Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Ditty Box

A ditty box is a small bag or box in which a sailor kept his small tools, items for sewing such as needles and thread, minor equipment, writing materials and those special personal articles. The name may derive from nautical slang. According to John Rogers in “Origins of Sea Terms: A modern glossary of seagoing terminology” the bags or boxes were an essential part of the sailor's sea-going wardrobe.

Here is a potpourri of hopefully interesting items. Pieces about the Navy, sailors’ yarns being the stories and experiences they would chat about with their shipmates, of titbits picked up here and there, anecdotal “stuff”, other things noted seen or read.

This page should always be regarded as “work in progress”.


The English language has over centuries become littered with seamen's  and naval words and phrases which are now in common usage with the average user having no idea as to their origin. Here are just a few examples:

➢ “A square meal” – Sailors in the days of sail in Nelson’s navy, each had their own individual 
      “platter”, it being a square piece of wood on which to have their meals.

"Bosn's Locker" - broom closet

"Brow" - Entrance to the ship

"Buffer" or "The Buffer" - Chief Boatswain (pronounced "Bosun")

"Bulkhead" - Wall

➢ “Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey” or “It’s brass monkey weather” -  
      Cannonballs used to be stored aboard warships in piles, on a brass frame or tray called a
      "monkey". In very cold weather the brass would contract, spilling the cannonballs: hence very
      cold  weather is "cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey".

"Crusher" - Regulating Petty Officer (A ship's policeman)

"CO's Cabin" - Commanding Officer's cabin

"Davy Jones' locker" - Sea bed

➢ "Deck" - Floor

"Deck-head" - Ceiling

"Duff" - Dessert

"Galley" - Kitchen

"Gash" - Garbage

"Hatch" - Door in the deck

"Jimmy" or "Number One" - Ship's Executive Officer

"Kye" - Hot chocolate

"Navy Gravy" - Ketchup

"Porthole" - Window

"Scrambled eggs" - The gold oak leaves on a senior officers cap.

"Scran" - Food

➢ “Shove off” - to push away from.

➢ "Stand easy" -  take a break

"Stores" - Supplies

For a much more extensive listing I suggest you go to the following site dedicated to such words and phrases:


Probably the best known signal ever made in the Royal Navy was that made by Admiral Lord Nelson to his fleet at the commencement of the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805, it was “England expects that every man will do his duty” (Ibid – Bibliography “Trafalgar, The Men, The Battle, The Storm”, P149). They did and the combined French and Spanish fleets were strategically annihilated.

The Royal Navy of the Napoleonic era served under the most draconian discipline legislation to the inclusion of extremely barbaric sentences of physical punishment that one could imagine; a ship’s Captain literally held the sentence of death in his hands in dispensing justice to his crew as he thought fit.

If one were to allow a humourist a rewrite of that signal under today’s liberal social attitudes compounded by Health & Safety at Work legislation and anti-discrimination statutes, then add some imaginative licence the resulting scenario would be at the very least surprising. Read on:-

Last update Jan 5, 2018