Sailors Have A Word For It - E to M






Elephant’s part—fig. , The part' of the spectator. One who elects to watch others working and does not make any attempt to lend a hand is said to be doing the elephant’s part.


End’s-a-wagging. An announcement that any move­ment or transaction is drawing to a close. The idiom is borrowed from the word passed that the end of a rope, which is being laboriously hauled along, coiled down or reeled up is at last in sight.


Enemy Ships —Unfortunately ships may be found in a fleet or squadron also which do not hit it very well. Years ago this rivalry was painfully symbolized by many disputes and fights , on shore. So serious were these clashes at times that leave would not be granted to both ships on the same day or evening.


Fair wind —fig. Signifies a vacuum ; emptiness. When a matloe looks into a milk-jug and finds it empty he declares, ‘There’s a fair wind in the milk-jug.'


Fall out of the Boat —fig. A man falls out of the boat if he has been dismissed from a society through a violation of its laws, if he has failed to attend meetings or dances that once attracted him, and also if he has broken the pledge after being a teetotaller.


Fanny —n. The sacred receptacle in which the rum ration is fetched.


Fanny Adams —fig. A name given to a suspicious brand of meat when it first appeared in preserved form the middle of last century. It was believed to be called tinned mutton. . In 1812 the entire country Was shocked by the discovery oi the body of a young woman in a dreadful state of mutilation. The victim was subsequently identified as one Fanny Adams, but the mystery of her murder apparently remained unsolved since the unsightly remains were so crudely identified with the new brand of preserved meat.


First and First —Refers to being in the first class for conduct and first class for leave. A man’s shore-going leave (which is a privilege) usually depends upon his conduct. A1 delinquent who commits himself may be relegated to the second class for conduct and therefore second class for leave.; In this stage he is permitted to go ashore only once a fort­night. Years ago there was even a third stage for habitual leave-breakers which was called “limited leave,”, or more popularly termed “limits.” At this stage a poor offender could only go on shore once a quarter.


First Turn of the Screw —fig. The motto of many insol­vents. For a week before ships abroad left a station to return to England, many amusing incidents occurred on board. Elusive and impoverished matloes were to be seen hiding in every nook and comer dodging their creditors-  traders, tailors, photographers, etc. Whenever they were asked how they would manage to liquidate their debts they usually fell back on the callous proverb — “The first turn of the screw (i.e. first revolution of the propellor) pays all debts.”


Flag eight — Used among signal ratings; a warn­ing that someone in authority is near. Flag 8 was the fleet signal for enemy in sight.


Flan, or Flannel —n. Bounce, bluff and general overtures of being a go-getter especially if invested with a lot of harangue. The term recalls the empty railings of a wash-deck boatswain who, in the old days, served out flannel for cleaning purposes with a fund of exhortation on the necessity for rigid economy. Hence the analogy: dealing out the flannel.


Flannel-foot —n. An incompassionate allusion to a victim of bad feet.


Flap —v. To dash about, work briskly and ostentatiously to such an extent as to attrace attention. (Imp. mood): “ Come on, flap your wings,”


Flashing up —fig. The act of raising the oil fuel to a tem­perature high enough to cause a flash when a light is applied. This is usually about 200 deg. F.


Flatfoot —nomen. A matloe’s own nickname for himself. Until 1909 boots were scarcely ever worn on board by sea­men. Because of this their feet expanded to an alarming degree and when they had to don their boots the experience was usually a painful one. A cartoonist in “Chips” and certainly the late G. M. Payne never failed to equip their bluejacket characters with sesquipedalian feet.


Flog —v.t. fig. To overwork; to exploit; to utilise to an unlimited degree ; to read up or study - incessantly ; (in refererence to apparel) to wear almost continuously ; also to sell or barter.


Flog the cat —fig. A term signifying remorse. Sorrow for something done or left undone, e.g. “I flogged the cat I never passed for the killick earlier.”  The analogy recalls the ludicrous side of the indiscretion when the victim is prompted to revenge himself upon a poor, inoffensive cat.


FIyer -adj. Cute ; tactful. The remark “no flies” on any person is a marked compliment to his shrewdness and adaptability. He is made of better material than that to which flies adhere. .


Flunkey, dish-walloper —fig. Any member of the officers steward branch may be so-called. This branch was before 1919 known as officers’ servants and its personnel was enlisted for service usually for a period of five years. After the sitting of the Jerram Committee in 1919 their states advanced with a substantial rise in payment and establishment of continuous service.    ,


Flush. Even; at the same level: balanced. A man - is said to be flush when he has sufficient money to meet expenses.


fore and aft rig—jig. Refers to the peak cap and reefer jacket as worn by ratings not dressed as seamen. It is so called because of its sharp contour in contrast with the “square-rig” uniform of the ancient seaman, i.e. the sailor serge suit with blue collar.


Foreigner —fig. Usually anyone whose home is a long distance from the place or port where his ship or station is at present. “I’m a foreigner here.” Opposite to “native.”


Four by Two —More commonly referred to as the old four-be-two — a sort of abstract noun that may refer to anything ; a synonym for “gadget.” Originally four-by-two was the designation of very serviceable flannelette supplied for the purpose of cleaning the barrels of rifles. It was supplied by the yard and marked off in sections (oblongs) of four inches by two. Each of these sections was cut off and distributed to ratings armed with rifles. The breath of scandal once declared that as a bird is known by its note, -  so is a chief armourer’s, wife by her four-by-two petticoat.


Friday while —A “Friday while” is a long week-end "leave from Friday until Monday. The “while” is a facetious tilt at the Yorkshireman’s substitution of the word for “until.”


Froggie —nomen. Nickname for a, Frenchman; not infre­quently the cognomen of a Channel Islander. The nickname is a compliment to the Frenchman’s reputed partiality for frogs.


Gannet — nomen. and fig. The sobriquet of a habitual glutton; one who bolts his food or whose appetite is seldom appeased.

Gash -v'. To sweep.


Gash or Plussers —n. Signifies over and above, surplus. Plussers from plus, additional.


Gashens —n.: Refuse, sweepings, debris.


Gate —nomen. A derisive appellative directed at a loqua­cious individual, esp. should he not be very popular. (Gate, of course, being a big mouth).


Gate and Gaiters —fig. In its infancy was a scurrilous taunt applied to the official bearing and bureaucratic ranting of gunners’ mates who, in those ancient days, were influenced by a traditional superiority complex, — He’s all gate and gaiters.”  To-day it applies to any overbearing individual who wears gaiters                                  -  .


Gens. A one-time affectionate contraction for general leave which was a periodical privilege of from 24 to 72 hours’ liberty. Gens, now is the evolution General quarters


Get away with it —fig. A man is said to “get away with it” if he has escaped punishment for some offence he com­mitted — if he has been pardoned, cautioned, reprimanded or acquitted. The analogy recalls the luck of the fish getting away with the bait.


Get your lugs back —fig. In the imperative mood is an unconventional invitation to eat, drink and be merry.


Gestapo —nomen. (see Crusher). Applies to the branch of regulating petty officers. Patrols or indeed anyone on polic# duties are usually referred to as the Gestapo,


Give a miss —To give anything a “miss” is to avoid, ignore or cancel it as the case may be. If a man changes his mind about going to the theatre he gives it a miss. To give any­body a miss is to avoid his company. “Take my tip and give that guy a miss ; he’s not much cop.”


Gobbie —n. A coastguard. Also symbolizes a man whose wash-deck duties on board ship are on the quarter-deck.


Going astern —fig. A man who has absent-minedly put his cap on back to front is declared to be going astern.


 Goon —fig. Sometime before the world war, because of their raw and somewhat weedy appearance, the youths in training at Exmouth block, R.N., Barracks, Devonport, were nick­named “goons” and Exmouth block became popular as Goon Valley. The effigy hails from the weird and somewhat attenuated personnel of the Popeye cartoons.


Goffer -  A drink of any effervescent quality.


Graft —n. Applies to one’s work. A man who is thoroughly acquainted with his work is appraised as “knowing his graft ”— an inestimable virtue in the Navy. Believed to have its origin in naval prisons where offenders were assigned to work points and grafts in hammock clews and lashings. Seamen usually excelled in this class of work, but other ratings experienced much difficulty and were obliged to submit to instruction which was not too politely ladled out. Hence “knowing his graft” signifies that a man merits consideration for his proficiency.


Greasy Neck  —nomen. (see Chef.)


Green Coat —fig. The abstract mantle of pretence. Anyone who simulates being “green” or innocent is reputed for wearing or shipping the green coat. A persistence in the pretence is colloqualised as buttening it up. “ He’s button­ing up the old green coat again.”


Green rub ........ fig. Unmerited retribution. If a man is punished when it really is not his fault, it is referred to as a green rub.


Gunnery Jack or Guns —nomen. The senior gunnery officer of the ship. The “Jack” was associated with his reputation as a fanatic.- Likewise Torpedo Jack is a synonym for the torpedo officer, but he is more popularly known as the T.L.


Gutzkreig -n. A pain in the stomach. Adapted from the terminology of Cassandra, a hidebound satirist of the “Daily Mirror.”


Guzz—prop. n. The western naval seaport of Plymouth and Devonport. Staddon Point, the loftiest peak noted coming up the Channel was once known as Guzzle Point.


Hand-draulic —fig. A satirical corruption of hydraulic, which referred to hydraulic machinery. Anything done by manual labour without the aid of electrical or mechanical equipment is facetiously symbolized as being “ hand-draulic.”


