Glossary

 

Arrr, here be some nautical and piratical type words and their meanings


Ahoy - call to attract attention, something akin to 'Hello, there!'

Anchor - a heavy weight, often shaped with hooked ends, lowered into the water to keep a ship in one place.

Avast - nautical term meaning stop what you are doing, derived/corrupted from 'hold fast'.

Ballast - stones or other heavy items placed in a ship's bottom to help it maintain a stable upright position.

Becalmed - the state of a sailing ship when it cannot move because there is no wind.

Belay - to tie or secure a rope end.

Bilge - the lowest part of the ship, bilge water is the foul, brackish sea water that would collect from seepage in this area

Black Jack - a leather tankard, made stiff with a coating of tar, used by dockside pubs and taverns to serve wine and beer.

Bowsprit - a long spar that projected from the ship's prow.

Buccaneer - early entrepreneurs who dried the meat from wild cattle and hogs on the island of Hispa´┐Żola in the early 1600's to sell to ships returning to Europe (primarily Spain). A pirate or unscrupulous adventurer.

Capstan - a mechanism for raising and anchor, on larger ships this would often be a large ratcheted pulley with several spoke that a number of crewmen turned to wind the anchor cable up, raising the anchor a little at a time

Careen - cleaning a ship's hull of barnacles, seaweed and marine worms by beaching it and leaning it over to one side.

Corsair - maybe derived from the island name Corsica, pirate or pirate ship, esp. of Barbary (N. Africa in olden times), attacking ships of European countries; also, a French privateer, or Knights of Malta fighting the Barbary pirates. Other origins may be the Latin word corsus meaning plunder.

Cutlass - a short, curved, thick sword, the preferred weapon of many buccaneers, possibly a carry over weapon from the days of making boucan and probably more suited to the slashing melee amidst the rigging when boarding another ship than a long sword

Doubloon - gold coin minted by Spain or Spanish colonies, worth about seven weeks pay for an average sailor.

Flibustier or Filibuster - French term for pirates during the golden age (approximately the same time the term buccaneer came into wide usage)

Flogging - punishment in which a man was whipped on his naked back, often used enforce discipline and punish minor or major infractions by ordinary sailers

Freebooter - another term for a pirate, probably originating from a corruption of the Dutch vrijbuiters (plunderers), combining the words vrij meaning free and buit meaning loot

Gibbet - a wooden frame from which dead pirates were hung, often in a metal cage especially fitted for the pirate, as a warning to any others who would think of taking up a career of piracy

Gunport - a hole, sometimes with an opening shutter, for a cannon to fire through

Handing a sail - rolling a sail up, analogous to shortening a sail

Helm - tiller or wheel used to steer ship

Helmsman - the person who steers the ship

Hold - the cargo area of a ship below the main deck

Jolly Roger - the pirate flag with its skull and cross bones, see my flag page for more details

Letters of Marque - proof that a pirate/privateer is sponsored by a particular government.

Masthead - the top of a mast

Picaroon - term meaning both pirate and slaver.

Piece of Eight - Spanish silver coin, or old Spanish peso, often cut into pieces to make change.

Pirate - derived from the Greek pirate, meaning one who plunders on the sea.

Ponton - an English prison hulk, or converted ship hull, where captured pirates were held.

Privateer - a pirate working for a particular government (often provided with letters of marque to prove this), restricting prey to that of another unfriendly government.

Prize - a captured ship

Quarterdeck - highest deck at the rear of the ship, ship's officers would often stand on the quarterdeck to oversee the ship's operation

Scurvy - a disease resulting from a vitamin C deficiency, characterized by weakness, anemia and spongy gums, although in the sense of 'scurvy dog' it meant low or mean (not angry, but low in quality)

Sea rover - pirate; pirate's ship

Seams - the line where the ship's planks joined, if not sealed properly the ship would leak

Setting a sail - letting the sail down, the opposite of handing

Shorten sail - to reduce the amount of sail hanging from the yards

Sprung seam - a seam that is no longer sealed and is leaking

Tiller - a pole attached to the rudder of a ship, used for steering the ship

Topman - sailor in charge of the topsails

 


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