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Sea Stories: #52 - Navyisms

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Sea Stories: #52 Navyisms

Sea Service has its own traditional language, some of which finds its antecedents in ancient history. So everyday things have unique nautical names. Sailors are also a creative bunch. Perhaps it's the boredom, or maybe it's because sea service can be so arduous that if you don't laugh, you may cry on occasion. For whatever reason, sailors often come up with some hilarious expressions or alternate names for common objects or situations.

 

Some unique names:

 

A ship is a Ship, never a “boat” (with the notable exception of submarines, which are ALWAYS “Boats”, never ships.) As a general rule, a Boat can fit on a Ship.

 

A stairway is never a stairway aboard ship, or ashore. It is a “Ladder.”

 

The Smoking Lamp: Before the USN quite recently forbade tobacco use onboard ships, smoking was very common. In fact, when I began my Navy service, a non-smoker was more unusual than normal. By the time I left active duty, I was a member of a completely non-smoking wardroom. And when smoking was allowed to take place, The “Smoking Lamp” was deemed “Lit” and when smoking was forbidden (during refueling, for example) the Smoking Lamp was deemed “Out”. This refers back to the days of sail. Sources of fire were strictly controlled on wooden ships with tarred natural cordage and gunpowder aboard. No man carried around a zippo lighter and just blazed up whenever he felt like it. A special oil lamp was kept lit topside and a man took his tobacco to that one lantern to light it. And when lighting up was forbidden, the lamp was extinguished to prevent smoking.

 

When a disciplinary hearing or trial took place, whether a court martial or a non-judicial punishment hearing (called Captain's Mast, as it took place below decks at the ship's mast) the long wooden table where the Authority sat would traditionally be covered with a green baize tablecloth. Going to either is called “Facing the Long Green Tablecloth.”

 

Flogging used to be a common punishment for misbehaviors, even fairly trivial ones. A particularly harsh punishment was reserved for the most heinous crimes short of hanging: “Flogging Around The Fleet” - where a man would be taken to each ship of the fleet, flogged, and then taken to the next. They often died before it was all over. Flogging was performed with a special cotton cord whip with nine braided strands, called “the Cat 'O Nine Tails."   Lashes were rendered in sets of dozens. One, Two, Three Dozen. Etc. Between uses, the Cat was kept in a particular red baize cloth bag. So spilling a secret which got someone in trouble and resulted in their being flogged was called “Letting the Cat Out Of The Bag.”

 

There is no “rope” aboard a ship, except in bulk storage. If it is cut to length for a purpose, it is invariably a “Line.”

 

There are no closets on a ship. There are Storerooms. Any container where something is stored is called a “Locker.” Personal Locker, Paint Locker, Life Jacket Locker, etc.

 

The Officer's common dining room and socialization space is called The Wardroom.

 

The Chief Petty Officers' equivalent is officially called The Chief's Mess, but is often called “The Goat Locker.”

 

A bathroom is always a “Head”. This dates back to when the sanitary facility was nothing more than a bench with a hole in it, built over the water well forward of the flare of the hull (at the Head of the ship), exposed to the weather. As sailing ships traveled downwind, placing the Head forward kept the smell downwind from the crew. Take a look at the movie Master & Commander with Russell Crowe. There is a scene with his ship sailing in a snowstorm, and a shot of the ship's bow features a sailor on the head, with his breeches around his knees.

 

A shower compartment in the head is sometimes referred to as “The Rain Locker.”

 

The ship's medical personnel are usually enlisted men in the Hospital Corpsman (HM) rating. (Very large ships may have a medical doctor and occasionally a dentist, but I never served on a ship with either. I was a destroyerman.) They are who you see when you report to morning sick call complaining of any ailment. And because sailors historically occasionally (okay, frequently) developed cases of venereal disease after going ashore, the Corpsman is also known as “The Pecker Checker.”

 

Sailors in technical ratings, especially electronics, are known as “Twidgets”. Engineers are known as “Snipes.” Some ratings have their own epithets. Hull Technicians (who perform piping repairs, including sanitary systems, are sometimes called “Turd Chasers.” Signalmen (who used hand-held flags to communicate in semaphore) were called “Skivvy Wavers” (an allusion to waving around underwear as makeshift signal flags.) Radiomen used to be called “Spark Shooters” and often were called the general nickname “Sparks”. Ditto Boatswains Mates - “Boats” and Gunners Mates - “Guns”. But Boatswain's Mates and their non-rated junior enlisted men supervisees are sometimes disparagingly called “Deck Apes” (usually not within their hearing.)

 

A sailor known as a man who partied very hard when ashore was called a “Liberty Hound” or a “Steamer.”

 

“Liberty” is a period of off-duty recreation ashore measured in hours. No formal orders are cut and the man is instantly re-callable if needed or if he does something he shouldn't. “Shore Leave” is longer, and is more formal, with actual written orders being issued, allowing travel and documenting that he is NOT expected to return before his orders say he is.

