CLOSE
iStock
iStock

10 Sailor-Related Terms That Were Lost at Sea

iStock
iStock

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.”

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
iStock
iStock

Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

arrow
language
Here's the Right Way to Pronounce Kitchenware Brand Le Creuset

If you were never quite sure how to pronounce the name of beloved French kitchenware brand Le Creuset, don't fret: For the longest time, southern chef, author, and PBS personality Vivian Howard wasn't sure either.

In this video from Le Creuset, shared by Food & Wine, Howard prepares to sear some meat in her bright orange Le Creuset pot and explains, "For the longest time I had such a crush on them but I could never verbalize it because I didn’t know how to say it and I was so afraid of sounding like a big old redneck." Listen closely as she demonstrates the official, Le Creuset-endorsed pronunciation at 0:51.

Le Creuset is known for its colorful, cast-iron cookware, which is revered by pro chefs and home cooks everywhere. The company first introduced their durable pots to the world in 1925. Especially popular are their Dutch ovens, which are thick cast-iron pots that have been around since the 18th century and are used for slow-cooking dishes like roasts, stews, and casseroles.

[h/t Food & Wine]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios