Sailors Have A Word For It - N to S






Native —fig. As the word .implies, one whose home, is in the port. One of course becomes a native when ties of friend­ship, courtship or marriage necessitates his going ashore at every opportunity. 


Navvie  - The navigating officer. wardroom officers refer to this learned colleague as The Pilot.


Neaters —Otherwise neat rum; a glorious tonic; the monopoly of chief and petty officers.


Nigger —fig. The. nickname of anyone of rather dark hair or complexion ; viz. Nigger Benson.


Niggly -gouging, skimshankiiig—Unscrupulous manoeuvres to gain favouritism. Snivelling.


North-Easter - A melancholy term implying economical rather than meteorological, gravity. North-east on the compass-card is marked N.E., but N.E. also means “not entitled’’ by no means a kindly salutation to a rating answering his call to the pay-table.


Number Appointment, job, duty. “What number have you got?” means “What is your job?” or “ what duty have you got? ”A quiet number” means an easy job, -a soft billet, and the more the dignity of its office excuses one from the routine work of the ship the “quieter” it is.


Number One —nomen. Of old, the first lieutenant, now the senior lieutenant-commander of the ship, (see Jimmy-the- Qne.


Nutty —The nickname for any person with a large head.


Old Man —An individual who sports marked paternal idiosyncrasies in his attitude towards a shipmate of tenderer years; one who usually takes a fatherly interest in a young fellow and spares no pains to help him on. (see Winger).


Old Man —Really speaking the supreme head of any depart­ment. The paymaster-commander, for instance, is Paybob to all the crew, but to his own staff he is the Old Man; the senior shipwright, officer may be younger than many of his own subordinates, but to them he is the Old Man. Note: In the Merchant Navy the captain is always the Old Man, but this is not the case in the Royal Navy—though his own galley’s crew may refer to him as such.


Old Ship —Otherwise an old shipmate. The term is invested with strong, confraternal sentimentality. The fact of being an old shipmate of anybody’s invokes a prior claim for sympathetic consideration on his part — though this tradition is often disputed with the rejoinder, “Old ships are leaky.”


Old Soldier —fig. “Don’t come the old soldier,” is a very frequent rejoinder which implies, “Don’t take liberties” or “don’t put on airs and try to make out you’re a big noise.” In the Army the Old Soldier is a veteran who, by virtue of his age and experience, is credited with having much know­ledge and therefore a very useful arbiter when an argument arises. He is (or was) a person of importance, therefore, to pose as the Old Soldier is a wasted assumption on people who know better.


On the Beach —fig. ' (see Beacher).


One-beller —fig. A story, an anecdote. The term is a relic of the Victorian era when garrulous matloes, stimulated by the flowing bowl, exchanged stories. The time of the day would be one bell (12.30 p.m.) just after the rum was issued.


Open out —fig. Go quicker. “Come on, let’s open out! ” To increase speed. Applies to opening out more the throttle valve in the engine room.


Open up a tin —fig: Here the noun caustic or “strongers” is understood. When an individual “opens up a tin” he is very indignant and rails abusively, and with a wealth of invective, at the irony of his fate. Of course those allegorical “tins” contain many powerful chemicals that, having been “bottled up for years” escape with greater violence when the process of opening commences.


Opposition Bill —nomen. A derisive nickname accorded to that very unpopular figure who aims to court popularity by pretending that he is well-informed. No matter what any­body says he will challenge or oppose in the hopes that he will impress his hearers with his sapience. Usually his knowledge is discovered to be so meagre that it is not large enough to convince him how very ignorant he really is.


Part Brass-rags —fig. To sever friendship. Raggie means a comrade, because in the old days sworn friends kept their deaning-rags in the same bag. If they fell out with each other, one of them removed his rags as a token of his dis­pleasure. Parted brass-rags therefore implies a breaking off of friendly relations.


Paybob, Pusser, Gold-dust —The Paymaster. Paybob is to-day the most hackneyed appellative, Pusser (purser) is more associated with Service observance, while Gold-dust is almost defunct.


Pay-day —A nest-egg; a comfortable sum of money. To “make a pay-day” means to labour in order to accumulate wealth.


