Nautical Terminator – Pronunciation (Part 2)

Last time we spoke of the odd pronunciations of some sailing terms. Today we will delve into some less certain ones.

          Saloon: Some folks use “salon” when referring to the dining and lounging area belowdecks. Well, do you go there to get your hair washed, cut, colored, teased, combed, and blow-dried, while urbanely discussing Proust? OK, me too. But wouldn’t you rather have a tall drink with Kitty and Doc at the Long Branch? “Salon” is common among power boaters, although John Rogers, in Origins of Sea Terms, considers it a lubberly corruption. I’m going with “saloon.” But you could just say “cabin.”

          Fake or Flake: Is one winding of a coil of line a “fake” or “flake”? Do you “fake it out” or “flake it out?” The historical sources, like Falconer and Smyth, commonly prefer “fake.” But Clifford Ashley (The Ashley Book of Knots) and John Harland (Seamanship In The Age Of Sail)—neither lightly dismissed—say they’ve never heard anyone use “fake.” The best policy with this and “saloon” is, as always, to follow the captain’s lead. But what if you’re the captain? Ahh, the burden of command.      

          Key, cay, and quay: “Key” doesn’t present a problem. But in the Caribbean, “cay” is also pronounced “key.” Cay comes from the Spanish word for island, cayo, and the Florida “Keys” evolved from the same etymology. Locally, the only related difficulty we have is with Paradise Cay on the Tiburon Peninsula.  I called Tom Moseley of the family that developed the area to ask about the pronunciation. Tom says that his dad loved the Virgin Islands and named the marina and housing development after the “cays” there. He pronounced it “key.” But the locals in Marin County kept pronouncing it “kay” instead,  and eventually the Moseleys learned to accept “cay” rhyming with “day.”

          A quay is a wharf, not an island, and has a French origin from an earlier Celtic one. But often this word is also pronounced “key,” causing confusion. In the British Isles, quay is normally pronounced “key.” (An exception can be heard in the traditional Irish song, “Star of the County Down,” where “quay” rhymes with “bay.”)  In New England it’s “key” as well, but in the Midwest “kway” is more common.

In the case of cay and quay, it’s best to do as the locals do. After all, I live in San Ra-fell, not Sahn Raah-fah-yell.

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