Origin of the word


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Alex McLean

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Ok, Ok, I know this will sound really stupid, and I'm sure even the most amature shipping buff can tell you this, but this word is one that has been annoying me for a week now. It all began on one of my half yearly trips to the dentist. As usual we were talking about shipping and the likes, when he asked me where a certain word came from. here it is, are you ready...?
STARBOARD
Neither he, now I, nor his assistant, nor anyone in here at Lead On could tell me. We simply concluded that all the famous 'stars' got off on the right hand side, and all the imigrants had to jump off the ship and swim to port
-_-
If anyone at all out there in that wide, vast earth of ours can tell me, it would be appreciated.
Many Thanks,
 

Dave Gittins

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Alex, here's the true story, lifted from my web site.

The sides of a ship are named from the point of view of an observer facing the bow. The left side is Port and the right side is Starboard.

Starboard appears to be the older term. It comes from Old English steorbord, steor meaning steering and bord meaning side. On early ships it was the side on which the steering oar was fitted. The origin of Port is less clear. It may come from the practice of laying that side of the ship alongside a wharf when in port, in order to keep the steering oar clear. Port was sometimes called Larboard but this was not done when giving orders as it could be taken for Starboard.

At night navigation lights or running lights are shown on each side. Each must be visible over an arc of 112½° from dead ahead to 22½° behind the beam. The Port light is red and the Starboard light is green. When in doubt, ask, "Is there any port wine left?". In 1912 each light was in front of a screen which matched its colour. Today the screen must be black.
 
Aug 22, 2002
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I always remember the port and starboard labels and colours by their length - sort out the SHORTER words together, and LONGER words together.

Face the BOW and then recite:

Port/Left/Red
Starboard/Right/Green

You can sort out the correct name, location AND colour by doing this!
 

Tracy Smith

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Nov 5, 2000
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Sterling, I'm glad to see that someone used the same memory tool I did.
happy.gif
 

JHPravatiner

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Actually port used to be called "larboard". I'm not sure when the change came about, but I believe the left side became port since generally in docking procedure, that was the side that was lying along the quay or docks while starboard faced out seaward.

Actually, I always made the connection between red running lights and port in remembering port wine, which is somewhat reddish. Never had problems with the L/R connections at least!
 
J

John Meeks

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JHP is right - I believe that the change took place in the late eighteenth century, but I may be wrong.

I also believe that "starboard" or "steorbord" actually goes back to Old Norse usage with the Vikings - they knew a thing or two about seamanship, I think...

Personally I always remember Port from Starboard in political terms...'red' is always 'left' - that's how I know my steak from the wife's on the barbecue...curiously, though, in restaurants...I always ask for it..'bleu'....

I dunno...!

Best Regards,

John M
 
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Harold Douglas Willis

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Joke - re port/starboard (a very old and stale joke at that!) . . . On an old merchant ship the master (skipper) would retire to his cabin every evening and open his personal safe and take out a piece of paper which he then proceeded to read . . . one night a crewman walking the deck happened to glance in and noticed the captain engaged in his nightly ritual . . . the crewman told a mate about it and both were curious (did skipper have a treasure map in that safe?!). One day the skipper died; immediately after the skipper was buried at sea the crewman told his friend "Screw that old blighter, I wanna bloody see what's in the safe!" They broke into the safe and found one small, yellowing slip of ordinary paper . . . on which were written the magic words "left is port, and right is starboard."
 
Oct 28, 2000
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Larboard...port..."Hard A-starboard"..."hard a-port"...this discussion regarding the words used points out the changing nature of seamanship at the turn of the last century. Technology had gotten ahead of the language of the sea.

Starboard and larboard (pronounced in both cases without the "R") could be confused because they do sound alike. However, the problem seldom arose on sailing ships where references were primarily to the "weather side" or the "lee side."

A mate would never shout, "start the larboard brace." Instead, he would bellow, "start the lee brace." The quartermaster would be told to "head up" or to "fall off," meaning to turn toward or away from the wind. Left or right had nothing to do with these commands. This sounds confusing until you go sailing and discover that everything in an windship relates to the wind.

The great shift from wind to steam was taking place in 1912. Most sailors cold still spin yarns about their days in sail. On steamboats, however, the "weather" or "lee" sides meant little or nothing. The old way of talking simply did not communicate in the new world.

Some aspects of the resulting confusion are almost amusing. For instance, Murdoch commanding "hard a-port" to turn the ship's head to the right, or to starboard. Eventually, it took the force of law to rationalize nautical language. Helm commands were required to be "left" or "right" relative to the ships bow. The word "port" was substituted for "larboard" to avoid auditory confusion with "starboard."

Some references say that the word "port" was invented just to sound different. This is probably not true as there are instances where the "port side" of a ship was mentioned prior to the universal adoption of the term.

The problem of language lagging behind technology continues. It is still possible to hear people say they will put food in the "icebox" or "dial" the telephone. Sailors who have never fisted a t'gallant are still called "sail"ors. My computer tells me that I have e-mail by showing an envelope from the era of licking and stamping.

Well, it's time to splice the main brace. 'vast heaving and belay.
 
Oct 28, 2000
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Aye..pass the Nelso's blood and we'll swill down 'till the loblollies carry us to the gun deck. Sure 'tis going to be a rope-yarn Sunday on the marning.

--David G. Brown
 

Noel F. Jones

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May 14, 2002
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Quite so, Jim Lad!

While this seriously-decayed topic is in full spate(?) I thought I'd contribute the following:

Essential Redundant Nauticalisms

for drama, script writing and metaphoric journalism etc.:

1) "Full steam/speed ahead" - in real life only ever "full ahead".

2) "Steady as she goes" - guaranteed to get a funny look from the helmsman being instructed to do precisely damn-all.

Noel
 
Aug 10, 2002
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Noel:
I agree with you on Full Ahead, but alas we use Steady as She Goes all the time. Means use whatever amount of rudder you need to keep her on her present heading. Rather lets the helmsman use his judgement to get the job done.
How about "Hook Her Up"?
Charlie
 

Erik Wood

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Dave and Mike are talking pirate talk again. Dave can always be counted on to display his huge amount of....knowledge is what I will call it.
 

Noel F. Jones

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"Steady As She Goes"

Charles B.Weeks Jr. says:

"... alas we use Steady as She Goes all the time."

Well you should try not to!

I put it to you that "steady as she goes" – or as Mr Bray of Lloyds List would have you say; "steady as IT goes" – can only deconstruct as an impugning of the helmsman's competence. Surely, if he has been given a course to hold down then he should be able to do that without further comment on anybody's part.

I have heard "steady on that" in response to a course elicited from the helmsman by the interrogatory "how's your head?".

And wouldn't "meet her" in a swinging ship fulfil the need?

I'll concede that the expression might have some relevance when a vessel is being got underway again after, say, shipping a pilot and she happens to be pointing in the right direction.

Even so, where I've been, anyone coming out with "steady as she goes" was at risk of provoking an exhortation to execute a micturitive exit to some publisher's office of their choice ....

However, I am not disposed to labor the point.

It's just that the expression seems to attach greater entertainment value than any functional utility; my perception being colored by having heard "steady as she goes" uttered by an actor playing the part of the "skipper" – from a sitting position in his dayroom moreover – of a vessel ostensibly being manoeuvred across a harbour with tugs fast fore and aft!

Noel
 

Dave Gittins

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I've always wanted to command a gaff-rigged vessel. Then I could order, "Scandalise the mainsail!"

Whereupon the crew would shout, "Knickers!"

Better cut and run!
 
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