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    (5/26/01 2:10:08 pm)
    United States Navy ..... Origins of Navy Terminology

    Every profession has its own jargon and the Navy is no exception. For the
    Navy, it's bulkhead, deck and overhead and not wall, floor, and ceiling. Some
    nautical terminology has found its way into every day use, and you will find
    the origins of this and Navy terminology below. More terminology will be
    added from time to time.

    Ahoy! • Between the Devil and the Deep • Chewing the Fat • Crow's Nest •
    Cup of Joe • Devil to Pay
    Eight Bells • Fathom • Forecastle • Galley • Gun Salutes • Head • He Knows
    the Ropes • Holystone
    Log Book • Mayday • Pea Coat • Port Holes • Scuttlebutt • S.O.S. • Splice
    the Mainbrace • Starboard
    Taken Aback • Three-Mile Limit • Took the Wind Out of His Sails • Watches

    This old traditional greeting for hailing other vessels was originally a
    Viking battle cry.


    Between the Devil and the Deep
    In wooden ships, the "devil" was the longest seam of the ship. It ran from
    the bow to the stern. When at sea and the "devil" had to be caulked, the
    sailor sat in a bo'sun's chair to do so. He was suspended between the "devil"
    and the sea — the "deep" — a very precarious position, especially when the
    ship was underway.


    Chewing the Fat
    "God made the vittles but the devil made the cook," was a popular saying used
    by seafaring men in the 19th century when salted beef was staple diet aboard

    This tough cured beef, suitable only for long voyages when nothing else was
    cheap or would keep as well (remember, there was no refrigeration), required
    prolonged chewing to make it edible. Men often chewed one chunk for hours,
    just as it were chewing gum and referred to this practice as "chewing the


    Crow's Nest
    The raven, or crow, was an essential part of the Vikings' navigation
    equipment. These land-lubbing birds were carried on aboard to help the ship's
    navigator determine where the closest land lay when weather prevented
    sighting the shore. In cases of poor visibility, a crow was released and the
    navigator plotted a course corresponding to the bird's flight path because
    the crow invariably headed towards land.

    The Norsemen carried the birds in a cage secured to the top of the mast.
    Later on, as ships grew and the lookout stood his watch in a tub located high
    on the main mast, the name "crow's nest" was given to this tub. While today's
    Navy still uses lookouts in addition to radars, etc., the crow's nest is a
    thing of the past.


    Cup of Joe
    Josephus Daniels [18 May 1862-15 January 1948] was appointed Secretary of the
    Navy by President Woodrow Wilson in 1913. Among his reforms of the Navy were
    inaugurating the practice of making 100 Sailors from the Fleet eligible for
    entrance into the Naval Academy, the introduction of women into the service,
    and the abolishment of the officers' wine mess. From that time on, the
    strongest drink aboard Navy ships could only be coffee and over the years, a
    cup of coffee became known as "a cup of Joe".


    Devil to Pay

    Today the expression "devil to pay" is used primarily to describe having an
    unpleasant result from some action that has been taken, as in someone has
    done something they shouldn't have and, as a result, "there will be the devil
    to pay." Originally, this expression described one of the unpleasant tasks
    aboard a wooden ship.

    The "devil" was the wooden ship's longest seam in the hull. Caulking was done
    with "pay" or pitch (a kind of tar). The task of "paying the devil" (caulking
    the longest seam) by squatting in the bilges was despised by every seaman.

    Eight Bells
    Aboard Navy ships, bells are struck to designate the hours of being on watch.
    Each watch is four hours in length. One bell is struck after the first
    half-hour has passed, two bells after one hour has passed, three bells after
    an hour and a half, four bells after two hours, and so forth up to eight
    bells are struck at the completion of the four hours. Completing a watch with
    no incidents to report was "Eight bells and all is well."
    The practice of using bells stems from the days of the sailing ships. Sailors
    couldn't afford to have their own time pieces and relied on the ship's bells
    to tell time. The ship's boy kept time by using a half-hour glass. Each time
    the sand ran out, he would turn the glass over and ring the appropriate
    number of bells.


