Thursday, July 24, 2008


On planet me there are only three rules that justify using jargon:
  • RULE #1: if there's no more common reference that is clear
  • RULE #2: if the new term is more concise and therefore saves syllables/time*
  • RULE #3: they're such fabulous words, you can't resist
*Rule #2 Amendment: a grace syllable is allowed if only one syllable is at stake. majority opinion (that's me) holds that saving time is not always paramount when you're traveling at 5 mph. On a long, light-winded passage, complete revocation of Rule #2 can be brought under advisement.

There are things on a sailboat that clearly qualify under Rule #1. They are unique and flat out require their own words.

Bowsprit. Perfect Rule #1 example. It doesn't have a land equivalent unless you count a hood ornament. A hood ornament on a boat is about as silly as referring to the bowsprit on an SUV.

V-berth. Not many triangular shaped rooms -- or beds -- on land, so v-berth is allowed under Rule #1, no room for confusion. It's allowed under #2 if you were going to call it "that triangle-shaped bed."

Transom, jib, spinnaker, halyards and boom gallows. Mast, anchor, hatch. All good. All qualify for 1, 2 and sometimes 3.

Aground. Definitely qualifies under #2. You could say "we hit the bottom!" but "aground" saves several syllables. Clear. Concise. Abrupt even.

Port and starboard firmly qualify under #1. When you're at the bow facing back and someone's at the stern facing forward, it pays to be extremely clear. "Iceberg on the left!!!" Maybe that's when they started using "port" and "starboard" ....

Many sailing words qualify under Rule #3. They're too literary and romantic to abandon: crow's nest, daggerboard, dead reckoning, eye of the wind, loose-footed, fathom, in irons, lifeline. All great words.

Some sailing words are so practical and descriptive they've jumped ship: overboard (so to speak), anchor. Even keel, ballast. cockpit. Bridge (that one travelled all the way into the future).

On my boat, using my rules, there are lot of words that will walk the plank.

For instance, why do we need to call it a "head" when there are so many other perfectly good words? Can, john, potty, crapper, powder room, even restroom, bathroom. Please. "Head" is easily disqualified under Rule #1. You could argue that "bathroom" has two syllables, while "head" has only one. This is a great example of allowing a grace syllable. We'll schedule in that extra .005 seconds required to say that second syllable. I would also argue that "head" has many meanings, "bathroom" only one. Clear wins the day -- or loses the head.

Galley. Booted under Rule #1. Kitchen is a perfectly good word. Same number of syllables. There is an argument for Rule #3 here. Galley is a lovely word. The watery jury is still out on that one.

On the hard. Disqualified on all counts. "Out of the water" is perfectly clear. Any conservation of syllables is quickly forfeited when someone asks, "What the heck does 'on the hard' mean?" Even under Rule #3, it's clearly resistible.

Sole. Eliminated by Rule #1. Floor is clear, concise. No extra syllables. No room for misinterpretation. "Sole" could easily be misinterpreted to be the bottom of the shoe, the fish on the line or the reason to live.

Porthole. Rule #1.
"Open that window."
"Oh, did you mean this porthole?"
"No, port-hole. The window."

The stern.

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