In this #TallShipTuesday, all the landlubbers out there learned just what that term actually means. Most know that a landlubber is a person with little experience sailing the high seas, but the origins of the term is not as widely known. Many even believe that the true term is land lover. That, of course, is not the case. Its origins are much older.

The origin of the word lubber can be traced back to the mid 14th century. The word meant “big, clumsy, stupid fellow who lives in idleness.” lubber as we know it likely comes from either Scandinavian origin, “lobre,” meaning a plump, lazy fellow or the Old French word “lobeor” meaning a swindler or a parasite.

From the 16th century, the term began to be used as an insult to those who were inept at sailing. However, there is an additional layer to this term. There is a line on the compass called the lubber line. When looking at a compass, it shows the direction that you are looking, but not where you are in relation. It became necessary to add the lubber line as a reference to the direction that someone is heading. 

On a ship, the lubber line is inside the dial of the compass and shows the centerline of the vessel. Essentially, where the front of the ship is in relation to the compass. Now any sailor worth their salt already knows where the front of the ship is. When they sail the ship, they don’t need to stare at the lubber line on the compass. They know where they are and where they are headed. Someone who is inexperienced will stare at that lubber line and only sail towards that heading, completely disregarding the world around them.

So while yes, it has its origins in the 14th century term, it became so commonplace for sailors to disparage those without sailing experience that the name for that ineptitude found a place in a piece of navigational equipment. Next time you’re out sailing by compass, don’t be a landlubber, sail by the world around you.

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