Monday, March 26, 2012

Son of a gun

Today this phrase is used as a term of affection or admiration. Originally, this phrase was used as a euphemism for a child born out of wedlock, in other words, a bastard.

It may come as a surprise to some that during the 16th and 17th centuries there were a number of women living aboard warships in the British navy. Some male crewmembers were ‘recruited’ into the Royal Navy through press gangs (basically you were snatched up and thrown into the navy). These men were not allowed to leave the ship, since they would run away, so a number of prostitutes served on these ships.

These women are responsible for giving us the term ‘show a leg,’ or as many know it ‘shake a leg.’ When the men were woken up in the morning those still in their hammocks were told to show a leg, this term meant ‘get to work.’ The women on the ship dangled their legs out of the hammock to prove that they were not a crewmen.

Pregnancy was inevitable and the only place for a woman to have any privacy during labour was behind a screen placed between two guns (or cannons if you prefer). If the child was a girl then the mother and child were dumped ashore at the earliest convenience. Male babies stayed with the ship, and since it was difficult to accurately know whom the father of the baby was, the child was listed in the ship’s log as ‘son of a gun.’   

If anyone calls you a son of a gun, you can just remember what that once meant and that to the best of your knowledge you have never served on the high seas.

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