Tag Archives: Syntax

From the 1867 Sailor’s Word-Book: Nautical Verbs, A-J

Tops

Nautical Ropes

Every profession develops its own jargon, a kind of short-hand between those in the know.  The sailing profession is one of the oldest on the planet, and has developed over the centuries; many of its terms have made it into everyday language.

Below is a gleaning of nautical actions from a digitalized version of the 1867 “The Sailor’s Word-Book:  An Alphabetical Digest of Nautical Terms, including some more especially military and scientific, but useful to seamen; as well as archaisms of early voyagers, etc. by the late ADMIRAL W. H. SMYTH, K.S.F., D.C.L., &c.”  For those of you interested in this topic you’ll appreciate the richness of life at sea represented here; for those of you interested in language, it’s a great source of history and etymology.  Because of the length, I’ll break it down into two sections, with K-Z following next.  Enjoy!

A-B

ABASE, To. An old word signifying to lower a flag or sail. Abaisser is in use in the French marine, and both may be derived from the still older abeigh. Abase literally means to cast down, to humble.

ABATE, To. An old Anglo-Norman word from abattre, to beat down or destroy; as, to abate a castle or fort, is to beat it down; and a gale is said to abate when it decreases. The term is still used in law.

ABET, To. To excite or encourage—a common word, greatly in use at boat-racings, and other competitive acts.

ABRASE, To. To dubb or smooth planks.

ACCOIL, To. To coil together, by folding round.

ACCOMPANY, To. To sail together; to sail in convoy.

ACCOST, To. To pass within hail of a ship; to sail coastwise; to approach, to draw near, or come side by side.

ADJOURN, To. To put off till another day. Adjournments can be made in courts-martial from day to day, Sundays excepted, until sentence is passed.

ADJUST, To. To arrange an instrument for use and observation; as, to adjust a sextant, or the escapement of a chronometer. To set the frame of a ship.

ADVANCE, To. An old word, meaning to raise to honour.

AID, To. To succour; to supply with provisions or stores.

ALLOW, To. To concede a destined portion of stores, &c.

ANNUL, To. To nullify a signal.

ANSWER, To. To reply, to succeed; as, the frigate has answered the signal. This boat will not answer.

ARRIBAR, To. To land, to attain the bank, to arrive.

ARRIVE, To. In the most nautical sense, is to come to any place by water, to reach the shore.

ASSAIL, To. To attack, leap upon, board, &c.

ASSIEGE, To. To besiege, to invest or beset with an armed force.

ATTEMPT, To. To endeavour to carry a vessel or place by surprise; to venture at some risk, as in trying a new channel, &c.

BADGER, To. To tease or confound by frivolous orders.

BALANCE, To. To contract a sail into a narrower compass;—this is peculiar to the mizen of a ship, and to the main-sail of those vessels wherein it is extended by a boom. The operation of balancing the mizen is performed by lowering the yard or gaff a little, then rolling up a small portion of the sail at the peak or upper corner, and lashing it about one-fifth down towards the mast. A boom main-sail is balanced by rolling up a portion of the clew, or lower aftermost corner, and fastening it strongly to the boom.—N.B. It is requisite in both cases to wrap a piece of old canvas round the sail, under the lashing, to prevent its being fretted by the latter.

BALE, To. To lade water out of a ship or vessel with buckets (which[71] were of old called bayles), cans, or the like, when the pumps are ineffective or choked.

BALLARAG, To. To abuse or bully. Thus Warton of the French king— “You surely thought to ballarag us
With your fine squadron off Cape Lagos.”

BALL-OFF, To. To twist rope-yarns into balls, with a running end in the heart for making spun-yarn.

BAMBOOZLE, To. To decoy the enemy by hoisting false colours.

BANK, To. Also, an old word meaning to sail along the margins or banks of river-ports: thus Shakspeare in “King John” makes Lewis the Dauphin demand— “Have I not heard these islanders shout out
Vive le Roy! as I have bank’d their towns?”

BASTE, To. To beat in punition. A mode of sewing in sail-making.

BATTLE THE WATCH, To. To shift as well as we can; to contend with a difficulty. To depend on one’s own exertions.

BEACH, To. Sudden landing—to run a boat on the shore, to land a person with intent to desert him—an old buccaneer custom. To land a boat on a beach before a dangerous sea, this demands practical skill, for which the Dover and Deal men are famed.

BEAR, To. The direction of an object from the viewer; it is used in the following different phrases: The land’s end bore E.N.E.; i.e. it was seen from the ship in a line with the E.N.E. point of the compass. We bore down upon the enemy; i.e. having the advantage of the wind, or being to windward, we approached the enemy by sailing large, or from the wind. When a ship that was to windward comes under another ship’s stern, and so gives her the wind, she is said to bear under the lee; often as a mark of respect. She bears in with the land, is said of a ship when she runs towards the shore. We bore off the land; i.e. we increased our distance from the land.—To bear down upon a ship, is to approach her from the windward.—To bear ordnance, to carry her guns well.—To bear sail, stiff under canvas.—To bear up, to put the helm up, and keep a vessel off her course, letting her recede from the wind and move to leeward; this is synonymous with to bear away, but is applied to the ship instead of the helm.—Bear up, one who has duly served for a commission, but from want of interest bears up broken-hearted and accepts an inferior warrant, or quits the profession, seeking some less important vocation; some middies have borne up and yet become bishops, lord-chancellors, judges, surgeons, &c.—To bear up round, is to put a ship right before the wind.—To bring a cannon to bear, signifies that it now lies right with the mark.—To bear off from, and in with the land, signifies standing off or going towards the coast.

BECALM, To. To intercept the current of the wind in its passage to a ship, by means of any contiguous object, as a high shore, some other ship to windward, &c. At this time the sails remain in a sort of rest, and consequently deprived of their power to govern the motion of the ship. Thus one sail becalms another.

BELAY, To. To fasten a rope when it has been sufficiently hauled upon, by twining it several times round a cleat, belaying pin, or kevel, without hitching or seizing; this is chiefly applied to the running rigging, which needs to be so secured that it may be quickly let go in case of a squall or change of wind; there being several other expressions used for securing large ropes, as bitting, making fast, stoppering, &c.—Belay there, stop! that is enough!—Belay that yarn, we have had enough of it. Stand fast, secure all, when a hawser has been sufficiently hauled. When the top-sails, or other sails have been hoisted taut up, or “belay the main-tack,” &c.

BEND, To. To fasten one rope to another, or to an anchor. The term is also applied to any sudden or remarkable change in the direction of a river, and is then synonymous with bight or loop.—Bend a sail is to extend or make it fast to its proper yard or stay.  Also, bend to your oars, throw them well forward.

BESIEGE, To. To endeavour to gain possession of a fortified place defended by an enemy, by directing against it a connected series of offensive military operations.[98]

BINGE, To. To rinse, or bull, a cask.

BITT THE CABLE, To. To put it round the bitts, in order to fasten it, or slacken it out gradually, which last is called veering away.

BLARE, To. To bellow or roar vehemently.—Blare, a mixture of hair and tar made into a kind of paste, used for tightening the seams of boats.

BLAZE, To. To fire away as briskly as possible. To blaze away is to keep up a running discharge of fire-arms. Also, to spear salmon. Also, in the woods, to mark a tree by cutting away a portion of its outer surface, thus leaving a patch of whiter internal surface exposed, to call attention or mark a track.

BLOAT, To. To dry by smoke; a method latterly applied almost exclusively to cure herrings or bloaters.—Bloated is also applied to any half-dried fish.

