Archive for September, 2012

From the Dictionary of Nautical, University, Gypsy and Other Vulgar Tongues


Jackey: gin



(I’ve no idea where that one comes from, but from what I’ve read, in the 1600s and 1700s the water in London was so polluted that men, women, and children drank gin instead. At least it was distilled so it wouldn’t kill you… as quickly.)

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From the Dictionary of Nautical, University, Gypsy and Other Vulgar Tongues


Jaw-breakers: hard or many-syllabled words.



(This goes with yesterday’s post. No posts for the next couple days. We’re having our house tented for termites. Yuck!)

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From the Dictionary of Nautical, University, Gypsy and Other Vulgar Tongues


Jaw: speech, or talk; “hold your Jaw,” don’t speak any more; “what are you Jawing about?” i.e. what are you making noise about?



(That one hasn’t changed much but I liked the examples.)

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From the Dictionary of Nautical, University, Gypsy and Other Vulgar Tongues


Jagger: a gentleman. German, Jageb, a sportsman.



(Well, according to Wikipedea Jagger means someone who carries something from place to place. Not sure how that fits in. And Mick never struck me as much of a gentleman. Not that that is a bad thing…)

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From the Dictionary of Nautical, University, Gypsy and Other Vulgar Tongues


Jarvey: the driver of a hackney coach; Jarvey’s Upper Benjamin; a coachman‘s over-coat.



(the hackney coach – horse drawn carriage for hire – was eventually replaced by the taxicab, which is why cabs are still referred to as hacks in England.)

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From the Dictionary of Nautical, University, Gypsy and Other Vulgar Tongues


Hand: a workman, or helper, a person. “A cool Hand,” explained by Sir Thomas Overbury to be “one who accounts bashfulness the wickedest thing in the world, and therefore studies impudence.”



(Gee, did they watch Cool Hand Luke? Although I understand Luke’s nickname comes for a poker game.)

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From the Dictionary of Nautical, University, Gypsy and Other Vulgar Tongues

English: Royal Tar (Ship) Photograph of the sa...

English: Royal Tar (Ship) Photograph of the sailing ship Royal Tar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jack Tar: a sailor

From Wikipedia:
There are several plausible etymologies for the reference to ‘tar‘.

  • Seamen were known to ‘tar’ their clothes before departing on voyages, in order to make them waterproof, before the invention of waterproof fabrics. Later they frequently wore coats and hats made from a waterproof fabric called tarpaulin. This may have been shortened to ‘tar’ at some point.
  • It was common amongst seamen to fat their long hair into a ponytail and smear it with high grade tar to prevent it getting caught in the ship’s equipment.
  • In the age of wooden sailing vessels, a ship’s rigging was rope made of hemp, which would rot quickly in such a damp environment. To avoid this, the ropes and cables of the standing rig were soaked in tar, which had to be replenished by tarring.[3]

(One can imagine why sailors were so afraid of fire aboard ship! They also caulked the seams between the ship boards with tar or resin. Basically everything was extremely flammable including their clothing and possibly their hair!)

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From the Dictionary of Nautical, University, Gypsy and Other Vulgar Tongues


Jazey: a wig. A corruption of Jersey, the name for flax prepared in a peculiar manner, and of which common wigs were formerly made.



(I suppose they’re talking about the powdered wigs that gentlemen and ladies (and judges)  used to wear. I couldn’t find any mention of using flax for wigs but here is what Wikipedia says on the subject.)

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From the Dictionary of Nautical, University, Gypsy and Other Vulgar Tongues


Jack-at-a-Pinch: one whose assistance is only sought on an emergency;

Jack-in-the-Water, an attendant at the watermen’s stairs on the river and sea-port towns, who does not mind wetting his feet for a customer’s convenience, in consideration of a douceur.



(I imagine that a douceur would currently be called a tip.)

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I thought I’d give you an excerpt from my yet-to-be-publish novel, LADY BLADE, that’s particularly heavy on pirate slang. This takes place shortly after Francesca is forced to join the pirate crew. Carter, a 11-year-old ship’s boy is “showing her the ropes” quite literally and Willy, a 16-year-old crew member joins them.

Carter helped her through the opening and onto the maintop. The wood-grate platform was about ten feet across, with the hole in the center for the mast and entrance. That left about three feet of platform on each side. A railing ran along the back but the rest was open to the air – and to the fifty foot drop. Francesca sat, wrapping her arms through the railing, her legs shaking with fear and fatigue. She dropped her head. How was she to be a topman if she could barely climb to the top?

