Reply To: The Crotchet-Yard

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Frank Scott

‘Crotchet-yard’ is clearly a variant of ‘Crotched-yard’, which was an old method of spelling for ‘Crossjack yard’.
‘Crossjack’ is the traditional term for the lower yard on the mizzen mast of a full-rigged ship, and at the time of the wreck no sail would have been set on it, its role being to spread the foot of the mizzen topsail. In this position it is easy to visualise a heavy sea passing ‘over the Quar deck’ and striking it.
John Harland in Seamanship in the Age of Sail (London 1984), is the most readable source on how the sails and yards obtained their names in square riggers.
Dr Samuel Johnson, who compiled his great dictionary in the 18th century, was famous for his loathing of seafarers and the sea, and not surprisingly his lexicon was littered with maritime howlers. Although the modern OED is a collective effort with extremely high academic standards, it still falls short of being the absolute source for the traditional language of the sea that one might expect.