False Cargo Glossary
Stories from the Golden Age reflect the words and expressions used in the 1930s and 1940s, adding unique flavor and authenticity to the tales. While a character’s speech may often reflect regional origins, it also can convey attitudes common in the day. So that readers can better grasp such cultural and historical terms, uncommon words or expressions of the era, the following glossary has been provided.
anchorage: that portion of a harbor, or area outside a harbor, suitable for anchoring, or in which ships are permitted to anchor.
astern: into a position with the stern (the rear part of the ship) pointing in the direction of motion.
auto-da-fé: the public declaration of judgments passed on persons tried in the courts of the Spanish Inquisition, followed by execution by civil authorities of the sentences imposed, especially the burning of condemned heretics at the stake.
AVB: anti-personnel Viven-Bessières rifle grenades, named for the French company that made them. The AVB grenade is fired by means of a sort of cannon that can be fitted to an ordinary rifle. The shell is propelled by the powder in the rifle cartridge.
banshee: (Irish legend) a female spirit whose wailing warns of a death in a house.
barratry: fraud by a master or crew at the expense of the owners of the ship or its cargo.
belay: to secure a rope by turns around a cleat, pin or bitt.
belaying pin: a large wooden or metal pin that fits into a hole in a rail on a ship or boat, and to which a rope can be fastened.
bells: a system to indicate the hour by means of bells, used aboard a ship to regulate the sailor’s duty watch. Unlike civil bells, the strikes of the bell do not accord to the number of the hour. Instead, there are eight bells, one for each half-hour of a four-hour watch. Eight bells would be rung at 12:00 midnight, 4:00 AM, 8:00 AM, 12:00 noon, 4:00 PM and 8:00 PM.
binnacle: a built-in housing for a ship’s compass.
blue broadside: a forceful verbal attack filled with cursing and swearing.
Borneo: the third largest island in the world, located in southeastern Asia, in the western Pacific Ocean to the north of the Java Sea.
bos’n: bosun; a ship’s officer in charge of the supervision and maintenance of the ship and its equipment.
bucko: young fellow; chap; young companion.
bulwark: a solid wall enclosing the perimeter of a weather or main deck for the protection of persons or objects on deck.
Bund: the word bund means an embankment and “the Bund” refers to a particular stretch of embanked riverfront along the Huangpu River in Shanghai that is lined with dozens of historical buildings. The Bund lies north of the old walled city of Shanghai. This was initially a British settlement; later the British and American settlements were combined into the International Settlement. A building boom at the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth century led to the Bund becoming a major financial hub of East Asia.
cable length: a maritime unit of length measuring 720 feet (220 meters) in the US and 608 feet (185 meters) in England.
cargo boom: a long pole extending upward at an angle from the mast used to load and unload goods.
celluloid collar: removable shirt collars crafted from a material made of white linen and a thin layer of acetate. Introduced in the mid-1870s, they lasted up to five times longer than paper collars and were lighter, more flexible and comfortable to wear.
cheerio: (chiefly British) usually used as a farewell.
Chefoo: the largest fishing port in China’s Shandong Province; opened to foreign trade in 1862.
coolyhow: a drink.
cox’n: coxswain; a sailor who has charge of a ship’s boat and its crew and usually steers.
crosstree: a horizontal rod attached to a sailing ship’s mast to spread the rigging, especially at the head of a topmast.
Dago: San Diego.
davits: any of various cranelike devices, used singly or in pairs, for supporting, raising and lowering boats, anchors and cargo over a hatchway or side of a ship.
Davy Jones: Davy Jones’ locker; the ocean’s bottom, especially when regarded as the grave of all who perish at sea.
de Milo: Venus de Milo; famous Greek sculpture of Venus, the goddess of love and beauty.
