Reply To: The Crotchet-Yard

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    Although the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is the premier source for derivation and meaning for English words, and therefore rightly consulted by Malcolm for his originating post, the nautical lexicon is often not fully (or is sometimes incorrectly) represented therein. While it has antiquarian attraction and some usefulness for the scholar of early modern maritime history, Captain Smith’s Sea Grammar (1627) is too early for the bulk of sailing navy terms. W. H. Smyth’s Sailor’s Word-Book (London 1867), is a more useful source, and includes a wide variety of archaic words and contemporary technical terms of nascent steam power in addition to the more esoteric usage of the age of sail.
    However, may I recommend as a standard source of words for the sailing navy (not without its faults or lacunae, but extensive and detailed) Falconer’s New Universal Dictionary of the Marine originally published in 1769?
    The best edition is the last – that of 1815 edited and much extended by William Burney, with many line illustrations. I was the proud recipient of the superb facsimile edition – a gift from my students – published in London by Chatham in 2006, and this is now my first port of call for terms of the period prior to the steam and iron navy.
    The following notes come from these and other sources.
    A ‘Jack’ is a secondary, smaller or younger version of a related item, a common useage in middle and early modern English (OED). Perhaps the cro’jack-yard or cro’jack-s’l were regarded as later additions to the usual rig?
    In nautical parlance a Jack can also be a small flag (Falconer) – hence of course ‘Union Jack’ when used as the correct term for the Union flag worn on the jack-staff (as distinct from the often very large battle flags or festive banners worn at mast-heads). Incidentally and discursively, Samuel Pepys stated that Charles II insisted on the maritime use of the Union flag – which he refers to as ‘the Jack’ – exclusively for the King’s warships (Pepys’ lecture to the Court of Trinity House, June 1674, quoted in the Pepys’ Day Lecture 2008 by Captain Richard Woodman, printed by the Pepys Club).
    ‘Jack’ in the context of flags derives from ‘jacket’ (originally old French), and harks back to the era when retainers wore brightly coloured designs on tabards or over-jackets to distinguish their allegiance to one side in battle. It is assumed that some bright spark used his jacket (or jack) as a rudimentary flag when the standard was lost; the unlikely sounding derivation of this useage convinces me that there is an element of truth in it.
    A Tudor mariner’s Jack could also be a leather jerkin (‘jacket-kin’ – small jacket) like a gilet or waistcoat, with plates of metal sewn into the lining or attached to the outside as light armour. Those worn by officers were often adorned with costly embroidery, as one can see in portraits of naval commanders such as Frobisher (Bodleian), or Clinton (Ashmolean Museum), often covering a steel cuirass.
    Putting “crossjack” in the search box of the MM Index in the online Members’ Area produces four references to the use of the word in article titles, the earliest in the first issue of 1911.