Category Archives: coastal

The Nautical Roots of Hot Pursuit

Hello,

For me the phrase “hot pursuit” is associated with crazy car chases, so I was surprised during the writing of “Words The Sea Gave Us” to discover it has nautical roots.

The perfect car for a hot pursuit

Hot Pursuit {extract from “Words The Sea Gave Us” by Grace Tierney}

To be in hot pursuit of something is to make every effort to catch it. It’s commonly applied to road chases of criminals by the police, but the phrase started on the seas.

In the 1400s pursuit on the ocean blue came in two temperatures – hot or cold. Cold pursuit (or cold chase) was a ship hunting down another in international waters but without seeing the pursued ship. The hot pursuit was the same chase but this time with a quarry ship in sight.

Although not written into law, it was common custom that in such cases the pursuing ship could follow its prey into a country’s own waters to finish the job. Hot pursuit was only allowed if the chase could be proven to have begun in international waters and open seas. Otherwise it was a hostile act against that country.

{end of extract}

Cold pursuit has fallen by the wayside, but hot pursuit retained a similar meaning in car chases once the phrase moved ashore. The pursuing car can see its prey ahead, perhaps aided by helicopter support.

Unfortunately today I’m in cold pursuit of a new book launch date for “Words The Sea Gave Us”. As planned, the ebook editions for Kindle, Kobo, and Apple Books went live this morning and I’ve already had some lovely feedback from readers who pre-ordered their copies, but the paperback launch which was supposed to happen today hit a very unexpected last minute snag with the printers and the earliest it will be resolved is the 24th of July. Rather than confuse people I’m pausing the paperback launch until I can be 100% sure of it. I’ll announce the new launch day here as soon as I have it. I’ve also devised a way to get signed paperback copies to those who’d like them – watch this space.

Sincere apologies to anybody who was waiting to buy the paperback. Trust me, you’re not half as disappointed as I am.

In good news, however, I’ve been delighted with the response to advance review copies and hope to announce some fun Wordfoolery events here soon, including my first ever podcast appearance!

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. this post contains affiliate links which make a small payment to the blog if you choose to purchase through them. #CommissionsEarned. Alternatively, you can use my digital tip jar.

Over a Barrel

Hello,

With only one week left of pre-ordering on my new book “Words The Sea Gave Us” I’m getting excited about launch day (13th July). This week’s word is the phrase “over a barrel” and it’s a nautical phrase with two possible shipboard roots.

Over a Barrel {extract from “Words The Sea Gave Us” by Grace Tierney, copyright 2020}

To have somebody over a barrel is to have the upper hand as they are rendered helpless.

There are two excellent reasons to put somebody over a barrel in a seafaring context. Either could be the source of this phrase which only entered printed English in 1938, but may have been around earlier.

The first option is to stretch a naughty sailor over the barrel before bringing out the cat o’ nine tails (see the Tight Ship chapter).

The second, more likely and equally helpless option, is the common method of reviving somebody who’d nearly drowned. The unfortunate soul was placed face down over the barrel which was then rolled back and forth vigorously to drain the seawater from their lungs and hopefully jolt them back into breathing. It’s unknown how often the over the barrel idea succeeded.

Barrel, despite being a very common item for centuries, has unknown origins. It was present by the 1300s in several European languages in various spellings, but the source hasn’t been found although barriclus in Medieval Latin is a good candidate.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. this post contains affiliate links which make a small payment to the blog if you choose to purchase through them. #CommissionsEarned. Alternatively, you can use my digital tip jar.

Cover Reveal of “Words The Sea Gave Us”

Hello,

Today pre-orders open on my new word history book – “Words The Sea Gave Us” (Amazon Kindle edition link) – and I’m very happy to reveal the cover here on the blog that inspired the book series. Drum roll please…

What do you think? It’s been designed by Peter Sheehan again and I absolutely love it. My hope is that each of the Words books will be in a different colour so a shelf of them will look stunning. All I have to do is write a few more them, gulp.

What’s it about?

“Words The Sea Gave Us” is a light-hearted look at the words the English dictionary borrowed from the sea. From baggywinkle and gollywobbler to tempest and flotsam, the sea in all her moods has given a boatload of words to the English language throughout history. This book explores their origins along with a cargo of old sailor’s yarns. Cast your line for the salty history of skyscraper, mollgogger, strike, cyber, and phrases like getting hitched, red herring, hot pursuit, and taking them down a peg.

More than 370 words and phrases are featured from “above board” to yardarm – drawn from parts of a ship, sail names, crew titles, surfer slang, marine monsters, nautical navigation, flying the flag, and of course, how to talk like a scurvy pirate. Throw in some sea fables, fashions, and weather and you’re ready to set sail. Previous nautical experience not required.

