Monday 11 February 2013
This predilection for sea idiom
This predeliction [sic] for sea idiom is assuredly proper in a maritime people, especially as many of the phrases are at once graphic, terse, and perspicuous. How could the whereabouts of an aching tooth be better pointed out to an operative dentist than Jack’s “’Tis the aftermost grinder aloft, on the starboard quarter.”* The ship expressions preserve many British and Anglo-Saxon words, with their quaint old preterites and telling colloquialisms; and such may require explanation, as well for the youthful aspirant as for the cocoa-nut-headed prelector in nautic lore. It is indeed remarkable how largely that foundation of the English language has been preserved by means of our sailors.
—from the Introduction to Admiral W H Smyth’s, The sailor’s word book: an alphabetical digest of nautical terms (London: Blackie and Son, 1867), page 6.
* my emphasis
Hendrick van der Burgh, Interior of a Netherlandisch house with a dental operator applying an instrument to the mouth of a seated patient, oil painting circa 1817. Wellcome Library