Nautical Terms and Slang

So many sailing terms have made their way into our everyday speech. Here are a few of my favorites.

(to be in someone’s) Black Book:

Black books have been around for a long time. There was the Black Book of the Exchequer in the late 1100s, which recorded royal revenues, for example. Beginning in the 14th century, a collection of maritime laws and rules for conduct were collected in a compendium called The Black Book of the Admiralty.

The Black Book of the Admiralty listed punishments for offenses.

By the 16th century, black books started to be used to record the names of people who were up for punishment or were liable for censure.

Today, if you’re in someone’s black book, you’re out of favor with them.

(Quite different than to be in a “little black book”… which has amorous connotations.)


Today, this word means to lean, sway, or tip to the side, often violently and without control.  However, the original meaning that’s still employed when it comes to ships means to turn a ship on her side in order to clean, caulk, or patch her hull. Often, this was done on a beach — a careenage — where the the tide had gone out and the shore was very steep.


Originally, this word was a bastardization of the Dutch krengd. A “crank” was an unstable, somewhat less-than-seaworthy vessel. Today, of course, it means someone who’s irritable.


These days, the word means someone who’s a high-seas adventurer, or someone who’s daring, adventurous, a swaggering ruffian who’d just as likely kiss you as steal your rum. Or both.

When the word originated in the 1500’s, however, it was meant for a less-than-stellar, below-average swordsman. There’s a change in tack. (See what I did there?)

Stand Down:

This term is often used today as an order for someone to calm down, chill out, and cease an offensive action, among other meanings.

In sailing terms, it means to go off-duty or relax from a state of readiness.

Or, as Will orders Penny in Three Star Island when she’s trying her hardest to knock his teeth loose, “Stand down, woman!”