Monday, December 16, 2013

Secret Pirate Sayings

Nautical Terms That Make no Sense Until You Know What They Mean

Kiss the Gunner’s Daughter

If a sailor was to be flogged as a form of punishment, he would need to be tied down first. Sometimes the grating that covered the main hatch would be set on its side and used. Sometimes he would be bound to a mast. Or he might be bent over the barrel of a gun and tied down. If he was, his shipmates might jokingly say he was “kissing the gunner’s daughter.”

Dead Reckoning

Method of navigation which calculates a ship’s position based on its last known position, using estimates of how far and in what direction the ship has traveled. It is the oldest method of navigation, but not the most accurate. It is a miss-spelling of “ded reckoning,” short for “deductive reckoning.”

Keel Hauled

A form of punishment in which ropes were used to drag a sailor under the belly of the ship. Besides the danger of drowning, the sailor faced damage from contact with the barnacles and growths on the underside of the ship. The term comes from being hauled under the keel, or center line of the ship.


The term for measuring a boat’s speed through the water. It comes from the method of using a rope marked with knots at even intervals to measure the boat’s speed. At one end of the line there would be a log that was thrown from the stern. The knotted line was allowed to run freely for a specific amount of time after which it was hauled back aboard, where the number of knots could be counted giving the number of knots of forward speed.


A “lubber” meant a large, clumsy person. Calling a man a “land lubber” was an even greater insult, since sailors regarded landsmen as ignorant, since they did not know the even simplest things about ships. “Landlubber” has nothing to do with “land lover.”

Son of a Gun

Very often, when a navy ship came into port, the sailors were not allowed to go on shore, for fear they would desert. Prostitutes would go aboard to service the men, and since there was no private space in the crew quarters, the women would make space on or around the guns. Nine months later, if a child was born, he might be called a “son of a gun.”

Batten Down the Hatches

“Batten down” means to tie down or secure. Hatches are openings in the upper deck of a ship which allow passage of people or cargo to the decks below. Battening down the hatches means to secure the covers over these openings, so rain or high waves will not swamp the ship.


Sailing ships with severe damage to rigging or other parts might be beyond repair, but could still be useful. A ship incapable of sailing was called a hulk. It might be used for storage, training, spare housing for sailors, or as a base for doing repairs on more seaworthy ships. Because large vessels were more useful for this purpose, the word “hulk” came to mean a large clumsy thing.

Hull Down

A ship was said to be “hull down” when its masts were visible above the horizon, but the hull or body of the ship was hidden by the horizon.

Before the Mast

Meaning the area of the ship in front of (before) the main mast of the ship. The common sailors had their living quarters here, and so were said to “sail before the mast.” The officers, in contrast, had their cabins near the rear of the ship, where the ride was more smooth. Officer trainees were housed in between, and became known as “midshipmen.”

Dog Watch

A watch was a four-hour work shift. A dog watch was a half-length watch, usually in the wee hours of the morning. Such an arrangement might help to rotate the system over different days for fairness, or to allow both watches to eat their meals at approximately normal times.

Following Sea

Wave or tidal movement going in the same direction as the ship, and helping it along.


The ship’s bathroom. So-called because in the days of sail, this area was situated as far forward as possible. Since the wind generally came from behind a sailing vessel, this meant that the smell of human waste was always downwind.


An obsolete term for the left side of the ship. Traditionally sailing ships tied up with the left side attached to the quay. For this reason the left was originally called the “lay-board” side. Later this was changed to “port” because “larboard” sounded too much like “starboard,” the right side of the ship.

Blow the Man Down

Knock a man down by hitting him (giving him a blow.) Similarly, “blow me down” means “knock me down.”

Pieces of Eight

A Spanish silver coin, made in such a way that it could be cut into eight pieces This was done to make change from a purchase or to otherwise divide money. The smallest piece of the coin, a pie-shaped piece of silver, was called a “bit.” From this we get the description of a quarter as being “two bits.”


A Spanish gold coin worth 2 reales. Spanish coins came in one two, four and eight reales units, and the two-reale coin was called a doubloon, or a “double one.”

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