Music Of The Waters - online book

Sailors' Chanties, Songs Of The Sea, Boatmen's, Fishermen's,
Rowing Songs, & Water Legends with lyrics & sheet music

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176              Music of the Waters.
is known as .that of the sea. " Upon the Italian main the words ' tack ' and ' sheet,' ' prow' and ' poop/ were first heard ; and those most important terms by which the law of the marine highway is givenó' starboard ' and ' lar≠board.' For if, after the Italian popular method, we con≠tract the words ' questo bordo' (this side) and ' quello bordo' (that side) into sto bordo and lo bordo, we have the roots- of our modern phrases. And so the term 'port,' which in naval usage supersedes 'larboard,' is the abbreviated porta lo timone (carry the helm), which, like the same term in military usage, ' port arms,' seems traditionally to suggest the left hand. The three masts of a ship are known as ' fore,' ' main,' and ' mizzen ;' of these, the first is English, the second, Norman-French, and the third, Italian (mezzano). Your seaman's tongue is a true bed of Procrustes for the unhappy words that roll over it. They are docked without mercy, or now and then, when not properly mouth-filling, they are' spliced ' with a couple of vowels. It is impossible to tell the whys and wherefores of sea-prejudices. . . . Sailors have indeed a passion for metamorphosing words, especially proper names. The Bellerophon of the British navy was always known as the 'Bully-Ruffian' and the Ville de Milan, a French prize, as the ' Wheel 'em along.' . . . For the sea has a language, beyond a peradventure, an exceedingly arbitrary, technical, and perplexing one, unless it be studied with the illustrated grammar of the full-rigged ship before one, with the added commentaries of the sea and the sky and the coast-chart. To learn to speak it requires about as long as to learn to converse passably in French, Italian, or Spanish, and unless it be spoken well, it is exceedingly absurd to any appreciative listener."
If Italy then is not rich in sea-songs, she is at least the nurse or foster-mother of many sea-terms which play an important part in those songs that are sung on board vessels of other nationality.

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