James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Mon Jun 17 21:50:51 UTC 2002

In a message dated 6/17/02 3:31:30 PM Eastern Daylight Time,
wendalyn at NYC.RR.COM writes:

> Not at all exclusive to Easterners. In the Puget Sound area, folks call
>  boats that guide big tankers and push barges 'tugboats' as well. I'm not
>  sure about other large harbors in the US, but I'd be interested to know the
>  distribution of the term.

The English word "tugboat" is used world-wide.  I mentioned "Easterners"
because I was discussing news reports and most national news reporting comes
out of either New York or Washington.  Not that many in either New York or
Washington would recognize the regional word "towboat".  My guess is that the
on-the-spot reports that went to the national news media used "towboat" and
the people in the New York offices understandably read that as a misprint for
"tugboat".  I did notice that after a couple of days "tugboat" dropped out of
the news reports and "towboat" came in---presumably corrections caught up
with the stories.

It is an interesting question why pushing a barge should be called "towing"
(and a group of barges being pushed by one powered boat is a "barge tow").
My guess is that the term dates back to canal-boat days, when "barge" meant a
canal boat which was propelled by being pulled ("towed") by a mule.  The same
usage of "tow" meaning "pull" survives today in "tow truck".  However, once
specialized river boats were built for pushing barges (by which time most
canals had gone out of business), people insisted that a barge, whether on a
river or a canal, was "towed" and refused to admit the landlubber word
"push".  Technical jargon.

By the way, "tug" also means "pull" but a tugboat PUSHES.

At Louisville (actually across the river on the Indiana shore) there is a
very nice restaurant on a barge.  The name of the restaurant is "Towboat

     - Jim Landau

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