Saturday, December 29, 2012
Sailor Mouth Saturday: Ham
The first word with a nautical bent which probably comes to mind is hammock. This suspended bed that has cradled so many generations of sailors is now as familiar hanging over the backyard lawn as it once was foreign, at least to Europeans.
The word comes from the Carib native word for their own suspended beds. Made of cotton netting and known to them as hamacs, these very comfortable sleeping arrangements were first witnessed by Columbus. Given their ideal usefulness in keeping the sleeper cool in torrid climes, the invaders soon appropriated the design for not only land but also sea. A true "swinging sea-bed" is wonderfully described by Admiral Smyth in The Sailor's Word Book:
... the hammock consists of a piece of canvas, 6 feet long and 4 feet wide, gathered together at the two ends by means of clews, formed by a grommet and knittles, whence the head-clue and foot-clue: the hammock is hung horizontally under the deck, and forms a receptacle for the bed on which the seamen sleep. There are usually allowed from 14 to 20 inches between hammock and hammock on a ship of war. In preparing for action, the hammocks, together with their contents, are all firmly corded, taken upon deck, and fixed in various nettings, so as to form a barricade against musket-balls.
The hammock, the need to both hang and stow it in particular, gives rise to other utilitarian items. Hammacoe, hammock battens and hammock racks are all one and the same: cleats nailed to the sides of a ship's beams which are used to suspend the hammocks. Hammock gant-lines are those strung from the jib around the ship to support the drying of cleaned hammocks. Hammock nettings hold the hammocks in place when they are stowed on deck. These are then wrapped in hammock cloths to prevent the bedding from getting wet. Hammock berthing is the order and placement of hammocks according to rank aboard naval vessels.
Other words involving ham are less familiar, perhaps. Hambro lines are small lashings used around a ship. I think we all know about hammers, hammer-head sharks - "chiefly found on the coasts of Barbary" according to the Admiral - and the hammer-lock of a gun or pistol, so I won't trouble you explaining the obvious. Hammering, however, may refer to a heavy cannonade at close range.
Hamron is a very old word meaning the hold of a ship.
Hamper is anything in the way aboard ship, particularly during dirty weather or an engagement. A man is said to be hampered if he is anxious or confused. And at times, perhaps drunk.
And that is enough ham for one evening. Although all things being equal, a nice ham on the table is perhaps the most welcome thing of all.
Header: Supper at Home by Thomas Rowlandson via Wikimedia