Out on the Ocean

Ship from the Age of Sail

There are many exciting aspects to life at sea in the nineteenth century. Certainly it was a tough calling, but many young men at the time ventured “out on the ocean” to see the world beyond.

Not only was there a distinctive life and culture. The language of the ships and sailors was fascinating. So many phrases we still use come from a nautical background:

Scuttlebutt – Water for immediate consumption on a sailing ship was conventionally stored in a scuttled butt: a butt (cask) which had been scuttled by making a hole in it so the water could be withdrawn.


Not Enough Room to Swing a Cat – Purportedly from the ‘cat-o-nine tails’ used to flog sailors in the British navy.


Three Sheets to the Wind – A “sheet” on a sailing ship isn’t a sail but a rope. If a sail had three ropes loose then the sail will flap about and the ship lurch as if drunk.

The types of boat of this period are too numerous to mention but barque, brigantine and brig jump to mind. Then there are the colourful names for the parts of the ship: gallants, poop, deadeye, luff and hawser to name but a few. There are many more aspects of maritime life but this quick overview of the language of this world explains attraction of this life to someone like Francis O’Neill.

To conclude: the ever popular jig Out On The Ocean accompanied by amazing footage of a tall ship similar to one Francis would have sailed in:


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