Peg —fig. The emblem of the New Leaf. “I'm going to put the peg in after this week-end, ” -  I’m not going ashore any more, I’m putting the peg right in.” In most cases “putting in the peg” is concerned with turning T.T. and saving money. When the erring matloe discovers that too touch of a good thing confers no lasting benefit he very wisely puts the peg in — for how long is a secret between himself and his Maker.


Pennants flying —fig. A matloe declares that his “pennants are flying” when he overhears, or suspects he hears, others talking about him. A ship wishing to make a signal to another ship hoists that vessel’s pennants (i.e. her number). If the ship so hailed is not quick to respond by running up her answering pennant, all other ships in the vicinity may send out a very ironic reminder by hoisting the self-same pennants. So many ships flying her pennants — the subject of general interest: hence the analogy to the overhearing of oneself being spoken about.


Perks. Extra work as a punishment. Believed to have originated from the good sense of one Commander Perkins who, noting that little advantage was to be gained in making offenders face the paintwork (10A punishment), promptly condemned the corrective as utterly childish and gave the men work to do instead.

Pick-up —v.t. To find fault; to be questioned concerning some flaw or omission. If a man is told by the patrol to button his coat up properly, or appraised by his divisional officer that his hair is much too long, or questioned by the skipper as to where he got that strange collar, he is “picked up” in each case. Term derived from the shady past when matloes were often so hopelessly drunk that they had to be picked up bodily by a patrol and carried to the liberty boat. “Pick up” also means to meet by appointment. “I’ll pick you up at the Town Hall.” Etmy. A ship mooring at a buoy anchorage “picks up” the buoy.


Pier-head jump —An immediate draft-chit.


Pile up points —fig. To win favour; to behave in such a manner under, a superior’s notice, as to insure favourable consideration at a later date, (see Points).


Playing on —v.t. To “play on” anything is to rely upon the official power invested in that same thing. For instance, . if a brand new leading seaman appears to be over-officious he is said to be “playing on his something old hook,” The hook (anchor and symbol of authority) indeed protects him from receiving, a severe drubbing.


Plussers —n.    Extras ; additional. The term speaks for itself. Plussers, however, generally applies to the amount of rum remaining in the fanny after everyone has had his tot.


Points —n. Marks of merit in an examination.


Pongo —A soldier.


Poultice-mixer —fig. The old-time uncharitable nickname for any member of the sick berth branch. It has happily died out and a member of the sick berth branch to-day is hailed by the more academic “ Doc.” q.v.


Pompey.—Nickname for Portsmouth. The breath of scandal says some old admiral learning of the loose morals of Portsmouth declared the town to be more like Pompeii every day.


Provy.  Short for Providence! “ I’ll have to trust to Provy.”


Prowl—fig. An authority is said to be “on the prowl” when he is walking round for the sole purpose of finding faults ; viz. “Look out! Jimmy is on the prowl.”


Pussers—fig. A corruption of purser. A rating is said to be “pussers" when he rigidly adheres to Service regulations; strict, to the point, conscientious. A man is nicknamed Pusser if he wears ready-made or ungainly garments. The ready-made clothes supplied by the purser just before the last war were,anything but picturesque, and rather than wear them the average matloe patronised a naval outfitter to whom he had to pay a far higher price; but he was certainly more respectably clothed; So untidy men of that day received the sobriquet of Pusser.


Pusser’s tally —fig. A fictitious name; an alias shamelessly adopted by erring gondoliers and readily surrendered to the gullible. The pursers of the early part of last century were often as-unscrupulous a lot of rogues as are any of the brazen racketeers who run the black markets to-day. Their books were well stocked with names of naval ratings who certainly did not exist, and they lined their pockets with the money they received as pay for these fictitious ratings From this system of fraud sprang the ritual—Muster by the Open List. q.v, .


Pusser’s dagger or Pusser’s dirk—ti. The-service knife with spike issued to Seamen ratings; a very useful imple­ment. It was once a very important part of a seaman’s kit,  indeed it was death to the law for any such rating not to have one in his possession whilst a member of a boat’s crew. The modern knife is a very elaborate implement and can be deftly used either as a screw-driver or a tin opener.


