Boating Terms and Trivia To Impress Your Friends

Ahoy, mateys! This be a fair and true listing of a few words and a little trivia as to the origin  having to do with ships and sailing.  These terms come mainly from the great age of sailing ships, the 16th to 18th centuries, and almost all hail from  great seafaring peoples of the day, those being English, Norse, Dutch and German.


Bow                           "forward part of a ship," beginning where the sides trend inward, mid-14 century, from a source such as Old Norse bogr, Middle Low German boog, Middle Dutch boech "bow of a ship," from Proto-Germanic *bugon-, from PIE root *bheug- "to bend," with derivatives referring to bent, pliable, or curved objects.

Stern                            "Hind part of a ship; steering gear of a ship," probably from a Scandinavian source, such as old Old Norse stjorn "a steering," related to or derived from styra "to guide".  Or the word may come from Old Frisian stiarne "rudder," which also is related to the word steer.  Stern-wheeler as a type of steam-boat is from 1855. 

Port                         "the left side of a ship" (looking forward from the stern),  1540s, probably from the notion of "the side facing the harbor" (when a ship is docked); thus from port.  On old-style vessels the steering oar was on the right side, thus they would tie up at a wharf on the other side. It replaced larboard in common usage to avoid confusion with starboard; officially so by Admiralty order of 1844 and U.S. Navy Department notice of 1846. As an adjective by 1857.

Old English steorbord, literally "steer-board, side on which a vessel was steered," from steor "rudder, steering paddle," from Proto-Germanic *steuro "a steering" (compare German Steuer), from PIE *steu-, secondary form of root *sta- "to stand, make or be firm," + bord "ship's side".  Similar formation in Old Norse stjornborði, Low German stürbord, Dutch stuurboord, German Steuerbord.

Early Germanic peoples' boats were propelled and steered by a paddle on the right side. The opposite side of the ship sometimes in Germanic was the "back-board" (Old English bæcbord). French tribord (Old French estribord), Italian stribordo "starboard" are Germanic loan-words.

"instrument by which a ship is steered," from Old English helma "rudder; position of guidance, control," from Proto-Germanic *helmaz (source also of Old Norse hjalm, Old High German helmo, German Helm "handle"), from PIE *kelp- "to hold, grasp".

Rudder                   The part of the helm which consists of a broad piece of timber, that enters the water, and is governed by means of the wheel or tiller.

Tiller                        T
he bar or lever by means of which the rudder of a ship or boat is turned.

"uppermost edge of a ship's side," mid-15c., gonne walle, from gun (n.) + wale "plank" Originally a platform on the deck of a ship to support the mounted guns.

Freeboard            Distance between waterline and main deck of a ship.

Galley                   The word has made its way into most Western European languages. Originally "low, flat-built seagoing vessel of one deck," once a common type in the Mediterranean. Meaning "cooking range or cooking room on a ship" dates from 1750. 

Poop Deck            Enclosed structure at stern of ship above main deck, ( yes it is used what you think) The term Head  is nautical for toilet.  in the days of sail.  A plank was placed near the bow or prow of the ship.  The plank over hung the ship edge over the water. that is where ships crew relieve themselves.   The Officers were able to use an enclosed area on the poop deck. 

Mizzen Mast      Aftermost fore-and-aft sail of a three-masted ship," early 15 century., mesan, via French misaine "foresail, foremast," altered (by influence of Italian mezzana "mizzen") from Old French migenne, from Catalan mitjana, from Latin medianus "of the middle" (from the root *medhyo- "middle").

The sense of the English and Italian words agree, but the etymology is off because the "middle" mast on a ship is the mainmast. Perhaps it refers to a sail of "middle" size, or the thing described changed. Klein suggests an alternate etymology of the French word, from Arabic via Italian. The mizzen-mast supports the mizzen-sail.     

Anchor                "Device for securing ships to the ground under the water by means of cables," Old English ancor, borrowedmfrom Latin ancora "an anchor," from or cognate with Greek ankyra "an anchor, a hook," from  root *ang-/*ank- "to bend" .

A very early borrowing into English and said to be the only Latin nautical term used in the Germanic languages (German Anker, Swedish ankar, etc.). The unetymological -ch- emerged late 16 century., a pedantic imitation of a corrupt spelling of the Latin word. The figurative sense of "that which gives stability or security" 

 Sail                        Old English segilan "travel on water in a ship; equip with a sail," from the same Germanic source as sail; cognate with Old Norse sigla, Middle Dutch seghelen, Dutch zeilen, Middle Low German segelen, German segeln. Meaning "to set out on a sea voyage, leave port" .

Boat                        "small open vessel (smaller than a ship) used to cross waters, propelled by oars, a sail, or (later) an engine," Old English bat, from Proto-Germanic *bait- (source also of Old Norse batr, Dutch boot, German Boot), possibly from PIE root *bheid- "to split," if the notion is of making a boat by hollowing out a tree trunk or from split planking. Or it may be an extension of the name for some part of a ship.

Old English scip "ship, boat," from Proto-Germanic *skipa- (source also of Old Norse, Old Saxon, Old Frisian, Gothic skip, Danish skib, Swedish skepp, Middle Dutch scip, Dutch schip, Old High German skif, German Schiff), "Germanic noun of obscure origin" [Watkins]. Others suggest perhaps originally "tree cut out or hollowed out," and derive it from the root *skei- "to cut, split".

Now a vessel of considerable size, adapted to navigation; the Old English word was used for small craft as well, and definitions changed over time; in 19 century., distinct from a boat in having a bowsprit and three masts, each with a lower, top, and topgallant mast. French esquif, Italian schifo are Germanic loan-words.

Scuttlebutt          Old English "cask of drinking water kept on a ship's deck, having a hole (scuttle) cut in it for a cup or dipper," from scuttle "opening in a ship's deck"  scuttle + butt "barrel." Earlier scuttle cask (1777). Meaning "rumor, gossip" first recorded 1901, originally nautical slang, traditionally said to be from the sailors' custom of gathering around the scuttlebutt to gossip. Compare water-cooler, figurative for "workplace gossip" mid-20 century.

Wheelhouse           The term wheelhouse was first used in the mid-1800s to describe the area of a steamboat that enclosed its steering wheel. You can use the word to describe the part of any boat where the captain steers, though it's more common these days to call an actual wheelhouse a bridge or pilothouse.

  These are just a few terms and trivia to impress your friends . Your the Captain now!


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