A Sailor’s Language
by: Garland Davis
I have been told that sailors use injudicious and inappropriate language. Inappropriate to what? Sure as hell wasn’t inappropriate to the Far East Fleet.
I recently read in a blog about life in Appalachia about by-words. By-words are words or phrases used in the place of profanity or cuss words. The most common by-word used by my shipmates and I was “Fuck.” Injudicious? Perhaps… Inappropriate? Doubtful… Make that, HELL NO! No, make that FUCK NO!
The language most sailors speak was never used by Dr. Suess, Mr. Rodgers, or Captain Kangaroo. I never rode a ship with either of them or the Muppets. If they were ever haze gray and underway, I can assure you they spoke as sailors, injudiciously and inappropriately.
Some sociologists have conceptualized a theory of social acceptability that states sailors’ communication ability and gentlemanly behavior deteriorates in direct proportion to the distance separating them from their mamas and other female relatives. The women in a sailor’s life, other than honey-kos and bar hogs, are the civilizing influences that keep him from running around naked, living in trees, and resorting to cannibalism.
There has never been a Chief Petty Officer who talked like Bill Buckley. They may exist somewhere, but if they do they are Pentagon Yeomen or light in the loafers Chaplain’s Assistants, who have never ridden old worn out haze gray steel on the Asia Station. Nobody’s Mom or Aunties were there either. If any of them had been there, many sailors would have been gargling soapy water.
Living beyond the influence of females leads to a diminution of vocabulary to a level where words like ‘fuckin’ thing’ and ‘that goddamn son-of-a-bitch’ is universally applied to practically every close by object. An amazing thing is the fact that all your shipmates understand exactly what you are talking about. For those of you who were never stretched out under a piece of machinery weighing more than a bank vault, with oil leaking all over you, it may be difficult to understand how pointing to something and saying, “Hey Hoss, hand me that Mother Fucker”, saves you the mental exercise of remembering it’s correct name.
“Kick that Piece of Shit over here” and “Hey, you up there, bear a hand and drop that big bastard down to me” are coherent requests to any idiot who ever shit between a pair of regulation shower shoes.
Pacific Fleet sailors who rode Fletcher and Forrest Sherman Class Destroyers and WWII Cruisers understand the universally applied vernacular of the Naval Service.
I wonder what influence the introduction of females into the seagoing Navy, a place that was once a man’s world, is having on the American Blue Jackets ability to converse in a language that is effective, colorful, and easily understood. I suspect that many of the girls recognize the effectiveness of a sailor’s language and readily adopt it.
For those of you trying to wade through this idiotic bullshit., let me explain. I know it’s somewhere in the New Testament, where God speaks to the first sailor… Well, maybe it wasn’t God… Maybe it was Noah’s Cheng. I don’t recall, but somebody said,
“Thou that ride Haze Gray Steel on the Far East Station shall be forgiven the use of injudicious language for ye art engaged in toil inside some of the damnedest contraptions ever created and ye shall receive blanket amnesty for verbal transgression in the performance of your assigned obligations.”
That was later extended to cover all the bars on Honcho, Magsaysay, and Wanchai. It also covers the ports of Taiwan for those of you fortunate enough to have pulled liberty in that paradise. It also includes sea stories told on liberty anywhere other than within a hundred miles of where your mother and any other female relative are currently geographically located.
I hope this Biblical reference will clear up and eliminate, for those of you seeking to save my soul for the use of naughty words, the need to communicate your concern.
Many of our shipmates have already reported to the fleet of the Supreme Commander. I am sure the folks who run the squadron up there are perceptive. By now, some damn Machinist Mate has to have dropped a harp on his toe or misplaced his wings, so the language cannot come as a startling revelation
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A native of North Carolina, Garland Davis has lived in Hawaii since 1987. He always had a penchant for writing but did not seriously pursue it until recently. He is a graduate of Hawaii Pacific University, where he majored in Business Management. Garland is a thirty-year Navy retiree and service-connected Disabled Veteran.
