Tag Archives: boatswain

Pronunciation tip: waistcoat, boatswain, gunwale, victuals, forecastle, blackguard, topgallant sail

Shanties are the thing just now, so I thought I’d take the occasion to use one for a pronunciation tip on some words that have undergone sea changes between spelling and pronunciation. Here it is:

And here are the words:

Oh, I was a sailor without a mess kit
waistcoat, boatswain, gunwale, victuals
I came aboard in a top hat and waistcoat
forecastle, blackguard, topgallant sail, hey!

They stripped me down, I was half frozen
waistcoat, boatswain, gunwale, victuals
Got fifteen lashes from a surly boatswain 
forecastle, blackguard, topgallant sail, hey!

There’s many a sight in land and sea to cause good people consternation
But the cursedest thing that ever be is English spelling and pronunciation

I said where’s me grog, they gave me a funnel
waistcoat, boatswain, gunwale, victuals
Till I emptied me guts hanging off a gunwale 
forecastle, blackguard, topgallant sail, hey!

I’m a man of letters, jots and tittles,
waistcoat, boatswain, gunwale, victuals
But I nearly died from the lack of victuals 
forecastle, blackguard, topgallant sail, hey!

You think it’s funny; I tell you, jokes’ll
waistcoat, boatswain, gunwale, victuals
Fall damn flat lashed down to the forecastle 
forecastle, blackguard, topgallant sail, hey!

There’s many a thing that tries your hand in ocean and geography
But you will never understand phonemics and orthography

They all called me weak, they called me a laggard
waistcoat, boatswain, gunwale, victuals
I’ll never forgive the captain, that blackguard 
forecastle, blackguard, topgallant sail, hey!

Taking to sea in search of yarns’ll
waistcoat, boatswain, gunwale, victuals
End with you hanging up by the topgallant sail 
forecastle, blackguard, topgallant sail, hey!

Oh, I have faced the worstest riddles that mind and tongue will ever say:
waistcoat, boatswain, gunwale, victuals, forecastle, blackguard, topgallant sail, hey!

Proof that English spelling is an evil trap

My latest article for The Week looks at 10 words that are further evidence of the malicious character of English spelling. They look like they should be easy to pronounce, and many of us pronounce them as they look… but they’re really supposed to be pronounced quite differently:

10 words we’ve forgotten how to pronounce