Nautical Terminator – Pronunciation (Part 1)

I once heard Bugs Bunny derisively call someone a “maroon.” Bugs didn’t know how to pronounce “moron,” thereby proving he was one. Tradewinds’ BKB class introduces the word “bowline,” which is not pronounced like it looks. The “bow” should sound like the “Bo” in Little Bo Peep, and the “line” like the last name of the country singer named Loretta. Taking this class many years ago I thought, Oh, great. As if learning the words isn’t bad enough, you have to learn a whole new way of pronouncing things. Luckily, the list of odd pronunciations isn’t as long as it used to be. We don’t have to know how to pronounce “studding sails” or “crossjack” anymore (stuns’ls and cro-jeck, just in case). But let me warn you about a few I’ve sorted out in my unending, if unsuccessful, quest to avoid looking like a maroon.

          Sheave: This is the wheel in a block that turns so the line will run freely. Ever been in prison? Me neither, so I learned this from my ex-brother-in-law. It’s pronounced just like that weapon all the bad guys use for protection, shiv.

          Ratlines: In the tropics, rig some 1/4” line to the shrouds with a Prussic Knot as ladder rungs so you can climb aloft like sailors of old and spot reefs. Say the second syllable like Loretta’s last name, as in bowline, above. (Perversely, jacklines, leechlines, and lifelines do not share this trait with their brothers of the “line” family, and are pronounced like they look.)

          Gunwale: Some boats are still built with a wooden rail at the place where the deck meets the topsides, but the word can just describe the edge of the deck. Rhymes with tunnel.

          Forecastle: Nowadays you work “foredeck” or “bow” and you sleep in the “forward cabin” or “forepeak,” where the “V-berth” is located. You’re not going to need this word unless you ship out with Long John Silver. But it’s common in literature, so when you’re reading aloud in your book group, pronounce it folks’ll, as in “folks’ll do that.

          Leeward: You can pronounce this either like it looks or the slightly saltier loo-w’rd. But avoid saying “by the loo.” That means something entirely different.

          OK, to be honest, these are the easy ones. Some pronunciations are a little more controversial or regional, and not so simple to pin down. We’ll get to those next time.

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