Canned Willie (1908 "Slang of the Sailor")

Bapopik at AOL.COM Bapopik at AOL.COM
Sun Sep 28 03:37:39 UTC 2003

   I was looking through for "canned willie."  This entire
article is worth reading.

   24 October 1908, DENTON JOURNAL (Denton, Maryland), pg. 1, col. 7:


_The Lingo That Is Used by Uncle_
   _Sam's Bluejackets._


_The Man-of-war's Man May Be a_
   _"Snowdigger" or a "Sloper," but He_
   _Uses the Language of Every Other_

   There is a language that is neither English nor American, down east nore
southern, western nor Yankee.  It is just sailors' lingo.
   No matter what part of the country may be the birthplace of a bluejacket
or what his language at home, sooner or later he uses the language of every
other sailor.
   To the civilian a conversation between two bluejackets about his life on
shipboard is hardly intelligible.  The other day on the water front two sailors
were overheard talking, says the San Francisco Bulletin.
   "Oh, he's nothing but a beach comber.  He was run up for breaking it once
and got sent to the pie wagon," said one of them.
   "I heard he got six months and a bob before he come here," replied the
   A small boy standing near asked what all those things meant.  The sailors
were in a good humor and explained.
   "'Beach comber,' lad?  Why, that's a fellow who hangs around a saloon
ashore and never wants to work.  'Breaking it' is staying overtime on shore, and
'run up' is brought to the mast for offenses.  The 'pie wagon' is the place
where they put prisoners, and 'six months and a bob' is sentenced to six months
in prison and given a dishonorable discharge."
   There are many other terms and expressions that do not show their meaning
on the surface.
   A "rookie" is a recruit.  A man who "ships over" enlists again.  A man who
is on the report for mast call is "down for a chance."  Canned beef is known
as "canned Willie," and a bottle of liquor is a "dog."  All things lost on
shipboard are put in a room called the "lucky bag."  An honorable discharge is "a
big ticket," and desertion by a sailor is "jumped."  When the mail arrives on
board and is ready for distribution "mailo" is the cry which carries the
news.  A ship's carpenter is called "chips," a coppersmith "coppers," a blacksmith
"blacky" and the chief of  the engineering department "the chief."
   When a ship is traveling at sea it is "seagoing," and if it hurries it is
"making knots."  A prison on shore is a "stone frigate."  When a man is
disrated to a lower rating he is "busted;" when he deserts and voluntarily gives
himself  up within a period of six months he is a straggler; when he is sitting
next the dealer in a friendly game of "draw" he is "under the gun;" when he is
continually quoting the naval regulations he has "swallowed the blue book,"
and when he thinks he knows more about the blue book than the captain he is a
"sea lawyer."
   "Pipe down" means in American slang "shut up."  "Shove off, Jack," is a
hint to move on.  When a man is dishonorably discharged he gets a "straight
kick."  A sailor who draws more pay "draws more water."  One who talks  too much
"blows off at a low pressure."
   Wednesday afternoon, when the crew overhaul their clothing, is "rope yard
Sunday."  Any part of the United States is called "God's country," and the man
from the eastern coast is a "snowdigger," while his brother tar from the west
is called "sloper."  The duty of calling the men in the morning falls to the
master at arms, and he says "show a leg" or "rise up and shine."  When a man
has had no night watch and gets up in the morning with a good appetite it is
"all night in and beans for breakfast."
   One of the more familiar sea terms is "caught a crab," meaning caught an
oar in the water.  When a sailor has several enlistments to his credit he is
called "a sea dog" or "an old salt."
   A gentle hint from one sailor to another that he does not believe
something which is being told to him is "tell it to a marine."  To re-enlist is to
"slip over," and when more than half the enlistment is in a sailor is "going

More information about the Ads-l mailing list