Harry Frees., Harry’s — Immunity from payment. To be given anything without having to pay for it is to get it “Harry Frees.” Name associated 'with an ex-jaunty called Freeman whom the “ troops ” nicknamed Harry. He was not very popular.


Harry Tate’s —fig. The realm of the ludicrous. Anything presenting a laughable aspect. For instance, if some drill or evolution savoured of one or two flaws or revealed any traces of absurdity it would be termed a “proper Harry Tate’s evolution.”


Hatchway nip —fig. Was the iniquitous caper of the rum-fiend of years ago. Carrying the fanny of rum from the upper deck he often paused at the top of the hatchway and helped himself to a libation.


Haul on —fig. A sinister implication which flavours strongly of blackmail. When a man has a “haul” on a shipmate he more or less knows something about that shipmate which it would be extremely disadvantageous to the gentleman if divulged; viz. “Young -Smithy can say what he likes to Tommy the boatswain: I don’t mind betting he has a haul on Tommy”


Helmet —n. Any head-covering is called a helmet.


H.O. —Short for duration of war. Hostilities Only.


Hookpot or Hooker —n. A contemptuous reference to any ship. A hookpot was an old tin utensil fitted' with hooks for hanging. Though it seldom served a useful purpose it had to be kept clean and polished. It was happily abolished in 1908.


Hookrope Party —Delinquents of bygone days. Men who volunteered for any sort of dirty work on the Sabbath morn­ing in order to escape the ordeal of attending divisions. They usually pleaded they did not have a decent suit to wear or one smart enough to pass the fastidious eye of the captain.


Hot —fig. adj. Particular to the extent of being a pet fad. An adiftiral, for, instance, who is reputed to be “ hot on hair­cuts ” rnky be the cause of a great rush to the ship’s barber just before his inspection. A captain who nurses a weak­ness for chinstays being properly sewn on his charges’ caps is said to be “hot on chinstays.”


Hurrah Trip —fig. A trip of a squadron or one or two ships around the British Isles in order to popularise the British Navy.    


Ikey —fig. and nomen. Characteristic nickname of anyone who is singularly careful with his money ; the patronymic of ' anyone of Hebrew extraction.


Jack Dusty —nomen. Formerly the appellative of a ship’s steward assistant; now any member of the supply branch below the rating of supply petty officer. (Etmy). From the noticeable amount of dust created in the bread-room when the bread was being stowed, or tinned , biscuit distributed, a job at which Jack always had to be present.


Jacker —nomen. Any native of Cornwall who cannot rid himself of the dialect of that county.


Jack Strop —nomen. An obstreperous individual, usually in a potvaliant sense ; a poseur of the would-be rough and tough. The term recalls the devil-may-care bacchanalian of the 19th century.


Jago —nomen. A proper noun that has blossomed into an abstract one. The name of an ex-instructor of cookery who was responsible for much of the messing improvement and victualling systems in the western wing of the Service. He was the pioneer of the general mess movement and worked energetically to promote the comfort of all ratings.  In many ships the name - Jago is synonymous with the Service itself, i.e. “Pussers.” A pair of Service boots is very often referred to as a pair of Jago’s, and, it is believed by many, that the name Jago will live longer than that of Nelson.


Jam —fig. An achievement gained in a game through sheer good luck. A word usually associated with unmerited fortune on a billiard table.


Jankers —The bugle notes of defaulters.


Jaunty —The chief of police on board; the supreme head of the Regulating staff; the master-at-arms. He is the only chief petty officer who wears a frock coat and sword. From the French gendarme. The old French prisoners who were confined in hulks, addressed their gaoler as “gendarme,” which pronounced “ John-dom ” impressed the British sea­man: thus Johnty or jaunty. ,


Jewing —v. Sewing ; making or repairing garments ; enter­prising possibilities of suit-making is responsible for the Hebraic participle.


Jewing Firm —One who slaves at a sewing-machine making suits for his shipmates. His labours, however, reap good monetary awards.


Jimmy Bungs —prop. in. Is, or rather was, the ship’s cooper. He made and repaired bread-barges, tubs and casks but, in general, acted^as a sort of aide-de-camp to the supply branch. The rating is now abolished.


Jimmy-the-One —prop. n. The senior lieutenant-commander of the ship. He is just “ Jimmy,” or James the First with the “troops,” and Number One amongst the officers.


Joey —prop. n. The senior marine officer on board. Note: marines are never called Joeys and certainly not “jollies.”


Jonas -fig. A corruption of Jonah. Anyone whose presence is suspected of causing disaster or bringing misfortune to others though he himself may come to no harm. “ Who’s the Jonas in this blooming watch? ”


Juggins —fig. The unfortunate one:, the one who “takes the can back” or shoulders the blame, Believed , to be associated with the song, “ I’m Billy Muggins, commonly known, as a Juggins.” 


