Sailors Have A Word For It - T to Z






Take on —fig. v.i. To “take on” means that after having served twelve years’ active service (commonly alluded to as “first twelve” a man re-engages for a further ten years service in order to qualify for a life pension.


Take the can back —fig. To stand the blame for anything or to be the only one of a party to whom it falls the lot to perform a task that must be done. In the general mess (or “Jago’s”) each table was supplied with dishes of meat, greens, potatoes, etc. from which each diner helped himself. Often some hungry trenchermen was confronted with an empty tin-dish and perforce considered himself very unfor­tunate as he was obliged to take the tin-dish (can) back to the galley to have it replenished — after which others came along and helped themselves.


Tally —n. A name. “What’s your tally?”


Tanky —nomen. The potentate who attends to the fresh­water tanks. Officially he is called the captain of the hold and he works with the supply staff. He is a conspicuous figure at the grog tub to which he brings the necessary water for diluting the rum.


Tap —fig. v.t. To negotiate quietly, secretly or tactfully for a loan or a favour; to find out how much one possesses by a tentative, whisper, viz. “ I tapped him for half-a-quid.” The analogy is tapping a barrel in order to estimate the amount or liquor it holds.


Tap —n. To do a tap, toot, moan, howl, weep or bar, other­wise to “have a weed on” is to complain, to find fault or lament.


Taut hand or Good hand —A good fighting-man; one who can hold his own in a melee.


The Machine —n. fig. Systematic inauguration. Ratings joining or rejoining a naval depot pass through divers de­partments, including passing the doctor and dental surgeon — Index, victualling, regulating, and divisional offices. The routine, of passing from one to the other is so efficiently conducted that the whole process is called —The Machine.


The Noo Edinburgh. Obviously the Scottish colloquialism signifying the immediate, present (the now) impressed naval men as worthy of a place in their lingo -.


The Troops —collect, n. The proletariat of the lower deck. All ratings dressed as seamen below the rank of leading seaman.


Ticket —n. A certificate indicating that a man’s services are no longer required. A rating is said to "get his ticket” when discharged from the Navy (sometimes described as “put on the beach”) whether through being (a) medically unfit, (b) incompetent, or (c) that his character does not approach the requisite moral standard. Ticket is believed to be sinisterly confounded with ticket-of-leave.


Tickler —n. A cigarette made from the tinned tobacco supplied to the Navy. Also (and originally) a short-service man. Etmy. The short-service system was introduced into the Navy by Lord Selborne in 1903 — about the same time as Tickler’s jam became an accepted ration in the Royal Navy.


Tiddley —adj. Neat, tidy.


Tied up —fig. Married. “I can’t afford to run ashore very much since I’ve been tied up.” Authors and pressmen please note: naval men never say “spliced” in relation to marriage.


Tiffy —n. Short for artificer ; an E.R.A.                                          '


Tin-eye —nomen. Nickname given to anyone who sports a monocle.


Tin-fish —n. Torpedoes.


Tin Man—fig. To come the “tin man” or “on the tin man” means to take great liberties, exceed one’s duties or to assume a bombastic authority that is beyond one’s preroga­tive to exercise. Believed to be analogous with the original iron (tin) target shaped as a man which figured at rifle fanges. This metalie figure sprang up to view only to dis­appear again before the tyro had time to come on aim. This act of springing up was associated with audacious bounce, all very well in a target but not quite tolerable in society, (see also Old Soldier).


Tin-hats, shot away, half rats, scats., canned, blitzed, well oiled, etc.—fig. Figures of speech which apply to one who has had a good cargo of alcohol.  In ancient days in some English prisons people brought in in an advanced state of intoxication were compelled to wear a sort of iron helmet which guarded against serious head injuries in the event of their casting loose and banging their craniums against the cell walls. Thus “tin-hat.”


Tin-pot —adj. Ordinary; common or garden; mediocre. The term implies cheapness.


Toe-rag —Salt fish.


Tommy —nomen. Nickname of the senior boatswain. From Tommy Pipes of ancient Navy, but Pipes is never mentioned in these enlightened days.


Too late in the commish. —A taunt at the useless efforts to brihg about certain changes which promise no great benefit or advantage. Etmy. Certain promotions usually took place when a sliip paid off, but all these had been booked some months before. Therefore, towards the close of the com­mission, efforts to catch Authority’s eye by a marked display of diligence was greeted with the ironic reminder that it was too late in the commish.


Top Line —fig. To be “on the top line’’ signifies readiness, punctuality, or to be on the spot to seize the most favourable opportunity. On a “wash clothes’ night” in the Victorian Navy three clothes-lines stretched fore and aft the upper deck on one or both sides. They were so rigged that when triced up the washing presented a sloped spectacle; the in­board line was the highest, the centre line a little lower and the outboard line lower still. Washing hung on the top (or upper) line had the most favourable chance of drying as it was higher in the air and free from obscuration by the others. Consequently matloes were very eager to finish dobeying in time so that they might hang it on the top line.


Top of the Tree —fig. Refers to the highest in authority. A matloe’s avowal that he will go to the “top of the tree” may mean laying a grievance before the admiral of his squadron or even getting in touch with the First Lord of the Admiralty.


Top-piece —n. Of blessed memory: The allowance of fresh meat which a rating on the provision list was allowed to take ashore once a week. It was usually a cut of anything up to four pounds of the finest prime beef.


Top-heavy —fig. adj. Another synonym for drunk. A ship is said to be top-heavy when her masts, rigging or upper structure is extra-heavy, therefore causing her to roll a good deal.


