In looking up something else, my eye fell (as it will) on an adjacent word, in this case spinnaker, and I thought the etymology (that it was from a yacht named the Sphinx) might make a good post. Then I checked Wikipedia and found that was only one entry in the etymological sweepstakes; here’s the full discussion:
Some dictionaries suggest that the origin of the word could be traced to the first boat to commonly fly a spinnaker, a yacht called the Sphinx, mispronounced as Spinx. The Sphinx first set her spinnaker in the Solent in 1865, and the first recorded use of the word was in 1866 in the August edition of Yachting Calendar and Review (p. 84). In addition, the term may have been influenced by the spanker, originally a gaff rigged fore-and-aft sail.
It has been pointed out, however, that the skippers of the barges on the Thames … also used the term spinnaker for their jib staysails. Unlike the other, tanned sails of these boats, the spinnakers were usually of white color. It has thus been suggested that the term could be “connected with the obsolete word spoon, meaning to run before the wind (cf. spindrift).” Early usage of the verb to spoon can be traced back to the 16th century; the change from spoon to spin in the term spindrift is attributed to a local Scottish pronunciation. According to Merriam Webster’s dictionary, however, spindrift derives from a local Scottish pronunciation of speen (not spoon), meaning “to drive before a strong wind.”
Furthermore, references to a mid-nineteenth century origin are problematic. In the logbook of the USS Constitution, opening “Remarks on Board Monday July 13th 1812″ is the comment “From 12 to 4 AM moderate breezes and thick cloudy weather with rain at 1 AM hauled up the mainsail and set the spinnaker at ½ past 3 AM set the mainsail JTS [John T. Shubrick, Fifth Lieutenant].”
According to Merriam-Webster’s etymology, the origin of the word spinnaker is simply unknown.
If that 1812 cite is accurate, the Sphinx idea is obviously dead in the water.