sailing terms

Did you know how many phrases and words that we use in everyday English have their roots in nautical teminology? Here is a selection of them but if you know of any more, then email

Galley - The galley is the kitchen of the ship. The best explanation as to its origin is that it is a corruption of "gallery". Ancient sailors cooked their meals on a brick or stone gallery laid amidships.

Geedunk - To most Sailors, the word geedunk means ice cream, candy, potato chips and other assorted snacks, or even the place where they can be purchased. "Geedunk" is the sound made by a vending machine when it disposes a soft drink in the cup.

Garbled - Garbling was the prohibited practice of mixing rubbish with the cargo. A distorted, mixed up message was said to be garbled.

Give (someone) a Wide Berth - To anchor a ship far enough away from another ship so that they did not hit each other when they swung with the wind or tide.

Gadgets - This well known word was originally the nautical name for hooks, and derives from the French "Gache."

Groggy - In 1740, British Admiral Vernon (whose nickname was "Old Grogram" for the cloak of Grogram which he wore) ordered that the sailors' daily ration of rum be diluted with water. The men called the mixture "grog". A sailor who drank too much grog was "groggy".

Gone By the Board - Anything seen to have gone overboard or spotted floating past the ship (by the board) was considered lost at sea.

Gripe - A sailing vessel gripes when, by poor design or imbalance of sail, it tends to end up with its bow into the wind when sailing close-hauled. The sails flap around, forward progress is halted and she is very hard to steer. On land, the term means to complain, complain, complain.

Give me some slack - It would sometimes require the combined effort of as many as a dozen people to properly tie a cargo ship to the dock. If you were part of the team, you would alternately tension the line in your hands and then release. It was this give-and-take action that aligned the boat with the pier. When it was your turn to "haul", the call would be to "give me some slack". Today, it still means much the same thing.

Going berserk - The tight order and discipline of a ship meant a sailor had to keep patience and control. He had to keep his shirt on. This turn of words comes from the old Viking custom of ripping off one's shirt before fighting in order to have more freedom of movement and to show off a big chest and muscles. The Viking shirt was called a sark. To go berserk meant to tear off the shirt in a rage, or be bare of the sark.

Ground Swell - A sudden swell, which is the rise of water, along the shore. It often happens when the weather is fine and the sea behind it appears calm. Said to occur when undulating water from a far away storm reaches the shoreline where friction causes the swell. In common use, the term groundswell means a growing change in public opinion.

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