That Navy Slang Gets More Hits Than Almost Anything Else

ussrangerunrepOur of this blog’s 60,000 page views, a surprisingly high number of people are searching for navy slang. My three-year-old post “Heave out and Trice Up” still gets dozens of hits a week. And just to think, I wrote it for kicks.

I was working on my novel The Sailor. Needless to say, that novel has a lot of navy slang in it. I got to wondering: “Do non-sailors know what any of this stuff means?” There are dozens of sites about navy slang, some of which allow people to post questions. Apparently the words “heave out and trice up” are asked about more often than anything else.

As the Vietnam War fades into memory, I can understand why there would be fewer people asking about Hanoi Hannah, the “Tokyo Rose” of her day. And, as cigarette smoking becomes less pervasive in our culture, fewer people are asking what it means when a ship’s 1-MC public address system informs the crew that “the smoking lamp is lighted.” In fact, the interior spaces of ships are now being declared “smoke free.” Of course, the smoking lamp is out while loading ammunition or fuel during an unrep (Underway Replenishment as shown in the photo.)

But “heave out and trice up”? I’ll give you a clue: it has nothing to do with getting seasick, an event that’s much more likely on a can (no, not the head, but a destroyer) than an aircraft carrier during heavy weather. Part of the problem with the phrase is the word “trice.” We don’t use that word around the office much these days. It’s a sailor’s term, meaning to tie up or secure something, as in a sail or a bunk.

After seeing old pirate movies as kids, we went around shouting “avast,” which means to stop doing what you’re doing–such as trying to get away. When pirates shouted “avast” to a merchant ship they wanted to board, they expect the captain of the hapless boat to heave to, meaning to bring the ship to a stop.”

Wikipedia has an alphabetized glossary of navy slang. If you’re about to join the navy, buy a sailboat, be hired on to a cruise ship, or play pirate games with the kids, this glossary is much easier than searching through old books for jargon until 0-dark-thirty.

As we said in Navy bootcamp, those attending class were expected to take a good set of notes in order to past the tests. If you can’t past the tests, much less figure out what’s going on aboard ship, you’re pretty much considered a bent shitcan whether you’re assigned to a can or a birdfarm.

My heave out and trice up post has received more hits than any other post, except one: a book review of Raymond Khoury’s “The Last Templar.”   Go figure.


thesailorcoverMalcolm R. Campbell is the author of “The Sailor,” a Vietnam-era novel about life on board an aircraft carrier.

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2 thoughts on “That Navy Slang Gets More Hits Than Almost Anything Else

  1. When I swallowed the hook after 20 years before the mast in merchant ships I found the lubbers I met didn’t know what I was talking about most of the time. Learning the shore jargon was the devil to pay but now after 20 years ashore I’m a proper lubber with the people I meet not even noticing anything strange about my speech.

    1. I takes a while to fit in whether one’s going to sea or working ashore. When I worked with railroads in a museum world, I picked up railroading talk and nobody else knew what that was about. Thanks for your visit.

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