Pusser’s dip — The Service candle; it sheds a good light and burns steadily for eight hours.


Pull his weight. This term has even passed into journalism. A man is said to, pull his weight when he per­forms, at least, what is expected from him, nothing more or nothing less. The expression hails from boat-racing and referred to one of a crew who does not contribute any extra effort to the struggle beyond that of “ pulling his own weight.”


Put in - fig. “ I put in to see the comm.,”otherwis “ I put in a request to see the commander — Most favours, privi­leges, claims, etc. are officially dealt with through the ritual of an interview with the commander. This is engineered by a written request signed by the rating’s divisional officer At “commander’s requestmen” the following day the petitioner sees the comm, and states his case. If the comm approves he'says “granted”!  if he disapproves the order is short and sweet — “not granted”! and the jaunty repeats if in case the applicant should have any lingering doubt. Im­portant requests (such as those involving money, promotion, allotments, etc.) are dealt with by the captain. If a rating has any family trouble which he does not wish to disclose in the presence of others he may request to “see the captain privately,” whence every consideration will be accorded him. To-day minor requests may be dealt with by a divisional officer.


Putty —nomen. The ship’s painter; the nickname of every painter.


Rabbit —fig. Any article of Government property smuggled - on shore is called a “rabbit.” Etmy. The breath of scandal says that many years ago sailors used to catch rabbits at Trevol range for the purpose of making them a present to someone ashore. No policeman at the dockyard gates in­vestigated the rabbit until one, becoming suspicious, had a closer peer. The “rabbit” he saw in the hands of a brazen delinquent was nothing more than a rabbit’s head over a pound perique of tobacco. So “rabbit ” became popular after that.


Raggie —fig. A comrade, a chum. In the old days men who were firm friends kept their bright-work rags in the same bag. Each knew his own rags so there was no diving for the best and no quarrels for possession, (see part Brass-: rags).


Ranko —n. A queue ; to “pick up ranko” is to take one’s ’ place in a queue.


Rattle or Clink —n. The Assizes, the defaulters’ table, the seat of justice on board ship where one must face the music for violation of the law. To “score a rattle” v. means being entered on the report-sheet to answer a charge the following day.


Red lead —Fried tomatoes; usually those from a tin.


Relief —A successor; one who replaces another in a ship is usually his relief. From the lingo of watch-keeping.


Re-scrub—fig. “Do it over again.” To repeat a per­formance that has not rendered approval—such as an evolu­tion in general drill; also to be given a re-examination in any subject. Etmy. When a mess has not been scrubbed out to the divisional officer’s satisfaction he may order a re-scrub— a punitive evolution to be performed in the dinner hour.  -


Rock Scorpion—n. A term of contempt accorded to any­one of raw experience or mediocre ability. Native dockyard workers of Gibraltar and other Spaniards who served in the British Navy on that station were known as Rock scorpions, though they had nothing in common with the archnida re­puted to infest the famous Rock.


Rocky —n. A Royal Naval or Fleet Reserve man.


Rook, Drum, Cottage or Domicile—Refers to the mess: 'the “at home” of a naval man.


Round the Buoy —fig. To go around the buoy implies a Second helping at meals; to go around the buoy three times means partaking of four platefuls. From the lingo of boat- racing.


Round up —To round up a person is to dispatch a number of men to find him without delay.


Royal —nomen. The orthodox (and respectful) manner of addressing any Royal Marine when his name is not known.


Rub —n. Blame, the responsibility, (see Stand the rub); also a loan, viz. “ Give us a rub of your pencil? ” It is associated with the old custom of borrowing a “dip” or a “ rub ” from a shipmate’s tin of polishing-paste or “scourers.”


Rub up —n. Instruction in any subject; v. to study dili­gently.


Rubber —n. A loan ; a corruption of “ rub of.” e.g. “ What about a rubber? ” “ A rubber what? ” “A rub of a quid.”


Rum fiend—As the term implies, a man who is a glutton for rum; also "the hard-featured toper who presides at the ' “ fanny ” and serves out “ shaky ” tots in order to insure more “ plussers ” for himself.