Touch it light —fig. A prudent reminder to be abstemious in the consumption of “eats” or “drinks,” as when handing a shipmate a cup of rum and asking him to “touch it light”: this is a tactful request not to take too deep a draught. “Touch the spuds light, lads,”—the caterer of a mess duti­fully warns his messmates to exercise economy in taking potatoes so that all may have a share.


Towny —n. and nomen. People who hail from the same town or city regard themselves as “townies” of one onother. Because of their loyalty to the old homestead they usually fraternise, but such a proceeding has often proved to be a very unwise policy. There are many strong friendships in the Royal Navy, but seldom does'a genuine David and Jonathan or a Damon and Pythies hail from the same town. Naval, proverb: Don’t let “townies” know all your business if you don’t want all the town to know it.


Treacle or Treacle Factory. A training-ship or establishment. In the Victorian era treacle was one of the luxuries given to training-ship boys. The name has stuck. Although there has been no treacle issued as a ration during the present century, any man recalling his old training-ship will refer to her as the Treacle.


Troop —v.t. To troop anybody is to take him in front o£ the officer of the watch as a defaulter.              .


Troops —n. (see The troops).


Trunky —{see Conky).


Tub —v.t. To puzzle, to perplex.


Tubby —nomen. The sobriquet of anyone who is corpulent. From a tub—rather round.


Tuck a strand —fig. Ingratiational tactful manoeuvre to win favour. When one tucks the first strand in splicing wire one gets an important part of the work done.


Turko —nomen. A nickname usually accorded to a libertine, a roue


U Boat —nomen. An uncharitable jibe meted out to any­one inclined to be round-shouldered.


Upper —Short for upper deck. “Are you coming on the upper?”


Up the Line —fig. Usually refers to the dear old homestead when it means a railway journey away from the home port. A person is said to be “up the line” when through absent-mindedness or preoccupation he does his work inaccurately. The implication is that his thoughts are with the folks at home and not on his work.


Up the Straits —Pertain to that once very expensive but now rather tumultuous region, the Mediterranean. As a naval station it extends from Vigo even as far as Constan­tinople. Some years ago no rating was considered staid or experienced unless he had “done the Straits.”


Us —fig. This plural pronoun is usually identified with “our ship,” as e.g. “’Tis callao aboard of us.” Again the expression “ We had a bloke in us —’’ implies that the speaker refers to an old shipmate who had served with him on some other ship.               ,,


Wall-flower —fig. Scathing reference to any ship which remains moored to a dockyard wall lor a prolonged period.


Wangle —v.t. To solicit; to secure a favour by diplomatic- means; to borrow. “i’ll have to try and wangle five bob somewhere.”


Wash-deck —adj. Generally means ordinary and mediocre as connected with the Service. Wash-deck boatswain was the junior boatswain of a big ship who mainly supervised the cleaning of the upper deck (hence sand-king) and did not share the responsibilities of the senior or commissioned boatswain. A naval rating who contributes to a journal or is famed for some literary ability may be referred to as a wash-deck journalist.


Water-rat —n. Of shameful memory. The water-rats were a very unpopular branch of the London Metropolitan police employed at naval ports. Their main duties were to round up all naval absentees and escort them back to their ships. At eight every morning they were very busy visiting pubs, clubs and lodging-houses where sailors congregated. They were very keen on arresting their victims because they received a whole pound for each culprit. Needless to say the emolument came out of the unfortunate absentee’s slender income. The Royal Navy severed all connection with this infamous clique round about 1913.


Westo or Buffo —West-country attributes; may apply to anyone in the western wing of the Navy — Devonport division. Wcsto. adj. is usually associated with a stinginess of disposi­tion: If a man is said to be “proper westo” he is con­sidered mean and niggardly as many Cornishmen have an undeserved reputation for parsimony. An East-country mariner may say, “he is a Duffo,” i.e. he is west-country division. The “Duffo” springs from the west-countryman’s reputed partiality for plum-duff.


Wet n. A drink of any liquid.


Wet, crackers, loopy, batchy —ad Captions of Life’s misfits; the, tragic label of the inefficients; a condition of mental instability which may be due to imprudence, eccen­tricity, incompetence or insanity.


Wet at the boathoist —“He’s had a wet at the boathoist,” a term of contempt directed at the potvaliant individual who comes on board affecting to be the worse for liquor. As libertymen are inspected on arrival on board it is obvious one cannot be very drunk after passing under the eye of the officer of the watch. Leaving the quarter-deck libertymen, before coming forward, usually passed the boat-hoist where, it was often satirically assumed revellers adjourn to have a final and most devastating libation.


Wet it up —fig. To celebrate by a drinking bout.


Whack —n, A section; a ration,


White Rat —fig. A crawling sycophant in human shape who aims to advance his prospects by carrying tales.


Windward. To get to windward implies gain, profit; in any transaction or achieving the advantage over others. Obversely to go to leeward signifies loss or misfortune.


Windy —adj. Nervous, bewildered. From—-get the wind up.


Winged —fig. Caught in the act"; apprehended.


Winger —A protege, (see “ Old Man.”)


Work ticket —fig. A-man is said to “work his ticket” when he essays to gain his discharge from the'Navy on medical grounds. Mental instability, being a very cogent avenue under this heading, a man who does something very silly or indiscreet is hailed with the rebuke that he is work­ing his ticket..


Yank —nomen. Not necessarily an American: any matloe who apes a nasal twang or a cowboy swagger will very; speedily earn the name of Yank.