BLOW OFF, To. To clear up in the clouds.

BLOW UP, To. To abuse angrily.

BOGUE, To. To drop off from the wind. To edge away to leeward with the wind; not holding a good wind, and driving very much to leeward. Used only to clumsy inferior craft.

BONE, To. To seize, take, or apprehend. A ship is said to carry a bone in her mouth and cut a feather, when she makes the water foam before her.

BORROW, To. To approach closely either to land or wind; to hug a shoal or coast in order to avoid adverse tide.

BOTCH, To. To make bungling work.

BOWSE, To. To pull upon any body with a tackle, or complication of pulleys, in order to remove it, &c. Hauling upon a tack is called “bowsing upon a tack,” and when they would have the men pull all together, they cry, “Bowse away.” Also used in setting up rigging, as “Bowse away, starboard;” “Bowse away, port.” It is, however, mostly a gun-tackle term.—Bowse up the jib, a colloquialism to denote the act of tippling: it is an old phrase, and was probably derived from the Dutch buyzen, to booze.

BOX THE COMPASS, To. Not only to repeat the names of the thirty-two points in order and backwards, but also to be able to answer any and all questions respecting its divisions.

BRACE ABACK, To. To brace the yards in, so as to lay the sails aback.—To brace about, to turn the yards round for the contrary tack, or in consequence of a change of wind.—To brace abox, a manœuvre to insure casting the right way, by bracing the head-yards flat aback (not square).—To brace by, to brace the yards in contrary directions to each other on the different masts, to effect the stopping of the vessel. —To brace in, to lay the yard less oblique, as for a free wind, or nearly square.—To brace round, synonymous with brace about.—To brace sharp, to cause the yards to have the smallest possible angle with the keel, for the ship to have head-way: deemed generally to form an angle of 20° with the keel.—To brace to, is to check or ease off the lee braces, and round in the weather ones, to assist in the manœuvre of tacking or wearing.—To brace up, or brace sharp up, to lay the yards more obliquely fore and aft, by easing off the weather-braces and hauling in the lee ones, which enables a ship to lie as close to the wind as possible.

BRAN, To. To go on; to lie under a floe edge, in foggy weather, in a boat in Arctic seas, to watch the approach of whales.

BRAY, To. To beat and bruise in a mortar.

BREAK, To. To deprive of commission, warrant, or rating, by court-martial.

BREAK-SHEER, To. When a ship at anchor is laid in a proper position to keep clear of her anchor, but is forced by the wind or current out of that position, she is said to break her sheer. Also, for a vessel to break her sheer, or her back, means destroying the gradual sweep lengthways.

BREAK-UP, To. To take a ship to pieces when she becomes old and unserviceable.

BREAST, To. To run abeam of a cape or object. To cut through a sea, the surface of which is poetically termed breast.—To breast the sea, to meet it by the bow on a wind.—To breast the surf, to brave it, and overcome it swimming.—To breast a bar, to heave at the capstan.—To breast to, the act of giving a sheer to a boat.

BRING BY THE LEE, To. To incline so rapidly to leeward of the course when the ship sails large, or nearly before the wind, as in scudding before a gale, that the lee-side is unexpectedly brought to windward, and by laying the sails all aback, exposes her to the danger of over-setting.

BRING HOME THE ANCHOR, To, is to weigh it. It applies also when the flukes slip or will not hold; a ship then brings home her anchor.—Bring home the log. When the pin slips out of the log ship and it slides through the water.

BRING-TO, To. To bend, as to bring-to a sail to the yard. Also, to check the course of a ship by trimming the sails so that they shall counteract each other, and keep her nearly stationary, when she is said to lie by, or lie-to, or heave-to.—Bring to! The order from one ship to another to put herself in that situation in order to her being boarded, spoken to, or examined. Firing a blank gun across the bows of a ship is the forcible signal to shorten sail and bring-to until further pleasure.—Bring-to is also used in applying a rope to the capstan, as “bring-to the messenger.”

BRING-TO AN ANCHOR, To. To let go the anchor in the intended port. “All hands bring ship to an anchor!” The order by which the people are summoned for that duty, by the pipes of the boatswain and his mates.

BRING UP, To. To cast anchor.

BROACH A BUSINESS, To. To begin it.

BROACH-TO, To. To fly up into the wind. It generally happens when a ship is carrying a press of canvas with the wind on the quarter, and a good deal of after-sail set. The masts are endangered by the course being so altered, as to bring it more in opposition to, and thereby increasing the pressure of the wind. In extreme cases the sails are caught flat aback, when the masts would be likely to give way, or the ship might go down stern foremost.

BUCK, To. To wash a sail.

BUFFET A BILLOW, To. To work against wind and tide.

BUILD A CHAPEL, To. To turn a ship suddenly by negligent steerage.

BULCH, To. To bilge a ship.

BULLYRAG, To. To reproach contemptuously, and in a hectoring manner; to bluster, to abuse, and to insult noisily. Shakspeare makes mine host of the Garter dub Falstaff a bully-rook.

BUMP, To. To bump a boat, is to pull astern of her in another, and insultingly or inimically give her the stem; a practice in rivers and narrow channels.

BUNDLE-UP! The call to the men below to hurry up on deck.

BUNGLE, To. To perform a duty in a slovenly manner.

BURNETTIZE, To. To impregnate canvas, timber, or cordage with Sir William Burnett’s fluid, a solution of chloride of zinc.

C

CADGE, To. To carry.—Cadger, a carrier. Kedge may be a corruption, as being carriable.

CAMP, or Camp-out, To. In American travel, to rest for the night without a standing roof; whether under a light tent, a screen of boughs, or any makeshift that the neighbourhood may afford.

CANT, To. To turn anything about, or so that it does not stand square. To diverge from a central right line. Cant the boat or ship; i.e. for careening her.

CANT, To. To turn anything about, or so that it does not stand square. To diverge from a central right line. Cant the boat or ship; i.e. for careening her.

CAPSIZE, To. To upset or overturn anything.

CAPSTAN, To come up the. In one sense is to lift the pauls and walk back, or turn the capstan the contrary way, thereby slackening, or letting out some of the rope on which they have been heaving. The sudden order would be obeyed by surging, or letting go any rope on which they were heaving. Synonymous to “Come up the purchase.”

CAPSTAN, To heave at the. To urge it round, by pushing against the bars, as already described.

CAPSTAN, To man the. To place the sailors at it in readiness to heave.

CAPSTAN, To paul the. To drop all the pauls into their sockets, to prevent the capstan from recoiling during any pause of heaving.[161]

CAPSTAN, To rig the. To fix the bars in their respective holes, thrust in the pins to confine them, and reeve the swifter through the ends.

CAPSTAN, Surge the. Is the order to slacken the rope which is wound round the barrel while heaving, to prevent it from riding or fouling. This term specially applies to surging the messenger when it rides, or when the two lashing eyes foul on the whelps or the barrel.

CAREEN, To. A ship is said to careen when she inclines to one side, or lies over when sailing on a wind; off her keel or carina.

CARRY, To. To subdue a vessel by boarding her. To move anything along the decks. (See Lash and Carry, as relating to hammocks.) Also, to obtain possession of a fort or place by force. Also, the direction or movement of the clouds. Also, a gun is said to carry its shot so many yards. Also, a ship carries her canvas, and her cargo.

CARRY AWAY, To. To break; as, “That ship has carried away her fore-topmast,” i.e. has broken it off. It is customary to say, we carried away this or that, when knocked, shot, or blown away. It is also used when a rope has been parted by violence.

