Tall Ship Sailing in Historic St. Augustine, Florida

Elbows off the Table Please!

With Easter coming around make sure you are minding your Ps and Qs (a bartending term used when sailors were around), and as your grandmother tells you “keep your elbows off the table!”.  But why exactly are we supposed to keep our elbows off the table?  It’s not exactly like it’s doing any harm, except maybe taking up some of your second cousin’s table room at a crowded family dinner.

So That's Why... Sailors Drink 'Grog'

The reasoning for keeping your elbows off the table goes much further back in time than that.  In the glory days of sailing finding capable seaman to work the decks of a ship could be hard to wrangle up.  Those unscrupulous captains looking to obtain crew for their ships would wait until sailors in port were incoherently drunk, drag them on board a ship.  Once out to sea the newly found crew could not easily escape.

The quickest way for those seeking out new (and experienced) crew was to observe the behavior of the men while at port.  Men who had been working at sea for a while constantly had their elbows on the table in order to keep their plates from sliding off.  Of course this was before the handy invention of square plates.

This behavior lead to sailors being taken and forced into service, or “shanghaied” as this process came to be known as.  This term originated in the Chinese port Shanghai, which was notorious for having clipper ships come in and drug working seaman to force them into service on board.

So this Easter Holiday be sure to keep your elbows off the table, if not for fear of your grandmother, at least for fear of being shanghaied into service!

Stay tuned for more of Captain John’s Nautical Nonsense.