Aquatic Note

The advantage of living with a sailor is that from a linguistic prospective, it extends quite dramatically someone's vocabulary. Indeed the maritime vocabulary is as extensive as the deepest ocean (speaking of which, I am not too sure which one it would be) and tends to be rather poetic.

Recently we were watching a documentary about the Vendée Globe where one of the French sailors mentioned 'arriver dans les 40èmes'. Being brought up near the sea and being a linguist myself, the term '40èmes' rung a bell as it refers to the full and pretty expression of '40èmes rugissants'. I obviously could not help check out the equivalent in English which happens to be the exact same expression 'Roaring Forties' and moving even further South (as the reference is valid mainly for the Southern Hemisphere) become the 'Furious Fifties' - while the French equivalent is 'Hurling Fifties' with the expression '50èmes Hurlants'. 

I cannot quiet explain what made these expressions appear in only a few languages as it seems (according to Wikipedia - indeed an arguably reliable source) the second expression exists only in a handful of languages (Catalan, Italian, Polish, Russian and both Chinese scriptures).

Other interesting expression is the 'Horses Latitudes' located around the calm waters surrounding each tropic before it reaches the equator line. Interestingly enough, depending on the language (namely French and English being compared), the explanations offered on Wikipedia differ. To give a little background on the climatic conditions: both zones are rather dry, hot and lack wind – which can have dramatic consequences when sailing. The explanation of the English expression mentions that when the Spanish transported horses by ship to their colonies in the West Indies and Americas, ships often became becalmed in mid-ocean in this latitude, thus severely prolonging the voyage; the resulting water shortages made it impossible for the crew to keep the horses alive, and they would throw the dead or dying animals overboard.

While paraphrasing the French, it basically depicts a similar situation where eventually the crew would kill and eat the horses to prevent starvation. Interesting to observe how each culture (as English-speaking cultures tend to indeed ban horse meat consumption) has adapted the story to their own 'taste'. Food for thought.

Aurelie Desmas1 Comment