IT STRUCK ME RECENTLY that we sometimes go too far with this business of political correctness. I mean, this business of shouting at the crew. It has somehow become politically incorrect to shout at one’s crewmembers, no matter how imbecilic their actions, no matter how little attention they pay to their duties. No matter, in other words, how much they deserve it.
Surely it is not incorrect to flay their skins with words, rather than the cat-o’-nine-tails that would have been used in the old days? Surely there is too much whining from the lower decks about the cruelty of skippers and mates? Have they forgotten about sticks and stones? Have they forgotten that words can never hurt you?
The author Mark Twain, who worked on river boats, knew a thing or two about cursing the crew when they deserved it. Here’s what he had to say about it:
“If the landsman should wish the gang-plank moved a foot farther forward, he would probably say: ‘James, or William, one of you push that plank forward, please.’ But put the mate in his place and he would roar out:
“Here now, start that gang-plank for’ard! Lively, now! What’re you about? Snatch it! Snatch it! There! There! Aft again! Don’t you hear me? Dash it to dash! Are you going to sleep over it? Vast heaving! Vast heaving, I tell you! Going to heave it clear astern? WHERE are you going with that barrel! For’ard with it ’fore I make you swallow it, you dash-dash-dash-dashed split between a tired mud-turtle and a crippled hearse-horse!”
Of course, Mr. Twain wasn’t able to print the real language the mate used instead of dashes. Mates and skippers usually have much on their minds. They bear grave responsibilities for the safety of the ship and the people on board. A little shouting in the right place at the right time helps them to relax and concentrate on their duties.
I think it’s important for crew to understand this, and not to take verbal reprimands too personally. This is especially important in the case of a male skipper who might on the odd occasion, the very odd occasion, direct a harsh word or two at his wife or girl friend in the heat of the moment. He is not being politically incorrect. He’s just mad at you for doing something specially dumb. I mean, even dumber than usual. But don’t worry. This, too, shall pass.
In certain trying circumstances, urgent circumstances, desperate circumstances, profanity furnishes a relief denied even to prayer.
— Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar
“Do you plead guilty to shooting your wife with a bow and arrow?”
“Yes, Your Honor.”
“Why did you do it?”
“I didn’t want to wake the kids, Your Honor.”(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)