfectly understandable to every gun crew within earshot.

Happy Saturday, Brethren; and Geaux Saints!

Header: The Battle of New Orleans by E. Percy Moran c 1910 via Library of Congress


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! There is so much good stuff in this post...

Congrats to your Saints!

Pauline said...

It is kind of interesting; especially the "malapropism" issue. Elevate! And geaux Saints!