The book is ideal for word geeks, sailors, and beachcombers.

What’s a pre-order?

The idea is that you order a copy of the ebook edition (for a paperback and library editions you’ll have to wait until Launch Day, the 13th of July) and it’s delivered to your ebook reader on launch day. The book is currently available to pre-order on kindle, Apple Books, and Kobo. Apparently pre-ordering books helps their sales ranking. I just like having books pop up on my ebook app.

Do You Review Books? Are Open to Guest posts on your Blog?

If so, please get in touch (@Wordfoolery on Twitter is easiest, or comment below). I discovered when promoting my first word book (“How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary” – all about eponyms and the amazing people who gave them to the English language) that it is really tricky to get non-fiction books reviewed so if you do it, or you know somebody, let me know. I can provide review copies. Even just a sentence or two on Amazon can really help – don’t feel you have to write a massive book report!

When Will the Book Launch?

13th of July 2020. I can’t wait. Watch this space for details. The launch will be entirely online so you can all join in.

Would you like Free Sample?

Firstly, there’s a new page on the blog here – Downloads. I’ve created a free nautical download, called Various Vessels, all about ship names for those who don’t know their ketch from their dhow. Here’s also a little snippet from the book, a preview before launch day.

Junk (extract from “Words The Sea Gave Us” by Grace Tierney copyright 2020)

A junk is a flat bottomed sailing boat from the Far East. She has no keel, a high stern, and her rudder can be raised or lowered. The two or three masts carry battened square sails which used to be made from bamboo, rattan, or woven grass. Easy to steer and good at sea, the junk was the vessel of choice for Far Eastern pirates for centuries.

The word junk for this type of ship entered English in the late 1500s from the Portuguese word junco, but originally from the Malay word jong or djong (large boat).

The word junk which is now used to describe rubbish also comes from the sea, but not from the eastern sailing ship. Junk entered English spelled as junke in the 1300s to describe the oddments of rope which were used to caulk gaps in the boat’s planking. That type of junk came from Old French junc (rush or reed) for something of little value and originally from Latin iuncus (reed).

By the 1660s junk described refuse from boats and by 1884 it referred to rubbish of any kind, but usually with an implication of being re-used later. The original junk shop was actually called a marine shop in 1800, a place for selling items discarded from a ship. This later gave us junk art (1961), junk food (1971), and a surprisingly early dictionary entry for junk mail (1954).

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

p.s. this post contains affiliate links which make a small payment to the blog if you choose to purchase through them. #CommissionsEarned. Alternatively, you can use my digital tip jar.

p.p.s. “Words the Sea Gave Us” is my most recent book, but you’ll find details of all my books (nonfiction and serialised novels) and where to read them on the Books Page.

Slumgullion

Hello,

This week’s word is slumgullion. This one has been on my “to write about” list for a while because it looked like fun. I didn’t even know what it meant.

Thanks to Merriam Webster (and the audio pronunciation is available there too) for the definition. Slumgullion is a meat stew. Other dictionaries add that this one is an informal (a.k.a. slang) American English word, which probably explains why I hadn’t heard of it. Also they note slumgullion isn’t filled with the most expensive cuts of meat.

Finding a definitive recipe for a stew which was created when the cook needed to use whatever he or she could lay their hands on is a tricky prospect. Most of the modern recipes suggest using minced beef, various chopped vegetables, plus stock and perhaps tinned tomatoes. The Shared Tastes blog explored the older recipes and even includes one using moose meat (not common in my local shop here in Ireland). Various references to slumgullion in literature associate it with the whaling ships and pirates so it might be the stew cousin to my favourite historic seafaring dish, salmagundi. Either way, if you fancy cooking a pot of slumgullion, you can pretty much invent your own version.

Slumgullion was probably a word created by compounding slum and gullion around the 1840s. Slum in this case had nothing to do with urban ghettos. It was an Old English word for slime. Gullion was a dialect word for mud or a cesspool. It may have reached English from Scots, or Irish where the word goilín means a pit or pool.

Slumgullion may have started on whaling ships. One of the earliest print usages was spelled as slobgullion in “Moby Dick” to describe the watery gloop which drains from whale blubber, and perhaps reminded sailors of particularly poor stew in the galley. The word appears to have moved with the sailors to the mines during the Californian Gold Rush to describe the muddy sludge at a mining sluice. The use to describe a stew dates to the 1870s.

According to “The Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English” (Eric Partridge) there’s even a related word – a slubberdegullion who is a dirty slobbering fellow. Perhaps such a character created the first stew?

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Note: this post contains affiliate links – if you purchase through them, a small fee goes to this blog to help running costs. Thank you.

