building was a hobby that Ron Marlett became interested in while
watching his older brother Rob build model planes in the 1950s. At age
seven, Ron built his first model; a WWII Japanese Zero from Aurora's Famous Fighters of all Nations
series. For the next three years, Ron tried other model subjects
including a model of a dog. In 1961, America celebrated its centenial
anniversary of the Civil War and businesses flooded the market with
Civil War related books, toys, and models. Ron began his lifelong
passion for model ship building when his brother Rob gave him The Monitor and the Merrimac[sic] (the correct names of these two ships are the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia) and the Steam Paddle Cutter Harriet Lane (the Harriet Lane was a revenue cutter so her correct name was the USRC Harriet Lane);
both model kits were manufactured by Pyro. On Ron's fourthteenth birthday,
he joined the Sea Explorers and spent all his free time learning about
seamanship and small boat handling. Building model ships became a
creative way to learn the parts of a ship which helped him expand his
nautical vocabulary. During Ron's Sea Explorer career, he built over 15
model ships; the largest of his collection was the 1/96 scale USS Kearsarge
by Revell. Ron did not research any of the models he built during that
period. His strategy was to follow the kit's instructions including the
kit's recommendations for painting the model.
joined the Coast Guard in 1970 and his model ship hobby stagnated for
over twenty-four years. When his brother Rich gave him Revell's 1/96
scale CSS Alabama, it
rekindled Ron's passion for the art form. In his senior years, Ron became
fanatical about going beyond what the model kits had to offer. His
mature model ship building philosophy included research, scratch
building, reshaping original parts, and painting the model to
illustrate weathered surfaces. Ron invested over 1000 hours of labor
into each model ship so that the models would be accurate
representations of the real ships. Ron also built his own display cases
for his model ships, which included ordering name plates, brass
pedestals, and clear plastic cases for the wood bases he constructed.
To explore Ron Marlett's model ships, click on one of the pictures to
|Who Put the "R" in Arrgh?|
essay was written by Ron Marlett to preserve his knowledge of nautical jargon and maritime history.
At a Halloween party, a guest dressed as a 17th century sailor
enters the room and yells out, "Arrgh mateys!" The other guests
immediately recognize the sailor's speech and contorted facial
expression as one belonging to an old English pirate. How did 21st
century Americans at a costume party associate the old naval uniform,
particular word strand, and animated facial gestures as that belonging
to a 17th - century pirate? The majority of Americans get their
history lessons through the viewing of Hollywood movies. Robert Newton
played the most famous cinematic pirate character in the film Treasure Island
(1950). Robert Newton based his mannerisms and nautical jargon on the
ficticious character Long John Silver from Robert Louis Stevenson's
novel Treasure Island (1883).
Robert Newton's performance of Long John Silver captured the
imaginations of movie audiences for generations
to come. In the most recent pirate genre films, Cutthroat Island (1995) and Pirates of the Caribbean
( 2003), many of the films' characters echoed Robert Newton's
interpretation of a salty pirate. The old pirate dialect is unique
because it incorporates nautical jargon with British, Scottish, and
Irish pronunciation patterns. If our understanding of the old
English pirate language comes from Robert Louis Stevenson, what was the
source that inspired him to write Treasure Island?
During World War Two, thousands of
young American men from all parts of the United States joined the Navy
and Coast Guard.
The new sailors brought with them their reginal dialects as they began
to learn their trade on board the steel warships. Quickly the recruited
sailors learned that the floor was called a deck and the bathroom was
called the head. While on Greenland patrol in 1942, coastguardsman
Thaddeus Novak wrote in his diary;
December 18, Friday at sea.
Normally, climbing a ladder is simple. But with the Nanok climbing mountains, then skidding into deep valleys, climbing becomes a chore. When the Nanok begins a downward plunge, I become weightless on the ladder that drops away from under me. The Nanok
ends her downward plunge and begins to climb upward again. Gravity
pulls at my body so strongly that ladder climbing is near impossible. I
seem to way tons!
