Fourteenth-Century English Balingers: Whence the Name?

By William Sayers, published February 2007


The etymologies of ‘balinger’ in the OED, from Fr. baleiner, ‘whaling ship’, and in the Middle English Dictionary, from Old French balingue, ‘beacon at sea, buoy’, are discounted, as is the route from Romance words for ‘coaster’, from Dutch bylander, in favour of Old Norse byrðinger, and thence to Middle Irish birrling and birlinn and bierlinn in the Western Isles of Scotland, with the additional metonymical transfer of berling, ‘ship’s tent’, and Norman French bail, ‘wale’. This ship type, intended for beaching, rowed (40–50 pairs) and sailed, is characterised by longitudinal planks (wales) added to the sheerstrake, and the tilt or tent. ‘Balinger’ was replaced by ‘pinnace’ in the mid-sixteenth century.

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Filed under: English Channel | High Middle Ages | North Sea | Irish Sea
Subjects include: Shipbuilding & Design

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