Fun Nautical Facts: the Origins of Words

Fun Nautical Facts: the Origins of Words

Eurosea is the perfect place to meet new people and have some interesting talks! Many conversations cover the similarities and differences in Sea Scouting in the countries of participants involved in the conversation. Other conversations may be on innovative and inspiring Sea Scouting activities that have happened or yet have to happen. But every once in a while, we take a little side track on Sea Scouting and a nautical fun fact pops up! Here’s two fun facts I’ve learned about at Eurosea in Barcelona:


Did you know the English word ‘posh’ has a maritime origin? It originated back in the day when ships didn’t have air conditioning. 

To sail to India was quite a voyage and the nicest way to spend it was sitting in the shade. Sailing South-East from England to India meant it was shady on the port side. Sailing back home the most comfortable place was on starboard side. These were spots only the rich people could afford. That’s when wealthy people were started being called posh: they were sailing Port side Out and Starboard side Home! Thanks to David J. Roy (Scotland) for sharing this fun fact!


Why is starboard called starboard and why is port side called port side? I’ve given it quite some thought the past couple of years, but I couldn’t figure it out by myself. During Eurosea Kris finally came to help with his knowledge, I turned to Wikipedia for some more details and here is the short explanation: 

The terminology has to do with the structure of vessels, namely that they were asymmetric. Before ships had a a rudder in the middle of the ship, the rudder was placed on the right hand side of the ship (looking in the direction of where the ship is heading). This was simply the case because the majority of the people were right handed. Since the steering oar was placed on the right hand side, the ship would tie up at the wharf on the other side because there was more place to access the ship. Hence the left side was called ‘port’. Formerly ‘larboard’ was used instead of ‘port’. This came from the Middle-English word ‘ladebord’. The term ‘lade’ is related to the modern word ‘load’. ‘Larboard’ sounded too similar to ‘starboard’, so in 1844 the Royal Navy ordered that ‘port’ should be used instead.

In short: starboard side was the side of the ship where the steering happened, port side was the side of the ship that touched to quayside to load and unload the goods. Even in modern ships cranes are still placed at the port side even though the rudder is now placed in the middle of the ship. It’s true, google some pictures! Thanks to Kris Bauters (Belgium) for sharing this fun fact!

Hopefully we’ll share many more conversations like this! If you have a fun (historical) nautical story or fun fact, activity or experience to share with the world, let us know through the contact form! Because you may have noticed: we love to share!

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