Runner —fig. A messenger; the comm’s runner is the com­mander’s messenger.


Run out to a clinch —fig. A state of acute bankruptcy. A ship is run out to a clinch when she cannot pay out any more cable.


Run round —fig. Instructions in any subject which necessi­tates movement from one department to another. For in­stance a young officer may ask a turret sweeper for a “run round” the gunhouse. This would involve an excursion around, above and below the guns at which the tyro would learn many of the mysteries of hydraulic or electrical machin­ery as well as the somewhat complicated wonders of the director firing apparatus.


Sail close to the wind —fig. Another expression that has reached the vocabulary of Fleet Street. To run neck and neck with disaster; to all but ask for trouble. A craft that sails close to the wind is, of course, in grave danger of being capsized.


Sails —nomen. Nickname for the sailmaker.


Salvo —fig. A pat retort. A rejoinder so dynamic as to “sink” an opponent. Etmy. A salvo is a number of guns fired simultaneously.


Sand king or Salt beef squire —n. A boatswain. The senior boatswain of the ship is nicknamed Tommy — never Tommy Pipes, as many civilians think.


Scale —Commensurate punishment by forfeiture of wages and stoppage of leave for a delinquent who has been absent without leave. The Scale runs: For every three hours absence a man loses - a day’s pay and leave; for thirty-six hours’ absence the loss would be twelve days’ pay and stoppage of leave.


Scaly Back —fig. A veteran; one who has been too long in the Navy.


Schoolie —nomen. The nickname for the ship’s schoolmaster who, by the way, is a warrant officer. In small ships how­ever the status of acting-schoolmaster is often conferred on some brainy rating who is particularly brilliant at mathe­matics. Very often an A.B. takes on acting-schoolmaster and ship’s librarian, for which he receives the stupendous emolument of eightpence a day.


Scout or skate —fig. A troublesome fellow ; a schemer, one who skates off when any work is indicated, (see Crow).


Scourers —n. A polishing paste composed of granulated brickdust and oil. Our forefathers had to be content with this crude compound to get their brightwork cleaned.


Scowse —nomen. Nickname for a, Liverpool man or anyone who sports a marked Liverpool accent.


Scran bag —n. The lost property office of the Royal Navy. It is usually a cell into which all clothing left lying about (an untidy transgression) and all unclaimed belongings are dumped. The tax imposed for the redemption of each piece of clothing or article is one square-inch of soap.


Screw down —fig. v.t. To defeat; the analogy is an exag­geration, in that it implies screwing down the lid of one’s coffin.


Sculling —fig. In the neighbourhood, imminent. “Lookout, the comm, is sculling,” is a warning that that mighty potentate is not far away.


Sculling about —fig. To leave anything sculling about is to leave it carelessly unguarded to the mercy of a regime that frowns upon all slovenliness ; in other words one is liable to lose the article.


Scun —or Scun to the Wide —An acute state of bankruptcy. Scun— believed to be the past participle of “skinned.”


Scribe —n. Once a poetic manner of addressing the ship’s writer.


Scurs —n. and nomen. A badly-grown set of whiskers in its early stages. Also the inelegant nickname bestowed on the owner of the scurs.


Seaman Gunner’s Wash — A hurried toilet with shaving- brush and water after shaving. In the old gunnery ship HM.S. Cambridge the daily shave was a very strict order and the merest suspicion of down on the visage when libertymen were being inspected precluded a poor matloe from going ashore. Soon after gunnery classes dispersed liberty men fell in. In the meantime many hurried shaves and improvised washes were performed to insure passing inspection and “catching the boat.”


Sea lawyer —This complimentary term usually applies to one who is famed for his knowledge of King’s Rules and Regulations and Admiralty Instructions, or to one well acquainted with naval history and political and social aspects of naval life in general. His judgment is generally appealed to when arguments break out.


Sea-legs —fig. A man is not considered to have “shipped his sea-legs” until he can comfortably maintain his equili­brium in defiance of the rolling and pitching of the ship.


Second dickey —A species of assistant manager. When two men are appointed to the same job the junior of the two js called the second dickey.


