The most usual way in which the average naval officer refers to his own or
another officer's wife - e.g. "My Madam", "Your Madam".
But to a Marine 'other rank', the title MAJOR primarily refers to the
MAKE A SIGNAL
Naval signals are made not sent.
The official naval name for a half-holiday. It comes from the old pipe "Hands
to Make and Mend Clothes", the traditional occupation for the hands when no
official ship's work is to be carried out.
"Make-and-mend pud" is a slang name for a stodgy pudding which should assist
its eaters to sleep heavily after lunch.
TO MAKE UP LEEWAY
To make up that which has been lost. Leeway is the drift which a ship makes
away from the direction from which the wind is blowing.
A ceremonial mark of salutation, originally as showing your peaceful
intentions (like the raising of a knight's visor) in that with all hands on
deck you could have no guns manned. The present method of manning ship -
along the sides of the upper deck - was introduced in 1873, replacing the
manning of yards and rigging which by then had largely disappeared.
Since 1746 the Marines have the privilege of marching through the City of
London with drums beating, Colours flying, and bayonets fixed; this
privilege, shared with certain regiments, stems from the formation of the
first Maritime Regiments in 1664 from the Trained Bands of the City of London
(from whom the Marines derive the nickname of Jollies). Among various general
nicknames for the Royal Marines may be cited Turkeys (becuase of the scarlet
coats), Bullocks (from the Magnificent physique of the Marine Artillery),
Bootnecks and Leathernecks (from the piece of leather sewn in the neck of
their full dress tunics), Jerines, Flatfoots, Jollies, Joeys and Bashi-
Bazouks, Acquatic Hussar, Water Buffalo.
Traditionally the Royal Marines' messdecks (always known as the Barracks) on
board any HM Ship is situated between the seamen's messes and the officers'
"TELL THAT TO THE MARINES"
A seamen's repartee to an improbable story. The expression is said to derive
from a conversation between King Charles II and Samuel Pepys in 1664 when
stories were being told of strage things seen abroad, stories which the Court
could not credit. The truth of one of these was vouched for by an officer of
the Maritime Regiment of Foot and in reply King Charles said that in future
before casting doubt on the truth of a story he would first tell it to the
TO MARRY THE GUNNER'S DAUGHTER
An old naval expression meaning to be laid over a gun to receive a thrashing.
LETTERS OF MARQUE (MART)
A commission granted by the Admiralty to the master of a merchant ship or
privateer to attack the ships of an enemy.
ST MARTIN-IN-THE FIELDS CHURCH
On special occasions, a white ensign is flown on the portice of the church of
St Martin-in-the-fields, Trafalgar Square, London, since that church is the
parish church of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty. This privilege
dates from about 1790. A fresh ensign is given to the church by the Admiralty
A silk Admiralty flag was presented to the church by the Admiralty in
November, 1954, to hang over the Admiralty Box on the South side of the
A stay which prevents a boom, spare or strut from topping up. Originally the
stay leading down from the job-boom of a sailing ship to the ship's stem.
(1) Originally the Captain of a warship was a courtier or an army officer
embarked in the ship, with his soldiers, to do the fighting, the sailing of
the ship being in the hands of the naval men under the Master or Boatswain.
This was changed in the Elizabethan era when the long sea voyages undertaken
made it necessary for the Captain to have a real knowledge of ship handling
and not of fighting only. Thus the Master of a warship was in charge of the
navigating of the ship, as opposed to the fighting of it (hence Commanding
Officers of Merchant Ships are still called Masters). Before the title
Navigating Officer came into use, the title Master remained to refer to the
navigation officer; the title in this connection still remains in the home a
Mediterranean Fleets where the Staff Navigating Officer on the staff of the C
in C is called the Master of the Fleet.
(2) An affectionate nickname for the Captain, or, by his staff officers, for
MASTER AT ARMS
The chief of the ship's police.
"MASTER OF THE FLEET"
Is the senior adviser on navigation to a Flag Officer. He is usually a
In the old days Midshipmen who had passed their examinations for promotion to
the rank of Lieutenant often awaited that promotion for many years. Some
qualified as Master's Mates for the sake of the immediate increase in pay
that gave them. Master's mates died out early in the XVIII century and
thereafter Midshipmen passed for Lieutenant were often known as Mates though
this rank was not actually introduced till 1840 (Order-in-Council of
10.8.1840). Mates messed in the gunroom with Midshipmen. The rank title was
abolished in 1861 when the title of Sub-Lieutenant was introduced: it was
revived in 1913 for officers on promotion from the lower deck and remained in
use for this purpose until 1931 when it was replaced by Sub-Lieutenant.
