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Jackspeak is back!
on 19 September 2011
"There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays, And every single one of them is right!" - Rudyard Kipling
This is undoubtedly the best work of this nature that has ever been produced, in a genre stretching back to 1626 to Pocahontas' friend Captain John Smith`s "A Sea Grammar", via many other works including Admiral William Henry Smyth`s "The Sailor's Word-Book" of 1867. The author should need no introduction; if he does, read his "The Red and Green Life Machine" and reflect on the large number of lives saved because of his leadership and organisational and clinical skills in the Falklands in 1982. Meanwhile, here we have Surgeon Captain Jolly as the Navy's Dr Johnson, the Great Lexicographer.
Successive editions have profited from input from many hoary old shellbacks and now this third edition contains four thousand entries, still laced with many, many brilliant illustrations by the late Tugg Wilson, MBE. It's not just a dictionary; it is a memorial to Jack, Jenny and Royal as they were in the second half of the twentieth century and as we must all hope they still are, in spite of the reduction of the Fleet, the disappearance of the broadside mess deck, and the (perhaps) civilising influence of women serving at sea, which I fear may have done for the Two-deck Dash, and This Old Hat of Mine. I enjoyed the first edition, but the economy and apposition of Jack's language still amuse (as do Tugg's cartoons). The sheer scope and size of this work show how inadequate are the two-page `glossaries' commonly included in many books about the Royal Navy.
My own interest in this field stems from a period of intense boredom in hospital in 1976, during which I attempted to list all the naval slang I could remember from the 50s and 60s. Years of polishing, and later reading the result into a computer, eventually culminated in my placing the result (containing, at about 1800 entries, far fewer than Jackspeak) (it turned out, only temporarily) on the internet in 2007. Naval slang is a living thing, and since my service all sorts of new words, phrases and shades of meaning have come in, for instance `Four-knot fudge packer' and `Going (neither, incidentally, yet included).
This should be taken kindly; at over 500 pages it is possible the publisher and author might have had difficulty squeezing any more in; however there are some items which I think are ordinary colloquial business English (like `Hands-on management') which perhaps might have been pruned to make room. I think including ordinary seamanship terms is a slippery slope (unless they have an additional metaphorical meaning) because there are so many of them, and the Admiralty Manual of Seamanship, BR67, can be your guide. For instance `Accommodation Ladder' - so why not Mediterranean Ladder? Also Jolly's `Pilot Ladder' is I think Merchant usage and I prefer `Jumping Ladder'.
Occasionally a spelling error stuck in my throat. A tompion (right) is neither a tampion (wrong) (nor a tampon!) Tingel should be tingle. Sloshy should be slushie which links it to slush, as correctly defined. And it's ALWAYS Pendant, never pennant although that is the pronunciation - originally a flag much longer than broad which therefore hangs down, and is therefore pendant. The Anthony Roll is full of them (I'm a pendant pedant).
In my opinion the (RM) and (esp.RM) tags are a little overused, for instance `Trooped' was common currency in General Service in the 50s and 60s. Many of the (FAA) entries come from the RAF (and the USAAC in the case of `Hangar Queen`).
There is a lot of good stuff about origins, much of which is new to me. I've learned a lot; the author has shown a magnificent grasp of all sorts of minutiae of naval history
Publishing has moved to Conway, and is therefore in good hands, and to (sturdy) hardback which will stand much thumbing of a volume essential to understanding anything anyone ever writes about the Royal Navy.