I recently spotted a new book online called Words The Sea Gave Us, by Grace Tierney. Now as a maritime blogger I had an instant, professional, interest in the topic. But I have to admit, apart from being a book hoarder and with a weakness of not being able to pass up a good book, I didn’t really expect to learn a lot of new words or phrases from Grace. I was, however, pleasantly surprised.
Grace has more than 370 words and phrases featured in the book and has neatly catagorised them into various chapters such as parts of a ship, sail names, crew titles, surfer slang, marine monsters, nautical navigation, flying the flag, and of course, scurvy pirates. There’s also a really useful Index for fast finding a word.
As I read I was instantly reminded of my childhood, reared as I was in a seafarers home. Both my mother and father came from fishing and seafaring stock and my father, in particular, could never speak in a way other dads did. The kitchen was the galley, the bed was a bunk and when we had to tidy up it was expected that everything would look “ship shape and Bristol fashion”.
As I had gone fishing from an early age other words and phrases were part of my everyday vocabulary; we had to go aft, turn to starboard, and not act the galoot! If we were late we “slept our tide” and if we ran aground we risked being “marooned”. All these phrases brought a smile to my face as I was reminded on each page, and often in each paragraph of familiar words and phrases.
But I was also surprised at the origins of some words that were part of my everyday. I may know what they mean to communicate, but not the root of it. Perhaps my greatest shock was the phrase Sweet Fanny Adams – or indeed Sweet FA, or Sweet Feck All. We use it now to communicate nothing. If we hauled our nets and they were empty we caught Sweet FA. But according to Grace the origins of the phrase go back to a heinous crime committed against an 8year old girl named Fanny Adams who was murdered and chopped to pieces in 1867. Royal navy sailors who were fed on cans of chopped up meat used the unfortunate incident as slang to describe their dislike for the canned meat stews they were forced to eat! I’m not sure I want to use that phrase again.
As for Grace herself, she lives in NW Ireland, loves the outdoors, and has been blogging about the history of unusual words since 2009. She has published two books on the topic, How To Get Your Name In The Dictionary, and now Words The Sea Gave Us. I would highly recommend it.
Here’s a link to find out where to get a copy. https://wordfoolery.wordpress.com/my-books/