Sailor Talk – “Kissing the Gunner’s Daughter” and “Sucking the Monkey”

One of my particular frustrations with the “Talk-Like a Pirate Day” folks is that even if one ignores the very nasty nature of pirates, historical and modern alike, a second and perhaps even great problem remains. The Talk-Like-a-Piraters do such a lousy job of talking like pirates. A few “Aarghs”, “avast-ye maties”s and “shiver-me-timbers” isn’t very impressive.  If that is the best they can do, why bother?

So in the spirit of fellowship I offer two phrases for those with an interest in sailor talk, whether for the sake of TLAP or not.

“Kissing the Gunner’s Daughter”

In a moment of frustration I recently suggested that anyone who “aarghed” in my presence should be made to “kiss the gunner’s daughter”. I was amused when I had a volunteer, who, of course, had no idea that kissing the gunner’s daughters was a reference to flogging. To be made to “kiss the gunner’s daughter” is to be tied over a cannon (the gunner’s daughter) in order to be beaten, usually with a cat of nine tails.

The phrase dates back at least to 1785 but is probably older. Sir Walter Scott uses the phrase in his book Redgauntlet.

“But I was punished, my lad–made to kiss the wench that never speaks but when she scolds, and that’s the gunner’s daughter, comrade. Yes, the minister’s son of no matter where–has the cat’s scratch on his back!”

I suppose the moral of the story is to be careful who you offer to kiss.

“Sucking the Monkey”

If someone should, however, suggest that you go and “suck the money”, he or she may be only be suggesting that you go for a drink. In the Royal Navy, “sucking the monkey” was the surreptitious drinking of the purser’s rum through a straw forced through a small hole in the rum cask. Originally, sucking the monkey referred to drinking rum from a coconut through a straw. 

Some have suggested that the three dots on the coconut resembled a monkey’s face. On other hand, the adjective “monkey” was used by sailors to describe almost anything small. A “monkey jacket” was a small jacket and a “monkey block” was a small block. A “monkey pump” was the quill or straw with which the sailor “sucked the money”, be it a coconut or the purser’s cask.   Which came first, the cocnut or the straw? It probably doesn’t matter.

So, if someone suggests that you suck the monkey and they aren’t offering you a drink of rum, you might suggest that they go kiss the gunner’s daughter.

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4 Responses to Sailor Talk – “Kissing the Gunner’s Daughter” and “Sucking the Monkey”

  1. Alaric says:

    And whilst the talk is of monkeys, most will already know, but it may be worth repeating; to freeze the balls off a brass monkey is not as rude as it sounds. A monkey was a triangle of brass used to hold four ready-use round shot. The shot being of iron, the two metals expanded and contracted at different rates. Under extremely cold conditions the difference would be enough for the balls to roll off, (and wooden monkeys would be issued instead).

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  3. Bob says:

    Re. monkeys balls
    That’s an oft-told tale to be sure, but without any historical basis:

    It appears to have had its origins in the twentieth century, having more to do with brass casts of the famous 3 Wise Monkeys from China and Japan, than with the navy.