June 10, 2014

It's under way, not underweigh

SOMEBODY ASKED ME the other day if I have a large library of sailing books. I had to admit it isn’t very large, not the sort of library I’d have if I lived in a posh manor house with paneled wooden walls and a butler on tap to bring me my five o’clock beer.

Furthermore, most of my little collection is well thumbed (OK, pretty shoddy) and largely comprises books picked up cheaply from library sales, given to me for birthdays, and, very occasionally, awarded as a prize for some sailing competition. The only ones that look smart and new are ones that haven’t been opened because I wrote them myself and I already know what’s inside.

Almost every time I approach the bookshelves, my eye falls fondly on a badly tattered copy of A Manual for Small Yachts, by Graham and Tew. It was the first book I ever stole, so it naturally holds great sentimental value for me. In passing I’ll give it a little pat, or open it to some page at random. Last time I picked it up it fell open at the last page of the glossary and there I read:

“Way: a ship weighs her anchor but gets under way, but some of you spell it underweigh, which is incorrect until enough people do it often enough to make it right.”

That hasn’t happened yet, but many people, including the worthy editor of a magazine that used to employ me as a copy editor, insist that a boat gets underway. Why that should be, I can’t imagine. One doesn’t hide undertable when an earthquake threatens. A daring pilot doesn’t underfly a bridge. No, a boat gets under way, separated by a proper honest space, and that’s that.

I  have often quoted A Manual for Small Yachts in my long-running fight with that intractable editor, but to no avail. Nevertheless, I offer my sincerest thanks to Commander Graham and Mr. Tew. If I ever do win that fight I’ll have your lovely tattered little book rebound; and no expense spared, I promise.

Today’s Thought
In a world where the time it takes to travel (supersonic) or to bake a potato (microwave) or to process a million calculations (microchip) shrinks inexorably, only three things have remained constant and unrushed: the nine months it takes to have a baby, the nine months it takes to untangle a credit-card dispute, and the nine months it takes to publish a hardcover book.
— Andrew Tobias, Savvy, May 80

A new senator was irritated by poor service on the flight to Washington, DC.
“Do you know who I am?” he thundered.
“No, sir,” said the attendant, “but I’ll make enquiries and let you know.”
(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Edward said...

I'm reading "Two Years Before the Mast" by Dana documenting his experience aboard the brig "Pilgrim". They shipped from Boston in 1834 bound for the Spanish colony of California. He uses "under weigh" many times.
Another interesting point is how readable this book is compared to contemporary writers, writing in the the style era.

Edward said...

Opps, my mistake, California was part of Mexico not Spain in 1834.