Saturday, February 2, 2013

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Mid/Middle

We've talked about midshipmen before here at Triple P, but there are a few other reference points for the words mid and middle at sea. None are particularly surprising, but they are interesting.

The word middle, perhaps curiously, comes from the Anglo-Saxon into Middle English words middel and middle. According to our old friend Webster they both indicate the halfway point between two others. That's fairly straight forward at least.

At sea, this general application of the word applies often but not always. A middle band is the central band on any sail, one of the many that is sewn to the canvas to give it extra strength. Middling a sail, on the other hand, is the act of arranging the sail for attaching it to the yard. A middle-topsail is one usually particular to schooners and sloops. This type of sail was - and still is - set on such vessels between the top and the cap of their topmasts.

Midrib is an old word for a slender or narrow canal. Mid-channel is the center, or halfway point from one shore to the other of a river, channel or smaller lake.

When a ship's position is determined by converting departure/arrival in difference of longitude, the type of navigation used is said to be middle latitude sailing. In such cases the middle latitude is used as a point of reference rather than the meridion.

Middle-timber reference the planking amidships and to the stern. Middle-wales are the strakes or outer planking along each side of a three decked vessel between the lower and middle deck ports.

The middle watch on naval ships was counted between midnight and 4:00 AM. A middle-watcher is no a member of that watch but a light, usually hand-held meal (such as a biscuit or sandwich) which officers of the middle watch might be able to, as Admiral Smyth puts it, "snatch" at about five bells or 2:30 AM. Fortifying oneself is always a good idea in the middle of the night, after all.

To return to where we started, midshipmen were often referred to, particularly as a group, as mids. Either affectionately or derogatorily they may also be referred to as "middies." I suppose it would depend on the individual young gentleman whether or not he appreciated such a moniker.

A happy Saturday to all the Brethren, then. Fair winds, following seas, and a little sunshine is my wish for you.

Header: Lake Superior by Walter Shirlaw via American Gallery ~ an example of a lake more like a small sea and far too large to have a mid-channel


Timmy! said...

I seem to naturally tend to want to be awake for the middle watch, Pauline. Unfortunately that also means I tend to want to sleep until later in the morning, which life in the modern workplace doesn't really allow for...

Pauline said...

Yes! I tend toward the same sleep pattern. That 5:45 AM alarm can be brutal in such cases.

Charles L. Wallace said...

[1] Midrats (Middle-watch or Midnight Rations). That's a contemporary Navy term for that meal between supper and breakfast. Generally intended just for watchstanders who happen to be awake (and rather mean, indeed: leftovers or PB&J is the norm), midrats is also popular with non-watchstanders. DESPISE "Fourthmeal", that ersatz term coined by Taco Bell (Toxic Hell?) Thank you, Pauline - an enjoyable discussion of middling (and otherwise) terms :-)

Charles L. Wallace said...

[2] The midwatch. There I was, conning the great grey mare, two months into the Western Pacific (yeah, prolly not THAT dramatic)... the South China Sea rings a bell, although it COULD have been the IO.

Anyway, we worked our normal job as well as possible, and in addition, stood six or eight hours of watch per day (this was Wartime Steaming, manned-up somewhere between half and one-third). Some night, it was not uncommon to get two hours of sleep, consecutive hours if you were lucky.

I was out on the starboard bridge wing, scanning the horizon... it was a boring night, devoid of surface and air contacts; maybe two or 2:30 AM. I turned and walked to the door into the pilothouse, and stepped over the coaming.

Next thing I knew, I was walking still, but in the middle of the pilothouse, nearly in front of the binnacle!! I had fallen asleep whilst walking, and yes: it scared me to the point that I was wide-awake for the rest of the watch (and then some, most likely).

Sure didn't want to sleep-walk over the gunwale (of course, sleep-driving an ammunition ship is inherently risky in any event).

Pauline said...

Oh, very cool Wally. Thank you for giving this post a modern spin!

Charles L. Wallace said...

Yer most welcome, Pauline, and thank you - for giving me a forum to do so :-)