CARRY ON, To. To spread all sail; also, beyond discretion, or at all hazards. In galley-slang, to joke a person even to anger; also riotous frolicking.

CAST, To. To fall off, so as to bring the direction of the wind on one side of the ship, which before was right ahead. This term is particularly applied to a ship riding head to wind, when her anchor first loosens from the ground. To pay a vessel’s head off, or turn it, is getting under weigh on the tack she is to sail upon, and it is casting to starboard, or port, according to the intention.—To cast anchor. To drop or let go the anchor for riding by—synonymous with to anchor.—To cast a traverse. To calculate and lay off the courses and distances run over upon a chart.—To cast off. To let go at once. To loosen from.

CAST OF THE LEAD. The act of heaving the lead into the sea to ascertain what depth of water there is. (See also Heave the Lead and Sounding.) The result is a cast—”Get a cast of the lead.”

CAULK, To. (See Caulking.) To lie down on deck and sleep, with clothes on.

CERTIFY, To. To bear official testimony.

CHAFE, To. To rub or fret the surface of a cable, mast, or yard, by the motion of the ship or otherwise, against anything that is too hard for it.—Chafing-gear, is the stuff put upon the rigging and spars to prevent their being chafed.

CHALK, To. To cut.—To walk one’s chalks, to run off; also, an ordeal for drunkenness, to see whether the suspected person can move along the line. “Walking a deck-seam” is to the same purpose, as the man is to proceed without overstepping it on either side.

CHASE, To. To pursue a ship, which is also called giving chase.—A stern chase is when the chaser follows the chased astern, directly upon the same point of the compass.—To lie with a ship’s fore-foot in a chase, is to sail and meet with her by the nearest distance, and so to cross her in her way, as to come across her fore-foot. A ship is said to have a good chase when she is so built forward or astern that she can carry many guns to shoot forwards or backwards; according to which she is said to have a good forward or good stern chase. Chasing to windward, is often termed chasing in the wind’s eye.

CHEER, To. To salute a ship en passant, by the people all coming on deck and huzzahing three times; it also implies to encourage or animate. (See also Hearty and Man Ship!)

CHIME IN, To. To join a mess meal or treat. To chime in to a chorus or song.

CHINSE, To. To stop small seams, by working in oakum with a knife or chisel—a temporary expedient. To caulk slightly those openings that will not bear the force required for caulking.

CHIP, To. To trim a gun when first taken from the mould or castings.

CHOP-ABOUT, To. Is applied to the wind when it varies and changes suddenly, and at short intervals of time.

CLAW, or Claw off, To. To beat, or turn to windward from a lee-shore, so as to be at sufficient distance from it to avoid shipwreck. It is generally used when getting to windward is difficult.

CLEAR, To. Has several significations, particularly to escape from, to unload, to empty, to prepare, &c., as:—To clear for action. To prepare for action.—To clear away for this or that, is to get obstructions out of the way.—To clear the decks. To remove lumber, put things in their places, and coil down the ropes. Also, to take the things off a table after a meal.—To clear goods. To pay the custom-house dues and duties.—To clear the land. To escape from the land.—To clear a lighter, or the hold. To empty either.

CLEAT A GUN, To. To nail large cleats under the trucks of the lower-deckers in bad weather, to insure their not fetching way.

CLENCH, To. To secure the end of a bolt by burring the point with a hammer. Also, a mode of securing the end of one rope to another.

CLINCH. A particular method of fastening large ropes by a half hitch, with the end stopped back to its own part by seizings; it is chiefly to fasten the hawsers suddenly to the rings of the kedges or small anchors; and the breechings of guns to the ring-bolts in the ship’s side. Those parts of a rope or cable which are clinched. Thus the outer end is “bent” by the clinch to the ring of the anchor. The inner or tier-clinch in the good old times was clinched to the main-mast, passing under the tier beams (where it was unlawfully, as regards the custom of the navy, clinched). Thus “the cable runs out to the clinch,” means, there is no more to veer.—To clinch is to batter or rivet a bolt’s end upon a ring or piece of plate iron; or to turn back the point of a nail that it may hold fast.

CLINCH A BUSINESS, To. To finish it; to settle it beyond further dispute, as the recruit taking the shilling.

CLOSE THE WIND, To. To haul to it.—Close upon a tack or bowline, or close by a wind, is when the wind is on either bow, and the tacks or bowlines are hauled forwards that they may take the wind to make the best of their way.—Close to the wind, when her head is just so near the wind as to fill the sails without shaking them.

CLOSE WITH THE LAND, To. To approach near to it.

CLOY, To. To drive an iron spike by main force into the vent or touch-hole of a gun, which renders it unserviceable till the spike be either worked out, or a new vent drilled. (See Nailing and Spiking.)

CLUB-HAUL, To. A method of tacking a ship by letting go the lee-anchor as soon as the wind is out of the sails, which brings her head to wind, and as soon as she pays off, the cable is cut and the sails trimmed; this is never had recourse to but in perilous situations, and when it is expected that the ship would otherwise miss stays. The most gallant example was performed by Captain Hayes in H.M.S. Magnificent, 74, in Basque Roads, in 1814, when with lower-yards and top-masts struck, he escaped between two reefs from the enemy at Oleron. He bore the name of Magnificent Hayes to the day of his death, for the style in which he executed it.

COBBLE, To. To mend or repair hastily. Also, the coggle or cog.—Cobble or coggle stones, pebbly shingle, ballast-stones rounded by attrition, boulders, &c.

COMMIT ONE’S SELF, To. To break through regulations. To incur responsibility without regard to results.

COMMUTE, To. To lighten the sentence of a court-martial, on a recommendation of the court to the commander-in-chief.

COMPASS, To. To curve; also to obtain one’s object.

COMPLAIN, To. The creaking of masts, or timbers, when over-pressed, without any apparent external defect. One man threatening to complain of another, is saying that he will report misconduct to the officer in charge of the quarter-deck.

COMPLIMENT, To. To render naval or military honour where due.

CONQUER, To. To overcome decidedly.

CONSIGN, To. To send a consignment of goods to an agent or factor for sale or disposal.

CONTACT. Brought in contact with, as touching the sides of a ship. In astronomy, bringing a reflected body, as the sun, in contact with the moon or with a star. (See Lunar Distances, Sextant, &c.)

COPPER, To. To cover the ship’s bottom with prepared copper.

CORN, To. A remainder of the Anglo-Saxon ge-cyrned, salted. To preserve meat for a time by salting it slightly.

COUNTER-BRACE, To. Is bracing the head-yards one way, and the after-yards another. The counter-brace is the lee-brace of the fore-topsail-yard, but is only distinguished by this name at the time of the ship’s going about (called tacking), when the sail begins to shiver in the wind, this brace is hauled in to flatten the sail against the lee-side of the top-mast, and increase the effect of the wind in forcing her round. Counter-bracing becomes necessary to render the vessel stationary when sounding, lowering a boat, or speaking a stranger. It is now an obsolete term, and the manœuvre is called heaving-to.

COUPLE, To. To bend two hawsers together; coupling links of a cable; coupling shackles.

CRACK ON, To. To carry all sail.

CRIPPLE, To. To disable an enemy’s ship by wounding his masts, yards, and steerage gear, thereby placing him hors de combat.

CROWD SAIL, To. To carry an extraordinary press of canvas on a ship, as in pursuit of, or flight from, an enemy, &c.

CUND, To. To give notice which way a shoal of fish is gone.

CURE, To. To salt meat or fish.

CUT AND RUN, To. To cut the cable for an escape. Also, to move off quickly; to quit occupation; to be gone.

CUT AND THRUST. To give point with a sword after striking a slash.

CUT A STICK, To. To make off clandestinely.—Cut your stick, be off, or go away.

CUT OUT, To. To attack and carry a vessel by a boat force; one of the most dashing and desperate services practised by Nelson and Cochrane, of which latter that of cutting out the Esmeralda at Callao stands unequalled.

CUT THE CABLE, To. A manœuvre sometimes necessary for making a ship cast the right way, or when the anchor cannot be weighed.

 

 

D-F

DEADEN A SHIP’S WAY, To. To retard a vessel’s progress by bracing in the yards, so as to reduce the effect of the sails, or by backing minor sails. Also, when sounding to luff up and shake all, to obtain a cast of the deep-sea lead.

DEBARK, To. To land; to go on shore.

DECAMP, To. To raise the camp; the breaking up from a place where an army has been encamped.

DECK, To. A word formerly in use for to trim, as “we deckt up our sails.”

DERRICK, To. A cant term for setting out on a small not over-creditable enterprise. The act is said to be named from a Tyburn executioner.

DIDDLE, To. To deceive.

DIE ON THE FIN, To. An expression applied to whales, which when dying rise to the surface, after the final dive, with one side uppermost.

DING, To. To dash down or throw with violence.

DIP, To. To lower. An object is said to be dipping when by refraction it is visible just above the horizon. Also, to quit the deck suddenly.

DISCOURSE, To. An old sea term to traverse to and fro off the proper course.

DISCRETION. To surrender at discretion, implies an unconditional yielding to the mercy of the conquerors.

DISEMBAY. To work clear out of a gulf or bay.

DISH, To. To supplant, ruin, or frustrate.

DISLODGE. To drive an enemy from any post or station.

DISMISS. Pipe down the people. To dismiss a drill from parade is to break the ranks.

DISMOUNT, To. To break the carriages of guns, and thereby render them unfit for service. Also, in gun exercise, to lift a gun from its carriage and deposit it elsewhere.[251]

DISORGANIZE, To. To degrade a man-of-war to a privateer by irregularity.

DISPARTING A GUN. To bring the line of sight and line of metal to be parallel by setting up a mark on the muzzle-ring of a cannon, so that a sight-line, taken from the top of the base-ring behind the touch-hole, to the mark set near the muzzle, may be parallel to the axis of the bore.

DIVE, To. To descend or plunge voluntarily head-foremost under the water. To go off deck in the watch. A ship is said to be “diving into it” when she pitches heavily against a head-sea.

DOCK HERSELF, To. When a ship is on the ooze, and swaddles a bed, she is said to dock herself.

DOCK UP, OR DUCK UP. To clue up a corner of a sail that hinders the helmsman from seeing.

DOFF, To. To put aside.

DO FOR, To. A double-barrelled expression, meaning alike to take care of or provide for an individual, or to ruin or kill him.

DOUBLE, To. To cover a ship with an extra planking, usually of 4 inches, either internally or externally, when through age or otherwise she has become loosened; the process strengthens her without driving out the former fastenings. Doubling, however, is a term applied only where the plank thus used is not less than 2 inches thick.—To double a cape.

DOUBLE-BANK A ROPE, To. To clap men on both sides.

DOUBLING UPON. In a naval engagement, the act of inclosing any part of a hostile fleet between two fires, as Nelson did at the Nile. The van or rear of one fleet, taking advantage of the wind or other circumstances, runs round the van or rear of the enemy, who will thereby be exposed to great danger and confusion.

DOUSE, To. To lower or slacken down suddenly; expressed of a sail in a squall of wind, an extended hawser, &c. Douse the glim, your colours, &c., to knock down.

DOUT, To. To put out a light; to extinguish; do out. Shakspeare makes the dauphin of France say in “King Henry V.:”—

“That their hot blood may spin in English eyes,
And dout them.”

DRAG FOR THE ANCHOR, To. The same as creep or sweep.

DRAG THE ANCHOR, To. The act of the anchors coming home.

DRESS, To. To place a fleet in organized order; also, to arrange men properly in ranks; to present a true continuous line in front.—To dress a ship. To ornament her with a variety of colours, as ensigns, flags, pendants, &c., of various nations, displayed from different parts of her masts, rigging, &c., on a day of festivity.

DROP ASTERN, To. To slacken a ship’s way, so as to suffer another one to pass beyond her. Also, distancing a competitor.

DRUB. To beat. (Captain’s despatch.) “We have drubbed the enemy.”

DUBB, To. To smooth and cut off with an adze the superfluous wood.—To dubb a vessel bright, is to remove the outer surface of the plank completely with an adze. Spotting to examine planks with the adze is also dubbing.

DUCK, To. To dive, or immerse another under water; or to avoid a shot.

DUCK-UP! A term used by the steersman when the main-sail, fore-sail, or sprit-sail hinders his seeing to steer by a landmark, upon which he calls out, “Duck-up the clue-lines of those sails,” that is, haul the sails out of the way. Also, when a shot is made by a chase-piece, if the clue of the sprit-sail hinders the sight, they call out, “Duck-up,” &c.

EASE UP, To. To come up handsomely with a tackle-fall.

EATING THE WIND OUT OF A VESSEL. Applies to very keen seamanship, by which the vessel, from a close study of her capabilities, steals to windward of her opponent. This to be done effectually demands very peculiar trim to carry weather helm to a nicety.

EDGE AWAY, To. To decline gradually from the course which the ship formerly steered, by sailing larger, or more off, or more away from before the wind than she had done before.

EDGE DOWN, To. To approach any object in an oblique direction.

EGG, To. To instigate, incite, provoke, to urge on: from the Anglo-Saxon eggion.

EKE, To. [Anglo-Saxon eácan, to prolong.] To make anything go far by reduction and moderation, as in shortening the allowance of provisions on a voyage unexpectedly tedious.[275]

EMBARK, To. To go on board, or to put on board a vessel.

EMBATTLE. To arrange forces for conflict.

ENDANGER, To. To expose to peril.

ENROL, To. To enter the name on the roll of a corps.

ENSCONCE, To. To intrench; to protect by a slight fortification.

EQUIP, To. A term frequently applied to the business of fitting a ship for a trading voyage, or arming her for war.

EXPORT, To. To send goods or commodities out of a country, for the purposes of traffic, under the general name of exports.

FAFF, To. To blow in flaws.

FAG, To. To tire.—A fag. A deputy labouring-man, or one who works hard for another.

FAG-OUT, To. To wear out the end of a rope or end of canvas.

FALL, To. A town or fortress is said to fall when it is compelled to surrender to besiegers.

FALL ABOARD OF, To. To strike another vessel, or have a collision with it. Usually applied to the motion of a disabled ship coming in contact with another.

FALL ASTERN, To. To lessen a ship’s way so as to allow another to get ahead of her. To be driven backwards.[287]

FALL BACK, To. To recede from any position previously occupied.

FALL CALM, To. Speaking of the weather, implies a total cessation of the wind.

FALL DOWN, To. To sail, drift, or be towed to some lower part nearer a river’s mouth or opening.

FALL FOUL OF, To. To reprimand severely.

FALL IN, To. The order to form, or take assigned places in ranks.

FALL IN WITH, To. To meet, when speaking of a ship; to discover, when speaking of the land.

FALL OUT, To. To increase in breadth. Among soldiers and small-arm men, to quit the ranks of a company.

FANG, To. To pour water into a pump in order to fetch it, when otherwise the boxes do not hold the water left on them.

