The Sailor's Word-Book William Henry Smyth

The Sailor's Word-Book

by William Henry Smyth

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What's in a word? is a question which it is held clever to quote and wise to think unanswerable: and yet there is a very good answer, and it is—a meaning, if you know it. But there is another question, and it is, What's a word in? There is never a poor fellow in this world but must ask it now and then with a blank face, when aground for want of a meaning. And the answer is—a dictionary, if you have it. Unfortunately, there may be a dictionary, and one may have it, and yet the word may not be there. It may be an old dictionary, and the word a new one; or a new dictionary, and the word an old one; a grave dictionary, and the word a slang one; a slang dictionary, and the word a grave one; and so on through a double line of battle of antitheses. Such is assuredly matter for serious cogitation: and voluntarily to encounter those anomalous perplexities requires no small amount of endurance, for the task is equally crabbed and onerous, without a ray of hope to the pioneer beyond that of making himself humbly useful. This brings me to my story.

Many years ago, I harboured thoughts of compiling a kind of detailed nautical vade mecum; but a lot of other irons already in the fire marred the project. Still the scheme was backing and filling, when the late[2] Major Shadwell Clerke—opening the year 1836 in the United Service Journal—fired off the following, to me, unexpected announcement:—

"A Nautical Dictionary, or Cyclopædia of Naval Science and Nomenclature, is still a desideratum. That of Falconer is imperfect and out of date. We have heard that the design of such a work has been entertained, and materials for its execution collected, by Captain W. H. Smyth, whom, we earnestly recommend to prosecute an undertaking of such promise to the service of which he is so experienced and distinguished a member—it could not be in more competent hands."

This broad hint must have been signalled by the gallant Major in the way of a stimulating fillip, and accordingly it aroused considerable attention. Among those who were excited by the notification was my friend Captain Basil Hall, who wrote to me from Paris a few days afterwards—13th of January, 1836—in these words:

"I read a day or two ago, in the United Service Journal, that you had some thoughts of preparing a Nautical Dictionary for publication; and from your connection with that journal, or at least your acquaintance with our friend the editor, I am led to fear that the report may be ...




























The Sailor's Word-Book William Henry Smyth














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