Friday, February 19, 2010


I was reading a story about how the US Navy exchanges officers and men with other Navies. Royal Navy Lt. Angus Essenhigh, a navigation officer, was part of that exchange. He was part of ship's company on the USS Winston Churchill. How fitting.

Essenhigh found this out when he tried to lay one of his “British” navigation words on the ship’s captain, Cmdr. Michael Franken.

“I said, ‘making a sternboard,’ ” Essenhigh recalled.

Franken was thrown. “What’s a sternboard,” he said. “That’s not a word.”

Essenhigh had to show his skipper the word in a dictionary of British nautical terms. It was an old sailing term retained by the Brits and dropped by the Yanks. “Making a sternboard” means “coming astern.” Essenhigh is outnumbered 350 to one — he now says “coming astern.”

Essenhigh had to watch his language in other instances, too. He can no longer shout out “5 cables” when he really means “1,000 yards.” Or when he wants to turn the ship, he can’t give the order “at wheelover.” No one will know what he’s talking about.

Well, some of the Churchill sailors do. Essenhigh has made some adjustments, but so have some of the other crew members.

“Like QM1 here,” Essenhigh said. “He’s practically bilingual. He understands me now.”
For those not up with Navy terminology QM1 is a "Quartermaster First Class". An enlisted rank. Quartermasters deal with navigation and ship handling.

All of this was brought to mind by a Winston Churchill quote:

Americans and British are one people separated only by a common language.

I looked into the subject a little deeper and found this:

`We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language' - Oscar Wilde

Help is available for the language challenged or those wishing to improve their bilingual skills:

Bum Bags and Fanny Packs : A British-American American-British Dictionary

Cross Posted at Classical Values

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