Sunday, April 23, 2006

Sunday History Blogging

Son of a gun!

There are several stories around this term, all of which originate on the lower decks of British warships and all of which involve the presence of naval guns.

During the most active point of the Royal Navy's fight with Napoleon, the Americans and whomever else the British were in the process of fighting at sea, crews normally remained onboard when the ship was in harbour.

The first story suggests that when wives and other women came onboard, the only place offering a modicum of privacy on the gundecks, (where the seamen lived), was between the guns. Most sex took place in that area and a good number of pregnancies occured. Of course, wives were a minority group. Local prostitutes were more common on the gundeck. Their offspring were often of questionable male parentage and the definition given to a boy born of such an encounter became known as a Son of a Gun.

Oxfords has a slightly different variation. Given that the women, who were often allowed onboard when the ship was both in port and at sea, were pregnant, the area between the guns is where they gave birth. A boy born on the gundeck was called a Son of a Gun.

There were hundreds of sayings surrounding the guns which made their way ashore into commonly used English. One which would strike fear into the hearts of a young boy was a punishment known as Kissing the Gunner's Daughter. In a ship, this involved one of the ship's boys, a midshipman or a master's mate being bent over one of the guns, baring his buttocks and being severely thrashed with a cane. (Adult ratings were flogged with a cat-o-nine tails). Ashore, although there were no guns over which to hunch a young defaulter, any time a caning was ordered, the young offender was told, "You'll kiss the gunner's daughter."

Trivia: In 2001 a group of Canadian army engineers travelled to Eritrea to clean up and repair a gravesite. Who's buried there and why is he considered so important?

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