 

Dust bunnies, those little gray tumbleweeds of dust and hair which one finds behind furniture and in frame bays and overheads which haven't been cleaned recently enough, are known to sailors as “Ghost Turds”.

 

A piece of firefighting equipment, the Fog Applicator, is a long pipe with a bend in it, and a bulbous bronze nozzle on the end. Sailors irreverently call this a “Donkey Dick.” (I have no idea why.)

 

The classic Navy soft drink, a chilled beverage made from powder (analogous to KoolAid), usually kept in dispensers on the mess decks and available at all times, is known as “Bug Juice.” Bug Juice comes in several garish colors, none of which is found in nature. And when spilled, it makes an awful, sticky mess. It has been used to polish brass, as it is mildly acidic.

 

Creamed Chipped Beef on Toast (one perennially favorite Navy breakfast item) is usually called “SOS” - for “S&^% On A Shingle”

 

Beef Roulades (a sort of oblong patty of roast beef in brown gravy) are known as “Nairobi Trail Markers.”   I'll leave it to you to figure out the visual reference.

 

Brussels Sprouts (almost always soggy, overcooked and bitter by the time they are served on the Mess Line, and pretty much universally despised by sailors are called “Little Green Balls Of Death.”

 

Cheeseburgers are called “Sliders”, as they are usually so greasy, they will slide right off the plate if the ship rolls.

 

Practical Jokes can be pretty funny too. Sending a junior man down to the Fireroom to fetch a “BT punch” would result in a large Boiler Technician (BT) giving him a bruising punch to the upper arm. Sending him to a Boatswains Mate for “fifty feet of shoreline” was good for a laugh (when no shoreline would be visible for a thousand sea miles.) And junior sailors would occasionally be told that the USN used a novel method of delivering personal mail to ships. A watertight buoy would be anchored in a particular spot in the ocean, and the ships's mail would be dropped off there by a support ship, where it could be retrieved as the ship passed by. More than a few junior sailors have been stationed topside with binoculars on “Mail Buoy Watch” to help find the elusive buoy.

 

One very junior engineer on my first ship was sent to borrow a Stroboscopic Tachometer (called a StroboTach) from another work center. When he got there, the young man didn't really know what he had been sent to get, and did the best he could. After the laughter died away (which took some time), the equipment in question was ever more known aboard that ship as a “Scrotum Tech.”

 

On my last ship, the crew was small and unusually close-knit. And one night, the 1989 movie Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure was shown on the mess decks, cracking everybody up with the antics of then very young Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter. For many weeks after, crew members played air guitar or repeated any of a dozen gag lines from the movie. My personal favorite: “Strange things are afoot at the Circle K”,  used whenever anything unusual was happening.

 

Some other everyday expressions, translated from Sailorese:

 

“What the hell, over?” = “Why did you just do that?”

 

FIGMO = “Eff it, I got my orders.” (which means, I don't care, I'm leaving the ship soon anyway.)

 

DILLIGAF? = “Do I look like I give a F%$#?”

Edited by Gunboat1
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1 hour ago, Gunboat1 said:

Sea Stories: #52 Navyisms

Sea Service has its own traditional language, some of which finds its antecedents in ancient history. So everyday things have unique nautical names. Sailors are also a creative bunch. Perhaps it's the boredom, or maybe it's because sea service can be so arduous that if you don't laugh, you may cry on occasion. For whatever reason, sailors often come up with some hilarious expressions or alternate names for common objects or situations.

A piece of firefighting equipment, the Fog Applicator, is a long pipe with a bend in it, and a bulbous bronze nozzle on the end. Sailors irreverently call this a “Donkey Dick.” (I have no idea why.)

 

 

 

 

Some Navy guy must have renamed this.

 

image.jpeg.0ee42c90225436d8bfeddc214f6a6d0e.jpeg

 

:biggrin:

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3 hours ago, Gunboat1 said:

image.png.348ec267b821d6c74776e66dcb73290d.png

Yeah, I was an industrial firefighter for 20+ years. We had some of those scattered around the plant. They would come in handy every once in a while.

 

Every concrete job I was ever involved with, someone always called the concrete vibrator the " donkey dick ".

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Yeah, I was an industrial firefighter for 20+ years. We had some of those scattered around the plant. They would come in handy every once in a while.
 
Every concrete job I was ever involved with, someone always called the concrete vibrator the " donkey dick ".

Met my wife when I was a patient at Portsmouth Naval Hospital in 1970. She was a Navy Corpswave (now apparently referred to as a Female Corpsman, or something). We’re still together.....


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
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6 hours ago, C_Hallbert said:


Met my wife when I was a patient at Portsmouth Naval Hospital in 1970. She was a Navy Corpswave (now apparently referred to as a Female Corpsman, or something). We’re still together.....


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

I've got two friends, one retired Army CWO and one former Navy SEAL who met their then servicemember wives when they treated them for training injuries.   They are still together also.  Must be a thing!  

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