    Fathom was originally a land measuring term derived from the Ango-Saxon word
    "faetm" meaning to embrace. In those days, most measurements were based on
    average size of parts of the body, such as the hand (horses are still
    measured this way) or the foot (that's why 12 inches are so named). A fathom
    is the average distance from fingertip to fingertip of the outstretched arms
    of a man — about six feet. Since a man stretches out his arms to embrace his
    sweetheart, Britain's Parliament declared that distance be called a "fathom"
    and it be a unit of measure. A fathom remains six feet. The word was also
    used to describe taking the measure or "to fathom" something. Today, of
    course, when one is trying to figure something out, they are trying to
    "fathom" it.


    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.


    The galley is the kitchen of the ship. The best explanation as to its origin
    is that it is a corruption of "gallery". Ancient sailors cooked their meals
    on a brick or stone gallery laid amidships.


    Gun Salutes
    Gun salutes were first fired as an act of good faith. In the days when it
    took so long to reload a gun, it was a proof of friendly intention when the
    ship's cannon were discharged upon entering port.

    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.


    He Knows the Ropes
    In the very early days, this phrase was written on a seaman's discharge to
    indicate that he was still a novice. All he knew about being a sailor was
    just the names and uses of the principal ropes (lines). Today, this same
    phrase means the opposite — that the person fully knows and understands the
    operation (usually of the organization).


    The last Navy ships with teak decks were the battleships, now since
    decommissioned. Teak, and other wooden decks, were scrubbed with a piece of
    sandstone, nicknamed at one time by an anonymous witty sailor as the
    "holystone." It was so named because since its use always brought a man to
    his knees, it must be holy!

    Log Book
    In the early days of sailing ships, the ship's records were written on
    shingles cut from logs. These shingles were hinged and opened like a book.
    The record was called the "log book." Later on, when paper was readily
    available and bound into books, the record maintained it name.

    "Mayday" is the internationally recognized voice radio signal for ships and
    people in serious trouble at sea. Made official in 1948, it is an anglicizing
    of the French m'aidez, "help me".


    Pea Coat
    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.


    Port holes
    The word "port hole" originated during the reign of Henry VI of England
    (1485). King Henry insisted on mounting guns too large for his ship and the
    traditional methods of securing these weapons on the forecastle and aftcastle
    could not be used.
    A French shipbuilder named James Baker was commissioned to solve the problem.
    He put small doors in the side of the ship and mounted the cannon inside the
    ship. These doors protected the cannon from weather and were opened when the
    cannon were to be used. The French word for "door" is "porte" which was later
    Anglicized to "port" and later went on to mean any opening in the ship's
    side, whether for cannon or not.

    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".



    Contrary to popular notion, the letters S.O.S. do not stand for "Save Our
    Ship" or "Save Our Souls". They were selected to indicate a distress because,
    in Morse code, these letters and their combination create an unmistakable
    sound pattern.


    Splice the Main Brace
    A sailing ship's rigging was a favorite target during sea battles since by
    destroying the opponent's ability to maneuver or get away would put you at
    obvious advantage. Therefore, the first thing tended to after a battle was to
    repair broken gear, and repair sheets (sails) and braces (lines – improperly,
    ropes – passing through blocks and holding up sails). It was the custom,
    after the main braces were properly spliced, to serve grog to the entire
    crew. Thus, today, after a hard day (or, not so hard day), the phrase has
    become an invitation to have a drink.


    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.


    Taken Aback
    One of the hazards faced in days of sailing ships has been incorporated into
    English to describe someone who has been jolted by unpleasant news. We say
    that person has been "taken aback." The person is at a momentary loss; unable
    to act or even to speak. A danger faced by sailing ships was for a sudden
    shift in wind to come up (from a sudden squall), blowing the sails back
    against the masts, putting the ship in grave danger of having the masts break
    off and rendering the ship totally helpless. The ship was taken aback.


    Three Mile Limit
    The original three-mile limit was the recognized distance from a nation's
    shore over which that nation had jurisdiction. This border of international
    waters or the "high seas" was established because, at the time this
    international law was established, three miles was the longest range of any
    nation's most powerful guns, and therefore, the limit from shore batteries at
    which they could enforce their laws. (International law and the 1988
    Territorial Sea Proclamation established the "high seas" border at the
    12-mile limit.)

