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P. A. L. O - Putty
P.A.L.O. The Port Amenities Liaison Officer - the super welfare worker at a naval war time base.

Parcelling a rope consists of binding it with strips of tarred canvas, applied in the direction of the lay of the rope. A rope, or part of a rope, is wormed, parcelled and served to protect it from chafe, to make it less liable to chafe other ropes, and, with a wire rope, to protect the hands of men handling it.

The old rhyme goes -
"Worm and parcel with the lay,
Then turn and serve the other way"

PARCHMENT The old naval name for a rating's Service Certificate which, until the 1914/18 war, was on real parchment.
PASSION Bags of Passion
Modern sailors' slang name for mails from home.

Midshipmen's Patches
The white patches on the lapels of Midshipmen's jackets are said to be the relics of the white collars to the jackets, worn to keep pigtail powder off the jackets: this is open to doubt. The pigtail went out of fashion ashore about 1785.

The patches are sometimes referred to as the "marks of the beast" and were at one time known as the Midshipman's "weekly accounts".


(The) Pay
Wardroom general nickname for the ship's Supply Officer, from his pre-1944 title of "Paymaster". The lower deck counterpart is (was) "Paybob".

"The Devil to Pay and No Pitch Hot"
Usually shortened to "The devil to pay", this means "difficult times are imminent", and so "trouble is brewing". Caulking and paying the side of a wooden vessel from devil to waterline was a very difficult and arduous job; unless the supply of pitch was really hot it was made all the more arduous.

PEGGY Old naval name for the rating detailed to work as the Petty Officers' mess steward.

Strictly, the device fitted over the gyro compass on the bridge to enable the taking of sights, but often loosely used to mean the gyro compass itself - or the primary gyro compass repeater - as opposed to the magnetic compass.

Pelorus was the pilot of Hannibal's ships; he was killed by Hannibal in a fit of anger and was buried in Sicily (North-East of Messina) on the promontory which still bears his name. H.M.S PELORUS (1857-69) was a R.N. Surveying ship which carried out a survey of the Great Barrier Reef off Australia.

The ship-name of the Royal Naval Barracks at Chatham. A 22-gun frigate was named PEMBROKE by Oliver Cromwell after his capture of Pembroke Castle in about 1648.

Though spelt PENDANT in the Royal Navy, this word is always pronounced PENNANT.

Church Pendant
The Church Pendant - a white pendant with red St. George's cross and a red, white and blue fly - is flown in H.M. Ships during the time that Divine Service is being held on board. The pendant first came to be used about 1653, at the time of the first Dutch war, and is said to have its origin in the flag of St. George (for England) and the flag of Holland combined; the two protestant nations would call a truce on Sunday, this special pendant being flown to signify that the truce was in force.

Paying Off Pendant
It has long been the custom of H.M. Ships returning home to pay off after a commission abroad to wear a paying-off pendant. It is to be noted that this is a custom only - it is not an officially - authorised action, nor is the pendant itself provided from official sources. Being unofficial, no instructions about it appear in any naval regulations. The pendant is invariably white with a red St George's cross at the hoist; at the end of the fly a balloon or (formerly) a bladder - sometimes gilded - is often attached to keep the fly clear of the water.

The custom is said to have originated in the XIX century, when all cleaning rags were stitched together and hoisted as a sign that they were finished with. Later, when "proper" paying-off pendants were made on board, it became the custom for every member of the ship's company to put in a few stitches. Nowadays the pendants are invariably bought ashore at the expense of the ship's welfare fund.

As the paying-off pendant is itself unofficial, there can be no authoritative rules about its length; the following have been cited - (a) the length of the ship if the commission has lasted the correct length of time with additions or abatements from that length corresponding to the difference between the actual length of the commission and the 'normal' length of a commission; (b) the length of the ship plus one foot for every month completed on the station; (c) one and a third times the length of the ship; (d) one and half times the height of the foremast. It should be borne in mind that the commission referred to is the length of time the ship's company has been abroad, not the ship herself: when a ship recommissions abroad a fresh commission is started; thus a commission of longer than 2¾ years is exceptional.

