Stevenson, Bottle Of Rum Song

Above Board | Ahoy! | Between the Devil and the Deep | Chewing the Fat | Crow's Nest | Cup of Joe 
Devil to Pay |  Eight Bells | Fathom | Feeling Blue | Forecastle | Galley | Gun Salutes | Head 
He Knows the Ropes | Holystone | Hunky-Dory |  Listless | Log Book | Long Shot Mayday   
No Quarter
 | Pea Coat  | Port Holes | Scuttlebutt | S.O.S.  |  Splice the Mainbrace 
Starboard | Taken Aback | Three-Mile Limit | Three Sheets to the Wind
Took the Wind Out of His Sails | Wallop | Watches

Eight Bells
Aboard Navy ships, bells are struck to designate the hours of being on watch. Each watch is four hours in length. One bell is struck after the first half-hour has passed, two bells after one hour has passed, three bells after an hour and a half, four bells after two hours, and so forth up to eight bells are struck at the completion of the four hours. Completing a watch with no incidents to report was "Eight bells and all is well." The practice of using bells stems from the days of the sailing ships. Sailors couldn't afford to have their won time pieces and relied on the ship's bells to tell time. The ship's boy kept time by using a half-hour glass. Each time the sand ran out, he would turn the glass over and ring the appropriate number of bells.


Fathom was originally a land measuring term derived from the Anglo-Saxon "faetm" meaning to embrace. In those days, most measurements were based on average size of parts of the body, such as the hand (horses are still measured this way) or the foot (that's why 12 inches are so named). A fathom is the average distance from the fingertip to fingertip on the outstretched arms of a man -- about six feet. Since a man stretches out his arms to embrace his sweetheart, Britain's Parliament declared that distance be called a "fathom"  and it be a unit of measure. A fathom remains six feet. The word was also used to describe taking the measure or "to fathom" something. Today, when one is trying to figure something out, they are trying to "fathom" it.

Feeling Blue

If you are sad and describe yourself as "feeling blue," you are using a phrase coined from a custom among many old deepwater sailing ships. If the ship lost the captain or any of the officers during its voyage, she would fly blue flags and have a blue band painted along her entire hull when returning to homeport.


The appropriate pronunciation for this word is fo'ksul. The forecastle is the forward part of the main deck. It derives its name from the days of Viking galleys when wooden castles were built on the forward and after parts of the main deck from which archers and other fighting men could shoot arrows and throw spears, rocks, ect.


The galley is the kitchen of the ship. The best explanation as to its origin is that it is a corruption of "Gallery." Ancient sailors cooked their meals on a brick or stone gallery laid amidships.

Gun Salutes

Gun salutes were first fired as an act of good faith. In the days when it took so long to reload a gun, it was proof of friendly intention when the ship's cannon were discharged upon entering port.


The "head" aboard a Navy ship is the bathroom. The term comes from the days of sailing ships when the place for the crew to relieve themselves as all the way forward on either side of the bowsprit, the integral part of the hull to which the figurehead was fastened.

He Knows the Ropes

In the very early days, this phrase was written on a seaman's discharge to indicate that he was still a novice. All he knew about being a sailor was just the name and uses of the principal ropes (lines). Today, this same phrase means the opposite -- that the person full knows and understands the operation (usually of the organization).


The last Navy ships with teak decks were the battleships, now since decommissioned. Teak, and other wooden decks, were scrubbed with a piece of sandstone, nicknamed at one time by an anonymous witty sailor as the "holystone." It was so named because since its use always brought a man to his knees, it must be holy! However, holystones were banned by the Navy by General Order Number 215 of 5 March 1931 because they wore down the expensive teak decks too fast.


The term meaning everything is O.K. was coined from a street named "Honki-Dori" in Yokohama, Japan. Since the inhabitants of this street catered to the pleasures of sailors, it is easy to understand why the street's name became synonymous for anything that is enjoyable or at least satisfactory. And, the logical follow-on is "okey-dokey."