9 thoughts on “A Sailor’s Language”
I can tell you those female sailors can be as foul-mouthed as any male sailor.
While aboard the USS Dubuque LPD-8 (the only gator freighter I was forced to serve aboard), we were in an availability down at 32nd street San Diego. Sima sent a young female MM3 to work on a fire pump. Being a good LPO, I went around to all my sailors and told them to watch their language because we had a woman in the hole. I told them again after lunch and again the next morning when she returned. About half way through the morning a wrench slipped and she bruised her knuckles. She immediately turned the air on the lower level blue.
I never told my sailors to watch their language again.
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When I was on active duty no females were stationed on ships
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I rode a ship from Japan, often, personal invite by the CO. I did training for CA Division, which is Sonar. On my first night the Division’s Senior Chief breaks out a flip chart, writes a few questions, asked me to write a few more. Rules: if the answer by the midwatch or revwatch was wrong, they owed Senior 10 pushups per wrong answer. So I joined in.
Next morning I was at quarters in control, and after the normal quarters, then the questions were read and answered, 1 wrong from Senior and 2 wrong from me. Division was told to spread out and start pushups, together.
I was standing between the Senior and his Division Officer, Senior looked around me, and said, “Excuse me Chief, ma’am, last time I checked, you are part of this fucking Division.” His words!
She dropped and started doing pushups as well 😉
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Shipmates, I must say Garland is a genius at his desk sharing the many memories we all have of those days into the ” Domain of the Golden Dragon “. A salute for you Chief… Senior Chief Benny Reeves, U.S. Navy, ret.
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Reading this is like sitting in “THE CPO CLUB” at Happy Hour with a stadium full of shipmates……
Brings back some GREAT memories !!!!
Like leaving Subic one morning on Okie Boat after a lloooonnnng weekend, and hearing the watch Bos’n pipe “Secure the Special Sea and Anchor Detail…Set the Under way watch…..” and then hear…
The shrill piping of, “Taps, Taps, Lites Out”….
Courtesy of Captain P.D. Butcher, USN..
MAY HE REST IN PEACE…
A Sailor’s Sailor !!!
We didn’t worry about language when I was in. No females on board back then. I’ve been out 40 couple years and still haven’t lost my touch!
I was home for Christmas leave in ’65. While enjoying Christmas dinner with all the family around the table, I ask my mother to pass the fucking turkey.
Remember the sea story? A young lad, just freshly out of boot camp returns home to his welcoming family. A large dinner is held in his honor, him being the first of his family to enter into the military. Usually a very talkative and effervescent boy growing up in this nice Christian family, he remained unusually quiet throughout the meal, as he had been all day. Dad must have thought that his time in recruit training must have taught him the rational logic of control over his zealous chatter he was known for and dad was very proud of him. Mary Ellen, his presumed sweetheart of those days of emotional discovery, admired him in his immaculate uniform. Mom beamed proudly of her first born child, a man of great destiny, ready to go off and defend this great country of ours. So, as dessert was being consumed, a very worried mother finally asked her young son why he had been so quiet since arriving home on the bus that morning. Everyone else at the gathering, including the minister from the church this young man grew up in, became silent to hear his response. To which, he said, “Sorry all, I didn’t want to fuck up and say the wrong thing.”
Just stumbled upon your site and read “A Sailor’s Language”. What a hoot. Look forward to plowing through all your writings. I was a SKSN right out of bootcamp/SK school assigned to NSD, Subic, 1972-75, with a small time on USS Tulare, LKA-112. The Chief and Sk1 wanted to know who in the hell I knew to gather such an assignment! Got out after four years, went to college and law school and went back into the Navy for four years as a JAG, 1983-1987. Informed most of my clients that their crimes weren’t a lot worse than some of the shit I pulled and got away with except one tiny detail—I never got caught.