Jump —fig. v.t. To outstrip in the race for promotion. If a rating is promoted before compeers who are actually senior to him on the roster, he is adjudged to have “jumped” those compeers. On his promotion to the rank of captain the late Admiral Beatty is stated to have “jumped” 200 com­manders, or, jumped over their heads.


Ki.— Cocoa. The navy’s traditional weakness for brevity is often evidenced by referring to items merely by their first letters or syllables. Cocoa became “kay,” which the Cockney twisted to “ki.”


Killick  A leading seaman; the next rank above A.B., the anchor worn by leading rates.


Lady Godiva bloke —jig. A term of derision applied to one who is; over-fastidious as to the appearance of his hair, teeth or fingernails.


Lap ahead —fig. Anything done in advance in order to gain time is referred to as a lap ahead.


Lashing out —fig. Flapping, digging out, flying round, etc. Working briskly and earnestly.


Leg-pulling - fig. Everyone knows what is meant by — “He’s only pulling your leg,” otherwise codding or aiming to take a rise out of one, but how many know of its origin? Many years ago in London an elusive type of footpad was highly skilled in the art of tripping people up by dexterously inserting his leg between those of his victims. The fallen man was robbed by accomplices as he lay on the ground. This type of footpad was known to Scotland Yard as “trippers-up ” and the very fact that they pulled the legs of their victims to complete the attack gave rise to the expres­sion so many of us hear to-day.


Lift — -fig. Elevation,, promotion. “I hear you’re getting the lift" is a cheery greeting.


Lighthouse  The service pepper-dredger.


Line the pencil —To line the pencil for any place expresses the intention of going to that place. The term is derived from the phraseology connected with the late Admiral Sir Percy Scott’s dotter.


Lofty —fig. The nickname for a tall person.


Long-winded —fig. Late, tardy or, more frequently, a long time working on the one job ; likened to a ship a very long time on the one tack.


Lose deal —fig. To suffer loss ; to experience a disappoint­ment. To gain deal, on the other hand, is to experience profitable results, (see Windward).


Lose knees —fig. To fall so violently in love that the emo­tions generated weakens the knees and robs them of the power to keep vertical. A rather exaggerated simile, but we read of a waiter who, on first beholding the charms of Lady Langtry, collapsed in the midst of a trayful of delicacies.


Lot’s wife —Ancient term for the mess’s salt-pot.


Lush up —v.f. To lush up anybody is to treat him—or her.


Luftwaffe —An unpleasant odour.


Madwoman’s Water —Very weak tear


Make and mend —-Really means an afternoon off or a half­  holiday. One of the Navy’s traditions is to give a half-day each week for the purpose of making and repairing clothes. On these occasions the very last thing a naval man gives his attention to is his wardrobe. If he doesn’t write a letter he may produce the corker ”and seek a -well-earned rest.  Indeed, “make and mend” has long, been a synonym for a, siesta.                   .


Matloe—A sailor ; usually applies to any man dressed as a seaman. From the French- matelot.


Mick —An Irishman of course, but mick, a popular con­traction for hammock."

Mickey Mouse —The elegant nomenclature which applies to the newly-established branch of motor mechanics. The letters M.M. on the arms of these ratings indicate this but they also recall, to the humour-loving matloe, Walt Disney’s famous creation.


Mop —v.t. To drink.


Mouldy decrepit old vet —fig. Usually a grouser in the winter of his career; a miserable malice not forty years of age who looks sixty and insists on telling the younger fry that he could jump over their heads when he was their age.


Muster by the Open List (or Ledger)— An observance which takes place on board ship at least once a quarter. Originally it was purported so that the captain should satisfy himself that every name on the ship’s ledger for which pay­ment was drawn had a corresponding duplicate of flesh and blood. Ratings assemble for this ceremony (usually in their Sunday best) according to their numbers on the ledger. The captain is seated magisterially at a table. Beside him is his clerk or the chief writer. In rear of him are many of the ship’s officers.. The writer calls the name of each rating in turn; the captain presides judicially with "one eye on the ledger and the other on the man in front of him. As each man’s name is called, he takes a pace forward, stands in front of the captain and salutes. (Men dressed as seamen take off their caps with a flourish). He then answers his payment number. Immediately, and as clearly as possible, he will declare his rating and his non-substantive rating, then any additional, qualification for which he receives payment, and lastly, the number of good conduct badges he may possess. The concatenation runs something: like this: — “Number three-sixty-one, sir: . Leading seaman, leading torpedoman, diver first class, two good "conduct badges.” With that he salutes respectfully again (or replaces his head­gear) turns right and walks smartly away. Muster by the Ledger is also carried out on every occasion of admiral’s inspection, after which any rating who so desires, may inter­view the admiral, either to consult him on some private affair or state a grievance.