MATELOT or MATLOW
The sailor's name for himself. From the French.
MATEY or DOCKYARD MATEY
The navy's affectionately offensive name for a dockyard workman.
NAVAL MEDICAL OFFICERS
Surgeon and Assistant Surgeon were the only ranks in the naval medical branch
until 1840 when Medical Inspector of Hospitals and Fleets was introduced. The
rank titles introduced in 1860 (Fleet Surgeon in 1875) and those to which
they were changed in 1918 were Inspector General of Hospitals and Fleets
(Surgeon Rear-Admiral), Deputy Inspector General of Hospitals and Fleets
(Surgeon Captain), Fleet Surgeon (Surgeon Commander), Staff Surgeon (Surgeon
Lieutenant-Commander), Surgeon (Surgeon Lieutenant) and Assistant Surgeon.
Only Fleet Surgeons, Staff Surgeons and Surgeons served afloat before 1918.
Surgeons were originally Warrant Officers, but were given ward room status in
1805; Assistant Surgeons left the gun room for the ward room in 1851. In the
XVIII century, the Surgeon's assistant was known as the LOBLOLLY BOY.
In the navy, the senior medical officer in a ship or establishment is
invariably addressed and referred to as the PMO (officially, he is the SMO
(Senior Medical Officer), but this title is seldom used outside his on
department); familiarly the junior medical officer is DOC or YOUNG DOC.
Ultra-familiar nick-names are (THE) QUACK, PILLS or (THE) SAWBONES.
The unit of community life as lived in one of HM ships; hence, the place
where each unit lives and eats; hence also, the naval verb for both
inhabiting and eating. The context must show whether living or eating is
Knives, forks, spoons, crockery, etc., for officers' messes.
Knives, forks, spoons, crockery, etc., for ratings' messes. This is the
technical (storekeeping) name: the expression MESS GEAR (or the technically
incorrect MESS TRAPS) is more often used.
The oldest slang name for a Midshipman, REEFER, has died out but SNOTTY
remains; this name is said to have originated, about 1870, from the story
that the three buttons on the cuffs of Midshipmen's round jackets were put
there to prevent the lads from wiping their noses on their sleeves. This
story cannot actually be true because buttons on the cuffs of all naval
officers' jackets were uniform long before this period; in fact, buttons were
actually being removed from the cuffs of working jackets at about this time.
The Midshipman is the last old-time gunroom officer to retain his original
rank-title - clerks, surgeon's mates, masters's mates, etc., have all
Midshipmen have been defined within the Service as "the lowest form of life"
and as "a medium of abuse between officers of unequal seniority". Officers
usually refer to Midshipmen as SNOTTIES: ratings - and many civilians - as
MIDDIES: Midshipmen frequently refer to themselves as MIDS.
An excellent book on this subject is "Young Gentlemen" by CF Walker (1938).
THE NAUTICAL MILE
The international nautical mile is 6076.1 feet; the British nautical mile is
6080 British imperial feet (6 feet = 1 Fathom, 100 fathoms = 1 cable, 10
cables = 1 mile, 3 miles = 1 league); the US nautical mile is 6080.2 US feet;
the French nautical mile is 1852 metres.
Men who for any reason have failed to attend a general occasion or 'parade' -
such as payment, medical inspection, etc. - attend at a later session,
specially arranged for them, as "Missmusters", because they have missed the
An old Portuguese gold coin, current in England in the early part of the
XVIII century; worth then about 27/-
An adjective formerly used afloat to describe any small place or article,
e.g., monkey jacket (i.e. abbreviated frock coat), monkey island, monkey
BLACK DOG FOR A WHITE MONKEY
To "give a black dog for a white monkey" is an old naval way of expressing a
fair exchange - a quid pre quo.
