blog you really should be following). Wear came to his mind while reading a Booty post of two Friday's gone; the one about the sailing ship in the hair. The word, at this point in the evolution of sailing etymology, is sometimes said to be synonymous with veer. But that may be both an over and an understatement.
According to Webster's there are a staggering twenty-two definitions for the word wear - twenty-three if one counts wear and tear, which figures into the use of the word at sea. None of them address that use otherwise, however. Wear in all its forms seems to come from the Middle English weren which itself derived from the Anglo-Saxon werian: to wear as in to carry or have on the body or person.
At sea, a man may wear his slops and hat, but wearing is something the ship herself does. To wear - or wear round - the vessel is to put her head away from the wind in an effort to bring her around to another course. This maneuver is the opposite of tacking wherein the ship's head it brought up to the wind.
Admiral Smyth, in The Sailor's Word Book, brings the point home more specifically:
In veering or wearing, especially when strong seas render [tacking] dangerous, unseamanlike, or impossible, the head of the vessel is put away to the wind, and turned round 20 points of the compass instead of 12 and, without strain or danger, is brought to the wind on the opposite tack. Many deep-thinking seamen, and Lords St. Vincent, Exmouth, and Sir E. Owen, issued orders to wear instead of tacking, when not inconvenient, deeming the accidents and wear and tear of tacking, detrimental to the sails, spars, and rigging.
Readers of the Aubrey/Maturin series by the dear Patrick O'Brian will recall that Lucky Jack Aubrey was fond of the wear rather than the tack "when not inconvenient."
As Admiral Smyth notes, wear and tear is also a seaman's term indicating the deleterious effects of decay and stress on all of a ship from keel to cloud scrapers during the course of a cruise.
Wear - or veer - can also be used in relation to tension, particularly on a ship;s rope and cable. To wear a buoy is to let out line to which a buoy has been attached, slackening it as it goes. This is used to retrieve a ship's boat or an unfortunate mate who has gone overboard. The wearing cable is that one which is slackened during unmooring and to wear away the cable is to let is go slack and run out.
To wear and hall is a maneuver meant to concentrate the force of a number of men hauling on a rope. The cable is pulled taut and then allowed to slack three times before giving it a serious heave. One can imagine a repetitive shanty being sung to make sure the timing of that last pull was perfect. The wind can also be said to wear - or again veer - and haul; generally speaking she wears aft and hauls forward.
In common parlance, then, the word wear came to mean not only the maneuver but also to pay out, to turn, or to change. A man may wear his opinion, or he may wear of a prize.
Finally weir is a very ancient English word for any form of seaweed, where mermaids and fishes play.
Happy Saturday, Brethren, and a thankee to Lou for the timely suggestion.
Header: Barquentine Mercator wearing to starboard; picture c 2007 via Wikipedia