Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Article excerpt

A GOOD sea captain of 30 years' sailing has written to me from Haifa asking me the true origin of port ('left'). That will be easy, I thought, let's have a look in the dictionary.

It turns out not to be as simple as all that. In 1844 the Admiralty issued an order saying, `The word "Port" is frequently substituted for the word "Larboard", and as the distinction between "Starboard" and "Port" is so much more marked than that between "Starboard" and "Larboard", it is their Lordships' direction that the word "Larboard" shall no longer be used.' This convention has since sensibly been adopted internationally.

Let us start with starboard. It is the side of the vessel from which one steered, with an oar. Thus, it would be convenient to take on board goods on the other side, the lade board or larboard. Now, the cargo would come aboard through a port (as in port-hole). …

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