    Took the wind out of his sails
    Often we use "took the wind out of his sails" to describe getting the best of
    an opponent in an argument. Originally it described a battle maneuver of
    sailing ships. One ship would pass close to its adversary and on its windward
    side. The ship and sails would block the wind from the second vessel, causing
    it to lose headway. Losing motion meant losing maneuverability and the
    ability to carry on a fight.


    Traditionally, a 24-hour day is divided into seven watches. These are:
    midnight to 4 a.m. {0000-0400} , the mid-watch; 4 to 8 a.m. {0400-0800} ,
    morning watch; 8 a.m. to noon {0800-1200} , forenoon watch; noon to 4 p.m.
    {1200-1600} , afternoon watch; 4 to 6 p.m. {1600-1800} first dog watch; 6 to 8
    p.m. {1800-2000} , second dog watch; and, 8 p.m. to midnight {2000-2400} ,
    evening watch. The half hours of the watch are marked by the striking the
    bell an appropriate number of times.

    Edited by: Indybear57 at: 5/26/01 6:00:53 pm

    Posts: 181
    (5/26/01 8:20:34 pm)
    Here's a good source for the Origins of Navy Terminology.

    Stan Lambert
    St. Clair Shores, Michigan

    Posts: 663
    (5/27/01 10:26:31 am)
    Great stuff Chief! As I had stated once before...I always thought the Navy had maintained a purposeful need to tie their history to the modern.They have all the great sayings and descriptve type wording in their jargon.

    For us land lubbers it is a scratch-your-head and wonder when around a couple of mariners.Hehe!

    Not only jargon but Rank and clothing also ie; 13 buttons,pea coats and I'm willing to bet ...bell bottoms.

    My wife has always felt that the Naval Officer's Dress Whites were the finest of all uniforms.I have to admit...they do look sharp.

    Good post,and I'll check out the site Stan.
    ...and two hard boiled eggs.

    V.I.P. Member
    Posts: 55
    (5/29/01 3:45:07 pm)
    The only one I knew was "Brass Monkey"

    OK guys ..... what is it???????


    Posts: 333
    (5/29/01 5:19:43 pm)
    | Del
    Mith-as in "Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey"? If so, the here's the story I got. Back in the days of cannon the artillery men would stack their cannon balls in pyramids that they called "Brass Monkeys". (Don't know why.) When it got cold in the winter the iron in the cannon balls would contract and, if it was cold enough, crack. Of course when the cannon ball cracked it fell off the stack, hence the term.

    Posts: 192
    (5/30/01 8:22:59 am)
    Another explanation:

    Cold Enough to Freeze The Balls Off A Brass Monkey – This term has nothing to do with testicles or primates, and a good deal of debate remains to this day regarding the origin of the phrase. In the days of smoothbore cannon, particularly ashore, ready-use cannon balls were stored near the guns. The balls were stacked in a ‘monkey,’ a metal frame which was laid on the deck to help contain the bottom layer of cannon balls. Monkeys were typically made of brass. In extremely cold temperatures, the brass monkey shrank more than the iron cannon balls, and the stack of balls would collapse. The root of the debate is whether such an event is possible at all, though the phrase appears to be more a traditional exaggeration than an engineering possibility.

    Taken from

    Stan Lambert
    St. Clair Shores, Michigan

    V.I.P. Member
    Posts: 57
    (5/30/01 10:10:50 am)

    pretty much right on guys.....

    A "Brass Monkey" was the "Plate" that the balls rested on had indentations in it for the lower row or base of the stack....

    it was brass..... so that the lead balls would not corrode as they did when stacked on steel or iron ..(remember the term "Rusty Scupper"??)

    and you are right... when it got too cold the slight indentations would contract (or flatten out) and the balls would roll on the deck....

    I had one in my room while growing up from a civil war mortor barge...... a decendent was a gunner on the barge and it stayed in the family for many years.....

    now... we understand the first part of the title as "Brass" as it really was.... but why did they call it a "Monkey"????


    Posts: 743
    (6/1/01 5:36:15 pm)
    CRACK! Flatten out! Collapse!

    Homer quickly dons 2 Sports straps, 4 heavy cotton tighties and another 4 pair of wool boxers from Sunny's Surplus...before slipping on his Dungarees and Buffalo plaid shirt,the Nike sweats and the Swiss Military snow suit.

    "There!,feel much better now", and waddles to the door.
    ...and two hard boiled eggs.