Gin Pendant
A green/white/green pendant indicating an officer is entertaining the Ward Room usually for a birthday, promotion, birth of a baby etc. etc. May also be shown by H.M.Ship indicating hospitality for their brother officers in the squadron/flotilla.

PERKS Naval abbreviation of the word "Perquisites", referring to allowances, either in money or in kind, given with any particular office or appointment.
PERMISSION "Permission to Grow, Sir"
The traditional form of request for permission to grow a beard in the Navy.

Blue Peter
The common nautical name for flag P - blue with white central square - worn by merchant ships (not R.N. ships) when about to leave port, warning all persons concerned to get on board without delay. (It was in fact hoisted in H.M.S. LONDON in May, 1931, when that ship unexpectedly received orders to sail home from Madeira when many libertymen were on shore leave.)

Possible reasons which have been put forward for this name are
(1) Corruption of "Blue Pierced" - description of the flag;
(2) Corruption of "Blue Repeater" - the signal was repeated by all ships under sailing orders when this signal was used in the Navy in Nelsonic days;
(3) Naval allusion to Admiral Sir Peter Parker, C. Portsmouth, who gave sailing orders for convoys assembled at St. Helens;
(4) Anglicisation of the French word Partir;
(5) Naval allusion to bringing one's baggage with one, as "Peter" is said to have been the name of an old-style travelling bag.


Petty Officer
First defined in the regulations of 1808, though they were in existence many years before this. In 1827 they were ordered to wear a single anchor with crown above; crossed anchors with crown above became the Petty Officers' badge in 1857.

Chief Petty Officer
Introduced 1853 with original badge of crown and anchor surrounded by laurel wreath; in 1890 C.P.O's were directed to wear "fore-and-aft" rig with no rank badge.


  Old Style New Style

The new style phonetic alphabet is the NATO (and so UK) phonetic alphabet.

PIDGIN The word "Pidgin" is Chinese for "Business"; thus "Pidgin-English" means "Business English" and the expression "Not my pidgin" means "No concern of mine".
PIER Pier and Jump
Picturesque naval expression meaning an unexpected immediate draft, usually to sea.
PIFF An old naval onomatopoeic name for a Sub-Calibre Firing exercise. In this exercise small bore gun-barrels are shipped inside the breeches of the big, guns enabling all the routine for the big guns to be exercised at the cost of the sub-calibre ammunition only.

The Pilcher Committee
A committee of six under Mr. Justice Pilcher was appointed in February, 1949, to consider whether any changes were desirable in the administration of justice under the Naval Discipline Act. Their report was published in November, 1950, and January, 1951. The majority of the committee's recommendations have been adopted; the chief of these is the introduction of the Court Martial Appeal Court, by Act of Parliament, 1951.

See Command White Papers 8094 (Nov. 1950), 8119 (Jan. 1951) and 8141 (Jan. 1951).

PILLARS The Pillars of Hercules
Old names for the two rocks either side of the Straits of Gibraltar - Gibraltar (Mons Calpe) and Apes' Hill (Mons Abyla) near Ceuta, For countries these marked the extreme limits of navigation for Mediterranean seafarers.
PINCHER Pincher Martin
Admiral Sir W.F. Martin was Commander-in-Chief on the Mediterranean station in 1860. He made a name for himself (and for his namesakes) by detecting crimes and abuses.
PING (1) Naval slang name for the Asdic - onomatopoeic from the sound made by the instrument.
(2) The former wardroom soubriquet for the Anti-Submarine specialist officer.

Pip, Squeak and Wilfred
Officers' slang name formerly given to the three medals for the 1914/18 war - the 1914/15 Star, the General Service and the Victory medals. Pip, Squeak and Wilfred were the main characters in a series of children's cartoons appearing for several years in the Daily Mirror; Pip was a dog, Squeak as Penguin and Wilfred a rabbit.

Another slang name often used for these medals was "Gieve, Matthew and Seagrove", the original name of the firm of naval outfitters now known as Gieves.


