Tiffies, Shipwrights and Bosuns: even trades have nicknames

Mark Nelson

Everyone in the Navy has a “trade”, which is considered their job or specialty. A traditional way of identifying a specialist is by using the title artificer, which indicates a qualified sailor. Historically the most common artificer is a Engine room artificer, a specialist within a branch of naval engineering. In modern times, only the chief engineer of a warship, the Chief Engineer of the Engine Roomretains this specialty indicator.

Artificer can be abbreviated as Tiffya sin Tiffy from the infirmary, which refers to medical staff in an infirmary. A Sick Bay Tiffy may be known by other names, almost always referring to the less rewarding jobs they perform. For example, a medical assistant is never referred to as a “blood pressure checker”, but checks a certain part of the body and you have a nickname forever.

Seafarers are sometimes referred to by the traditional title of Carpenter. Typically, “shipbuilder” is used for a person who designs, builds, and repairs boats and ships, and in this case used for sailors who facilitate major ship repairs, especially when away from the home port.

Dentist is a popular nickname for a dentist who can also be called a molar grinder or one farrier hook, leaping as it were from fixing a sailor’s teeth to trimming the hooves of horses. Even more popular is the nickname bosun hook, which refers to the professional maritime profession of dentistry.

A boatswain Where bos’n is an abbreviated version of the boatswain, which usually refers to a sailor responsible for the ship’s ropes, rigging, and boats. Boatswain is derived from the Old English word ‘batswegen’, which means the ‘swain’ or husband of the boat. In today’s Navy, the term “Bossun” refers to the profession of a professional sailor. The name is popular and is reused in many ways. For example, a bosco sin is a nickname for a chaplain or chaplain, muscular boatswain, referring to fitness personnel or a muscular sailor who loves weightlifting, or ping bo’nanother name for a sonar operator. bo’n rum was a term used to refer to someone who might be willing to share their stash of contraband liquor, particularly in the days when a daily ration of rum was issued to the crew.

Some refer to members of the boatswain trade as super sailors because they are specialists in all developments in seamanship. Another ironic way of referring to a boatswain would be ‘swan boat,’ fittingly combining two of their favorite things, boats and swans. Who doesn’t love a good swan!

In this context, the Swan would refer to a detour or participation in an event that may be perceived as more fun than work, i.e. “While we were destocking the ship, Bloggins had swanned off for Montreal”. Some might even call such a trip a cheerful, especially if it was a work-related trip that involved less work and more fun. Lucky Bloggins!

The author of Jackspeak of the Royal Canadian Navy and Whiskey 601, Mark Nelson developed a love for the Navy language and lifestyle during his 26-year career in the service. After retiring as Chief Petty Officer Second Class, he now works as a Library Systems Specialist at Red River College Polytechnic in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Follow Mark on Twitter @4marknelson