Naval slang (Jack-speak)

• Aback – Backing a sail is turning it so that the wind hits the front face; the effect is to slow a ship or boat. A sail which is being backed is said to be ‘aback.’ A sailing ship which accidentally goes aback when tacking loses its momentum and is said to be ‘in irons.’ A person is said to be ‘all aback’ when he is confused or surprised.

• Abaft – Aft of a given point on a ship; e.g. the bridge is abaft the bow.

• Acockbill – Out of alignment or awry.

• J. Squared-Away – The mythical sailor who always has his stuff together.

• Amateur Night – The day after payday, when nothing seems to go right, especially
shipboard evolutions.

• Anchor-faced – (RN) Anyone who is enthusiastic about the Navy.

• Anchor Clanker – (1) Boatswain’s Mate. (2) (RN) Ordinary seaman.

• Anchor Pool – The betting pool on the hour and minute the ship will drop anchor or tie up.

• Andrew (the) – (UK) Nickname for the Royal Navy. Refers to pressgang leader Andrew Miller who, it was said, owned the Royal Navy.

• Athwartships – Moving or placed from side to side aboard ship, or straddling a particular position. At right angles to the ship’s centerline.

• Avast – A command which means, basically, “Stop what you’re doing.”

• Barrack Stanchion – (RNZN) A sailor who rarely goes to sea.

• Batten Down – Make fast, secure, or shut. Originally, deck hatches did not have hinged, attached covers. Hatch covers were separate pieces which were laid over the hatch opening, then made fast with battens (pieces of timber).

• (On her) Beam Ends – Strictly speaking, when a ship has gone through 90 degrees of roll, where her decks are vertical. In such case a ship would probably capsize (roll completely over). Can be used to refer to extreme rolls, even if less than 90 degrees.

• Belay – (1) Stop. (2) Make fast. Derived from the practice of tying a line off (making it fast) using a belaying pin. (3) Disregard, as in “belay my last.”

• Big Chicken Dinner – Bad Conduct Discharge. In many ways, equivalent to a felony conviction.

• Bight – (1) A loop in or slack part of a line. (2) A curve or bend in a shoreline, or a small body of water formed by same.

• Bilge – (1) The area below the deck gratings in the lowest spaces of the ship, where things, especially liquids, tend to collect. (2) To fail or do poorly. “Poor Smitty bilged the quiz.” (3) To name a classmate or shipmate involved in wrongdoing, or to identify a mistake made by someone else.

• Bilge rat – Someone who works in the engineering spaces.

• Bilge Diving – Working in the bilges of a ship, or cleaning same

• Binnacle List – Sick list; a listing of the names of the men currently in sick bay and unable to perform their duties due to sickness or injury.

• Bitts – A shipboard mooring fixture, comprised of cylindrical posts similar to BOLLARDS, mounted in pairs.

• Boondockers – High-top (over the ankles) black shoes, worn as part of the working uniform.

• Boondoggle – Travel which is more fun than functional. Applies to many military schools.

• Bracket – In shipboard gunnery, a bracket results when one salvo lands to the left of the target and the next lands to the right. Adjustments in deflection usually result in a hit soon after.

• Brown Water – Shallow water or shallow draft, especially a ship or navy whose ships are not suited to deep (or open) water and deep-water combat.

• Bulkheading – Loudly criticizing a fellow officer.

• Cannon Cocker – Gunnery specialist.

• Chips – Ship’s carpenter.

• Cut of his Jib – From the days of sail, when individual sails were made aboard the ship and a certain amount of individuality was expressed in the design (shape and size) of the sails. Ships could be, and were, identified by the “cut of their jib.”

• Deep Six – (1) Originally, the call of the leadsman signifying that the water is more than 6 fathoms deep, but less than seven. (2) Euphemism for throwing something overboard. Also seen as ‘splash’, ‘float check’, ‘float test’.

• Dicksmith – Hospital Corpsman.

• Flag – An admiral, aka “Flag Officer” because such officers are entitled to fly a flag denoting their rank.

• Foc’sle – The phonetic spelling for ‘forecastle’, the forward-most part of the ship.

• Gig – (1) Small boat carried aboard ship, e.g. the Captain’s gig. (2) Demerits, or the
act of receiving demerits.

• Gonk – (RN) To sleep

• Grog – (UK) Pusser’s rum mixed with two parts water.

• Heave the lead – To take soundings by throwing a lead weight (“the lead”, rhymes with ‘dead’) on a line ahead of the vessel, then pulling the line taut and reading the depth from markers on the line as the ship passes over the weight.

• Heave to – In a sailing ship, to come into the wind and essentially stop, with minimum sail area exposed. Used to wait out a squall or storm.

• Holystone – An abrasive stone, used with water (and, originally, sand), to scrub a ship’s wooden decks. The name stems from the size and shape of the stones, which closely resembled bibles. Generally used by fitting a wooden stick into a socket in the top surface of the stone. Before the advent of the stick, the man using the stone would kneel as if in prayer, aiding in the development of the nickname.

• Jack – (1) (UK) General nickname for Royal Navy sailors. (obsolete, from ‘Jack Tar’) (2) The Union Jack, a small flag flown from the jackstaff on the bow of USN ships in port; has a blue field and 50 white stars. It is also flown from the yardarm when a court martial or court of inquiry is in session aboard. (3) To slowly turn the propeller shaft or shafts of a ship when engines are stopped, both to maintain the oil film in shaft bearings and to prevent the shaft from bowing from its own weight.

• Mail Buoy Watch – A practical joke pulled on inexperienced crewmembers and midshipmen which revolves around convincing the victim that mail is delivered to a ship at sea via a buoy.

• Make Fast – To tie off (a line) securely.

• Menopause Manor – (RN) Chief’s Quarters.

Day Toast
Sunday “Absent Friends”
Monday “Our Ships at Sea”
Tuesday “Our Men”
Wednesday “Ourselves” (As no-one else is likely to concern themselves with our welfare!)
Thursday “A Bloody War or a Sickly Season”
Friday “A Willing Foe and Sea-Room”
Saturday “Wives and Sweethearts” (May they never meet!)

Naval slang (Jack-speak)

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