Saturday, September 1, 2012
Sailor Mouth Saturday: Dip
A dip was a very small taper, dolled out sparingly by the purser, and often used to light a slow match for the great guns. The needle of the compass is said to dip as it inclines toward the earth. To dip is to lower something; one might dip cargo or a bosun's chair, for instance. An object, such as a ship, is dipping when it is visible just above the horizon through refraction. Dipping is also the action of a sailor when he quits the deck and goes below suddenly.
The dip of the horizon is the difference between the apparent and actual horizon. This takes into account the fact that the observer is aboard ship and therefore above the level of the sea. The sun or moon is said to have dipped the minute its limb passes below the horizon.
Dips is another term for the lead line. A dipsy is a fishing float, generally attached to a line. Dip-netting is fishing via a hand-held net and is a popular form of fishing in cultures around the world. It is engaged in to a large degree at this time of year here in Alaska, generally during the salmon runs.
A dip-sector is a delicate reflecting instrument used for measuring the "true dip" of the horizon. Invented by Dr. Wollaston, the dip-sector is used in areas where refraction is common, such as the poles of the earth. Another delicate and ingenious instrument is the dipping needle, which I will allow Admiral Smyth to explain:
An instrument to ascertaining the amount of the magnet's inclination towards earth; it is so delicately suspended that, instead of vibrating horizontally, one end dips or yields to the vertical force. ... Even at sea in the heaviest gales of wind the dip could instantly, by magnetic deflectors, be ascertained to minutes.
An impressive feat indeed. This form of vastly improved dipping needle was the brainchild of R. W. Fox who introduced it in Britain in 1834.
And so we end our discussion of dips and dipping but, in honor of International Bacon Day, one last seafaring turn of phrase. To save one's bacon was to escape, usually by the skin of one's teeth. It's worth adding to your vocabulary, mates, even if just for the day. Or perhaps you'd like to hold on to it; International Talk Like A Pirate Day is just around the corner, after all.
Happy Saturday, Brethren; clear sailing - and safe bacon - to one and all.
Header: Moon Over Millbanks by J.M.W. Turner c 1797 via Old Paint