Online Encyclopedia


Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V25, Page 794 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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STARBOARD AND LARBOARD, nautical terms for the right and left sides respectively of a ship, looking towards the bows. The final part of these is Old English bord, board, the side of a ship, now used for a plank of wood. In starboard (0. Eng. steorbord) the first part certainly means " steer," and " steering side " therefore refers to the time when vessels were steered by a paddle or sweep worked from the right side. In Old English the left side of a ship was known as baecbord, back board, the side of the vessel to the back of the steersman. This is paralleled in all other Teutonic languages, cf. German backbord, and has been adopted in Romanic languages, cf. French bdbord. Baecbord did not survive in Middle English, in which its place was taken by laddeborde or latheborde. In the 16th century the word takes the forms lerbord, leerebord or larbord, probably by assimilation to ster-, steere-, and star-bord. There is much doubt as to the origin of the term and the curious change from laddebord to larboard. Skeat (Etym. Did.) suggests that these may be two distinct words. The earlier form is usually connected with " lade," to put cargo on board a vessel, the left side being that on which this was usually done, for the ship when in port would lie with her left side against the quay wall, her head pointing to the entrance. If the later form is not due to mere assimilation to starboard, it may contain a word meaning empty (O. Eng. gelds., Ger. leer), and refer to that side of the vessel where the steersman does not stand. Owing to the similarity in sound between starboard and larboard, the word port is now used for the left side. The substitution of this for the older term was officially ordered in the British navy by an admiralty order of 1844, and in the United States of America by a navy department notice in 1896. The use of port in this sense is much older; it occurs in Manwaring's Seaman's Dictionary (1625-1644). In this usage port may either mean," harbour " (Lat. porous), the ship lying with its left side against the port or quay for unloading, or " opening," " entrance " (Lat. Aorta, gate), for the cargo to be taken on board; cf. " porthole."

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