Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Moby Dick: Whale Words and Boat Words

I've only been on a boat about a dozen times, and most of those were on a kayak. I've never been asea on a big boat, not even a cruise ship. I've never been whaling (probably no surprise to you), but it seems like it might be a fun task to save and share a collection of the wonderful boat words and whaling words from Moby Dick.

Forecastle (pg. 4): the front part of a ship below deck, site of the crew's quarters. (Pronounced "FOX-ul")

Astern (pg. 4): the rear of the boat

Bowsprit (pg. 7): a pole extending from a ship's bow (front)

Cockpits (pg. 12): a cramped space below a ship's waterline

Man-ropes (pg. 32): ropes alongside a ladder that serve as handrails

Prow (pg. 39): the part of the ship's bow that is above water

Starboard (pg. 39): on the right

Foundering (pg. 39): filling with water and sinking

Fore (pg. 44): towards the front of the boat

Aft (pg. 44): towards the rear of the boat

Fathom (pg. 47): length of six feet

Keel (pg. 48): the lengthwise structure at the bottom of a ship's hull, on which the rest of the hull is built

Hold (pg. 94): the interior of a ship, usually the cargo area

Capstan (pg. 101): a vertical revolving spool used for hoisting heavy loads

Windlass (pg. 101): a horizontal revolving spool used for hoisting heavy loads. It was sometimes used in tandem with the capstan

Windward (pg. 103): the direction the wind is blowing from

Men-of-war (pg. 107): armed sailing ships

Halyard (pg. 118): a rope used for raising or lowering a sail

Frigate (pg. 168): a medium-sized warship that typically had colored pennants at the top of its masts

Keeled (pg. 172): capsized

Sounding (pg. 179): diving down

Gunwale (pg. 214): the upper edge of the side of a boat

Loggerhead (pg. 219): a post on a whaleboat used to secure the harpoon rope

Bivouacks (pg. 226): temporary encampments

Bowline (pg. 233): a rope used to steady the edge of a square sail in strong winds

Bulkhead (pg. 252): a wall dividing compartments of a ship

Helm (pg. 256): the steering gear of a ship

poop deck (pg. 259): an exposed partial deck built on at the rear of a ship

Heave to (pg. 259): turn a sailing ship so that its bow faces the wind and it drifts

Skiff (pg. 267): a shallow, flat-bottomed boat propelled by oars

Luff (pg. 282): sail closer into the wind

Trimming (pg. 326): adjusting the sails to accommodate a changing wind

Jib-boom (pg. 330): a pole or spar that extends from the bowsprit at the front of the ship

Rampart (pg. 377): a defensive wall, as in a fort

Eddying (pg. 505): floating on a cross-current of wind

Festoon (pg. 513): loop

Bearing (pg. 537): direction

Shiver her (pg. 538): make the sails shudder from lack of wind

Heave-to (pg. 546): drift

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) words 
that we’ve encountered in our reading. 
If you want to play along, grab the button, 
write a post and come back and add your link to Mr. Linky at Bermuda Onion!


  1. This is a great list Deb. I wish I had it when I was reading the Patrick O’Brian Master & Commander series. Though, somehow, by the 21st book I had absorbed many of these words!! I hadn’t realised how much, until I start MD and they all came rushing back 🐳

    1. When I taught fifth grade, we read a nonfiction piece about whaling. I remember lots of these words from the vocabulary there.

      One nice thing about listening to the story while I follow along in the book is that I know how to pronounce the words, too.

  2. Been on a few boats and cross channel ferrys. Even been shark fishing off the Isle of White but I also get seasick which is not much fun.
    Check out yesterdays bog

    1. I live on the Gulf of Mexico but I've only been out on the water a bit. I get seasick, too.

  3. I've heard some of those words but couldn't define any of them since I'm not a sailor. Jib-boom is so much fun to say - I wish it's a word I could sneak into a sentence.

  4. Again, a great list. You are such a careful reader!

    best... mae at

    1. I had to do lots of extra things to really understand Moby Dick.

  5. I'm afraid I'm not up on my 19th century whaling terms. Thanks for the nice list!

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. Interesting terms. I heard myself tell My Better Half today while I was washing the dishes and he slipped a dish into the sink, "You scared me, I didn't hear you approaching from the starboard." Then, I immediately self-corrected, "You actually approached from the port, didn't you?" I remember my dad, who was a career navy man teaching me the difference about the time I started third grade. LOL


I hope you will leave a comment so I know you have visited. If you stop by my blog, I will always stop by yours.

Note: Disqus commenting is only available on the web version of the blog. Please switch to the web version if you are using a mobile device.