YEAR OF THE SEAFARER | Seafarers urged to share nautical sayings

Seafarers past and present are being asked to contribute some of the sea-inspired sayings and words they use in everyday life to a new book on maritime language.

Maritime charity the Royal Alfred Seafarers’ Society has launched a nationwide campaign designed to capture modern-day seafaring sayings to mark the Year of the Seafarer (2010).

As part of the campaign, the society is teaming up with former Royal Navy surgeon-captain Rick Jolly OBE, who is author of naval slang and jargon guide Jackspeak, to produce a new compendium of modern nautical terms for the next edition of his book.

The society is calling on serving and retired members of the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy, fishermen and port workers nationwide to get involved in the Royal Alfred Gung Ho Language Workshop, inviting them to send in modern words and sayings they use in everyday language, inspired by their time at sea.

Common sayings such as giving someone “a wide berth”, getting “carried away”, and “letting the cat out of the bag” are just a few examples of everyday language that originated with mariners.

Dr Rick Jolly said: “The beauty of nautical language, just like all language, is that it is constantly evolving.

“Shaped by changing times and technologies, the expressions used often carry that classic mariner sense of humour – inherent in sayings such as ‘kecks’ which are underpants (or trousers in Liverpool!) and ‘spondoolicks’, a 19th century word for money.

“Projects like this are vital in preserving the significance and awareness of nautical language and we look forward to hearing from today’s seafarers who may have their own ‘first rate’ suggestions or may really ‘know the ropes’ when it comes to modern-day sailor speak!”

The Royal Alfred Seafarers’ Society canvassed its retired resident seafarers at its nursing and residential home in Surrey for their top 10 favourite phrases coined from a life at sea.

Their top five were: “the cat’s out of the bag”; “brass monkeys”; “batten down”; “splice the mainbrace”; and “three sheets to the wind”.

Commander Boxall-Hunt, chief executive of the society, said: “Seafarers do literally have their own language which is evident every time our residents socialise together, but it’s astounding how much of this language is used by everyone – every day.

“This heritage must not be lost or forgotten, which is why we are embracing today’s generations of seafarers alongside the generation we care for at our residence in Surrey, to take that understanding to the wider public and celebrate it.”

Maritime sayings and words can be submitted online at or by post to The Royal Alfred Gung Ho Language Workshop, Head Office, Weston Acres, Woodmansterne Lane, Banstead, Surrey, SM7 3HA.

The Royal Alfred Seafarers’ Society was established in 1865 and provides care predominately to retired seafarers from across the UK, but welcomes those of non-seafaring backgrounds when able to do so. For more information visit



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