Saturday, June 2, 2012

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Lob

This is a word, either of itself or as part of another, which one reads a good deal in nautical fiction. There is lobscouse on the table, a loblolly boy in the sick berth, a whale lob-tailing off our larboard bow and that useless lob-cock over there. What is it all about, after all? Let us take a closer look.

Lob, as a stand-alone word, refers to a person aboard us who is of little or no use. He is a right landsman or, as Admiral Smyth puts it, “a sluggish booby.” If we’re truly contemptuous of the fellow, we may go so far as to call him a lob-cock. The Admiral opines in The Sailor’s Word Book that the word lob is the source of the more common lubber. That etymology remains in question but the possibility is there.

We’re all familiar with lobster, which was once the food of servants and is now a dining staple of the 1%. These curious “bugs of the sea” are caught in lobster boats which were once built with a purpose-fitted well in the center to keep the tasty crustaceans alive for the trip home. A lobster toad is an old English name for a type of deep sea crab.

Lob-tailing is the action of a sperm whale beating his tail against the surface of the ocean, causing formidable waves that have been known to founder a whaling boat. A lob-worm, on the other hand, is a type of creature similar to a blood worm with which the Brethren may be familiar from watching Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe. Collected at low tide, they both make good bait.

A loblolly-boy was an untrained assistant to a ship’s medical man. Unlike the surgeon’s mate, who usually had some medical knowledge and was in apprenticeship, the loblolly-boy was more of a servant. His duties included bringing men down to the sick berth for treatment, providing food and water for those confined to their hammocks and holding men down during surgery. His appellation probably comes from loblolly, a type of gruel or potable soup that was often fed to those too ill to take meat and bread.

And then we come to lobscouse. Though it sounds like it might, this stew-like dish contained no lobster or for that matter any seafood at all in most cases. Usually made of pickled or corned beef or pork, it was an all in type of dish that was a wonderful way for the cook to use long-kept and perhaps questionable vegetables like potatoes and onions. Admiral Smyth tells us that the stew’s name came from the term lap’s course, which he calls “one of the oldest and most savoury of the regular forecastle dishes.” Anne Grossman and her daughter Lisa Thomas have another thought on this odd word’s etymology, however. In their Lobscouse & Spotted Dog they argue for a Viking origin of the word, sighting the Norwegian lapskaus, Danish labskovs and Low German labskaus – all forms of stew – as their proof. I like the ladies’ idea better, frankly. It may be, too, that even the Admiral’s lap’s course has its origin in one of the Nordic words. But that is the wonder of language; the more we know, the more we find out.

Header: Moonlit Night by Aleksey Savrasov via Old Paint


Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! I guess I am a lob, then...

I like the painting, though.

Pauline said...

Calling you a lob is a bit much. I do agree with regard to the painting; very lovely.