Ask BigJules: Double Helping!
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The first question comes from David Slinn who wants to know the origin of the term ‘tarpaulin officers’ :
- There weren’t many in the Georgian navy who made the hard journey from before the mast to officer on the quarterdeck – just a few hundred in the whole of the period of the French wars, Tom Kydd included! In nearly all cases these were hard men from humble backgrounds who had no truck with fancy manners and fine clothes like those who entered the officer class the easy way – as midshipmen with family wealth behind them. Tarpaulin officers were known as such because in foul weather like the seamen they wore gear made of tarpaulin, canvas waterproofed with tar. It was very practical attire in grievous cold and wet but well-bred officers looked on the practice with disdain as the clothing smelled pretty tarry and the reek of the tarpaulin officer lingered on in the ward room.
The second question was asked by Jeff Souder. ‘Is there a maritime origin for the phrase “lower the boom”?
- Today, in colloquial speech, lowering the boom means abruptly stopping someone from doing something. A good case can be made for salty derivation. A boom is a long spar, used for example, to extend the foot of a particular sail. When a ship makes port, the boom is lowered (to take the strain off the standing rigging). The ship has stopped, her voyage is over.
- Another explanation I once came across is that in the days of pirates an annoying crew member could be got rid of by making sure he was standing near the boom, then loosening the lines. The boom would swing, crash into the unsuspecting victim – and knock him overboard.
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Image: Thomas Rowlandson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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