So, I was very very close to writing a sequel for my story Golden Fury at sea. But, alas, I've changed my mind... Anyhow, I spent ages compiling these terms, which now I probably won't use. I cannot express how many hours I spent typing them all out...
Hopefully they will be of use to someone else, so use at your pleasure! There are of course, like Thieves Cant (a quick guide), many more terms than this. I just collected the terms I liked most. A lot of the words have been adapted into modern speech, so it's interesting to see where some of our words were used. Enjoy!
The majority of these, I sourced from 'Breverton's nautical curiosities.' by Terry Breverton. It's a great read, and quite funny too! Cover on the side!
Drop a comment if you know any of your own, I'll add them on!
Above Board –pirates his ‘below board’ if sneaking up on merchants because pirates ships have 12 times normal crew. Legal cargo was placed on deck. Anything illegal below
Ahoy – Hoa!
Aloof, keep Aloof – On a lee shore, order keep aloof meant to keep the ships head nearer to the wind to prevent vessel from crashing.
Anchor, to bring one’s arse to an – to sit down
Ant’s bollock on a beach – slang for something hard to locate
At loose ends – little to be done, ends of rigging became unravelled easily forming ‘loose ends’. They had to be tightly bound to stop unravelling, so when there was little to do the captain would order the crew to repair them
Beam ends – Nearly on one’s beam end – means the ship is keeling over and about to sink. To be without job or prospects. Hopeless position
Bear up – expression to mean bear the tiller up windward to keep vessel head away from wind. In common use with ‘keep spirits up’
Berth, give a wide berth – the station which a ship rides at anchor, either singly or as part of a fleet, is called the berth. To give a wide berth is to keep well clear of another ship
Bilge water – because bilge water was so offensive, giving off noxious fumes and full of all sorts of unpleasant waste to say that ‘someone was talking bilge water’ meant spouting rubbish.
Bite the bullet – giving to bite during flogging. Those that sang out were dubbed nightingale
(Reach the) bitter end, at the end of ones rope, in deep water – refer to the anchor cable that remains within the ship when at anchor. Anchor rope, now called a line, on old sailing ships was secured with an oak post called bitt’ which was fastened by ‘partners’ to the deck. Securing turns are held around the bitt, as the anchor was paid out to sea. The ‘bitter end’ was the last part of the rope or cable nearest the bitt. Therefore to ‘reach the bitter end’ means its all being paid out and nothing else to release. It was hard work paying out anchor, you were also physically ‘at the end of your rope’ when you reached the bitter end. If you came to the end of rope without securing anchor in the sea bed you were in ‘deep water’ because there was no solution and the anchor was in danger of being lost.