The use of the Boatswain's Pipe, whistle or 'Call', for salutes and passing orders is one of the oldest naval customs and its origin is almost lost in antiquity. We know that the galley slaves of Greece and Rome kept stroke to the sound of a flute or whistle (much as the crews of pinnaces or launches in the all-comers race in naval pulling regattas kept stroke to the sound of a big drum). The Lord High Admiral wore a gold whistle as a badge of rank: this was of silver; it was used for passing orders and has been known as the "Call" since about 1670.

Certain routine orders on board (e.g., Dinner, Attention, Carry On, Pipe down, etc.) are passed by piping their respective 'tunes' and are not qualified by any verbal message; other orders are preceded by the pipe 'Attention' and the words "D'you hear there": they are followed by the pipe 'Carry On'.

To be academically accurate "piping" is the act of producing the sound, the "call" is the sound produced.

Old slang name for Macaroni pudding.

Pipe Down
The routine naval order for "Lights Out" at the end of the day therefore freely used metaphorically either to denote the end of any occupation or to mean "Shut your mouth", "Be silent" (replacing the old order to "Stash it" synonymous with "Stow it").

Piping the Side
This form of salute is a nautical honour reserved expressly for certain officers when in uniform, a list of whom is given in Queens Regulations and Admiralty Instructions, Article 1302.

The side is piped between the hours of colours and sunset, except in the case of foreign officers who are piped at all hours when coming on board and leaving any of Her Majesty's ships, or when visiting naval establishments.

In the days of sailing warships, when captains were frequently summoned on board the flagship when at sea to receive special orders and the weather was too rough to permit the use of sea gangways, it was customary for the captain to enter and leave his boat seated in a bos'n's chair made fast to a yardarm whip. As the chair was hoisted out or hoisted in, the necessary orders were passed to the hands manning the whip by piping "Hoist" on a bos'n's call. The "Hoist" is still the pipe used in "piping the side", although for reasons of ceremony it is much more drawn out. No military officer, consular officer or civil dignitary is entitled to this form of salute.

One sometimes hears of a lord mayor or mayor holding the office of "Admiral of the Port" being piped over the side on visiting a man-o'-war. This procedure is incorrect although it is often done as a courteous gesture. By the custom of the Service the corpse of any naval officer or rating is piped over the side when leaving the ship for interment.


Plain Clothes
The naval name for civilian clothes as opposed to uniform. The word MUFTI is never used in the Navy; CIVVIES rarely, and then not by officers.

The wearing of plain clothes by officers when going ashore on leave or returning on board from leave is a long standing privilege. It was extended to Chief Petty Officers in ships at the end of 1954, at which time the privilege or wearing plain clothes when entering or leaving a naval shore establishment was extended to ratings over the age of 17?. Prior to this extension, this latter privilege was restricted to Chief and Petty Officers.

PLATE Battle of the River Plate
13th December, 1939. British cruisers AJAX, EXETER and ACHILLES, under Commodore Henry Harwood, forced the German pocket battleship ADMIRAL GRAF SPEE to take refuge in Montevideo after a running fight of 14 hours, in which the EXETER was severely damaged. The GRAF SPEE was given 72 hours in neutral port by Uraguay in accordance with international law: she came out and scuttled herself on 17th December, 1939, six miles off Montevideo harbour. Her Captain - Langsdorf - committed suicide a day or so later.

Plimsoll Line
The mark on the side of a merchant ship to denote the greatest depth to which the ship may be loaded, under various conditions, in accordance with the Ministry of Transport regulations.

Samuel Plimsoll, M.P., introduced the regulations to Parliament; they were ratified under the Merchant Shipping Acts of 1876 and 1990.

PLUMBER Officers' slang name for an Engineer Officer.
PLUSHERS Naval unofficial name given to the residue remaining in the grog tub after the daily issue has been made, or in the mess fanny after each man has had his share; from the French "Plus". That which remains in the grog tub is required by the regulations to be thrown overboard.

The name given to the operation of laying a petrol Pipe Line Under The Ocean from England to France in 1944 to supply petrol for the invasion forces landed in France at the close of the 1939-45 war. About 120 million gallons of petrol were pumped into France through these pipes (at 1500 lbs. per sq. in.) between 12.8.44 and 8.5.45; one million gallons daily were reaching France in this way by VE Day.

