Cutlass

Hello,

This week’s word is cutlass – a nautical knife I researched and added to “Words The Sea Gave Us” this week in my 2018 NaNoWriMo adventure. I’ve made it to 38,000 words so far, in large part thanks to a writing weekend with a friend in Carlingford. While we were there I spotted this lovely sailing skip (a ketch, I think) across the harbour as inspiration.

The cutlass was a short, heavy sword (or large knife) with a slightly curved blade (but not so much as a scimitar) with one cutting edge. It was used more for cutting than for for thrusting. Despite starting with the same letters the word cutlass is unrelated to cut.

Cutlass came into English in the late 1500s from an original Latin root of cultellus (a small knife), the smaller form of culter (knife or ploughshare).

Although also used on land the cutlass became the weapon of choice for all sailors, not just pirates, as it was cheap to make, required very little training, and a cutting weapon is more effective than a thrusting blade like a rapier, against enemies not wearing armour. Sailors didn’t wear armour as

a) it’s too bulky for somebody to run up the lines to adjust sails

b) if you fall overboard you’re going to sink and sink fast

The cutlass’ shorter length was better for close combat on the deck of a cramped ship.

The legend goes that pirates would swing across on ropes from their ship to their prey with knives clenched in their teeth and that’s where we get armed to the teeth but sadly there’s little evidence that was true. Just another pirate book/movie legend.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

38,000 words and counting – 11 days to go!

3 thoughts on “Cutlass

  1. Rick Ellrod

    Now I just have to figure out why the Romans used the same word for knife and ploughshare . . . (They both cut, sorta, but on quite different scales, it seems to me.) 🙂

    Reply
  2. wordfoolery Post author

    Yeah knives and plough shares seem pretty different to me too. Those Romans were odd. Although perhaps it makes more sense of that expression about turning war blades into plough shares (or was that the other way round?).

    Reply

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