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Marking time in February 2013

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.

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This predilection for sea idiom

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