Jack Tar

Jack Tar

Jack Tar was a common English term used to refer to seamen of the Merchant or Royal Navy, particularly during the period of the British Empire. Both members of the public, and seafarers themselves, made use of the name in identifying those who went to sea. It was not used as an offensive term and seafarers were happy to use the term to label themselves.


There are several plausible etymologies for the reference to 'tar'.
* Seamen were known to 'tar' their clothes before departing on voyages, in order to make them waterproof, before the invention of waterproof fabrics. Later they frequently wore coats and hats made from a waterproof fabric called tarpaulin. This may have been shortened to 'tar' at some point.
* It was common amongst seamen to plait their long hair into a ponytail and smear it with high grade tar to prevent it getting caught in the ship's equipment. This practice continued until the early 20th century.
* In the age of wooden sailing vessels, a ship's rigging was rope made of hemp, which would rot quickly in such a damp environment. To avoid this, the ropes and cables were soaked in tar. Since it was a routine part of a sailor's day to 'clap on to' and 'heave' these ropes, his hands would be stained with tar, and thus earned the nickname 'tar'.


* Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta, "H.M.S. Pinafore", subtitled "The Lass That Loved a Sailor", uses the synonym 'tar' frequently in its dialogue, including the songs 'The Merry Maiden and the Tar' and 'A British Tar'.
* One of John Philip Sousa's lesser known works was his 'Jack Tar March', written in 1903, which featured "The Sailor's Hornpipe" tune in one of its segments.
* A line from the second verse of George M. Cohan's song, "The Grand Old Flag" contains the lyric, "Hurrah! Hurrah! For every Yankee tar".
* This name was used by a [http://www.butlinsmemories.com/bahamas.htm famous resort of the 1950s and 1960s] which was located on the West End of Grand Bahama.
* In Cockney Rhyming Slang Jack Tar means bar. "I'll see you later down the Jack."
* John Adams called the crowd involved with the Boston Massacre "a motley rabble of saucy boys, negros and molattoes, Irish teagues and outlandish jack tarrs". [ [http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/treasures/trr046.html The Murder of Crispus Attucks] ]
* The heavy metal band Saxon have a song called Jack Tars.


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Look at other dictionaries:

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