GACKLE YOUR CABLES.

My wife and I are on the tenth of the Aubrey/Maturin novels, The Far Side of the World, and last night we hit a term unfamiliar to us: Jack Aubrey gives the instruction “Do not forget to gackle your cables, Mowett,” and mentions “gackling cables” several times in the following pages. Well, it’s no surprise to run across unfamiliar nautical terms in O’Brian, but this one wasn’t in Dean King’s useful but maddeningly incomplete A Sea of Words, nor—much more surprisingly—was it in Admiral Smyth’s usually reliable The Sailor’s Word-Book (see this LH post). It bothered me enough that I remembered to research it this morning, and my suspicion was confirmed: O’Brian made it up. [It turns out he didn't actually make it up; see below.] It would have been impossible to verify this before the internet and Google Books, but now it’s easy as pie; it simply doesn’t exist outside his novels. Well, with one exception, as we learn here: “except for this from The Observant Voyage: A Parody, by Owen Brian Patrick : ) ‘Well Sir, to begin, Sir, as you know I did indeed gackle my cables as you ordered, Sir…’”
POB must have derived a good deal of private amusement from his little invention, and I share that amusement; I also hope this post will save other devotees of his wonderful novels from tearing their hair out over this un-look-up-able word.
Update. As mollymooly explains below, it’s actually a variant of an established word variously spelled keckle, cackle, kaicle, or kecle. That’ll teach me to make over-hasty assumptions!

Comments

  1. I read that book last weekend and found the following, in which O’Brian (or perhaps just the newsletter’s editor?) claims to have “seen it once or twice in an 18th century order book,” though he provides no citation.
    See the first question in the Q&A:
    http://www.wwnorton.com/pob/vol3i.htm#reader

  2. It’s just possible that whoever made that entry in an 18th century order book extracted it from a nearby bodily orifice. Embezzlement isn’t a 20th century invention.

  3. mollymooly says:

    William Falconer’s Dictionary of the Marine (1784) has
    KAICLING, or KECLING, a name given to any old ropes, which are wound about a cable, with a small interval between the turns, and used to preserve the surface of the cable from being fretted, when it rubs against the ship’s bow, or fore-foot. See also ROUNDING and SERVICE.

  4. “un-look-up-able”
    maybe not the words but the expression
    webster gave “gackle (noun) : Any piece of chicken which is unidentifiable as meat, skin, or bone.” 
    while urban dictionary’s entry is like un-mentionably gross
    curse my curiosity and like of challenge
    i check UD just in case cz once i happened to use a word without knowing its double meaning or slangish use and then it sparkled like such a huge flamewar with my having to leave the place and consequently perpetual animosity of the dwellers of the site towards me i guess
    though it’s not my fault that your language utilizes to much of that, irony and sarcasm, double entendres

  5. mollymooly says:

    And the Sailor’s Word-book has KECKLING or CACKLING

  6. Ah, so he didn’t make it up, he just changed it a bit either to make it funnier or to avoid confusion with the sounds of chickens. Thanks!

  7. read: Yes, UD can be useful but has to be approached with considerable caution. I too saw that unmentionably gross entry!

  8. Oh come on, the UD entry was hilarious, you guys are wimps :P
    Additionally, I’ve been frustrated by precisely this particular situation and it’s made so much worse when it’s in a foreign language and therefore you really don’t have any sort of intuitive sense as to whether it’s a real or made-up word like you would with your native language. I recall spending the better part of an hour trying to look up a word only to find out that the character in the movie made it up and I needn’t worry about it. Blah. How irritating.
    Cheers,
    Andrew

  9. Nicholas Blake says:

    It’s not made up/changed: Nelson ordered Collingwood to gackle his cables as he lay dying at Trafalgar,

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