Macho sailing slang and press releases with bad grammar are driving me nuts
During the the course of a year, yachting journalists get
thousands of press releases. In a compact of mutual appreciation, PRs love to
amuse themselves at the faux pas and errors we make and, in turn, we roar at
One tiny one has been driving me nuts for years and I can keep
it in no longer. It is the PR’s favourite, what I’ll call the comma rampant.
For example: ‘Olympic sailor, Joe Bloggs.’
The thing is, putting a comma after the name implies that this
person is the only one of that category in the whole world. ‘Olympic sailor,
Joe Bloggs’ = there is only one Olympic sailor in the universe and this is he.
Leave out the comma and it means (correctly) that, of all the
Olympic sailors ever, Joe Bloggs is the one to which this refers.
This might seem like a small thing, maybe as inconsequential as
potato’s or ‘do’s and don’ts’, important only to the pedant. But no, I get
potato’s. Unlike the apostrophe, however, the comma rampant changes the whole
Take the difference between ‘the sailors, in T-shirts, trimmed
the sheets’ and ‘the sailors in T-shirts trimmed the sheets’. The commas in the
former example tell us that all the sailors were wearing T-shirts and they were
all trimming sheets.
In the latter case, the punctuation informs us that only some
sailors were wearing T-shirts and those were the ones trimming. Big difference,
While I’m at it, here are some words that irk me.
I hate the word bullet, so often used in racing reports. I’m not
100% sure I know what that means. When someone ‘scores a bullet’ have they won
or were they a dead loss? Being a provincial racer at heart it took me years to
catch up with ‘pin end’ and I still feel ridiculous saying it.
Although I use it myself, the word podium has to be one of the
ugliest words in sport. This lazy shorthand for ‘top three’ was, I suppose,
invented as a consolation prize of bogus parity for everyone who didn’t make
1st or 2nd.
Personally I think podium really ought be appropriated to
describe feelings of odium about a crewmate’s skanky deck shoes. This is a
glaring gap in the sailing lexicon.
It’s strange there isn’t a word for it already because macho
racing is peppered with slang – especially ludicrous verbs. For example, a
press report last year declared that VOR boat Team Sanya was ‘totally hauling’.
That’s fast, right?
Or maybe there’s more to it because shortly afterwards their
rigging broke. They were said to be ‘totally gutted’.
Going fast offshore is frequently referred to as ‘hooning’ or
‘careening’. Hooning sounds rude, quite frankly, and the latter is a weird one
because careening is a perfectly good nautical word meaning something different
I seem to remember Ellen MacArthur using this word so I
speculate that she mis-typed ‘careering’ as she surfed down a big wave and
somehow it stuck. One she’d careened, everyone else wanted to careen as well.
And another thing while I’m at it…. the ‘sat’ word. I can’t count how many times in the last
year I’ve read ‘I was sat waiting/ I was sat at the chart table’, etc. Well,
look, the word is sitting. ‘I was sitting…’ No need to get all past tense,
past participle and progressive verb on us; it’s complicated and incorrect.
Similarly, ‘deliver’ has been creeping in like the tide. It used
only to be the postman who delivered (always ringing twice). Now the weather
‘delivers’ wind, sailors ‘deliver’ results and so on. Is it a supply and demand
As it’s the Olympics this year, I’m already bracing myself for a
deluge of ‘medalling’. This unattractive word was once reserved for interfering
mothers-in-law, the gang in Scooby Do when they’d foiled the janitor or
fairground boss and, now and then, a favourite pastime of the priesthood.
Now all our fittest and best hope to be medalling as well. Darn
I could go on, I really could, but let’s leave at at that for
now. I feel heaps better already for getting these off my chest.
I daresay you have your favourites. Maybe I split an infinitive
or dropped a semi colon here myself (even Homer can nod). Please do let me know
your own pet hates so that I can try to avoid them myself.