Jackspeak: chewing the fat

Jackspeak - chewing the fat

Today’s navy is much the same as yesterday’s in that hungry sailors have to eat. Today, sailors eat a hearty bowl of soup at morning stand easy. In the days of sail, they might have had to rely on chewing a fatty piece of salt pork.

Growlies is a nickname for any tasty food cooked by a navy chef. Also known as a good bit of scran, a hungry sailor might go around the buoy for a second helping if the meal is good. A voraciously hungry group of sailors can be called gannets, aptly referring to seabirds known for their notoriously insatiable appetites and ability to swallow a fish whole and have it visible as it settles in their gut. Gut wrenches is a nickname for cutlery, i.e., knife, fork, spoon. Sometimes a ship’s cook might go by the nickname gut robber, although the etymology of that term is vague.

The term vittler describes the ship’s cook responsible for ordering and storing food, and is derived from the word victual, pronounced as ‘vit-l’. Victual became part of the English language around the 1300s and was derived from the old French word ‘vitaille’, which means food. The original spelling in English was ‘vitaylle’. ‘Vittles’ is a variant spelling of victuals, a word commonly heard as American slang.

Other commonly used terms originally derived from the days of sail, when the dining fair was not as palatable as it is today.

Chewing the fat is a term commonly used to describe people gossiping, making friendly small talk, or being involved in a lengthy informal conversation. Legend has it this term was first used to describe sailors who would chew on salt-pork fat while they relaxed and conversed. Although no reliable historical references are related to this practice, this explanation remains a popular piece of folklore.

A slush fund is a modern term for hidden money or an account that may be used for miscellaneous expenses, including corrupt or illegal spending. The term is derived from cash a ship’s crew raised by scraping out galley cooking pots and selling the fat (slush) to tallow makers. This cash was secretly kept separate from the purser’s accounts and used to make small purchases for the crew.

You will find over 4,000 examples of Jackspeak in my book Jackspeak of the Royal Canadian Navy (2nd ed.).

The author of ‘Jackspeak of the Royal Canadian Navy’ and ‘Whiskey 601’, Mark Nelson developed a love of the Navy’s language and lifestyle over his 26-year career in the service. After retiring as a Chief Petty Officer Second Class, he now works as a Library Systems Specialist at Red River College Polytechnic in Winnipeg, Man.

Follow Mark on Twitter @4marknelson

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