Dead Horse Means Ketchup: Yachties in Translation

9 March 2009 By Joanne MacKenzie

I say tomato, you say tomahto. But when it you’re talking about the tomato-based condiment, do you say ketchup, catsup or dead horse? For many Australians, it’s dead horse, and you might have it with chook. That’s another word for chicken.

Yacht crew come from dozens of different places around the globe and so do their versions of the English language. Working on a boat, even with other English-speaking crew, can mean a lot of translation.

Recently, I did a trip with a British deckhand. He laughed when he heard the American stew refer to “the salon”. “You’re not getting your hair done there,” he said. “Surely, it’s the saloon.”

Then there are the clothes you wear. Some people say sneakers, but South Africans might put on a pair of tackies and many Americans call them tennis shoes. A jumper is something that keeps you warm in the UK, but for crew from other parts of the world, it’s a dress.

I was with crew getting ready for a beach day, when someone asked me if I’d packed my cozzie. My what? Someone else said, “You know, your swimmers, your swimsuit.” I had packed a bathing suit, and then I packed a cooler, which by the way is also an eskie or a chilly bin. You can fill it with a case of beer or a flat of beer depending on where you’re from. But if you have too many beers, then you might end up getting “really pissed”. I found that confusing when I first started yachting. I kept wondering what everyone was so mad about. I would have understood it better if they had said they were “hammered.”

Yachtie talk is probably most confusing when it comes to food. As a yacht chef, I’ve gotten used to a lot of the different terms for food. Is it mince, ground beef or hamburger? And if you put meat on a roll, is it a sandwich, a sub, a hero or a grinder? Would you have chips or crisps on the side...or maybe chips or fries?

One day, I came back from provisioning and a crewmember asked me, “Did you get any sweeties and biscuits?” I thought, I don’t buy biscuits, I bake them. But biscuit isn’t a breakfast item or a bread soaked in gravy if you are British. She was talking about candies and cookies.

In the UK you often have biscuits with your tea. And in many parts of the world you can even have tea without having any...tea. You just call it lunch.

I’ve had a crewmember thank me for “the great tuck”. At the time, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to say you’re welcome. If you tuck in, are you eating or going to bed. And if you’re going to bed, are you getting some sleep or some kip?

Most yachts are a real melting pot. But on a daily basis, we stumble through and manage to figure out what it means when a mate asks us to pass the dead horse.

What have fellow crew said to you that you find confusing – or hilarious? Tell below.