Salty language refers to curse words, epithets, and swear words that most parents would prefer to keep their children from hearing. “He talks like a sailor,” is unflattering code for using obscene adjectives injected in our speech. But four letter words aside, there is no doubt that mariners have a language all their own. For those of us who speak English, nautical terminology is a unique subset, oftentimes using the same words but with different meanings, that keeps landlubbers separate and apart until they learn our patois.
I’m going to explore a few of those today and even look at some words unique to nautical environs. Given my examples, I’m looking for some instances when you had a situation where nautical jargon got in the way of understanding between landlubbers and sailors. If you have questions about some obscure nautical term, please ask.
Draft, in maritime terms refers to depth, while on land it usually means to pull. What we can agree on is that sailors usually like to pull on a draft beer.
A Painter ashore is someone who coats wood with fish oil based tint to preserve it, while a painter afloat is a line attached to the bow of a small boat. On the water, “make the painter fast,” doesn’t mean to urge him to coat more quickly or go without food.
Taffrail is a strange term because I’ve never known what a taff on a ship is, and it has no meaning ashore, although taffrail means the after railing, usually on a raised stern.
Paying ashore means to compensate with money, currency, or some other remuneration. Paying in nautical terms means to caulk the wooden deck of a vessel with tar, although, if you have a new teak deck nowadays they pay it with a plastic formulation like Silkka.
Posh is one of those multiple meaning words. Ashore it means rich or extravagant but it comes from the term Port-side Out Starboard-side Home used by upper crust passenger preferring the shady side of the deck to maintain their complexions
There is an adage that there are no Ropes aboard a boat, only lines. Sailors may bristle when a novice refers to lines as ropes even when the meaning is clear to all. However, there are at least 7 maritime specific items called ropes: a bell rope, a bolt rope, a man rope… can you name the others?
The Poop deck (so who has a potty mouth now?) is, in fact, merely a raised after deck somewhere near the taffrail. The real business goes on in the Head.
Messengers on land communicate, and in a way, they also connect afloat. You can have a small thin line called a messenger in a mast to replace a halyard and use it to connect to and pull a new halyard through.
Believe it or not there is an even more arcane subset of the English nautical language that includes admiralty law terms. These usually refer to sovereignty and ownership on the High Seas, but high seas doesn’t mean tall, just far enough offshore that no nation claims rights.
We won’t get into any more of that just now, but I am interested in your experience or questions with language of the nautical bent. Give me those nautical terms that confound rather than clarify and I’ll try to give you the nautical meaning or better yet try to stump me.