BooksRandom Posts

Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue – Day 173

The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue was first published at the end of the eighteenth century, and given that the current health crisis is giving too much time to read books, I thought I’d pick a daily word from it until I got bored….


This is defined by Grose as “a punishment in use among the Dutch seaman, in which, for certain offences, the delinquent is drawn once, or oftener, under the ship’s keel: ludicrously defined, undergoing a great hard-ship”. As an aside, it’s interesting to see the word ‘oftener’ used here, which is still valid, although rarely used.

It wasn’t the kindest punishment it has to be said, although it was an official sanction that could be used in the Dutch navy, known as ‘Kielhalen’. The word ‘keelhauled’ still exists in English in a more generic sense of being punished, but the naval version could be fatal. The sailor could hit the barnacles under the ship, which risked head wounds, as well as just hitting the vessel itself with some force.

So, a punishment in the Dutch navy has managed to enter the English vernacular…..