SeeDee Boys - Natives of India, the Gold Coast, Somaliland, etc. who enlist for service in the British Navy. They wear the same uniform as our own naval ratings and are trained to be useful on board ship. They usually perform the dirtiest and most laborious work in those tropical regions under the watchful eye of one of their own serangs or kroo-mem On joining a ship the paymaster not infrequently confers on them more pronouncable, if somewhat coarser, names than those inherited. from their forbears, viz. Tom Spunyarn, Ben Snatch block, Jim Beef-ring, Tom Bull-light. Jock Big-dish, Bill Smigget, Tim Bobstay, Tom Spitkid, Jack . Plonker, etc.


Serang - Chief serang or Number One Piecy Man — A quizzical reference to anyone who may be in command. “Who’s the chief serang of this party?” Serang (Persian) is the petty officer in charge of the Seedee boys. Number One Piecy Man hails from the vocabulary of one Cocoa Belly, a. Chinese tailor who always referred to the master- at-arms as such and recognised no other soul as. his superior.


Set —n. A beard; a set of whiskers — or scurs.


Seven-beller — Having a meal at half-past three in the afternoon — seven bells.


Shaky  fig. and adj. Backward, inefficient, incompetent, unhealthy, insalubrious, incomplete. A sick man is often described as looking pretty shaky. A man may be shaky at certain drills or subjects. Again when a man’s leave is approaching termination his shipmates say: “His leave is looking shaky now.” The term also applies to insufficiency. A shaky tot, for instance, implies very stingy measure. The idiom here is the genesis of the colourless adjective traced to that very selfish and unpopular figure, the rum-fiend, whose hand shakes noticeably when he measures out his messmates’ rum.


Shark —v.t. To steal.


Sharp end —n. A facetious reference to the bows or fore­castle of the ship. Likewise the quarter-deck or stern is termed the “blunt end.” 


Sharp around the bows —fig. Sharp-featured. A man is usually told he is looking “sharp around the bows” after he has had a haircut.           -


Shifting backstay —fig. Applies to a rating who is being constantly shifted from one job to another. It is an equit­able term and is usually attributable to a rating whose own job is so mediocre that he is usually told off to fill every temporary vacancy of more importance.


Shipshape —Trim, orderly, neat.


Sink —fig. and v.i. To defeat in an argument.


Shonky -adj. Applies to a stingy, mean outrage ; n. Shonks, fitting sobriquet for any Shylock.


Shorty - nonum. Nickname for a diminutive person.


Show a leg —To this day , when calling the hands, every morning the boatswain’s mate exhorts the sleepers to “show a leg’ - note: not shake a leg. In the old days when women slept in hammocks on board the boatswain’s mate wanted to insure that no rating retained the warmth of his ham­mock by pretending to be a woman. His order therefore that everybody should “show & leg” helped to assure him of the sex of the owner of each foot. A woman usually sported a neat and dainty ankle while a matloe’s hoof (especially in those remote days) fell very much short of the picturesque.


Skin, rind, hide —fig. Signifies nerve, impassivity, brazenness.


Skate (seeScout).


Skipper — Needless to say. the captain (who is never the Old Man in the Navy) but mention here has been given to explain the possessive case —


Skipper’s —Simply that and nothing more, but it means such a lot. It is really captain’s report. When a delinquent’s transgression is much too serious for the commander to deal with he passes the case on for investigation by the captain in exactly the same way as a magistrate commits a man for trial. One might say, “If Smithy gets Skipper’s for coming aboard  tinhats he can bid a fond farewell to one of his badges.”


Sky —nomen.: The nickname for all Turners. *It was once the monopoly of seamen of marked efficiency aloft; later it applied to all ratings whose swaggering gait was characteris­tic of the old-time sailor. The term hails from sky sail, the uppermost sail on the mast, '


Smoke —London is affectionately termed the “ Smoke.”


Snaky —fig. and nomgn. The appellative of all who are excessively slender.


Soft soap —fig. Praise given tactfully in order to encourage a higher standard of efficiency — that it might be fulfilled that “the more you do in this hooker the more they want you to do.”


Soldier on —To complete period of service in the Navy. The term usually applies to an offender who has served a term of imprisonment in a naval prisen but has not been dismissed from the Service at its completion.