FAVOUR, To. To be careful of; also to be fair for.—”Favour her” is purely a seaman’s term; as when it blows in squalls, and the vessel is going rap-full, with a stiff weather-helm and bow-seas, “favour her boy” is “ease the helm, let the sails lift, and head the sea.” So, in hauling in a rope, favour means to trust to the men’s force and elasticity, and not part the rope by taking a turn on a cleat, making a dead nip. A thorough seaman “favours” his spars and rigging, and sails his ship economically as well as expeditiously.

FAY, To. To fit any two pieces of wood, so as to join close and fair together; the plank is said to fay to the timbers, when it lies so close to them that there shall be no perceptible space between them.

FEATHER, To Cut a. When a ship has so sharp a bow that she makes the spray feather in cleaving it.

FEATHER AN OAR, To. In rowing, is to turn the blade horizontally, with the top aft, as it comes out of the water. This lessens the resistance of the air upon it.

FEAZE, To. To untwist, to unlay ropes; to teaze, to convert it into oakum.[291]

FEEL THE HELM, To. To have good steerage way, carrying taut weather-helm, which gives command of steerage. Also said of a ship when she has gained head-way after standing still, and begins to obey the helm.

FELL, To. To cut down timber. To knock down by a heavy blow. Fell is the Anglo-Saxon for a skin or hide.

FEND. An aphæresis from defend; to ward off.[292]

FEND OFF, To. In order to avoid violent contact, is, by the application of a spar, junk, rattans, &c., to prevent one vessel running against another, or against a wharf, &c. Fend off, with the boat-hook or stretchers in a boat.—Fend the boat, keep her from beating against the ship’s side.

FETCH, To. To reach, or arrive at; as, “we shall fetch to windward of the lighthouse this tack.”

FETCHING THE PUMP. Pouring water into the upper part in order to expel the air contained between the lower box and that of the pump-spear.

FETCH WAY, To. Said of a gun, or anything which escapes from its place by the vessel’s motion at sea.

FETTLE, To. To fit, repair, or put in order. Also, a threat.

FILE OFF, To. To march off to a flank by files, or with a very small front.

FILL, To. To brace the yards so that the wind strikes the after side of the sails, and advances the ship in her course, after the sails had been shivering, or braced aback. A ship may be forced backward or forward, or made to remain in her place, with the same wind, by “backing, filling,” or shivering the sails. (See Brace, Back, and Shiver.) Colliers generally tide it, “backing and filling” down the Thames until they gain the reaches, where there is room for tacking, or the wind is fair enough for them to lay their course.—An idle skulker, a fellow who loiters, trying to avoid being seen by the officer of the watch, is said to be “backing and filling;” otherwise, doing nothing creditably.

FILLING A SHIP’S BOTTOM. Implies covering the bottom of a ship with broad-headed nails, so as to give her a sheathing of iron, to prevent the worms getting into the wood; sheathing with copper is found superior, but the former plan is still used for piles in salt-water.

FIND, To. To provide with or furnish.

FIRE! The order to put the match to the priming, or pull the trigger of a cannon or other fire-arm so as to discharge it. The act of discharging ordnance.

FISH THE ANCHOR, To. To turn up the flukes of an anchor to the gunwale for stowage, after being catted.—Other fish to fry, a common colloquialism, expressing that a person has other occupation demanding his attention.

FIST, To. To handle a rope or sail promptly; thus fisting a thing is readily getting hold of it.

FIT RIGGING, To. To cut or fit the standing and running rigging to the masts, [301]&c.

FITTING OUT A SHIP. The act of providing a ship with sufficient masts, sails, yards, ammunition, artillery, cordage, anchors, provisions, stores, and men, so that she is in proper condition for the voyage or purpose to which she is appointed.

FLABBERGAST, To. To throw a person aback by a confounding assertion; to produce a state of extreme surprise.

FLANK, To. To defend that part; incorrectly used sometimes for firing upon a flank.

FLARE, To. To rake back, as of a fashion-piece or knuckle-timber.

FLATTEN IN, To. The action of hauling in the aftmost clue of a sail to give it greater power of turning the vessel; thus, if the mizen or after sails are flatted in, it is to carry the stern to leeward, and the head to windward; and if, on the contrary, the head-sails are flatted in, the intention is to make the ship fall off when, by design or accident, she has come so near as to make the sails shiver; hence flatten in forward is the order to haul in the jib and foretop-mast staysail-sheets towards the middle of the ship, and haul forward the fore-bowline; this operation is seldom necessary except when the helm has not sufficient government of the ship, as in variable winds or inattentive steerage.

FLEATE, To. To skim fresh water off the sea, as practised at the mouths of the Rhone, the Nile, &c. The word is derived from the Dutch vlieten, to skim milk; it also means to float.

FLEMISH, To. To coil down a rope concentrically in the direction of the sun, or coil of a watch-spring, beginning in the middle without riders; but if there must be riding fakes, they begin outside, and that is the true French coil.

FLENSE, To. To strip the fat off a flayed seal, or the blubber from a whale.

FLETCH, To. To feather an arrow.

FLICKER, To. To veer about.

FLOP, To. To fall flat down: as “soused flop in the lee-scuppers.”

FORE-REACH, To. To shoot ahead, or go past another vessel, especially when going in stays: to sail faster, reach beyond, to gain upon.

FORGE AHEAD, To. To shoot ahead, as in coming to an anchor—a motion or moving forwards. A vessel forges ahead when hove-to, if the tide presses her to windward against her canvas.

FOUNDER, To. To fill with water and go down.

FRAP, To. To bind tightly together. To pass lines round a sail to keep it from blowing loose. To secure the falls of a tackle together by means of spun yarn, rope yarn, or any lashing wound round them. To snap the finger and thumb; to beat.

FREE, To.—To free a prisoner. To restore him to liberty.—To free a pump. To disengage or clear it.—To free a boat or ship. To clear it of water.

FREEZE, To. To congeal water or any fluid. Thus sea-water freezes at 28° 5′ Fah.; fresh water at 32°; mercury at 39° 5′ below zero. All fluids change their degree of freezing in accordance with mixtures of alcohol or solutions of salt used for the purpose. Also, according to the atmospheric pressure; and by this law heights of mountains are measured by the boiling temperature of water.

FRESHEN, To. To relieve a rope of its strain, or danger of chafing, by shifting or removing its place of nip.

FRESHEN HAWSE, To. To relieve that part of the cable which has for some time been exposed to friction in one of the hawse-holes, when the ship rolls and pitches at anchor in a high sea; this is done by applying fresh service to the cable within board, and then veering it into the hawse. (See Service, Keckling, or Rounding.)

FRESHEN THE NIP, To. To veer a small portion of cable through the hawse-hole, or heave a little in, in order to let another part of it bear the stress and friction. A common term with tipplers, especially after taking the meridian observation.

FRET, To. To chafe.

FUMIGATE, To. To purify confined or infectious air by means of smoke, sulphuric acid, vinegar, and other correctives.

FURL, To. To roll up and bind a sail neatly upon its respective yard or boom.

 

 

G-J

GAIN THE WIND, To. To arrive on the weather-side of some other vessel in sight, when both are plying to windward.

GAMMON, To. To pass the lashings of the bowsprit.

GATHER AFT A SHEET, To. To pull it in, by hauling in slack.

GATHER WAY, To. To begin to feel the impulse of the wind on the sails, so as to obey the helm.

GEE, To. To suit or fit; as, “that will just gee.”

GIP, To. To take the entrails out of fishes.

