Old Man

Not open for further replies.
I am uncertain about the use of this word. I know it has been around for a long while, as it was spelled out "it's a CQD OM" on Titanic, and I have seen it around the board, but don't know how to interpret it. Is this a complimentry term for someone who has been around for a while, a chide, jab, a casual word like chap, pal, and buddy, a slang, or an insult to someone who should be a little brighter, or isn't as bright as they used to be? (I hear those chuckles, and know who you are!)

Who is it used by? Is this a term used only between men, sailors, English men, or friends, and when does one become an "Old man". (Is this like a Frauline/Frou in German words?) I couldn't see saying "HI old man" to Josh, but I wouldn't say "HI Old Man" to.... Santa... either, and since a retort of "Hi Old Woman" would be an insult, I am left perplexed. Here in the states, an "ole man and ole lady" conjure up visions of slovenly housekeeping and manners. (as in "My ole man is fixin the tranny on the kitchen table".)

I would be grateful if this could be better explained. Thank you.

Frou Collier

Pat Cook

Hi Colleen. Now, I could be way off the beam on this one (not the first time by a long shot) but I always thought that, even if we can never establish its origin, it was sort of a 'club signature' - one wireless operators recognition of anothers abilities as belonging to their 'club'; a sort of fraternal handshake over the airwaves.

However, like you, I sometimes have problems addressing the ladies as 'Old Man'. For Geoff, George, Phil G., Mike H. and others, it's a necessity.

Best regards,
Hi, Colleen!

> Is this a .... term for someone who has been >around for a while, a chide, jab, ..... an insult >to someone who should be a little brighter, or >isn't as bright as they used to be?

Eh? Did someone mention Geoff Whitfield? :)

(By the way, Colleen, the term "old man" is also used to describe someone who doesn't move as fast as he used to; if that weren't true, Geoff would have beaten me to the punch in this thread.) ;-)

To answer your question, though, it's an informal, friendly term used between friends and associates.

All my best,

And it's bloody pretentious sounding coming from an American, especially a woman!

Inger Sheil

Lol! Yah, Kate, it can be at that (although I know some American women who have used it affectionately for years).

It was also a common term among crews for their Captain (generally behind his back). I have some early pre-Titanic correspondence from one of the deck officers that refers to the ship's master as the 'old man'.

'Old' is of course a fairly versatile adjective, and one of the Oxford dictionary definitions notes that it is 'used for emphasis in friendly or casual mention.' One of the most endearing examples that comes to mind is a note written to Joseph Boxhall by a friend who calls him 'dear old Joe' with great affection - amusingly incongruous when Boxhall was barely all of 20 years old at the time.

~ Inger
"Old man" is one step down on the social scale from "old boy" and "old chap" all delightful terms by which to address one's chum as opposed to "Hey You!" But it still can't compare with "Old Bean!"

Now listen Behe, the only reason I didn't get there afore ye is that I'm still recovering from a nasty something or other which saw me rushed into hospital via ambulance last Friday night. Mrs W. says I can play on the computer but only for short periods - I would not dare to disobey her, she may be small but she packs one hell of a punch!

Speaking for the wireless boys, they didn't much have to worry about what gender the distant operator was. The number of female shipboard (or even shore station) wireless operators at any given time could be counted on one hand until well into the 1930s. "OM" was regularly used by the 19- and 20-year-olds who worked the marine sets, so it's not really age-specific, either. It was used in the wireless world as just, as George said, an informal and friendly greeting to a professional acquaintance.

It's been my experience that nowadays, "Old Man" or it's cousin, "Old Chap," can be used either congenially or derisively, depending on the intent of the user.

Kate: I 100% agree. I had no intentions of using it myself, but just to understand when someone else used it, why they use it and how to interpret it. Like I posted earlier "Ole man" in my book is not a flattering term, but it did not appear to take that tone when written here.

Pat. That makes sense. Back in "Titanic days" was the term only used between the wireless operators, or elsewhere too? Thinking about it, it was the wireless operators where I heard it used.

