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10 Sailor-Related Terms That Were Lost at Sea

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Everyone knows a sailor hat, the expression curse like a sailor, and the flirtatious greeting, “Hey, sailor.” But our seafaring friends have been part of a surprising number of old or obscure terms and expressions. Here’s a sampling of terms that went overboard. Be their lexical lifeboat.

1. SAILOR'S BLESSING

A sailor’s farewell is one of many understated and creative terms for a curse. Sailor’s blessing means the same and is the exact opposite of its literal sense. Since at least the 1800s, a sailor’s blessing might be something along the lines of “Ye scurvy bleepin’ dog, is that your real face?”

2. AND 3. SAILOR'S WIFE AND SAILOR MONGERING

Sailor’s wife is one of many slang terms for a prostitute. A related term, used in Reuters in 2004, is recorded on Grant Barrett’s Double-Tongued Dictionary: “Sailor mongering was rife in the 19th century when brothels sent prostitutes laden with booze onto ships as they made their way to harbor. The idea was to get the sailors so drunk they could be whisked to shore and held in bondage, and a law was passed against it in 1872. It has only been used in a court of law twice, the last time in 1890.”

4. SAILOR ON THE SEA

This is one of many examples of Cockney rhyming slang: It’s a term for tea that’s at least as old as 1972. The fact that a teabag is a little like a boat, adrift in some citizen’s cup, adds to the meaning, but likely had nothing to with the coining. Rhyming slang rhymes and that’s about it; the meaning tends to be oceans away from the term’s regular sense, like when a flight of stairs is called apples and pears.

5. SAILOR TOWN

According to the lovely and lecherous Green’s Dictionary of Slang, this is a term for “any area of a port city where sailors gather, drink, whore and take lodgings.” GDoS citations from the 1800s refer to sailor towns as “numerous hell-holes” and “boarding houses and places of carousal for sailors.”

6. SAILORESS

There are oodles of old words for women doing jobs or tasks that were traditionally male, including this supremely silly word. An 1890 issue of a yachting magazine mentioned “The introduction of sailoresses on board racing yachts,” since apparently the very presence of a woman onboard was worth a mention and a word-coining. Similar words in the weird, sexist history of English include barbarianess, admiraless, legislatress, and dudess.

7. SAILOR PHRASE

This term would appear to be a transparent term for obscenity, much like sailor’s blessing. But sailor phrase is just a clunky way of referring to sailor lingo. As seen in a diary entry by Robert Thomas Wilson from 1812: “We are now entering the Archipelago, or, according to the sailor phrase, the Arches.”

8. BLUE SAILORS

Blue sailors are flowers, specifically, wild chicory. This term has been around since at least 1902, but it’s taken on some other meanings. A recent article from South Florida’s Sun Sentinel explains: “Swarms of jellyfish blanketed South Florida's beaches on Thursday, leaving wary beachgoers watching their step. But the Velella velella jellyfish—also known as Blue Sailors or By-the-Wind Sailors—aren't the stinging kind.”

9. TO BE A GOOD SAILOR

This term has very little to do with proper care of the jib. If you’re “being a good sailor,” you’re showing resistance to sea sickness. This expression has been around since the 1800s. OED examples of bad sailor and wretched sailor describe those poor folks who get a little funny in the tummy on the sea.

10. SAILOR'S WAITER

Though you might think a sailor’s waiter is another term for a lady of the night, it's actually the second mate. A use from Richard Henry Dana’s 1840 memoir Two Years Before the Mast explains: “The crew call him [the second mate] the ‘sailor's waiter’, as he has to furnish them with spun-yarn, marline, and all other stuffs that they need.”

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How Do You Stress the Word: THANKSgiving or ThanksGIVing?
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Here’s something else to stress about for Thanksgiving: where to put the stress in the word Thanksgiving.

If you’re from California, Iowa, or Delaware, you probably say ThanksGIVing, with the primary stress on the second syllable. If you’re from Georgia, Tennessee, or the Texas Panhandle, you probably say THANKSgiving, with the primary stress on the first syllable.

This north-south divide on syllable stress is found for other words like umbrella, guitar, insurance, and pecan. However, those words are borrowed from other languages (Italian, Spanish, French). Sometimes, in the borrowing process, competing stress patterns settle into regional differences. Just as some borrowed words get first syllable stress in the South and second syllable stress in the North, French words like garage and ballet get first syllable stress in the UK and second syllable stress in the U.S.

Thanksgiving, however, is an English word through and through. And if it behaved like a normal English word, it would have stress on the first syllable. Consider other words with the same noun-gerund structure just like it: SEAfaring, BAbysitting, HANDwriting, BULLfighting, BIRDwatching, HOMEcoming, ALMSgiving. The stress is always up front, on the noun. Why, in Thanksgiving alone, would stress shift to the GIVE?

The shift to the ThanksGIVing pronunciation is a bit of a mystery. Linguist John McWhorter has suggested that the loss of the stress on thanks has to do with a change in our concept of the holiday, that we “don’t truly think about Thanksgiving as being about thankfulness anymore.” This kind of thing can happen when a word takes on a new, more abstract sense. When we use outgoing for mail that is literally going out, we are likely to stress the OUT. When we use it as a description of someone’s personality ("She's so outgoing!"), the stress might show up on the GO. Stress can shift with meaning.

But the stress shift might not be solely connected to the entrenchment of our turkey-eating rituals. The thanksGIVing stress pattern seems to have pre-dated the institution of the American holiday, according to an analysis of the meter of English poems by Mark Liberman at Language Log. ThanksGIVing has been around at least since the 17th century. However you say it, there is precedent to back you up. And room enough to focus on both the thanks and the giving.

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Designer Reimagines the Spanish Alphabet With Only 19 Letters
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According to designer José de la O, the Spanish alphabet is too crowded. Letters like B and V and S and Z are hard to tell apart when spoken out loud, which makes for a language that's "confusing, complicated, and unpractical," per his design agency's website. His solution is Nueva Qwerty. As Co.Design reports, the "speculative alphabet" combines redundant letters into single characters, leaving 19 letters total.

In place of the letters missing from the original 27-letter Spanish alphabet are five new symbols. The S slot, for example, is occupied by one letter that does the job of C, Z, and S. Q, K, and C have been merged into a single character, as have I and Y. The design of each glyph borrows elements from each of the letters it represents, making the new alphabet easy for Spanish-speakers to learn, its designer says.

Speculative Spanish alphabet.
José de la O

By streamlining the Spanish alphabet, de la O claims he's made it easier to read, write, and type. But the convenience factor may not be enough to win over some Spanish scholars: When the Royal Spanish Academy cut just two letters (CH and LL) from the Spanish alphabet in 2010, their decision was met with outrage.

José de la O has already envisioned how his alphabet might function in the real world, Photoshopping it onto storefronts and newspapers. He also showcased the letters in two new fonts. You can install New Times New Roman and Futurysma onto your computer after downloading it here.

[h/t Co.Design]

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