GIRD, To. To bind; used formerly for striking a blow.

GIVE CHASE, To. To make sail in pursuit of a stranger.

GLENT, To. To turn aside or quit the original direction, as a shot does from accidentally impinging on a hard substance.

GLOWER, To. To stare or look intently.

GO ASHORE, To. To land on leave.

GRABBLE, To. To endeavour to hook a sunk article. To catch fish by hand in a brook.

GRAPPLE, To. To hook with a grapnel; to lay hold of. First used by Duilius to prevent the escape of the Carthaginians.

GRAVE, To. To clean a vessel’s bottom, and pay it over.

GRILL, To. To broil on the bars of the galley-range, as implied by its French derivation.

GROUND, To. To take the bottom or shore; to be run aground through ignorance, violence, or accident.—To strike ground. To obtain soundings.

GUDDLE, To. To catch fish with the hands by groping along a stream’s bank.

GUDGE, To. To poke or prod for fish under stones and banks of a river.

HAIL, To. To hail “from a country,” or claim it as a birthplace. A ship is said to hail from the port where she is registered, and therefore properly belongs to. When hailed at sea it is, “From whence do you come?” and “where bound?”—”Pass within hail,” a special signal to approach and receive orders or intelligence, when boats cannot be lowered or time is precious. One vessel, the senior, lies to; the other passes the stern under the lee.—Hail-fellows, messmates well matched.

HAILING-ALOFT. To call to men in the tops and at the mast-head to “look out,” too often an inconsistent bluster from the deck.

HARASS, To. To torment and fatigue men with needless work.

HAUL, To. An expression peculiar to seamen, implying to pull or bowse at a single rope, without the assistance of blocks or other mechanical powers upon it; as “haul in,” “haul down,” “haul up,” “haul aft,” “haul together.” (See Bowse, Hoist, and Rouse.) A vessel hauls her wind by trimming the yards and sails so as to lie nearer to, or close to the wind, and by the power of the rudder shaping her course accordingly.

HAUL IN, To. To sail close to the wind, in order to approach nearer to an object.

HAUL OFF, To. To sail closer to the wind, in order to get further from any object.

HAZE, To. To punish a man by making him do unnecessary work.

HEAVE, To. To throw anything overboard. To cast, as heaving the log or the lead. Also, to drag, prize, or purchase, as heaving up the anchor.

HEAVE ABOUT, To. To go upon the other tack suddenly.

HEAVE SHORT, To. To heave in on the cable until the vessel is nearly over her anchor, or sufficiently near it for sail being made before the anchor is tripped. Short, is when the fore-stay and cable are in line.

HEAVE THE LEAD. To take soundings with the hand lead-line. “Get a cast of the lead,” with the deep-sea lead

and line.

HEAVE-TO, To. To put a vessel in the position of lying-to, by adjusting her sails so as to counteract each other, and thereby check her way, or keep her perfectly still. In a gale, it implies to set merely enough sail to steady the ship; the aim being to keep the sea on the weather bow whilst the rudder has but little influence, the sail is chiefly set on the main and mizen-mast; as hove-to under a close-reefed main-topsail, or main-trysail, or driver. It is customary in a foul wind gale, and a last resource in a fair one.

HIDE, To. To beat; to rope’s-end or drub. Also, to secrete.

HIE, To. To flow quickly in a tide-way.

HIKE. A brief equivalent to “Be off,” “Go away.” It is generally used in a contemptuous sense; as, he was “hiked off”—that is, dismissed at once, or in a hurry. To swing.[383]

HIKE UP, To. To kidnap; to carry off by force.

HIRE, To. To take vessel or men on service at a stipulated remuneration.

HOIST, or Hoise, To. To raise anything; but the term is specially applied to the operation of swaying up a body by the assistance of tackles. It is also invariably used for the hauling up the sails along the masts or stays, and the displaying of flags and pendants, though by the help of a single block only. (See Sway, Tracing-up, and Whip.)

HOLD A GOOD WIND, To. To have weatherly qualities.

HOLD UP, To. In meteorological parlance, for the weather to clear up after a gale; to stop raining.[386]

HOUSE, To. To enter within board. To house a topgallant-mast, is to lower it so as to prevent the rigging resting or chafing on the cap, and securing its heel to the mast below it. This admits of double-reefed top-sails being set beneath.

HUG, To.—To hug the land, to sail as near it as possible, the land however being to windward.—To hug the wind, to keep the ship as close-hauled to the wind as possible.

HURTLE, To. To send bodily on by a swell or wind.

IMPRESS, To. To compel to serve.

JAB, To. To pierce fish by prodding.

JAG, To. To notch an edge irregularly.—Jagged, a term applied to denticulated edges, as in jagged bolts to prevent their coming out.

JAM, To. Anything being confined, so that it cannot be freed without trouble and force; the term is also applied to the act of confining it. To squeeze, to wedge, to press against. (See Jambing.)

JIRK, To. To cut or score the flesh of the wild hog on the inner surface, as practised by the Maroons. It is then smoked and otherwise prepared in a manner that gives the meat a fine flavour.

JOIN, To. To repair to a ship, and personally to enter on an official position on board her. So also the junction of one or more ships with each other.

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Affect vs. Effect

aardvark - affect vs effectAffect and effect are probably two of the more confusing words in the English language.  Or should I say the use of them is the confusing bit.

A general rule of thumb is that affect is usually used as a verb, and effect is usually used as a noun.  As with other parts of speech, when in doubt try to replace it with a word you know the function of (i.e. clearly a verb, or clearly a noun); if it still makes sense then you know which one to use.

Example:  “The arrow affected the aardvark.”  “The arrow injured the aardvark.”  Injured makes sense here, so you need the verb form.

Effect is a noun, so try to replace it with another noun, e.g. “outcome.”

Example:  “The outcome was eye-popping.”  If you place these substitute words in the other sentences they wouldn’t make sense.

I hope that helps!  If you’re confused, just think of the aardvarks…

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Spoonerisms

A Spoonerism is a deliberate (or accidental) play on words in which the corresponding consonants of two words, vowels, or morphemes are switched between two words in a sentence to create two new words.  For instance, “talking back” becomes “balking tack.”  The name comes from an Oxford minister, Rev. William A. Spooner, who was notorious for making these mistakes.  He must have been an entertaining minister to listen to!  The poor fellow didn’t appreciate the honour of using his name for such mistakes; he had enough on his plate with being Albino with poor eyesight, but he was well-liked, and the dubious honour accorded him was kindly meant.

spoonerism 3Here are a few examples (the interchangeable letters are capitalized):

The Weight of Rages will press hard upon the employer. (Rev. Spooner)

a Tip of the Slung

Dear old Queen / Queer old Dean

Runny Babbit

is the Bean Dizzy?

Fight in your Race

a Pack of Lies

Pest in DRink

the Might is in my Lies

Belly Jeans

BRimulate your Stain

as the FLow CRies

SMart Feller

I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.

SHake a Tower

well-boiled icicle, well-oiled bicycle

the Pea little THrigs

Roaring with Pain

Ragged Jocks

the Loose that Gaid the olden Geggs

the Mog in the Danger

the Pag at the STool

Beeping SLeauty

… and the Gist Loes on!

 

All I can say is, Roonerisms SPock!

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Paraprosdokians. Parawhat?

Paraprosdokian is not a word I would readily remember.  I can even admit freely I’d never heard of it until recently.  Maybe I’m just weird, but I can remember a word much better if I know where it came from; this one actually makes sense: (Greek) para– meaning “against”, and prosdokaō meaning “I expect.”  Against expectations.  It’s not actually that old, and is thought of by some linguists as a bogus term; but there are a lot of words that have crept into the English language on just such a pretext, and have hung around for centuries (thereby gaining loyalty from linguists).  I’d say that sounds like a bit of cosmic humour.

