The latest post on Far Outliers introduces me to a wonderful term which Joel cites (from his newly acquired Encyclopedia of Ships) as tumblehome, but which my own treasured copy of The Sailor’s Word-Book gives as tumbling-home “The opposite of wall-sided, or flaring out.” I decided to let the OED settle the issue; here’s their entry:

tumbling home: the inward inclination of the upper part of a ship’s sides; opposed to FLARE n.1 4: see TUMBLE v. 11. Also tumbling-in.
1664 E. BUSHNELL Compl. Shipwright 11 Then set off the Tumbling Home, at the Height of the two first Haanses. 1769 FALCONER Dict. Marine, Encabanement, the tumbling-home of a ship’s side from the lower-deck-beam upwards, to the gunnel. 1832 Encycl. Amer. XI. 367/2 Nothing can be urged in favor of tumbling in.. but that it brings the guns nearer the centre. c1850 Rudim. Navig. (Weale) 157 The topsides of three-decked ships have the greatest tumbling-home, for the purpose of clearing the upper works from the smoke and fire of the lower guns.

So I’m going with tumbling home for my post title. [From the comments, I learn that the current form is in fact tumblehome; I'm keeping the older form as my post title because I like the ring of it, but I don't want to mislead anyone. If you have a boat you want to describe, you should mention its tumblehome if you want to be au courant.] Joel adds that the curve was “at one time designed to make room for projections at deck level to clear the wharf, or to make boats easier to paddle, but [is] also found in vessels like submarines designed to slice through the waves rather than ride over them” and asks: “Does anyone know the French, Dutch, Portuguese, or Japanese equivalent?” The French equivalent, as you can see from the second OED cite, is encabanement, but I too would be curious to see equivalents in other languages (especially Russian). Such specialized terms are not found in general bilingual dictionaries, of course, and it’s possible that most languages don’t have an equivalent term (simply saying “inward-sloping” when the need arises), but I just thought I’d ask.

It turns out, by the way, that the verb tumble can also be used in this sense; the OED’s definition 11 is:

Of the sides of a ship: To incline or slope inwards, to contract above the point of extreme breadth; to batter. Usually tumble home. Opposed to FLARE v. 4a. Also transf.
a1687 PETTY Treat. Naval Philos. I. ii, Let the supernatant sides of a Ship so much tumble.. as that the said sides may remain perpendicular when the Ship stoops. 1711 W. SUTHERLAND Shipbuild. Assist. 165 Tumbling home; when the Ship-side declines from a Perpendicular upwards, or, as some call it, houses in. 1761 H. WALPOLE Let. to G. Montagu 28 Apr., Old Newcastle, whose teeth are tumbled out, and his mouth tumbled in. 1848 T. WHITE Ship Build. 39 The upper works usually incline towards the middle line, or as it is termed ‘tumble home’.


  1. The contemporary usage in the UK is tumblehome, as a noun, in my experience (living on a boat for 20 years and devouring countless UK yachtie magazines.
    All those OED citations seem to look to much older usages.

  2. Ah, that makes sense. Thanks for the up-to-date information.

  3. I’ve just found my Yachtsman’s Eight Language Dictionary, but so annoying, in 160 A5 pages, it doesn’t list tumblehome.
    It does, for example, have clinker(built) (Ger. klinker, Dut.overnaadse bouw and interestingly, klinker, Port. contraplacado moldado – Fr. contreplaquet for plywood, a similar construction in theory).
    And if you want to know the Danish for garboard strake, apply here …

  4. “Kølvandsrange” according to my not at all maritime dictionary. Which, now that I check, even has “tumble-home (mar.) indfaldende (om skibsside).” — “indfaldende” pretty much means “inward sloping” to me.

  5. In googling around a bit more, I’ve found that in North American sources ‘tumblehome’ is *very* frequently used in describing small boat hulls (esp. transoms), flare vs. tumblehome birchbark canoes, and so on. The Wikipedia entry restricts itself largely to warships. It needs expansion.

  6. It’s also used in UK car industry (and maybe US car industry as well FAIK) to describe the back end of a car (motor vehicle) after its widest point.

  7. *tumblehome, that is.

  8. Sili, my dictionary gives kolplanke (sorry I can’t find the correct o symbol on my old ASCII chart) – but then yachties speak a different language to the rest of us, in any language, in my experience …

  9. You’re probably right, Paul. I just looked up “garboard” and “strake” since neither word meant anything to me. And then I glued them together as we Danes are wont — and bothering to check now, I discover that my made-up word is unknow to great master google, while “kølplanke” (here, have an “ø” to copy-paste) gets a healthy 63 hits.
    So much for being a know-it-all. My apologies.

  10. Until earlier this year I lived in a house called Tumblehome, in Swanage (Dorset). It was built by my Uncle, who was in the Royal Navy before and throughout WW2, and who doubtless wanted an unusual name from his naval days to put on his personal map.
    Speaking with him before he died some years ago, I learned that – as well as “tumblehome” referring to a ship’s curves as mentioned in earlier blogs – it was also used disparagingly when a sailor’s quarters were in less than perfect tidiness!
    The house Tumblehome has now been felled by developers and the name didn’t carry over to the flats built in its place (sad!) But it remains a name attached to various aliases I have online and elsewhere.
    Happy days…

  11. My Politechnical En-Ru (Большой англо-русский политехнический словарь. «РУССО», 1997, computerized) gives two entries:
    1) tumble-home bow — нос с завалом бортов,
    2) falling-home — завал (борта судна)
    while LingviScience En-Ru (Англо-русский научно-технический словарь. © ABBYY Software, 2005.) gives one:
    tumblehome — завал
    Looks like the equivalent you’ve asked for.

  12. Thanks! An odd word to use, though; the normal meaning of завал is ‘obstruction, blockage.’ But then, tumblehome is even odder.

  13. You’re very welcome.
    Well, not really. ‘Завал’ with the meaning you mention corresponds to the verb ‘заваливать’, while the word with the meaning LingvoScience gives (I never knew it, too) seems to be a substantive counterpart of ‘заваливаться’, which has a related, but somewhat different cluster of meanings than ‘заваливать’, including tumble down, collapse, careen (esp. in the phrase “заваливаться на бок”). For instance, ‘завал’ can be used as a non-technical, colloquial synonym of ‘крен’.

  14. Aha! I learn something every day.

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