What Is a Seaman Slang?

Seaman Slang: A Look Into the Lingo and Terminology Used By Sailors and Mariners Everywhere

Seaman slang is the language used by sailors, mariners and seafarers to communicate with each other on board ships, vessels and boats at sea, as well as dockside when back on land again after a voyage out to sea and back home again to port!

It is a unique language that has its own set of words and phrases which are often not known by people outside the maritime world and so it can be difficult to understand what sailors are talking about if you don’t know the terminology and slang used by them!

This article will take a look at some common seaman slang words and phrases, their origin, and provide examples for how they can be used in everyday conversations amongst those who work on the seas!

Matelot: A Typical Seaman Slang Term

The term matelot is one that is commonly used amongst sailors, mariners and seafarers alike, it refers to someone who works on board a ship – be they an officer, deckhand, engineer etc – but it can also be used as an affectionate term between friends who are all part of the same crew!

The origin of this word is uncertain but it is thought to have come from either French mat meaning ‘friend’ or Spanish matelot meaning ‘sailor’.

It is usually used in a jovial way between seafarers who have been working together for many years, such as “Well done matelot!” or “Come on then matelots, time to get going!”.

Jack Tar: An Iconic Seaman Slang Term

Another iconic seaman slang term is Jack Tar, this name was originally given to British Royal Navy sailors due to their tar-covered uniforms which were designed to make them waterproof whilst at sea! The term has since evolved into being used more generally for anyone working in any field at sea such as fishermen, cruise ship crew and merchant navy personnel alike! It can be used both affectionately – such as “Ahoy there Jack Tar!” – but also derisively – such as “You’re no Jack Tar!” – depending on the situation!

Seafaring Man/Woman/Person: A Title Deserving Respect

Working at sea can be a dangerous job with many risks involved, those who work out on the oceans deserve respect for their bravery and hard work which is why they are often referred to collectively as seafaring man/woman/person!

This title encompasses all occupations found aboard ships including officers, deckhands, engineers etc, it is also often used when talking about someone’s career path – i.e., “He’s been a seafaring man since he was 18”.

Lascar: A Unique Term With Indian Origin

The word lascar is one that has its origins from India, it describes any sailor from Indian descent who works aboard ships sailing across oceans internationally! The word itself comes from Persian lashkar meaning ‘army’ which was then adapted into Marathi laškarī meaning ‘soldier’.

In seaman slang however it has come to refer more generally to any sailor from Indian descent regardless if they are from military or civilian backgrounds, it can be used both respectfully – such as “That lascar sure knows his stuff!” – but also jokingly – such as “Don’t mess with that lascar!”.

Leatherneck (Slang): A Lesser Known Term With Military Roots

The term leatherneck has its origins in military slang, it was originally meant as a derogatory name for US Marines due to their high collared leather uniforms which were worn during World War One!

However nowadays it has become more commonly used when referring to any sailor or mariner regardless if they are from military service backgrounds or not, it can be said both jokingly – such as “Don’t mess with that leatherneck!” – but also respectfully – such as “That leatherneck sure knows his stuff!”.

Sailing Jargon: An Important Part Of Seaman Slang

As with any specialized field there are certain terms which must be learned if one wishes to understand what people within that field are talking about, this also applies when discussing seaman slang as there are certain sailing jargon words which must be known if one wishes to understand conversations taking place between sailors onboard ships!

Some common sailing jargon words include port-side (the left side when looking forward), starboard-side (the right side when looking forward), aft (towards the back end) and bow (towards the front end)! Knowing these terms can help anyone unfamiliar with sailing understand conversations taking place between those working onboard vessels much easier!


Seaman slang is an important part of maritime culture around the world, without understanding this unique language many conversations happening onboard ships would remain incomprehensible for those who don’t have knowledge about sailing terminology!

Therefore this article aimed to provide an introduction into some common seaman slang terms their origin, provide examples for how they could be used in everyday conversations amongst seafarers, and discuss some important sailing jargon words which must be known if one wishes to understand what people within this field are talking about!

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