Novak's diary had very little reference to nautical jargon in his
writing. If the ship's name were erased from his volcabulary, it would
sound as though Thaddeus Novak was riding a fire engine on a mountain
hundreds of miles inland. The use of nautical metaphors is also
non-existent in Novak's diary. Ships were no longer made of wood
timbers and almost all sailors during World War Two had a High School
education. It would have sounded completely stupid for a sailor to come
on deck and say, "Shiver my steel beams".
first naval ships that incorporated metal plating in their construction
were called ironclads. In 1862, the naval engineer John Ericsson
launched his 172-foot battleship USS Monitor;
a completely revolutionary design that was built with iron and wood.
Two large Dahlgren guns were mounted in a revolving armored turret
located amidships on the Monitor's main deck. The sailors selected to man the Monitor were Navy career men from the decks of wooden sailing frigates. The Monitor was towed down to Hampton Roads, Virginia, to meet the Confederate 12-gun ironclad CSS Virginia. On March 9,1862, the Monitor engaged the 275-foot Virginia in a four-hour battle that ended in a draw. The following day, Monitor's crewman George Geer wrote to his wife Martha;
March 10, 1862
ship is crowded with generals and officers of all grades, both Army and
Navy. They are wild with joy and say if any of us men come to the fort,
we can have all we want free, as we have saved 100 of lives and
millions of property to the government.
The only indication that Geer's vocabulary was connected to his
naval profession was the inclusion of "Our ship" in the beginning of
his letter. If "Our ship" was replaced by another noun phrase such as
"Our auditorium", Geer's letter could be interpreted as one written by
a landlubber whose feet are firmly attached to the ground. Moving back
in time from George Geer's generation were sailors that had very little
education in reading and writing. It
becomes increasingly difficult to find letters and diaries written by
common navy seamen during the American War of Independence. Sea
shanties are one way to understand the volcabulary of sailors during
the 18th and 17th centuries when piracy was flourishing on the high
seas. The sailors who chanted them during ship's work refered to the
shanties as capstan, pump, and halyard shanties. The shanties were not
sung, but chanted - with the shantyman calling out the words and the
men chanting the chorus in rhythym to their work. During the American
naval conflict with the Barbary pirates from 1785 to 1815, the most
popular American halyard song was called The Coasts of High Barbary (1795). The sailors would haul on the lines while chanting;
Look ahead, look a stern,
Look the weather in the lee.
Blow high! Blow low! And so sailed we.
I see a wreck to the windward,
and a lofty ship to lee.
A sailing down all on
the coasts of High Barbary.
nautical words used in the halyard shanty reflect the sailors'
vocabulary, but the shanty used words for their rhyming qualities and
does not give any indication of the sailors' language dialect. The
majority of American sailors in the late 1700s spoke English with an
American dialect that sounded more guttural than British English. The
dialect differences between the British and Americans came about when
English colonists interacted with other people from Germany, France,
Spain, Africa, and Native America. To understand the British sailors'
language during the time of King George II, a study must be made of
England's maritime culture.
A popular capstan shanty for British sailors in the mid 18th - century was called All for me Grog
(1740). Capstan shanties were used to sustain a rhytym when raising the
ship's anchor. Sailors pushed around the capstan bars to haul in the
anchor. To keep the rhytym flowing, sailors would stamp on the deck to
stress certain words of the chant;
Well it's all for me grog, me jolly jolly grog,
it's all for me beer and tobacco.
For I spent all me tin with the lassies drinking gin,
far across the western ocean I must wander.
