I posted this here some years ago, but chanced over my notes and still think it is worthy of a thread...
The origins of nautical terms….
The discussion a while ago regarding the term knots instead of kmt or mph as a unit of speed got me thinking…. Where did the nautical term originate? So I have done some reading and thought I would share some of the words I have come over that I am most proud of… the Norse connection. The ‘strange’ words in the following are all Old Norse unless otherwise defined. I will give the English word first, then the Old Norse and tell what I know….
Starting with knots:
· Log – Lág –The log was a line with knots (knop) spaced 11.43 meters apart. Thirty seconds of logline gave the speed in knots. I expect that the word knot is also tied to the Norwegian knute or knop… with the same meaning as knot in English. The speed measurement obviously first became a standard after the distance between meridians had been measured accurately, but the root of the word is apparently in use already in Viking times.
· The following words are directly borrowed from old Norse.
· Row – Rôdr the verb meaning to row.
· Boat – Batr – also to German as boot.
· Bosun, bos’n – from English boatswain but originally batrsvein – the man (svein) in charge of the boat.
· Ship – Skip. This word also gave us skiff via Anglo-Saxon scip, Dutch/German schiff, Italian schifo, French esquif.
· Board - (on board, overboard, to board, starbord) – Bord is old Norse for plank, board.
· Starbord – the boat side where the steering-oar was positioned on a Viking ship – literally ‘the steering side’. The steerman stood with his back to the other side.. originally known as bakbord, but now called babord in parts of Europe. Historically known as larboard in English, the term taken from ‘last’, old Norse for load. The loading side of a ship was called hladabord in old Norse. Ships docked with the steering-oar away from the pier and were loaded from the larboard or port side. A vestige of this Norse word is still in use when we in English speak of a ‘heavily laden’ ship. Laden means loaded.
· Lee – from old Norse hlé
· Sheet – from old Norse skaut
· Bowline – from old Norse bogrlina. Also to Dutch boelijn, French bouline, Spanish bolina, Plat-German bolyne.
· Leech – from old Norse lik and liksima.
· Stay – from old Norse stag, via old English stage
· Keel – from old Norse kjolr, a beam or tie (like a railroad tie)
· Keelson – old English kelswayn, from old Norse. Swayn related to ‘sville’ or beam. A keelson is a strengthening beam on the keel (which also originally meant - beam)
· Ruff – old Norse hrof. Originally a roof or deck over a ship under construction.
· Bunk – the original old Norse word bunki related to the stored goods. Has returned to modern Norwegian as bunkers – the diesel or oil for the motor.
Some terms come from body parts or animals. The Vikings thought of their ships as living things, and used the same terms for similar things when they could…
· Bow – originally the front part of an animal, the bog.
· Ribs – originally ribben (rib-bones).
There are other terms of this kind still in daily use in Norwegian, but which are not common in modern English any longer (hud, kne, hals and others).
A term you probably do not associate with the sea, and might even think has a connection to animals, actually in not what you might think…
People who know their French probably recognize the connection to the world of horses in the terms equipment and esprit d’equipe (team spirit). But these words aren’t derived from the Latin equus. They come from the old Norse word for making shipshape, ready to sail. The word skip was taken to Normandie with the Norwegian king Gange-Rolf ( also know as Rollo to French and English speakers). The French/Norwegians in what eventually became Normandie added an ‘e’ … eskip. As time passed, the term evolved to eschiper, esquiper and equipe… and the meaning changed to crew and equipment. So, the next time you equip yourself – remember what you actually are doing. Getting ready to sail!
Finally, a couple of interesting spin-off terms….
· Scooter – skaate is to row in the direction you face. This verb comes from the same root as old Norse skyte… meaning to push, shove in a given direction. Skyte shares the same root as English scoot… as in the word for scooter.
· Dashboard – originally the word for the top board in a Viking ship, dasken, the ‘splash board’. Came to us via the horse carriage and the board that stopped the splash from the hooves.
· Rafting – form old Norse raptr…. A raft.
I’ll leave you with the Bitter End….
…Which is actually an old Norse term for the end of a rope used to tie a ship to a pullert or a beam. The old English word for pullert was Bitts. This term comes from the original old Norse for beam… biti. The bitter end is simply the loose end of the rope and actually has no negative connotation originally