A Paraprosdokian is a phrase or sentence that ends with an unexpected twist.  Now it may be as common as rain where you live, but not here.  I tend to think of these sentences as one-liners, and with good reason – this figure of speech is popular with comedians as it’s short and ends on a punch.  Some Paraprosdokians use a familiar phrase and twist the ending such as the first sentence (“Where there’s a will, there’s a way”).  So I say, call them what you will – just use them well!

Crabby Road

Where there’s a will, I want to be in it.

I sleep eight hours a day and at least ten at night. (Bill Hicks)

The last thing I want to do is hurt you, but it’s still on my list.

Since light travels faster than sound, some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing – after they have tried everything else. (Winston Churchill)

If I agreed with you, we’d both be wrong.

I don’t belong to an organized political party. I’m a Democrat. (Will Rogers)

We never really grow up, we only learn how to act in public.

War does not determine who is right – only who is left.

This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly.  It should be thrown with great force.

Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

They begin the evening news with Good Evening, then proceed to tell you why it isn’t.

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother. (Variations on this phrase are attested as early as 1884.)

There’s a fine line between cuddling and holding someone down so they can’t get away.

To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.

If I am reading this graph correctly… I’d be very surprised. (Stephen Colbert)

I haven’t slept for ten days, because that would be too long. (Mitch Hedberg)

Money can’t buy happiness, but it sure makes misery easier to live with.

Buses stop in bus stations. Trains stop in train stations. On my desk is a work station.

I thought I wanted a career. Turns out I just wanted paychecks.

In filling out an application, where it says, ‘In case of emergency, notify, I put DOCTOR.

I like going to the park and watching the children run around because they don’t know I’m using blanks. (Emo Philips)

I didn’t say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you.

Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street with a bald head and a beer gut, and still think they are sexy.

Behind every successful man is his woman. Behind the fall of a successful man is usually another woman.

A clear conscience is the sign of a fuzzy memory.

You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.

I used to be indecisive. Now I’m not so sure.

He was at his best when the going was good. (Alistair Cooke on the Duke of Windsor)

You’re never too old to learn something stupid.

To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit, the target.

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.

I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it. (Groucho Marx)

A modest man, who has much to be modest about. (Winston Churchill, about Clement Attlee)

If I could just say a few words… I’d be a better public speaker.

She was good as cooks go, and as cooks go she went.

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Stop Apostrophe Abuse

Okay, grammar pet peeve time:  Apostrophe abuse.  It needs to stop.  Now.apostrophe Puppy

There are only two instances in the English language in which apostrophes are used:

1) Contractions, as in:  you are = you’re, or have not = haven’t, or I am = I’m.  Just keep in mind that the apostrophe takes the place of the missing letter(s); if you take a letter out to combine (contract) two words together, place the apostrophe where the missing letter would have been written.

2) Possessives, as in:  Steve’s hat (the hat belongs to Steve), or today’s specials (specials on for today)

Apostrophe Tombstone

Alway’s there for us. Who is Alway?

Never, I repeat NEVER should an apostrophe be used to indicate a plural!!  Never, EVER.  If you see it used as a plural, it’s wrong – even if it’s on a tombstone (see the image below). Apostrophe Tombstone 2

In the illustration on the right, “Alway’s there for us,” it obviously means “Alway is there for us.”  But who is Alway?  I thought Mary was trying to rest in peace here…  It’s just wrong on so many levels, because it’s not even a plural (which they were aiming for), but an adverb.

Let’s (as in “let us”) look at another very common mistake:  1) it vs. 2) it’s vs. 3) its:

1) “It” is fairly straightforward; it is the third person singular pronoun (used in place of a noun) for objects or gender-neutral references; e.g. The chair is red = It is red.

2) “It’s” is the contracted form of “it is”, as in It’s raining or “it has”, as in It’s been a long time since we saw each other last.

3) “Its” is the possessive form of the third person singular pronoun:  “the dog’s paws” = “its paws”  REMEMBER:  You would never spell “his shirt” as “hi’s shirt”, or “her skirt” as “he’r skirt”; in the same way you should never use the contracted form as the possessive form of it.

It’s not “CD’s” or “DVD’s” as the plural form; this is actually the possessive (which therefore requires an object for that subject’s possessive form, as in the CD’s case), and I find myself asking, “CD’s what?”

If you want more examples, from tombstones to shop signs to tattoos that are embarrassingly wrong, take a look at  www.apostropheabuse.com.  Okay, pet peeve appeased.  Glad to get that off my chest.

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That Low-Down Word

That Word CloudI run a forum on a British writers’ website for grammatical problems, and answer questions that come up in the course of their writing projects.  This week the question came up about that little word, “that” – when to use it and when to lose it.  When do you use that?  When do you use a comma instead?  And when is neither one necessary?  Ah, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice proper grammar.  Hey, just kidding – it’s not that complicated!  Sometimes it doesn’t matter, and sometimes it can be confusing without it.  So, here’s the low-down:

1) Remember Rhythm:  How does your sentence flow?  Read your sentence aloud; does it have a better rhythm with or without that?  When in doubt and rhythm / comprehension is fine with or without, use it – inclusion may benefit the understanding of the sentence as a whole, and omission may cause misunderstandings.  Sometimes using that is a matter of personal taste.  Here’s a sentence that could be understood with or without:  “Fiona thinks (that) Alistair works too hard.

If you’ve already got a that in the sentence elsewhere, consider how your sentence can be reworded to avoid an overload. A double that is usually unnecessary.  In the sentence, “I realised that that would not be a good idea” the first that (acting as a conjunction, whereas the second acts as a pronoun) could be eliminated, aiding the flow but not impeding the comprehension.  Sometimes that is required in one part of a sentence, and when a second that comes up a choice needs to be made:  Take this sentence, from an AP report:  “Ford Motor Co. warned that it no longer expects to return to profitability by next year and that it is trimming North American production of pickups and SUVs for the rest of this year because of high gas prices and a shaky economy.”  The second instance could be eliminated thus:  “…next year; it is trimming…”

2) Comprehension:  Sometimes a sentence can be unintentionally misleading, and using that can help clarify.  For example,  “Fiona maintains Alistair works too hard.”  Does Fiona maintain Alistair and he works too hard? If you insert a that after maintains, it becomes clear that maintains refers to an opinion, and not maintenance of Alistair.

Sometimes in our writing, however, we want to intentionally lead the reader or a character down the garden path toward the wrong conclusion.  It’s a fine art, and understanding how another person interprets what you’ve written or could interpret it goes a long way toward walking that fine line between misdirection and deception; the first will leave a “gotcha” smile, and the latter might leave your next book unread….  As a plot element, it has its uses; but as a badly written sentence, it only results in confusing and frustrating the reader, who has to find the beginning of the sentence and read it again to understand it properly.

3) Commas:  Commas can sometimes replace the word that.  In this example, “Peter Coveney writes that ‘[t]he purpose and strength of . . .’” it would never be “Peter Coveney writes that,” or “Peter Coveney writes, that…” though it could be, “Peter Coveney writes, “…”

I hope that helps some of you dealing with similar issues in writing!

