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Mispronounced Nautical Terms and Sailing Jargon


Hello Sailors,

My good friend and sponsor Mari from Capsurz found an article on mispronounced words with one sailing term on it and she thought I should write about the topic for other Mispronounced Nautical Terms and Sailing Jargon. The one word on the list she found was Boatswain pronounced bo-sun.

There is far more jargon from nautical land that is mispronounced and/or misspelled.

Historically many nautical terms had actually been spelled the way they were pronounced. However, when spelling standardization was implemented, starting with the first printing press in England in the late 1400’s, some words were re-spelled mostly in an effort to rid the English language of extra unnecessary letters. Not all words got revamped and some were completely spelled anew including some sailing jargon.

The main reason for the standardization was because most of the printing done in English was done by foreign printers who used their own spellings due to their lack of knowledge of the English language. The movement for standardized spelling was led mainly by teachers that made up spelling lists for their pupils.

Boatswain and Forecastle (pronounced folk-sil) are words that were originally spelled bosun and foc’sle as they are pronounced, but, for whatever reason, were changed when spelling was standardized.

mispronounced nautical terms

So what other sailing jargon is mispronounced because of the way the words are spelled or just misread? Here are a few:

Nautical Terms – Sailing Jargon Pronunciation
coxwain cox-n
headsail head-sul
leeward loo-erd
mainsail main-sul
studding-sail stuns’l
topgallant t’garn
topsails top-sils
windward win’erd
admiralty add-mrule-ti
buoy bwoy
Caribbean carib-bean (not carry be in)
draught (water depth not a brewskie) draft
gunwale gunnel
quay key
potable po-table
pirate pie-rit
toward taw-ward
towards tords or taw-wardz
tsunami tsoo-NA-mi
turquoise ter-kwoiz
cartography car-TOG-reffi
boatswain bo-sun
forecastle folk-sil
archipelago ar-ki-pel-a-go

By the way, drown, draft and hoist are both present and past tense. There is no drowned, hoisted or draughted.

You may or may not know that some words were condensed in sailing jargon over the years. Like “haul the yardarm” which became halyard.

Oh and it’s anchors aweigh not anchors away.  😎

I have read however, for radio communications, especially in emergencies, that the preferred pronunciation of certain jargon is how it’s spelled, boatswain, mainsail, etc. just to make life more complicated, right?

Thanks Mari for the great writing idea.

Do you know of any other mispronounced nautical jargon? Please add it to the comments if you do.

See you on the water,

Sail Away Girl


  1. I am Scottish and there we say boy for buoy and Caar-i-bean for Caribbean. Its correct there, so I guess it depends what branch of English one speaks!

  2. Elizabeth: until this post my elocution as it pertains to sailing was indeed adrift. Thanks for the revelation that it’s anchors aweigh, too. Changes my entire mental picture of the song’s lyrics. Great post!