(George. I'd erase the mean post you wrote about Geoff before he beats you anyways. Canes are pretty strong and serve many useful purposes you know. Placed in front of a walker will halt it, thrown in a wheelchair wheel will flip you right out, and they stop a slamming door like a door stop. Scary huh!) That's o.k. I believe he said he just uses his for spear fishing in Iceland though. :)

ANYHOW... Thank you. I do appreciate it.
"Old Man" is a nautical term meaning the captain of any ship. On most vessels the captain was both a male and the oldest person in the crew, hence the term. "Old" is relative. My understanding is that on many Yankee clippers the "old man" was in his mid to late 30s. Of course, he still had perhaps 15 to 20 years of sea experience. The term was widely used in the U.S. Navy during WWII and is still heard around.

However, when it comes to wireless operators, I suspect there is a different origin for the term. In Morse Code, the letters "O" and "M" are made up of 3 and 2 dashes, respectively. Thus, "OM" would be sent: dah..dah..dah...dah..dah. The term "OM" is still used among amateur radio operators and, as I recall, applies to all operators regardless of age or gender.

As Geoff points out, the term "Old Man" is one of a series of arm's length endearments used in casual conversation. The happy sequence of dashes in Morse code probably cemented its use among English-speaking operators. How 'bout other languages? Any guesses?

--David G. Brown
Gee whiz. Geoff must be younger than I. He got his post in there before me.....
Geoff. I warned you about ice fishing in November! ;-) (Rest and get well!)
Parks, Inger, Geoff and David. I didn't mean to ignore you. The post exploded all at once, and some of you even answered my question before I asked.
The only way I have ever heard Old man is derogatively like by a teenage son wanting "The old mans car keys", or by my brother in law who joined the navy at 27 and was dubbed the old man, which insulted him to no avail.
This is extremely interesting. Thank you for the insite. I had no idea it was this detailed, but couldn't sit here any longer and wonder why Mike S. just insulted George and he just took it in stride. (Though he should be used to it!) :)
Says the Colleen:
"I couldn't see saying "HI old man" to Josh"

Why not? It's certainly better than some of the things I've been called in the past!



Tracy Smith

I've used it quite a bit on here, always in a friendly, chummy way, and I don't feel the least bit pretentious in doing so, despite being American and female. And I don't mind at all if someone calls me Old Woman or OW, in the same way they would call one of the men here, OM.

Perhaps it comes easy to me because I am of British background, only being second generation American on my mother's side. Both my father and I called my son, Old Man, in an affectionate way, when he was a small baby.

Perhaps many of here enjoy using the term because of our shared affinity for the Titanic and the sea in general.....
Joshua. You can't be the O.M. because you're the "Young whipper snapper"! Don't know what that means either, but I used to be the young whipper snapper, 'round the house. Now I'm just the Frou......
(I say this as a general question, and not directed towards your post in another area Tracy, please don't take it as an attack.)
If in the past the captain was called an OM behind his back, if one calls Captain Wood one to his face, could that be considered an insult strictly because of the TITLE he holds? Or is that title a "given" and is taken by a captain in good fun?
Is this title sort of like how a radio operator was called "Sparks"? or the firemen were called the "Black Gang". If so was the case, did everyone have a nickname of sorts?

Thinking I am understanding this a little more:)

Erik Wood

I don't know about Dave but as a Captain. I hate it when I am referred to as "the old man". Especially when it is said in phrases like " the old man wants us to do a wash down" or "the old man decided to wait here for the night before going in".

Or "go ask the old man". I am not that old.

Alas, Erik, I am the "old man" on just about every vessel these days...whether I'm wearing four stripes or not.

From my reading, I don't believe the term was considered derogatory until the "youth cult" of the 1970s and later. Still, one has never addressed the captain directly as "old man." It has always been, "Old man - Sir!"

-- David G. Brown
Not open for further replies.