Belay and Putting a Pin in It

Hello,

I’m editing my book “Words The Sea Gave Us” this month before its release later this year and my mind is filled with the nautical words and phrases which the sea has given to the English language, so I thought I’d share one with you today. Have you ever heard a Star Trek captain saying “belay that order” or a manager in a meeting suggest you put a “pin in it”? Then you’ve had a taste of what a belaying pin did on a sailing ship.

Belaying pins on a traditional sailing ship

{Extract from “Words The Sea Gave Us” by Grace Tierney, copyright 2019}

If you watch enough seafaring movies, or indeed Star Trek episodes, you’ll eventually hear a captain say something like “Belay that order” to one of their crew. The order will be paused, but why?

The answer lies in the Age of Sail and with one small piece of wooden equipment. The captain is referring to the belaying pin, a wooden peg, something akin to a rolling pin, around which a line could be made fast (and stopped). A series of such pins were typically positioned along the ship’s rail. Basically the captain is saying – “tie up that order for the moment”.

Belay (1540s) comes from the Old English word belecgan which meant to lay a thing about, thus describing how you would lay the rope around the belaying pin.

Belaying is also used in mountain climbing terminology from the same source.

It is tempting to associate the over-used office phrase “put a pin in it” with the belaying pin as both refer to postponing a task however the pin in that phrase is widely accepted to have been the pin of a hand grenade in World War Two where putting the pin back in deferred the explosion.

One belaying pin, ready for any use

A belaying pin was a common improvised weapon aboard a ship as they were close to hand and about the right size and weight to be used as a club.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Touch and Go

Hello,

Despite this being my tenth win of the challenge (from 12 attempts), NaNoWriMo 2018 was a tough one. There’s a reason why the official recommendation is to write fiction during NaNo – it’s much quicker. I was working from a long list of nautical words and phrases (and a big stack of reference books) for “Words The Sea Gave Us”, but even with advance research I still found my writing pace significantly slower than in fiction years.

However, I’m proud to say I made it to 58,069 words by the end of the month and 90% of the first draft written. Next year I’m writing fiction.

Here’s a quick snippet from this year’s draft – the origin of the phrase “touch and go”, which is how NaNo felt at times this November!

“If a situation is touch and go you’re in a tricky spot, it could go either way, even a slight mistake could prove disastrous.

If you’re an airplane pilot you might be more familiar with touch and go (or circuit and bumps) as the training exercise where you barely land and then immediately take off for another circuit.

The idea of touch and go with the precarious situation sense arose in the 1800s from the world of sailing ships which might give the seabed, rocks, or other obstacle a glancing blow, but then continue on their course. The stakes are high. The ship could run aground or find a hole in its hull, but if the captain and crew are quick to react disaster can be averted.”

Now with NaNo behind me, I’m plotting the rest of my year and looking forward to 2019 writing goals. Have you any plans for 2019 yet?

My first task will be reminding readers that “How To Get Your Name In the Dictionary” is out now on Amazon UK, Amazon US, Kindle, the Apple Bookstore, and Kobo. It’s the perfect gift for anybody in your life who loves crosswords, scrabble, biographies, or history. It’s filled with more than 260 eponyms from around the world – the stories behind fashion icons like the trilby, the people behind recipes like tarte tatin or pavlova, inventions like the ferris wheel and guillotine, and charming villains like Casanova. Buying a copy is a great way to support this blog. Thank you.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Nautical Knots

Hello,

This week’s word is knot, a word I explored and added to “Words the Sea Gave Us” this week in my NaNoWriMo 2018 challenge. I passed the 50,000 words mark today, but I’m still writing as I haven’t finished my draft yet.

Knot-tying is a vital skill for any sailor and the word has various uses afloat. Rigging a sailing ship requires various knots, but knots are also associated with speed at sea. The knot has been the nautical measure of speed since the 1630s thanks to a simple device used in the Age of Sail. A log would be thrown overboard while the ship was under sail, attached to it was a line with knots tied at regular distances (1/120 of a mile between each knot was standard). The ship’s speed was then measured by an hourglass sand timer for a set time (a half minute ,for example). The number of knots payed out on the line during that time, was the speed.

One knot became equivalent to one nautical mile so a ship travelling at the speed of ten knots will cover approximately ten nautical miles in one hour. This is roughly equal to 11.5 miles per hour as a land speed. The use of the log in this process also gave us the concepts of a logbook and logging in.

Knots themselves of course existed on land before they were used at sea but sailors invented many of the new designs for specific tasks such as mooring boats, and quick release knots for loosening sails.

Knot may be one of the words the Vikings gave us. English appears to have acquired knot from knutr in Old Norse via German Knoten, Dutch knot, and finally as cnotta in Old English.

