Saturday, January 19, 2013

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Rat/Rate

Today marks the 204th anniversary of the birth of - in my opinion - the single most influential writer America has ever produced. Wait, someone is asking; how can anyone be more influential than Stephanie Meyer and the 50 Shades of Gray which is really just Twilight fan fiction woman? Who ever you are, please move along. Anyway: Happy Birthday Mr. Edgar A. Poe!

When I think of Poe, which may be more often that is good for a healthy psyche, I generally start to dwell on the things that he is not credited with. Just one "for instance" would be the invention of the detective story. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle owes Holmes to Poe's C. Auguste Dupin. But no one ever talks about that, do they? When those type of blue-Devils take hold, I like to turn my morbid thoughts back to Poe's writing and the more familiar stuff that gives me the willies just thinking of it. Like those big, brown rats crawling all over the poor guy in "The Pit and the Pendulum." And away we go...

Rate was originally a word for tariff, at least in seafaring parlance. In the 18th century, the navies of Europe began to rate ships according, for the most part, to their size and armament. A first rate could carry 110 guns or more, a second rate between 90 and 100, a third rate from 80 to 85, a fourth rate from 60 to 74, a fifth rate 30 to 50 and a sixth rate any number including none. These last were only rated if they were commanded by a Post Captain.

A rating, on the other hand, had to do with an individual seaman's stated position in the ship's books. This included wasters, idlers, able seamen and so on up to Admiral.

One often hears of ratlines (also spoken of as ratlings) in nautical fiction. These are the small ropes that traverse the shrouds horizontally. They form the footholds of the rope ladder climbed up and down by men going into and out of the rigging. To rattle down the rigging or rattle the shrouds is to fix the ratlines parallel to the water line, an occasional task that must be undertaken for the safety of those using the ratlines. A rat's tail is the tapering end of a rope.

And so we come back around to those brown rats. As Admiral Smyth puts it:

These mischievous vermin are said to have increased after the economic expulsion of cats from our dockyards. Thus, in the petition from the ships-in-ordinary, to be allowed to go to sea, even to carry passengers, we read:

Tho' it was hemigrants or sodgers - 
Anything afore them rats,
Which now they is our only lodgers;
For well they knows, the artful dodgers,
The Board won't stand th' expense of cats.

A shame too as, after the dawn of nautical insurance, insurers would not pay for damage done by rats. Time to bring a ratting dog aboard, evidently.

A rat, too, was a sailor's word for one who turned his allegiance easily to suit his own best interests. Sounds familiar to this day.

All that said, I hope you and yours enjoy Poe's birthday. Perhaps with a reading of one of his better stories. But first stop by the dear Undine's World of Poe blog and read her tribute to the great man and his humor. You'll love it; I promise!

Header: Brown Rat by Archibald Thorburn via Movie Posters Lounge


Timmy! said...

Happy Birthday to E. A. Poe!

And anything that gets rid of rats if fine with me, Pauline.

Munin said...

Hi Pauline, I hope you are doing well and this year brings you fairer winds than last. Oh, and a belated happy new year. It is my intention to be a much more regular reader here. I've started getting out of bed a little earlier each day to fit some sketching time in, so a cup of tea and a little interesting reading seems like a nice reward for abandoning my warm bed.

Anyway, you know when you glance at a paragraph and a few bits pop out? My brain latched onto 'influential writer', '50 Shades of Gray', and 'Twilight'. Hehe, for a few seconds my heart sunk. But then I began reading and, well, shame on me for doubting you. Huzzah for Poe! I always read a bit of Poe along with Dickens, M.R. James etc... over the Christmas period. Ghost stories are kind of a Christmas tradition over here. I know Poe never really wrote ghost stories, but I always make a little room. This year I enjoyed Into the Maelstrom again. One of my favourites. I also read Arthur Gordon Pym again earlier last year. The parts on the Grampus are always memorable.

Speaking of rats, were Queues called rats tails too?

Oh, and bravo for mentioning Poe's humour. It was diabolically good, but I always figured many people would not see it as humour.


Pauline said...

So good to hear from you, my friend. I've been a huge fan of Poe for as long as I can remember. It is a little mind boggling how under served he is as a genius.

You might have heard a long line of men, particularly those waiting their turn to sign up for service and receive their half-pay, called a "rat's tail" in the 18th century. Good point there.

Thank you for adding so much to this post!