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Page last updated at 01:01 GMT, Wednesday, 28 September 2011 02:01 UK
The joy of 'Jackspeak'

Naval officers shouting on deck

By Andy Walker
Today programme

A collection of thousands of naval slang words and phrases known as "Jackspeak" has been published, highlighting just how many of them have crept in to the modern lexicon over the years.

Ever been caught between the devil and the deep blue sea? Or maybe you have been told to show a leg, been taken aback or have been made to run the gauntlet.

Naval officers talking
These men can laugh about working for the "Grey Funnel Line" (the navy)

If so, you have been using just a few of the thousands of slang words and phrases coined or adopted by the Royal Navy - the world's oldest organised fighting service - over the course of more than 400 years.

With a maritime history as rich as the United Kingdom's, it is hardly surprising that naval slang should have become such an integral part of our everyday vocabulary.

And, just like the English language, it is a living entity, constantly being renewed and refreshed.

Nowadays you may well come across sailors talking about "Dagenham Dave" (an unstable rating - just this side of Barking, London) "going Harpic" (clean round the bend) after forgetting to wear a "bone dome" (aircrew helmet).

And for the past 40 years, one man has been collecting terms of naval slang and usage, known as "Jackspeak", 4,000 examples of which feature in his new book.

Jolly's favourite jackspeak
Royal Navy personnel
Chicken Chernobyl - the hottest curry in the world
Proctoheliosis/helioproctosis - a condition where people believe the sun shines from their backsides
Scrub round - to cancel an event
Putting the Queen to bed - affectionate term for the formal lowering of the White Ensign each evening, at sunset
Crimson crabfats - the RAF Red Arrows
Bubblehead - scuba diver
Hammy cheesy eggy topsides - favourite Naval galley snack

Rick Jolly OBE is a former Surgeon Captain in the Royal Navy, who also served with the Royal Marines and commanded the field hospital at Ajax Bay during the 1982 Falklands conflict.

Despite working in terrible conditions, with poor lighting and close to two unexploded bombs, only three of the 580 British soldiers and Royal Marines wounded in action during the land battles subsequently died of their wounds.

"Doc" Jolly was the only person to be decorated by both Britain, which appointed him an OBE, and Argentina, which awarded him the Orden de Mayo for his service during the war.

His years on board ship, both in the marines and later on cruise liners, have given him a passion for slang.

Part of its charm, he feels, comes from its exclusivity, because the terminology used is only understood by fellow naval comrades.

"For instance, this description of a crusty old sailor's toothache needs some nautical knowledge, but then has a perfect and startling clarity: 'Tis from the aftermost grinder aloft on the starboard side…'," he says.

Naval officer shouting at crew
Naval personnel love coming up with nicknames for each other

He believes the humour of nautical slang is an essential coping strategy for people dealing with the multiple uncertainties and dangers of war.

"During my own 25 years in a dark blue uniform, I had several opportunities to confirm that fact," he explains.

"In addition, as a direct result of my misunderstanding of a term used by one of my Royal Marine patients, I set out in 1971 to make a new collection of slang terms.

"From the start, I tried to take each word or phrase in context, giving an example of its usage as well as a definition."

And the range of slang used by the "Grey Funnel Line" (the navy) is both instructive and amusing.

Whether you serve in the "Green Death" (3rd Commando Brigade, Royal Marines), or are a "snotty" (midshipman) or a "pickle jar officer" (a university graduate who can tell you the square root of a pickle-jar lid to three decimal places but cannot get the blooming thing off), there will probably be an informal name for you.

'Jackspeak' exaggeration
"I was on the main gate when you were still on Cow & Gate"
"He joined the Fleet Air Arm when Pontius was the senior pilot"

In addition, the whole spectrum of naval life is covered, from a horse's neck (brandy and dry ginger) to buckets of sunshine (nuclear weapons), and even the technical "dangle the Dunlops" (a Fleet Air Arm term for lowering an aircraft's undercarriage prior to landing).

Capt Jolly's aim is for people to hear the terms in their mind, as well as seeing them in print, "countering the threat to our naval slang and usage, thereby preventing its falling out of use - and into oblivion".

And he says that unlike Jackspeak, his own destiny is a little less clear.

"I've received the Order of the Golden Toecap (redundancy), come ashore down in Oggieland (Cornwall), swallowed the anchor (retired from a career at sea) and now spend my retirement wondering what on earth is going on in the Whitehall Puzzle Palace (the Ministry of Defence)."

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