One final knot story is a sailor’s yarn that one day a witch was persuaded by a sailor to sell him some wind. Like Odysseus and the bag of wind the Greek god Aeolos, keeper of the winds, gave him, the sailor was presented with a piece of rope with three knots in it. She warned him to untie the first for a breeze, the second for a steady wind, and the third only as a last resort.

The sailor went to sea, delighted with his gift. He untied the first and a gentle breeze billowed out his sails. His ship moved, but too slowly for his liking so he loosened the second knot and sped away from shore for his destination. After transacting his business there he boarded his ship once more and looked at the final knot. It was getting dark and he wanted to return home quickly. The final knot could be the solution to his problem.

He untied the final knot and unleashed a hurricane that split the sails of his ship and resulted in him and his crew sinking below the angry waves.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Four days to go – 52,192 words and counting!

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!

Turning a Blind Eye

Hello,

This week’s word is the phrase “turning a blind eye” and it’s from my next blog-inspired book “Words the Sea Gave Us” which I’m writing during NaNoWriMo 2018. It’s Day 12 and I’m on 20,233 words and counting.

The idea of deliberately ignoring something in this case comes from Nelson and his damaged eyesight.

In 1801 at the Battle of Copenhagen Nelson is reputed to have disregarded a direct order to disengage from Admiral Sir Hyde Parker. Legend has it that Nelson put his telescope to the eye-patch on his blind eye and claimed he couldn’t see Parker’s signal.

That’s the short version of the story and gives us the popular phrase. The long version is somewhat more complex. Parker had huge faith in Nelson and arranged in advance that if he hoisted the disengage signal Nelson would have his blessing to ignore it, as he was the man in the thick of it and best placed to judge the next move. This he explained to his signals officer when he gave the order.

Nelson, however, had to do something to placate Colonel Stewart of the Royal Marines who was nearby when the order came in as the colonel wasn’t aware of the arrangement and might not have approved of such naval nonsense. Hence all the telescope drama.

The icing on this particular cake comes from the fact that Nelson wasn’t blind. He did take damage to his eye at the Battle of Calvi in 1794 from some flying debris but he wasn’t blinded, never wore an eye-patch, and never got the navy to pay out disability compensation despite numerous attempts.

It is likely the expression had been used in English before Nelson’s disregard for that order, but his fame certainly helped it into common usage.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling,

Grace (@Wordfoolery)

Bosun and NaNoWriMo 2018

Hello,

Regular wordfools will know that I take part in National Novel Writing Month (a.k.a. NaNoWriMo) every November. In fact, I take the whole “write 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days” challenge to the next level by also mentoring a region (Ireland North East) as a volunteer municipal liaison at the same time. This explains why this morning over breakfast I was checking how many writers I have (33) and how many have started writing (18), before opening my own draft of “Words The Sea Gave Us” and disappearing into maritime research.

Yes, I’m writing another book about words, the first of a series. This one delves into the many wonderful words the sea has given us. I mean who can fail to love galoot, gollywobbler, or scuttlebutt?

So this week I have an example from my book-in-progress – bosun.

The bosun is the officer whose job it is to look after the ship and its equipment. On a merchant ship this is the petty officer in charge of hull maintenance and related work, while in the navy the bosun is a warrant officer in charge of the hull and all related equipment.

The bosun is typically an experienced sailor and supervises the deck crew.

Although bosun appears to be a rather unusual word, it’s just boatswain with funny nautical spelling, and boatswain is a simple compound word of boat and swain. Swain means servant and comes from the Old Norse word sveinn which was a boy servant.

The bosun has the privilege of carrying a special silver bosun’s whistle which they use to call the hands to their duties. Because of the whistle’s high pitch its call could be heard even during high winds. Various commands were indicated by different notes, or combinations of notes – haul, away boats, all hands on deck, pipe down, carry on, etc.

When an important visitor, or the captain, boarded the ship the bosun would use his whistle to alert the crew. This tradition, called manning the side, grew from the bosun’s need to call crew to hoist visitors up the side of the vessel when weather was too rough for ladders.

The visitor would be hauled up, above crashing waves, in a bosun’s chair. Modern bosun’s chairs are similar to equipment used in rock climbing, complete with safety harnesses, clips and additional lines etc. but the original versions were improvised with a short plank or canvas for a seat and some clever knot-work by the sailors so the person could be pulled aboard from a smaller boat bobbing on the waves below. Bosun’s chairs are still used today in ship painting, sea rescues, and window cleaning.

Until next time happy reading, writing, and wordfooling. Good luck to any of you trying out NaNoWriMo,

Grace (@Wordfoolery) “Words The Sea Gave Us” – 8,084 words and counting