A glossary of seafaring terms

From "knucker" to "knockarse", historian Chris Hare is your guide to fisherman's words past and present

Illustration: Joe McLaren

Illustration: Joe McLaren

bexhill bunny (noun)

A term used on-board instead of saying ‘rabbits’, which was considered unlucky. Prolonged periods of bad weather meant that fishermen were forced to stay on shore and hunt for rabbits. 

gipper (noun)

Slime that oozes out of newly caught fish. 

hoggie (noun)

A Sussex fishing boat, particularly associated with Brighton. 

knockarse (noun)

A boat with a flat stern, like a hoggie. 

knucker (noun)

A legendary dragon that lived in the spring-fed pools found on the coastal plain of Sussex, known as knucker holes. 

mace (noun)

A dialect word for credit, e.g. “How did you afford your new nets?”, “Oh, I bought them on the mace.” 

shay (noun)

A bright misty haze or halo seen at night, often associated with supernatural apparitions. 

shraves (noun)

The dips in the chalk cliffs as seen from the sea, the truncated valleys of the the South Downs, e.g.The Seven Sisters. 

silver darlings (noun)

Fishermen’s slang for herring. A good catch of herring was worth a great deal to fishermen, equal in value to nets of silver. 

whale (noun)

A name for a fisherman’s apron. 

Chris Hare's book The Secret Shore and CD South Coast Songs and Shanties is available to buy at secretshore.org.uk.

This glossary originally featured in issue six of Ernest Journal, on sale now.

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