I’ve always been fascinated by the great variety and complexity of nautical terminology, especially on sailing ships. I’ve encountered it mostly in my reading. I don’t really have much sailing experience, except as a passenger aboard ferries and ocean liners, plus the occasional opportunity to go aboard a museum ship. The four-masted, sail training ship Nippon Maru, which I explored last month in Yokohama, was a special treat because it offered a glimpse of sailing-ship terminology in two languages, Japanese and English.
Here’s the text of the English translation on an explanatory sign about the rigging on the Nippon Maru. Though phrased rather awkwardly, it is very clear and instructive.
Running Rigging and Standing Rigging
Ropes which are used for moving yards, raising or lowering sails are called running riggings. The ship carries around 1,100 running riggings and the total length of these riggings accounts for 14,938m. The number of blocks fixed with running riggings accounts for 854 in total. Running riggings have different kinds: Halyards, Sheets and Tacks to raise the sails and Downhauls, Clewlines, (Clewgarnet), Buntlines, (Leechlines) and Tripping lines to furl the sails. When spreading, it is necessary to loosen the rigging which is hauled for furling. When moving a yard, Braces will be used and to loosen the starboard side of the yard, the port side will be hauled. Wires to secure the mast and the bowsprit are called standing riggings. The ship carries 168 standing riggings and the total length of these riggings accounts for about 3,678m. These riggings include the pieces of shrouds which are horizontally tied to ratlines to go aloft. Most of the standing riggings are placed at the back of the mast in order to handle loads induced by the wind pressure coming in from the back.
The Japanese terms for ‘running rigging’ and ‘standing rigging’ are 動索 dousaku ‘moving-rope’ and 静索 seisaku ‘still-rope’, respectively. (The matching Korean terms, dongsaek and jeongsaek, are cognate, and the suo ‘cable, rigging’ in Chinese shengsuo ‘rope-rigging’ is also cognate with J. saku and K. saek.) ‘Starboard’ is 右舷側 u-gen-gawa ‘right-gunwale-side’ and ‘port’ is 左舷側 sa-gen-gawa ‘left-gunwale-side’. (The kanji 舷 gen ‘gunwale’ also occurs in 舷灯 gen-tou ‘gunwale-lamp = running lights’ [on each side of the ship], 舷門 gen-mon ‘gunwale-gate = gangway’, and 舷窓 gen-sou ‘gunwale-window = porthole’.) The bow or fore part of the ship is 船首 sen-shu ‘ship-neck’ and the stern or aft part of the ship is 船尾 sen-bi ‘ship-tail’.
These terms were no doubt in use long before Japanese sailors became familiar with European-style sailing ships (before Date Masamune had his first Spanish galleon built in 1613). The same goes for terms like 帆柱 ho-bashira ‘sail-pillar = mast’ and 帆桁 ho-geta ‘sail-beam = yard(arm)’. Nevertheless, the Japanese text begins with the katakana synonym for ‘yard’ (yaado) followed by its kanji equivalent (帆桁) in parentheses, and employs exclusively katakana terms (borrowed from English) for ‘sail’ (seiru), ‘rope’ (roopu), and ‘mast’ (masuto). Why? Because the names for all the subcategories of nautical masts, sails, and rigging have been imported wholesale from English. At eye-level on each of the four masts is its name in katakana: foamasuto ‘foremast’, meinmasuto ‘mainmast’, mizunmasuto ‘mizzenmast’, and jigaamasuto ‘jiggermast’ (and ‘bowsprit’ is bausupritto). There are ways to write ‘front mast’ and ‘back mast’ in kanji, but it is much harder to differentiate four masts using traditional (Sino-Japanese) terminology.
Similarly, the name for every length of rigging on this modern square-rigged four-master is directly imported from English: ‘halyard’ is hariyaado, ‘sheet’ is shiito, ‘tack’ is takku, ‘downhaul’ is danhooru, ‘clewline’ is kuryuu rain, ‘clewgarnet’ is kuryuu gaanetto, ‘buntline’ is banto rain, ‘leechline’ is riichi rain, ‘tripping line’ is torippingu rain, ‘brace’ is bureesu, ‘ratline’ is rattorain, and ‘shroud’ is shuraudo.
The same goes for the names of every spar among the yards, as the following Yards chart shows. ‘Lower topsail yard’ is rowaa toppuseeru yaado, ‘upper (top)gallant yard’ is appaa geran yaado, ‘royal yard’ is roiyaru yaado, ‘spanker gaff’ is supankaa gafu, ‘spanker boom’ is supankaa buumu, and so on. The Korean translation (yadeu) of the chart title suggests that Koreans have also directly imported this specialized English terminology. (In the Chinese title, ‘yard’ is mistranslated as dui-huo-chang ‘stack-goods-place = freight yard’.)
The last chart included here only confirms the extent to which English modern square-rigged sailing ship terminology has been imported wholesale into Japanese naval usage. Its title in Japanese is Jigaa masuto mawari bireingu pin haichizu ‘jigger mast around belaying pin arrangement-diagram’. The nautical terms of English origin, ‘jiggermast’ and ‘belaying pin’, are written in katakana, the native Japanese word for ‘around’ is written in hiragana, and the Sino-Japanese compound translated ‘arrangement-diagram’ is written in kanji. Although the Korean title is written entirely in the Korean alphabet, the breakdown of word origins is the same (and so is the word order): jigeo maseuteu ‘jiggermast’, jubyeon ‘around’, bireing pin ‘belaying pin’, baechido ‘arrangement diagram’.
In the Chinese translation, ‘jiggermast’ is rendered as 船尾小桅 chuanwei xiaowei ‘ship-tail small-mast’ to distinguish it from 后桅 houwei ‘rear-mast’ (= ‘mizzenmast’, cf. 前桅 qián wéi ‘fore-mast’, 主桅 zhuwei ‘main-mast’). ‘Belaying pin’ is translated rather directly as 系索桩 jisuozhuang ‘fasten-rope-stake’. These Chinese nautical terms do not render the English sounds, as the Japanese and Korean equivalents do.
By the way, there is a mistake in the English translation of the directions at the top and bottom of the chart. Both directions are labeled ‘sternward’ in English, but in Japanese only the top arrow points sternward (sen-bi-gawa ‘ship-tail-ward’), while the bottom arrow points foreward (船首側 sen-shu-gawa ‘ship-neck-ward’).