I was inspired to pick today’s words by U.S. Navy pikes. Trust me, that insane sentence will make sense by the end of this post.
In sailor-speak, pick means the usual things it does on land. Even at sea you can pick your nose and you can pick your friends but I’m not going to finish that old canard. Canard, as an aside, means duck in French; while ducks have beaks and friends, they have no noses. It is only at sea, however, that a ship can pick up the wind. This is a term for a sailing ship going from one trade or other reliable wind to another while avoiding calms as much as possible. This was a favorite tactic of clipper ships in their heyday as they ran from New York to San Francisco then on to China and around to New York again.
Pickets are pointed staffs thrust into the ground to demark military terrain, or even just tie a horse to. Pickets may also be markers for pointing a mortar towards its target, even if same is not visible from the weapon. Piquet is a group put on watch at a distance from the main body of military to sound the first alarm in case of approach by the enemy.
A picard was a type of barge or boat once used for shipping materials and livestock on the Severn river in England. The word’s origin may or may not be related to the French word for a native of Picardy. A picaroon was a small vessel used for piracy in the New World whose name probably originated with the Old World term for petty theft. Piccary was petty thievery on the High Seas and in England pickerie was the theft of small items – a loaf of bread or an apple – that was usually considered the act of women and/or children. The long-standing sentence for pickerie was the far-worse-than-it-sounds punishment of ducking or swimming. Usually carried out in either very cold and/or filthy bodies of water, this form of torture could lead to death outright or infection that essentially amounted to a death sentence.
Pickling for sea voyages was done not only to food but also to wood. Pickling of timber in order to make it more durable was often accomplished with Sir William Burnett’s fluid, a solution of chloride and zinc. Because of this method, pickling was sometimes called Burnettizing.
A picul (or, more properly, pekul) was a commercial weight in China equivalent to approximately 130 pounds. Pictarnie is a Scottish word for the seagoing bird known as a tern.
A pike-turn or a turn-pike is what was known to the French as a chevaux de frise. This was the habit of topping military pikes with iron and standing them upright through beams, much like a fence, to discourage the enemy. In fact, the French term – which literally translates curly hair – is used to this day to denote a certain type of wrought iron fencing.
Finally, a pike is best described by Admiral Smyth:
A long, slender, round staff, armed at the end with iron (as in a boarding-pike). Formerly in general use but which gave way to the bayonet.
And so here is the picture, from the U.S Navy’s Twitter feed, that got me thinking about pikes while picking today’s words. I told you it would all make sense. Eventually.
Header: Engraving of a ducking or water ordeal from the late Medieval period via The Medievalist