Saturday, May 19, 2012

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Out

Aboard ship, one would have heard today’s word a fair amount in the Great Age of Sail, usually in connection with another word or phrase. Most commonly we have outboard meaning the outer part of the ship and the opposite of inboard. Also outside planking, another shipyard idiom for the wales of a ship.

Out rigger is a term familiar even to the most lubberly among us. It generally calls to mind pictures of Polynesian canoes with a balancing wooden extension that keeps the narrow craft from tipping as it glides along under oars or sails. The term was also used to indicate a large beam or log that would have been attached to a ship at her waterline in preparation for careening. This type of out-rigger was used to secure the masts and take away some of the strain on them from the opposite tackles necessary to pull her over on her side. Another word for such devices in British sailor speak was “outlicker”.

An outer-jib was a sail particular to sloops of the 18th and early 19th century. Along with the foresail-jib, the outer-jib was set from the foremasthead and secured at the jib-boom. An out-haul or outhauler was the rope used for hauling out the tack of these sails, or the studding sail or boom sail in square-rigged vessels.

Moving mud out of canals or channels was once termed out-holling and outlet is, of course, where a river or stream empties into a large body of water. Outregans is an ancient term for canals that are navigable by boat.

A ship can out sail another, going faster in a head-to-head race or sailing a course in less time. Ships might be out of commission, not in use and barely manned if at all. They may be out of trim, which means not that they are unclean or ill-kept but that the ship is not sailing to its best ability for lack of balance either in sails and rigging or in the way her hold is stowed.

Out oars is the order from the coxswain for men to slide their oars out and set to work. Out boats is the order to hoist a ship’s boats into the water. Of course no true sailor is unfamiliar with the bosun’s call to rise and shine: “Turn out or your laniard will be cut down!” Time to roll out of your hammock, mate, or you’ll hit the blanks otherwise.

The word outlandish, which in modern English refers to something quirky or down right weird, was originally a seaman’s term for being in a foreign land. As Admiral Smyth puts it:

Jack [finds himself in] a place where he does not feel at home, or [around] a language which he does not understand.

To my mind, and even to my ear, this makes much better expression of the word than the way we now use it. Perhaps that is a sign that I’ve steeped too long in the seafarer’s grog.

Finally, the ultimate compliment from one sailor to another was to refer to a mate as the out-and-outer. As the Admiral tells us, this signified “thorough excellence; a man up to his duty, and able to perform it in style.” That last is perhaps the best part; who doesn’t want to be remembered, after all, for their panache?

Header: Painting of ships in full sail by Geoff Hunt


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! While I doubt that I'll ever be referred to as the out-and-outer, I do love the painting at the header of the post.

Pauline said...

Don't sell yourself short; you're a pretty amazing Dad, for instance.

And yeah; anything by Geoff Hunt will dazzle the eye.

Thingumbobesquire said...

Thanks for the lesson. The patois of these seafarers is a kind of relish to the mindseye, much like the vocabulary of flowers is to poetry. Which is why Conrad is so readable, for instance.

Pauline said...

You're right, Thingumbob; and it seems all the more true for Conrad since English was not his native tongue.