What with one thing and another, I never reported on LH-related goodies I got for Xmas. On the hat front, my sister-in-law gave me a much-needed beret. I got a couple of novels I’ve been wanting to read, Doctorow’s The March and Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, as well as the magnificent Sailor’s Word-Book by Admiral W.H. Smyth (originally published in 1867). A few entries from pages 36-37 will give an idea of the range of items:

AMICABLE NUMBERS are such as are mutually equal to the sum of each other’s aliquot parts.
AMLAGH. A Manx or Gaelic term denoting to manure with sea-weed.
AMNESTY. An act of oblivion, by which, in a professional view, pardon is granted to those who have rebelled or deserted their colours; also to deserters who return to their ships.
AMOK. A term signifying slaughter, but denoting the practice of the Malays, when infuriated to madness with bang (a preparation from a species of hemp), of sallying into the streets, or decks, to murder any whom they may chance to meet, until they are either slain or fall from exhaustion… As in the case of mad dogs, certain death awaited them, for if not killed in being taken, torture and impalement followed.
AMPOTIS. The recess or ebb of the tide.
AMRELL. An archaic orthography for admiral.
AMUSETTE. A kind of gun on a stock, like that of a musket, but mounted as a swivel, carrying a ball from half a pound to two pounds weight.
AMY. A foreigner serving on board, subject to some prince in friendship with us.

Should be a great help in reading Patrick O’Brian.


  1. aldiboronti says

    Smyth’s book is the subject of a brief chapter in H.M. Tomlinson’s Waiting For Daylight, 1922
    A couple of questions arise from some of his comments.
    “The opposite to starboard was larboard; but for good reason the Admiralty substituted port for larboard in 1844. Why was the left side of a ship called the port side? That term was in use before the Admiralty adopted it. It has been suggested that, as the steering-paddle was on the right side of a ship, it was good seamanship to have the harbour or port on the left hand when piloting inwards. But it is doubtful if that reason was devised by a sailor.”
    Did the Admiralty really decree that larboard be tossed overboard in 1844?
    “Once, in my ignorance, I imagined “schooner” was of Dutch origin, but was careful to refer to the invaluable Skeat. Only just in time, though. And he says that the word was born on the Clyde, grew up in New England, migrated to Holland, and then came back to us again. Once upon a time (1713), at Gloucester, Massachusetts, a man was witnessing a new fore-and-aft rigged vessel glide away on a trial trip, and exclaimed “She scoons!” So all her kind were christened. Science of that kind is almost as good as romance.”
    ‘She scoons’? Is he serious?

  2. A beret? Why?

  3. ‘She scoons’? Is he serious?
    Yup. Here’s the OED etymology:
    [Of uncertain origin; recorded early in the 18th c. as skooner, scooner; the present spelling, which occurs only a few years later, may be due to form-association with school, or with Du. words having initial sch. The word has passed from English into most of the European langs.: Du. schooner, schoener, G. schoner, schooner, schuner (recorded 1786), F. schooner, schoaner, Da. skonnert, Sw. skonare, skonert.
    The story commonly told respecting the origin of the word is as follows. When the first schooner was being launched (at Gloucester, Mass., about 1713), a bystander exclaimed ‘Oh, how she scoons!’ The builder, Capt. Andrew Robinson, replied, ‘A scooner let her be!’ and the word at once came into use as the name of the new type of vessel. The anecdote, first recorded, on the authority of tradition, in a letter of 1790 (quoted in Babson Hist. Gloucester, p. 252), looks like an invention. The etymology which it embodies, however, is not at all improbable, though there seems to be a lack of evidence for the existence of the alleged New England verb scoon or scun, ‘to skim along on the water’. Cf. Sc. (Clydesdale) scon, ‘to make flat stones skip along the surface of the water’, also intr. ‘to skip in the manner described’ (Jam.). The early examples afford strong ground for believing that the word really originated about 1713 in Massachusetts, and probably in the town of Gloucester. The evidence of two or three old prints seems to prove that the type of vessel now called ‘schooner’ existed in England in the 17th c., but it app. first came into extensive use in New England.]
    A beret? Why?
    Because I didn’t have one! A true hat-fancier wants a proper variety of headgear.

  4. Did the Admiralty really decree that larboard be tossed overboard in 1844?
    They did indeed – and the U.S. Navy followed suit two years later.
    In his introduction to Two Years Before The Mast (published in 1840, recounting an 1834 voyage) Jack London says:
    “Though Dana sailed from Boston only three-quarters of a century ago, much that is at present obsolete was then in full sway. For instance, the old word larboard was still in use. He was a member of the larboard watch. The vessel was on the larboard tack. It was only the other day, because of its similarity in sound to starboard, that larboard was changed to port. Try to imagine “All larboard bowlines on deck!” being shouted down into the forecastle of a present day ship. Yet that was the call used on the Pilgrim to fetch Dana and the rest of his watch on deck.”

  5. LH, if I ever go to Kyrgyzstan I’ll get you their national hat, the kalpak.
    When I was tutoring a Kyrgyz student last year, he showed my his kalpak and asked me what the American national hat was. I was at a loss but faked it with the cowboy hat, so that he didn’t think that we were national-hatless.

  6. I must say your choice is excellent. I do like these books and enjoyed reading the articles.

  7. Why in the world are amicable numbers defined in a sailor’s word-book?
    The relevant entry in Prime Pages’ Glossary

  8. Rachel, are you a bot? LH’s insatiable appetite for flattery makes him a natural victim for the likes of you. His friends must be ever-vigilant.

  9. Yes, I fear our dear Rachel was promoting a commercial site. But because of my insatiable appetite for flattery, and to keep your comment from hanging there like a pennant drifting in the water, relic of a boat race long passed by, I have merely deleted her URL, while leaving her unctuous words intact.

  10. “When he said ‘steer to starboard, but keep her head larboard’,
    What on earth was the helmsman to do?”
    — Hunting of the Snark
    Hey I just learned to count in Cumbrian: Yan, Tyan, Teethera, Methera, Pimp!

  11. Eh, disregard the second ‘e’ in the Cumbrian 3. It is a typographical error.

  12. You could have learned that right here at LH.

  13. Cool — this sequence, and continuing up to Giggot for Twenty, was found in Annie Proulx’ “Postcards”, a book which I incidentally recommend highly based on how far I have read so far — captivating.

  14. Does Smyth’s book, by any chance, gloss the word ‘kumatage’?

  15. No, I’m afraid not, but if you google it you get lots of sites that define it.

  16. I know; but I’ve been trying to find a second brick & mortar source (other than Bowditch’s Navigator) for the longest time.

  17. Ah, I see. Hmm… strange-looking word, isn’t it? Looks like it could be Japanese, but it’s not in my dictionaries, and anyway a Japanese word borrowed in the early 19th century would probably be spelled less scientifically. I wonder if it could have been a misprint, or simply a mistake, in Bowditch? It’s pretty suspicious that it occurs nowhere else.

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