Derringer: a pocket-sized, short-barreled, large-caliber pistol. Named for the US gunsmith Henry Deringer (1786–1868), who designed it.
dog: dog-watch; night shift, especially the last or latest one.
donkey engine: steam donkey; a stationary steam engine used for hoisting or pumping, especially aboard ship.
exec: executive officer; in the navy, the second in command of a ship.
eye: an eye painted on either side of the bow of a ship. The term comes from the ancient custom of painting eyes on the bow so that the ship could see where she was going.
fantail: a rounded overhanging part of a ship’s stern (the rear part of the ship).
fidley: an area above ship boilers designed for the intake of fresh air. Fidley grates prevent people or objects from falling into the boiler room.
fireboxes: chambers (as of a furnace or steam boiler) that contains the fire.
flotsam: vagrant, usually destitute people.
fo’c’s’le head: forecastle head; the part of the upper deck of a ship at the front. The forecastle is the front of a ship, from the name of the raised castlelike deck on some early sailing vessels, built to overlook and control the enemy’s deck.
French Guiana: a French colony of northeast South America on the Atlantic Ocean, established in the nineteenth century and known for its penal colonies (now closed). Cayenne is the capital and the largest city.
Frobisher: Sir Martin Frobisher (1535?–1594), English navigator and among the greatest of Elizabethan seaman. His skills and daring as a seaman brought him a steady rise in rank and by 1565 he had become a captain. He was one of the earliest explorers to seek the Northwest Passage to the Orient and later, as vice admiral, he participated in an expedition, led by Sir Francis Drake, to the West Indies. In 1588 he was knighted for his valiant role in the defeat of the Spanish Armada.
gangway: a narrow, movable platform or ramp forming a bridge by which to board or leave a ship.
gig: a boat reserved for the use of the captain of a ship.
G-men: government men; agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
grog shop: a cheap tavern where alcoholic drinks are served.
half-caste: a person of mixed racial descent.
HE: high explosive; explosive that undergoes an extremely rapid chemical transformation, thereby producing a high-order detonation and shattering effect. High explosives are used as bursting charges for bombs, projectiles, grenades, mines and for demolition.
HMS: His Majesty’s Ship.
holystoning: scrubbing the decks of a ship using a block of soft sandstone called holystone.
hooker: an older vessel, usually a cargo boat.
Huangpu: long river in China flowing through Shanghai. It divides the city into two regions.
junk: a seagoing ship with a traditional Chinese design and used primarily in Chinese waters. Junks have square sails spread by battens (long flat wooden strips for strengthening a sail), a high stern and usually a flat bottom.
Kanaka: a native Hawaiian.
keel, on an even: steadily; when a ship draws the same quantity of water both at the rear of the ship and forward.
key: a hand-operated device used to transmit Morse code messages.
knot: a unit of speed, equal to one nautical mile, or about 1.15 miles, per hour.
lee rail: a railing on the side of a ship sheltered from the wind; the side opposite to that against which the wind blows.
leeward: situated away from the wind, or on the side of something, especially a boat, that is away or sheltered from the wind.
Lower California: Baja California peninsula; a peninsula in the west of Mexico extending south from the border some 775 miles (1,250 km). It separates the Pacific Ocean from the Gulf of California, a body of water that separates the Baja California peninsula from the Mexican mainland.
men-o’-war: armed ships of a national navy usually carrying between twenty and one hundred and twenty guns.
metal: 1. mettle; substance or quality of temperament; spirit, especially as regards honor and courage. Usually in a good sense; as, to test a person’s mettle. 2. mettle; spirited determination.
milréis: (Portuguese) a former Brazilian monetary unit.
Nelson: Viscount Horatio Nelson (1758–1805), British admiral famous for his participation in the Napoleonic Wars. He was noted for his considerable ability to inspire and bring out the best in his men, to the point that it gained the name “The Nelson Touch.” He was revered as few military figures have been throughout British history.
one-pounder: a gun firing a one-pound shot or shell. It looks somewhat like a miniature cannon.
plaster saint: a person without human failings. Used sarcastically.
poop deck: a deck that constitutes the roof of a cabin built in the aft part of the ship. The name originates from the Latin puppis, for the elevated stern deck.
