Nautical language has influenced our modern day vocabulary more than we know. It is fascinating to discover just how many nautical words and phrases have been adopted over the centuries
Humanities close relationship with the sea has had a major influence on the words and expressions we use today.
The Western world has its roots in the areas surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. From as far back as the first Phoenician and Greek cultures (over 2,000 years ago) the Sea has not only been essential for basic survival, but in maintaining economic and social ties for the surrounding communities.
Many familiar words and phrases unexpectedly originate from this relationship with the sea; from commonly used words like ‘overwhelm’ – meaning to capsize and ‘casual’ that was used to describe the wages paid to seamen between their regular payments.
The English language also gained many terms during the 18th and 19th centuries when British naval and merchant ships travelled the seas.
Expressions such as ‘square meal’ which refers to the tray food consumed on early British warships. Phrases like ‘please stand by’ is an expression derived from the command given to sailors when they need to be ready.
Over the centuries new words and phrases have entered into our language from this continuous tie to our planets oceans. See just some of our examples below!
Old School Terms
Port and Starboard
Port is the nautical term for left and starboard means right. Originally the words come from the old sailing ships that did not have a rudder and were steered using a board on the right side which became known as the “steerboard” side, the other side of the vessel was called the port side as the boat was docked on this side so as to not interfere with the steering board.
Albatross Around One’s Neck
An Albatross is a large and long-winged seabird of the Southern Hemisphere capable of long flights. It was believed among seamen that albatrosses embodied the souls of dead sailors and it was considered unlucky to kill one.
From the 17th century, it described the Spanish custom of hoisting false flags to deceive (bamboozle) enemies. Today if one intentionally deceives someone, they are said to have bamboozled them.
Combing the Cat
When flogging a seaman, “combing the cat” meant to run fingers through the cat-o’-nine-tails after each stroke to separate the strands in preparation for the next stroke.
Whole Nine Yards
This expression means everything or all encompassing. The expression comes from the old square-rigged sailing vessels that had three masts with three yards of sails on each. The whole nine yards meant all sails were up.
Shipper / Consignor:
An individual or firm that sends freight. A freight originator.
A transportation system design in which large hub terminals are used for freight consolidation. Medium-volume services serve the spoke-to-hub collection and hub-to-spoke distribution tasks. Large-volume services are operated in the hub-top-hub markets. In most systems, all outbound/inbound freight for a spoke uses the same hub, and thus larger shipment sizes are realised. Many transportation systems oriented in this way.
A portion of a transportation trip in which no freight is conveyed; an empty move. Transportation equipment is often dead-headed because of imbalances in supply and demand. For example, many more containers are shipped from Asia to North America than in reverse; empty containers are therefore dead-headed back to Asia.
An ocean carrier company operating vessels not on regular runs or schedules. They call at any port where cargo may be available. Sometimes used for bulk cargo shipping.
Cargo in-between bulk and containerised, that must be handled piece-by-piece by terminal workers (stevedores). Often stored in bags or boxes and stacked onto pallets. Smaller lift equipment (forklifts, small cranes) used than for containerised cargo, but more labour intensive.