Sparko or Sparks —nomen. Any member of the wireless branch.


Spithead pheasant —New name for a kipper.


Split yarn —fig. When anything is in complete readiness for the immediate execution of a job it is referred to as being “on a split yarn.” When a delinquent’s offence is liable to cause the loss of his good conduct badge that badge is said to be “ looking shaky ” or “hanging on a split yarn.” The analogy is from drills where wires, all in readiness, are secured to anything adjacent with a very small yarn that will hold temporarily, but with the drill commencing, one good tug sets the wire clear and the drill goes on briskly.


Stalin - nomen. As a compliment to the strong man of Russia a man called Joe in 1940 may find himself - Stalin in 1943.


Stand easy -fig. Otherwise breakfast. “What are we on for stand easy?” means “What do we eat for breakfast?  Breakfast time was once so short (about twenty minutes duration) that a rating had to be particularly swift if he wished to enjoy a smoke in addition (catch the smoke, boat, as it was called). The alternative was having to wait until' 10.30 a.m. when “stand easy” was piped. This was a respite of ten minutes for the purpose of smoking — as if was death to the law to be caught smoking in Service time those days. In later days the breakfast time was lengthened and the 1030 stand easy abolished. As the hands were then per­mitted to smoke only in the breakfast hour the whole period became identified with stand easy.


Stand the rub —fig. To shoulder the blame for any con­tingency. (see “Take the can back ”)


Steam —v.t. and ,v.i. fig. To expedite matters; to hasten


Stone Frigate —Generally applies to a naval barracks. The term is seldom heard to-day.


Stokehold boatswain or Tiffy boatswain —Another species of slang that is dying out — a warrant engineer.


Storm-trooper —Before this war the term applied to a short service man and the manner in which a number of them made a headlong dive - at mealtimes earned for them this obstreperous nickname.


Strafe —v.t. To scold ; from the kultured lingo — God bless the mark.


Stretch it —v.t. fig. To break leave. Before 1914 naval ratings were far more gregarious than they are these days; Comrades, as many as a dozen at a time, while on liberty kept loyally together. After a Bacchanalian “night before” the suggestion from one sore-headed reveller to “stretch it ” was often carried by vote.


Stripey —nomen. Nickname, for a sergeant of marines. Also any able seaman sporting three good-conduct badges is hailed familiarly as Stripey.


Strongers —fig. n. The mixture of hot water and such chemicals us caustic, soft soap and powder for removing dirty stains and, in general, simplifying the great labour of cleansing.  


Sub —Fig. n. Otherwise substitute; to take another man’s place; to perform another man’s duty. A man who is watch on board may, if of good character, get ashore provided he finds a sub from the watch ashore willing to do his duty. That sub would then be obliged to undertake all his duties.


Subby —nomen. Nickname for a sub-lieutenant. He is usually spoken of and often addressed as Subby.


Swain —nomen. The coxswain of a destroyer or submarine.


Sweeper —n. A genera! cleaner and caretaker of any decks, department or store-room on board ship.


Swift —nomen. Often a derisive misnomer applied to one who is notoriously slow of movement.


Swing —v.t. To cancel.


Swinging the lead —fig. Has divers meanings. A prudent delay pending a decision; skulking; loitering; a man who dodges paying for a round of drinks after he himself has been liberally treated is said to swing the lead. Etmy. The duty of the leadsman in the chains is to keep on heaving the lead — the proximity of shallow water been suspected. As it is, however, a laborious and tiring ordeal he elects to have a rest by keeping the leadline still and therefore perpendicular. Immediately the "officer of the watch, or navigator heaves in sight his attitude changes to pretentious, activity and he starts swinging his leadline. Instead of swinging the lead over his head, however, he waits until authority disappears and then comes to rest once more.


Swinging round the buoy — fig. A person who clings to a soft job in order to dodge going to sea is said to swing around the buoy — which, of course, is what a ship does in the welcome security of harbour. Dockyard employees who manoeuvred to dodge being sent to Scotland or abroad have been accused by their more loyal co-workers of swinging round the buoy.