QST: radio signal meaning “general call to all stations.” The Q code is a standardized collection of three-letter message encodings, all starting with the letter “Q”; initially developed for commercial radiotelegraph communication and later adopted by other radio services.
quarterdeck: the rear part of the upper deck of a ship, usually reserved for officers.
quarters: assigned stations or posts; the stations assigned to members of a ship’s crew for a particular purpose.
RAF: Royal Air Force.
ratlines: small ropes fastened horizontally between the shrouds in the rigging of a sailing ship to form ladder rungs for the crew going aloft. Also used figuratively.
river devils: According to Chinese superstition, the spirits of the people drowned from time to time in their endeavors to cross the troubled waters. Evil spirits can only move in straight lines, thus one can thwart a river devil or evil spirit by making a sharp turn.
rudder: a means of steering a boat or ship, usually in the form of a pivoting blade under the water, mounted at the stern and controlled by a wheel or handle.
salade: a light, late medieval helmet with a brim flaring in the back to protect the neck, sometimes fitted with a visor.
sampan: any of various small boats of the Far East, as one propelled by a single oar over the stern and provided with a roofing of mats.
Scheherazade: the female narrator of The Arabian Nights, who during one thousand and one adventurous nights saved her life by entertaining her husband, the king, with stories.
schooner: a fast sailing ship with at least two masts and with sails set lengthwise.
scupper: to prevent from happening or succeeding; ruin; wreck.
scuppering: sinking a ship deliberately.
scuppers: openings in the side of a ship at deck level that allow water to run off.
scurvy: a disease caused by a deficiency of vitamin C, characterized by bleeding gums and the opening of previously healed wounds. Used as an insult.
scuttle: 1. destroy; wreck. 2. sink a ship by making holes through the bottom.
Seven Great Sea Oaths: an abundance of profanities or swearwords. The Seven Great Seas is in reference to the many seas of the world.
Shanghai: city of eastern China at the mouth of the Yangtze River, and the largest city in the country. Shanghai was opened to foreign trade by treaty in 1842 and quickly prospered. France, Great Britain and the United States all held large concessions (rights to use land granted by a government) in the city until the early twentieth century.
sisal: a strong fiber obtained from the leaves of a plant native to southern Mexico and now cultivated throughout the tropics, used for making rope, sacking, insulation, etc.
slip his anchors: to disengage from the anchors instead of hauling in; get free from the anchor cables.
Spanish Armada: a fleet of about 130 ships that sailed from Lisbon in 1588 to invade England. The Spanish were defeated with approximately 24 ships wrecked off the coast of Ireland with a loss of about 5,000 men.
spiggoties: Spanish-speaking natives of Central or South America who cannot command the English language. It is a mocking imitation of “no speaka de English.”
stanchion: an upright bar, post or frame forming a support or barrier.
superstructure: cabins and rooms above the deck of a ship.
telegraph: an apparatus, usually mechanical, for transmitting and receiving orders between the bridge of a ship and the engine room or some other part of the engineering department.
TH: Territory of Hawaii.
tiffin: a meal at midday; a luncheon.
tramp: a freight vessel that does not run regularly between fixed ports, but takes a cargo wherever shippers desire.
transom: transom seat; a kind of bench seat, usually with a locker or drawers underneath.
well deck: the space on the main deck of a ship lying at a lower level between the bridge and either a raised forward deck or a raised deck at the stern, which usually has cabins underneath.
windward: facing the wind or on the side facing the wind.
wing: bridge wing; a narrow walkway extending outward from both sides of a pilothouse to the full width of a ship.
Yangtze: the longest river in Asia and the third longest in the world, after the Nile in Africa and the Amazon in South America.
Yankee: term used by the British to refer to Americans in general.