A selection of sailorly euphemisms that offset, perhaps, the notion that a sailor's speech is always necessarily crude:

  • Comb the Cat: Practice of the boatswain's mate to whom fell the task of whipping miscreants. He would run his fingers through the lashes of the cat o' nine tails to separate them after each blow. Otherwise the tails of the cat were apt to become coated with blood and to stick together, potentially inflicting unnecessarily serious damage on the punished sailor.
  • Donkey's breakfast: The merchant seaman's name for his mattress in the days when it was normally stuffed with straw. Straw-filled mattresses pertained only to the wooden bunks, lining the forecastle or deckhouse in which merchantmen were accommodated. They were not used in the hammocks in which naval seamen slept, these having a thin mattress stuffed with horsehair.
  • Drown the miller: An old expression much used by sailors in the Royal Navy to imply a higher ratio of water to rum in the grog than was statutory. The approved admixture was three parts water to one part rum, but greedy pursers might try to "drown the miller" to make the rum go further so they could sell the rest.
  • Flog the glass: Expression used to indicate attempts to speed up the passage of a watch in the days when watches were timed by the half-hour sand hourglass. The run of the sand was supposed to be quickened by vibrating the glass, and when weary watchkeepers nearing the end of their shift took to tapping the device, they were said to be flogging the glass.
  • Flower of the Winds: An old expression for the engraving of the wind rose on the earliest charts and maps, and extended after the introduction of the magnetic compass to include the compass rose on charts.
  • Gunner's Daughter: The name of the gun to which the boys serving in a warship of the Royal Navy were "married" or tied when receiving punishment.
  • Irish Horse: the sailor's name in the old days for salt beef which was tougher than usual, based on the belief that poor Irish farmers worked their horses much harder and longer than the English. There was a sailor's song in the 18th century in which he addressed his ration of beef: "Salt horse, salt horse, what brought you here?/ You've carried turf for many a year./ From Dublin quay to Ballyrack/ You've carried turf upon your back."
  • Pieces of Eight: Spanish coins much beloved by pirates; worth eight reals. Such vast numbers of these coins were minted in Spain between the 17th and the 19th centuries that they were accepted almost as a world currency during those years.
  • Sucking the Monkey: A smuggling practice devised by British naval seamen in the West Indies of persuading native women, when they came on board warships with trading supplies, to bring with them fresh coconuts from which the milk had been emptied and replaced with rum.
  • Swallow the Anchor: A maritime term to indicate giving up, or retiring from, a life at sea and settling down to live ashore.
  • Wedding Garland: An 18th and 19th century custom in British warships of hoisting a garland of evergreens in the rigging of a warship when she entered harbor to indicate that women would be allowed on board. It was also hoisted whenever any member of the crew was married, to a position corresponding to his role.

Seashells collected from the beach of: The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea for Everything Quests - The High Seas

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