The flying of a black flag or the setting of black sails has been a sign of
mourning at sea from the very earliest times. The ship that came annually to
Athens to collect the tribute from Aegeus to Minos of 7 youths and 7 maidens
who were sacrificed to the minotaur carried black sails as a sign of national
mourning, and when Theseus forgot to lower them after killing the minotaur,
Aegeus, in grief at the supposed death of Theseus, threw himself over the
cliffs into the sea that still bears his name. This may be a myth but the
part about the black sails is certainly founded on fact and the practice
spread out of the Mediterranean into the surrounding seas as ships explored
the growing trade routes.
The black sail was superseded by the black flag, probably because it was a
nuisance to have to carry black sails for use only on special - and rare -
occasions, and also because the flag was gradually recognised as a simpler
and more efficient method of transmitting news at sea.
The earliest record of the lowering of the flag to half-mast to signify a
death was an occasion in 1612 when the master of the HEART'S EASE (William
Hall) was murdered by Eskinos while taking part in an expedition in search of
the north-west passage. On rejoining her consort, the vessel's flag was flown
trailing in the water over her stern as an improvised mark of mourning. On
her return to London the HEART'S EASE again flew her flag draped over the
stern and the sorrowful aspect of it was accepted as an appropriate gesture
After the HEART's EASE episode, the half-masting of colours was probably
recognised as a more fitting indication of mourning then the black flag. It
seems probable that it was the position where a flag was flown attracted
attention rather than its colour: at a distance colours are difficult to
distinguish but a flag at half-mast is at once recognisable as such from its
It was the practice after the restoration of King Charles II in 1660 for
ships of the Royal Navy to wear their flags at half-mast on anniversaries of
the execution of King Charles I (30 January 1649) and it is from that custom
that apparently the present practice of announcing a death by flying a flag
at halfmast arose.
Other suggestions, more or less plausible, are
(i) On board a ship, a flag not fully hoisted gives a token appearance of
slovenliness and untidiness - the crew in their grief have abandoned normal
routine; sailing ships used to leave ropes trailing and scandalise their
(ii) Following the custom of saluting with flags (ships dip their ensigns;
regimental colours are placed on the ground) the national flag of the
deceased is lowered in salute at his passing.
(iii) It is customary in chivalry for the victor's banner to be hoisted above
that of the vanquished; in the cause of a death it is suggested that space is
left above the dead man's flag for Death to fly his invisible flag superior
to that of the vanquished. This, of course, is in line with the old custom of
hoisting the ensign of a prize inferior to one's own ensign.
The position for a flag at half-mast is not laid down in Admiralty
instructions but the convention is that the centre of the flag should be
half-way down the visible portion of the mast - i.e. that portion which is
clear of such obstructions as awnings, etc. This in fact amounts in most
cases to about one third down.
TO MOUSE A HOOK
To mouse a hook is to pass turns of twine round the bill of the hook and its
shank to prevent the hook unhooking or the line on the hook coming off the
hook. Pronounced MOWZ.
WEARING OF MOUSTACHES
Article 1105 of the Queens Regulations and Admiralty Instructions forbids the
wearing of moustaches without beards by officers and men of the Royal Navy.
Naval reservists of the RFR and RNSR are permitted to continue to wear their
moustaches while performing their short periods of naval training (RFR seven
days every other year: RNSR twenty days each year) but not when called up for
Royal Marines may wear moustaches, but not beards except in extreme climatic
conditions or for medical reasons.
The traditional and orthodox word used in the Navy for a fine against a man's
pay, used as both a noun and a verb. The word comes from the Latin Mulota, a
A word used in the Navy to refer to any useless or unwanted material (like
GUBBINS, WIFFIN etc.). It is, in fact, the correct name for the dust of
unmanufactured tobacco leaves.
A sailors' slang name for food: perhaps from the French Manger but more
probably from the Maltese Mangiare (to eat).
MUSIC - MARCH TUNES
The authorised march tune for the Royal Navy is HEART OF OAK. This is taken
from a song from Garrick's "Harlequin Invasion" written and composed in 1759
to commemorate the navel victories of that year (the principal ones were
Boscawen's victory against De La Clue in Lagos Bay, 18 August, and Hawke's
victory off Quiberon 20 November).
A LIFE ON THE OCEAN WAVE is the march of the Royal Marines. NANCY LEE is
played when a Royal Naval Battalion advances in Review Order.
TO MUSTER YOUR BAG
A naval metaphorical expression meaning to be seasick.
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