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Thoughts on Writing from a Reader’s Perspective

Card - InsomniaFor me, reading a book is about escaping to a new world, diving into that world through the medium of the senses that are stimulated by well-chosen words, precision instruments that play a symphony of emotions, smells, sights, sounds, touches, tastes, balance and harmony.  I’ve never really appreciated books that are written with gratuitous scenes of violence or sex; sometimes it seems to me (as a reader) that writers throw in scenes willy-nilly to spice things up or to patch over the fact that they haven’t researched and developed their characters thoroughly, or because they run out of plot ideas and just spin their wheels.  Such scenes grate against my senses just as much as random punctuation or bad spelling does.  If such elements are not organic, logical, and a natural development of the plot, they do not belong there.  Period.  It’s an insult to my intelligence and a brazen demand on my “believability credits” that is frankly not the author’s to demand… those credits are something that I as a reader give gladly to a good writer, but a writer has to earn them, and has no right to demand that I suspend disbelief to dive into their story when they haven’t bothered to make it believable.  The writer’s job is to earn those credits through good writing, good writing, and good writing, i.e. plot, character development, grammar, syntax, orthography, and structure.

Don’t misunderstand me:  There are times when the darker scenes are organic; they are necessary to portray the character, or are a natural outflow of the character’s flaws or decision process, or lack of positive input earlier on in life.  Sexual scenes can be sexy without being vulgar, sensual without being slutty.  Sometimes I read books that deal with such issues, but more as a writer than a reader, to see how they are structured.  I read part of a book recently (I gave up quite early, which not a good sign for the writer) where the author had seemingly tried to cram as many vulgar terms as they could into one chapter, or one page, or one dialogue.  It got so ridiculous that I started reading as an editor, slicing out entire passages to improve the script.  As far as I’m concerned, there’s not really a point in publishing something that will likely offend half your demographic sector away from buying a second book.

Give me something to read that’s intelligent, entertaining, witty, smart, deep, and that I can come away from the experience wanting more – not just another book with those characters, but that I come away having learned something about myself or the world around me, having been positively changed, encouraged, enlightened or satisfied.

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Coherency: Just sayin’…

gibberish-cartoonIs it just my imagination, or is written English slipping in quality, even among writers?  Is it that less attention is paid to the end results than to the actual “getting it out there to be read by others”?  I just returned to my blog after taking a jaunt around WordPress Land; the blogs I visited, I went to with good will, interested to see what others are thinking and writing about.  But I have to admit I couldn’t understand half of what was written.  Half.  Now, I’m an English teacher and writer and all that, and yes, I’ve been living in a non-English speaking environment for a quarter of a century.  But has it really deteriorated to the point of not only miscommunication, but of downright gibberish at times?  I’m not looking down my nose at those who are trying to communicate (something); I am simply throwing out this question into the cosmos and asking if I’m the only one who’s noticed this?

Where is the satisfaction of a job well done in a sentence that looks like it was fed through BabbleFish a few dozen times?  Where is the pride in having written something well, communicated the heart of the matter, and allowed others a glimpse into the mind of the writer without confusing them with poor spelling, syntax and punctuation?  I find myself editing more than reading sometimes, and that does not bode well for the writer.  As a writer I take my job seriously, in all its aspects, from research, to presentation.  If we as writers don’t set a good example to follow, how will the next generation know right from wrong, or rite from wong?

A few simple rules I follow:

1) Read your text aloud before you hit that “post” button.

2) Have a good dictionary available (such as onelook.com), and check those words you’re unsure of.

3) Do NOT trust a spell-checker!  Learn the basic rules of spelling, punctuation and syntax, and if you’re still not sure, double-check online with reliable sources.

Let’s swim against the tide of laziness and stagnation in writing; let’s expand our vocabulary instead of relying on the same ol’ same ol’; let’s set an example of good writing, even though it may not be perfect every time.

 

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Animal Idioms

Raining cats and dogs, 1817 caricatureI love idioms; they bring abstract concepts to life with vivid imagery, and range from the practical to the hilarious.  If I said someone was clumsy, that’s all clear and well enough; but if I said they were as clumsy as a cow on rollerskates?  I think you know where that one’s going…  Here are a just few of my favourite animal idioms:

“to be as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs” – very nervous

“to bark up the wrong tree” – to be mistaken in one’s goals or focus

“to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed” – to be eager, lively (especially at unexpected times, e.g. morning)

“to have ants in the pants” – to be jittery, excited, animated, hyper

“to cry wolf” – to rouse others to action when it is not necessary

“to be raining cats and dogs” – to be raining hard

“in two shakes of a lamb’s tail” – very quickly

“to look a gift horse in the mouth” – to scrutinize or criticize a gift or an offer to help, etc.

“to look like something the cat dragged in” – to be very ill, to look ill

“not enough room to swing a cat” – a tight space, a small room

“to buy a pig in a poke” – to buy something without having seen its quality first (German:  “die Katze im Sack kaufen”, or “to buy a cat in a sack”)

“to cast pearls before swines” – to waste one’s efforts or investments on worthless schemes or people

“to fight like cats and dogs” – to fight with someone (regularly, or vehemently)

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Punning In Ten Did

visual punI don’t know who originally collected this list together, but have a good laugh, and a good week!
1. Two antennas met on a roof, fell in love and got married. The ceremony wasn’t much, but the reception was excellent.
2. A jumper cable walks into a bar. The bartender says, “I’ll serve you, but don’t start anything.”
3. Two peanuts walk into a bar, and one was a salted.
4. A dyslexic man walked into a bra.
5. A man walks into a bar with a slab of asphalt under his arm, and says: “A beer please, and one for the road.”
6. Two cannibals are eating a clown. One says to the other: “Does this taste funny to you?”
7. “Doc, I can’t stop singing The Green, Green Grass of Home.”
“That sounds like Tom Jones Syndrome.”
“Is it common?”
“Well, It’s Not Unusual.”
8. Two cows are standing next to each other in a field. Daisy says to Dolly, “I was artificially inseminated this morning.”
“I don’t believe you,” says Dolly.
“It’s true; no bull!” exclaims Daisy.
9. An invisible man marries an invisible woman. The kids were nothing to look at either.
10. Deja Moo: The feeling that you’ve heard this bull before.
11. I went to buy some camouflage trousers the other day, but I couldn’t find any.
12. A man woke up in a hospital after a serious accident. He shouted, “Doctor, doctor, I can’t feel my legs!” The doctor replied, “I know, I amputated your arms!”
13. I went to a seafood disco last week…And pulled a mussel.
14. What do you call a fish with no eyes? A fsh.
15. Two fish swim into a concrete wall. The one turns to the other and says, “Dam!”
16. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Not surprisingly it sank, proving once again that you can’t have your kayak and heat it too.
17. A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel, and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories.
After about an hour, the manager came out of the office, and asked them to disperse.
“But why,” they asked, as they moved off.
“Because,” he said. “I can’t stand chess-nuts boasting in an open foyer.”
18. A woman has twins, and gives them up for adoption. One of them goes to a family in Egypt , and is named ‘Ahmal.’ The other goes to a family in Spain ; they name him ‘Juan.’ Years later, Juan sends a picture of himself to his birth mother. Upon receiving the picture, she tells her husband that she wishes she also had a picture of Ahmal. Her husband responds, “They’re twins! If you’ve seen Juan, you’ve seen Ahmal.
19. Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little, which made him rather frail and with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath. This made him (oh, man, this is so bad, it’s good)…A super-calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.
20. A dwarf, who was a mystic, escaped from jail. The call went out that there was a small medium at large.
21. And finally, there was the person who sent twenty different puns to his friends, with the hope that at least ten of the puns would make them laugh. No pun in ten did.

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