Like all shanties, the words are selected for their rhyming
qualities. One difference in the lyrics between American and British
shanties were the choice of pronouns. Americans said "my" and the
British said "me" as the possessive determiner in their lyrics. The
pronoun "me" is a characterictic element associated with Scotish,
Irish, and Welsh dialects. During the long wars with Spain and France,
the Royal Navy went to the streets recruiting men and boys to fill the
gun decks of its ships. The navy recruiters avoided the southeastern
English fishermen with their r-less dialect because the fishermen's
manpower was needed to harvest the sea. Men with r-full dialects
from western and northern England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales were
the desired targets for the recruiters, because there were an
endless stream of destitute men and boys in the United Kingdom's
Fifers and drummers accompanied the marines and sailors as they
marched down the streets. Like the Pied Piper of Hameln, the high
pitched Aires and resonate field drums echoed across the cobble stone
alleys luring starving men and boys to the sea. Public education was
non-existent during pre-Rousseau Europe so the new recruits were
illiterate. The new sailors began to learn their trade and the newly
acquired nautical terminology bolstered their volcabulary. When England
no longer needed a large navy, huge numbers of seamen became
unemployed. Instead of returning to the cobble stone alleys, the
desperate sailors became pirates and shipped out to sea with their
skills in naval combat and their r-full nautical dialects. The golden
age of piracy came about in the early 1700s after England and
France signed a peace treaty to end the War of English Secession in
1697. In Angus Konstam's book Pirates, Terror on the High Seas (2001), he writes;
profits of war encouraged men to become privateers, and subseqquently,
when peace returned, this caused massive unemployment among the
maritime communities of Europe, the Caribbean, or the Americas.
Although execution was the expected punishment and life expectancy was
short, piracy was an attractive alternative to dying of starvation or
becoming a beggar or thief on land.
Before the golden age of piracy ended in 1730, a book was published in 1724 called A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most Notorious Pirates
by Captain Charles Johnson (Danial Defoe). Defoe's pirate book was the
main source of information that Robert Louis Stevenson used to design
his salty pirate characters. Stevenson learned about pirate culture and
adventures through Defoe's book, but Defoe did not give Stevenson any
understanding of what the English pirate dialect sounded like. Even if
pirates wrote their memoirs, their writing would only reflect their
level of eduction and not how they pronounced words. Stevenson had to
rely on his creativity and knowledge of English maritime culture
to put together the sounds of 18th - century pirate speech.
Stevenson's solution was to use phonetic spelling, nautical metaphors,
and word strands unique to illiterate Englishmen. An example of
Stevenson's technique can be found in his book Treasure Island
(1883) at the end of chapter thirty-one;
"Speaking of knives," said
another, "why don't we find his'n lying round? Flint warn't the man to pick a
seaman's pocket; and the birds, I guess, would leave it be."
powers, and that's true!" cried Silver.
"There ain't a thing left
here," said Merry, still feeling round among the bones, "not a copper
doit nor a baccy box. It don't look nat'ral to me."
"No, by gum, it
don't," agreed Silver, "Not nat'ral, nor not nice, says you. Great
guns! Messmates, but if Flint was living, this would be a hot spot for
you and me. Six they were, and six we are; and bones is what they are
"I saw him dead with these here deadlights," said Morgan. "Billy
took me in. There he laid, with penny-pieces in his eyes."
- aye, sure enough his dead and gone below," said the fellow with the
bandage; "but if ever sperrit walked, it would be Flint's. Dear heart,
but he died bad, did Flint!"
that he did," observed another; "now he raged, and now he hollered for
the rum, and now he sang. 'Fifteen Men' were his only song, mates; and
I tell you true, I never rightly liked to hear it since. It was main
hot, and the windy was open, and I hear that old song comin' out as
clear as clear - and the death - haul on the man already."
come," said Silver; "stow this talk. He's dead, and he don't walk, that
I know; leastways, he won't walk by day, and you may lay to that. Care
killed a cat. Fetch ahead for the doubloons."
Even though Stevenson's book Treasure Island
preserved the old English sailors speech, it took the genius of the
British actor Robert Newton to produce the real sounds and mannerisms
of an 18th - century pirate. Thus, there are three sources that must take
credit for putting the "r" in arrgh. It began with poor illiterate men
and boys who were shipped off to sea in the Royal Navy, and then became
pirates when the Royal Navy no longer needed them. The second credit is
to Robert Louis Stevenson who preserved the pirates' language in his
story Treasure Island
(1883), and the final credit goes to the British actor Robert Newton
who was able to interpret Stevenson's writing into real sounds and
behaviors of a pirate in his films Treasure Island (1950), Blackbeard the Pirate (1952), and Long John Silver (1954). So the next time a pirate enters your costume party and yells out, "Arrgh mateys!" You may respond by saying;
"By the powers! Stow ye scurvy tales an' stand fast, for it be time for me grog, says I."