Carter put her at ease. “First time up, I naught made it ‘alf so far, an’ I shot the cat.”

“You shot the cat?”

“You know…” he made retching noises and mimed throwing up.

“Oh,” said Francesca, laughing.

Once her heart stopped pounding she looked around. If the sea and sky seemed vast from deck, they seemed ten times more immense from this platform fifty feet above. To the north the blazing white cliffs of Dorset grinned like teeth. Fishing boats dotted the sparkling gray sea. For a moment Francesca felt wonder and awe rise from her belly, but Carter and his lesson brought her back. “‘At’s the mainsail below us and the tops’l above and the top gallant ‘bove that,” explained Carter.

Francesca looked up. There were at least thirty more feet of mast above her. A watchman perched on a tiny platform above the next higher sail. “That’s the crow’s nest, right?”

Carter nodded. “Some calls ‘em the topmast trees. And them,” he said, pointing to ropes that ran along the edges of the main sail. “Is the clew lines, fer raising and lowering.”

Carter went on, but Francesca’s attention was drawn to the captain, pacing the deck below. She watched his movements, graceful, and catlike. She wondered again what he meant by “any living woman.” Surely it implied that he had lost someone…

Willy climbed over the side of the platform. Carter explained that only lubbers use the hole in the platform specifically made for easy entrance.

“Willy ‘ere is in Ol’ Nob’s mess,” Carter said to Francesca. “She’s yer new messmate,” he said to Willy.

Willy nodded amiably as he sat down dangling his feet off the edge of the platform. All of their legs dangled, but only Francesca’s fingers were white where she gripped the rail. Willy gave Francesca an overview of topman duties, most of which sounded horribly dangerous.

“Don’t worry,” said Willy. “Long as ya keep yer feet under ya and yer eyes on yer work, you’ll be fine.”

“There’s ol’ Miller blowin’ a cloud,” said Carter pointing to a gray-haired pirate. He was the man that Francesca had threatened with the ceramic shard. He sat on a coil of rope smoking a pipe below them.

“Bet ya a bob I kin gob ‘im,” said Carter.

 “Done,” said Willy, shaking Carter’s hand.

Carter leaned over, carefully judging the wind and the sway of the ship, and spit. His careful judgment was in vain.

 “Carter!” said Francesca, “What if you had hit him?”

Carter shrugged. “I’d a’ won a bob. ‘Sides, Miller wouldn’t give it no mind. ‘E and I are ol’ pals. It’s cuz of ‘im I joined up.”

“What about your family?” said Francesca.

Carter’s brow lowered and he stared off toward the cliffs. “Pa chipped and ma did fer eight. The lot gripped while I coopered, ‘cept my wee brother.”

Francesca looked from Carter to Willy blankly.

“‘E said ‘is pa was a carpenter and ‘is ma looked after their eight children,” said Willy. “The grip, influenza took ‘em while ‘e was away, apprenticed to a cooper makin’ barrels, exceptin’ his younger brother.”

 “I’m so sorry,” said Francesca. She put a hand on his shoulder.

Carter shrugged her hand off. “My brother was blewed up in the big-house, but I tipped my boom toward the docks.”

Francesca looked to Willy again for a translation.

“‘Is brother died in a work-house but Carter ran away ta the docks.”

“Didn’t I just say ‘at?” said Carter shaking his head.

“Go on,” said Francesca.

“Well, I beak-hunted an’ cabbaged when I got banded, ‘til I ran afoul a pack of bludgers.”

“‘E stole chickens and pilfered when ‘e was hungry, ‘til ‘e ran inta a gang a’ cutthroats,” said Willy.

Carter frowned, exasperated. “‘At’s what I said!” He looked at Francesca. “Don’t they teach ya Italians how ta talk?”

Francesca shrugged and winced. “Apparently not.”

“Well, they’d a’ done me if I ‘adn’t met Miller. Miller run ‘em off. After that I signed on with ‘im and the cap’n. It’s almost a year an’ I gots no complaints. I loblolly fer Barnacles, fetchin’ and runnin’-”

“Who?” said Francesca.

“Barnacles – the doc. I fetch fer the doc. Workin’ fer ‘im is easy; I got a hammock, belly-timber, grog on Sunday, an’ only a cuff on occasion. Not a bad bargain.”

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