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Fun Naval jargon and tradition origins

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Keel Hauling or Keelhauling

 

Keelhauling was a type of naval punishment in the 17th and 18th century, although officially only the Dutch Navy practiced it, under the name of kielhalen. It is a brutal form of corporal punishment that involves dragging the offender underwater from one side of a ship to the other. In a period when the word of the ship captain was law, it was only one in a variety of unpleasant punishment tactics that could easily kill a Sailor

 

This punishment first appeared in 1560, when a Dutch ordinance outlined the practice and the offenses for which it could be used. Other maritime powers, including Britain, adopted the practice as well, although it began to be phased out in the 1700s. The Dutch Navy did not ban keelhauling until 1853, when a more humane era of sailing frowned on the practice.

 

When a sailor was keelhauled, he would be stripped and tied so that he could not swim. Usually, a weight was attached to his legs to pull him away from the ship. The sailor was attached to a rope that ran underwater from one side of the ship to the other, and he was rapidly pulled through the water. Assuming the sailor did not usually drown, he would severely injured by the extremely sharp barnacles on the underside of the ship, known as the keel. This practice would leave severe scars on the flesh of the sailor, serving as a constant reminder of the event

 

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Scuttlebutt

 

The origin of the word "scuttlebutt," which is nautical parlance for a rumor, comes from a combination of "scuttle" -- to make a hole in the ship's hull and thereby causing her to sink --- and "butt" -- a cask or hogshead used in the days of wooden ships to hold drinking water. The cask from which the ship's crew took their drinking water -- like a water fountain -- was the "scuttlebutt". Even in today's Navy a drinking fountain is referred to as such. But, since the crew used to congregate around the "scuttlebutt", that is where the rumors about the ship or voyage would begin. Thus, then and now, rumors are talk from the "scuttlebutt" or just "scuttlebutt".

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Origin or "Starboard" and "Port"

 

The Vikings called the side of their ship its board, and they placed the steering oar, the "star" on the right side of the ship, thus that side became known as the "star board." It's been that way ever since. And, because the oar was in the right side, the ship was tied to the dock at the left side. This was known as the loading side or "larboard". Later, it was decided that "larboard" and "starboard" were too similar, especially when trying to be heard over the roar of a heavy sea, so the phrase became the "side at which you tied up to in port" or the "port" side.

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Three Sheets to the Wind

 

The term "three sheets to the wind" is used to describe someone who has had too much to drink. As such, they are often bedraggled with perhaps shirttails out, clothes a mess. The reference is to a sailing ship in disarray, that is with sheets (lines -- not "ropes" -- that adjust the angle at which a sail is set in relation to the wind) flapping loosely in the breeze.

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Pea Coat or P-Jacket?

 

Sailors who have to endure pea-soup weather often don their pea coats but the coat's name isn't derived from the weather. The heavy topcoat worn in cold, miserable weather by seafaring men was once tailored from pilot cloth -- a heavy, course, stout kind of twilled blue cloth with the nap on one side. The cloth was sometimes called P-cloth for the initial letter of "pilot" and the garment made from it was called a p-jacket -- later, a pea coat. The term has been used since 1723 to denote coats made from that cloth.

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Head

 

The "head" aboard a Navy ship is the bathroom. The term comes from the days of sailing ships when the place for the crew to relieve themselves was all the way forward on either side of the bowsprit, the integral part of the hull to which the figurehead was fastened.

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Forecastle

 

The appropriate pronunciation for this word is fo'ksul. The forecastle is the forward part of the main deck. It derives its name from the days of Viking galleys when wooden castles were built on the forward and after parts the main deck from which archers and other fighting men could shoot arrows and throw spears, rocks, etc.

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Tack on the Crow

 

When a sailor was promoted to Petty Officer Third Class it was traditional for persons already holding that or a higher enlisted rank to "tack on the crow". Originally, this custom involved a newly promoted Sailor's fellow Petty Officers taking turns stitching the new rank on (the rushed needlework referred to as tacking) the Sailor's uniform (whilst the Sailor was asleep). The newly promoted Sailor would awake to find that he had been promoted, the tacking process was found to create and foster camaraderie amongst the crew.

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