Nautical terms and slang are very interesting. During my research, I often come across a term or phrase or reference that puzzles or intrigues me. That in turn leads to more research as I try to track down the meaning of it as well as its origins.

My column is called Half Seas Over, from the nautical phrase which refers to a stranded ship on a rock or ledge where seas wash over its deck, or a vessel at least half-way across the sea on its journey. Yet another meaning is a reference to someone who is drunk….

What follows are some terms or phrases I have come across and their meanings. Half the fun was hunting down what they mean and finding out their origins, how they came about in usage.

On board a vessel, the Baboon Watch was usually assigned to an apprentice, which makes sense since it was the job to watch over a ship while it was safe in harbor. This is different from the Calashee Watch, where the entire crew was expected to be on deck to help those already on duty keeping watch, usually during violent gales.

During that bad weather, you might be expected To Freshen the Nip, which is to move a line or rope to keep it from starting to chafe in high winds or turbulent seas. After such work, a sailor might get To Freshen His Hawse, or be provided with a drink of alcohol. Ship officers tended to do this to revive themselves while on a long stretch of duty in bad weather.

Sometimes these storms come with a Scarborough Warning, meaning they break upon you with no warning whatsoever. This term comes from the 1557 battle for Scarborough Castle, in North Yorkshire, England. Armed men loyal to Thomas Wyatt, who opposed "Bloody Mary" and her attempt to return England to Catholicism, captured the castle and held it for three days until overpowered. Several were then hanged with no trial or any forewarning, hence the term. The leader, Thomas Stafford, was later executed for high treason on Tower Hill.

A Baggy-wrinkle is where old bits of rope are used to wrap around the fraying ends of longer pieces of rope. A similar job is To Marl the rope, or cover it in various materials then wrap another line tightly around the whole stretch of repair. If the weighted mass is made at the end of the rope, usually with loops, it is considered a Monkey’s Fist, lines made to be used for throwing some distance.

One of the worst things to happen is for your ship to become Beneaped, that is to run aground during an equinox, since these extremely high tides cycle through only every half year. That’s right, you might have to wait potentially six months before you could refloat your vessel!

As a result, many vessels would attempt To Claw Off or try to sail away from land with a wind blowing onshore, a most difficult task when tides and current can also be against you. This was especially dangerous along an Ironbound coast, or a spectacularly rocky and uninviting stretch of coastline.

To make matters worse, there were often evil people trying To Jibber the Kibber, or lure you at night onto these terrible coasts to wreck, usually by tying a lantern to a hobbled horse. The light apparently could be mistaken for another vessel.

If you get stuck Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, you have little to choose from between two lousy options. You also want to avoid the Dogger Bank Itch, a term used to describe saltwater abrasions you get from handling seawater-soaked lines and nets.

When confronted about having done something you did not do, the sailor might use the phrase Black’s the White of My Eye to plead his innocence. This was usually in conjunction with serving under a Bucko Mate, who was usually brutal and unrelenting in driving the crew as hard as possible.

Such a mate might also try To Drown the Miller, which is to add excessive amounts of water, rather than the prescribed amount, to your daily ration of rum. Even worse, your punishment from a Bucko Mate for an infraction might be a Ducking at the Yardarm, where you would be hauled up to the end of a yard and dropped into the water, likely repeated more than once.

If your ship is small and cramped, you might consider it as No Room to Swing a Cat. This refers not to the feline kind, but to the whipping punishment instrument called Cat o' Nine Tails. Speaking of that horrific tool, To Comb the Cat is when the user runs his fingers through it to separate the strands of any blood before the next swing.

Better times are when you can Splice the Main Brace, where you receive an extra drink ration for a celebration or winning a naval engagement. This could also be with The Sun Over the Yardarm, that time of day when the first drink of the day is taken, in northern climes it was about 11 a.m.!

Just make sure you do not get Three Sheets into the Wind, where you cannot function properly due to excessive drunkenness. Handling one sheet, or sail, in high wind was difficult enough; three was very challenging so you had to be on your game!

You hope your vessel is Sea-Kindly, built so well that it sails nicely, handles well and is comfortable. Similar to Sea-Worthy where a vessel, or a person, is considered all fit and ready to go. You hope that your cargo is Aburton, the arrangement of casks below deck, usually packed across the ship for stability and easy accessibility.

You certainly do not want your vessel to be A-cockbill. Originally known as A-cockbell, it is that mid-way or uncertain time when the vessel’s anchor has been pulled free from the sea floor, but before it has been stowed away or hanging from the catheads. Another use of the term was to mourn the loss of a sailor at sea by hoisting one end of the yard higher than the other, so it was A-cockbill or off.

The white foam of ocean waves is called Neptune’s Sheep, it has also been called Sea Horses or White Horses. This is different from the Bone, or the white foam produced by the bow’s passage through the water. If there is a lot of it present, the vessel is considered to have a Bone in Her Teeth.

At the end of your maritime career, you might be considered a Shell-Back, maybe been at sea so long there are barnacles growing on you! Usually it means an old-school type sailor, but could also refer to someone with a great store of maritime knowledge and experience.

When time to hang it up and retire, you are considered On the Beach or to Have Swallowed the Anchor. This retirement is different from when you have died and are Crossing the Bar. Then, you have likely departed for Fiddler’s Green, the imaginary land of enchantment for sailors after their death.

"Crossing the Bar," the short poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson written in 1889, compares death with crossing the sandbar between the river of life and the ocean beyond. Other similar phrases for the death of a mariner included To Lose the Number of His Mess or To Unreeve His Lifeline.

One of the best things to happen for a mariner is when they get Bent on a Splice, which meant the sailor got married. Spliced ropes become one continuous piece as opposed to knots, which just join two pieces together. Hmm, interesting way to look at it!