The first four pipe-lines ran from the Isle of Wight to Cherbourg (75 miles): the other 16 lines from Dungeness to Boulogne (30 miles); the first four pipes were abandoned before VE Day.

PLUTO was an entirely British achievement, carried out by British engineers in co-operation with the Royal Navy.

P.M.O. It is by these initials, standing for Principal Medical Officer, that the senior medical officer on board is invariably addressed, though he is as invariably referred to by his sick bay staff as the S.M.O. (Senior Medical Officer).
POINT Point Blank
Extreme short range. "Blank" was the old name for the bullseye on an archery target: "point" is understood to have meant "aim".
POKE To Poke Charlie
A common slang expression meaning to treat anyone or anything with derision - to make fun of.
POMPEY The sailors' name for Portsmouth. Said to have originated from the inarticulate pronunciation of "Portsmouth Point" by inebriated sailors. Portsmouth Point was the place at which ships' boats landed and embarked libertymen before the dockyard was a going concern.

To Dodge Pompey
To evade doing a job of work.

PONGO A sailor's slang name for a soldier; thus often used on board referring to a Royal Marine.
POODLE Poodle Faker
Wardroom slang name for an officer who pays polite social calls ashore - one of the "social tits". Often also known as a "Bun-Worrier".

Port and Starboard
In the earliest ships there was no rudder and the ship was steered by a "Steer-board" (large oar or sweep) sited over the right-hand side of the stern; hence that side of the ship came to be known as the Starboard side. The other side of the ship was in consequence used for going alongside for embarking or disembarking cargo through the 'load ports ports'; the left hand side of the ship therefore became known as the "Loadboard" side, then "Larboard". As the use of this latter word inevitably caused confusion with the word Starboard, the word Port came to be used instead.

By some authorities, the Venetians are given the credit for the origin of the words - 'board' comes from the Italian 'borda': the other side was 'Quella borda'; these two expressions would rapidly become adapted into Starboard and Larboard.

PORTHOLE In the Royal Navy, SCUTTLE is the more general word: in the Merchant Navy PORT: A square "window" is known in the Royal Navy as a PORT or SQUARE-PORT (the latter, more often). Incidentally, the correct naval store name for a spare piece of glass for a scuttle is a "Glass, illuminator"!
POSH This word, meaning "superior", is said to come from the P. & O. Steam Navigation Company's abbreviation for the phrase "Port Outward, Starboard Homeward", which cabins are the cooler in the Red Sea and so the more attractive to passengers.
POSTIE The inevitable nickname for the ship's Postman (Leading Seaman or Corporal R.M.).
POTMESS Common slang word meaning a Muddle or Confusion; in the Navy it is generally qualified by the epithet "proper". The word probably comes from the kitchen: the biblical expression "mess of pottage" is akin.
POULTICE (The) Poultice Brigade
Naval slang for Sick Berth staff in general; for an individual rating, the word POULTICE WALLOPER is more usual. A former synonym was BANDAGE ROLLERS.
POUND Admiral Sir A Dudley PR Pound, G.C.B., G.C.V.O.
Born 1877; Midshipman January 1893; Chief of Staff Mediterranean 1925/27 and again 1936/39; A.C.N.S. 1927/29; 2nd S.L. 1932/35; 1st S.L. 1939/43. Died 21st October, 1943.

Hair Powder
The following Standing Order was issued by Vice-Admiral Lord Keith (C. in C. Mediterranean) on 2nd February, 1800.

"Parliament having thought proper to exempt Officers under certain ranks from the tax imposed on wearing Hair Powder implies that powder was understood to be part of an Officer's dress. It is therefore directed that all officers on duty wear Hair Powder except at sea or in bad weather; and they are not on any account to go ashore in foreign ports without that article of dress, the want of which gives serious offence to the inhabitants and has occasioned great danger to some of H.M. Officers in the streets of Naples and Palermo."

POZZIE Old sailor's slang name for Jam or Marmalade.

The custom of reading prayers daily in H.M. ships is of great antiquity. Records show that in 1650 not only were prayers read daily, but at sea hymns and psalms were sung at the changing of watches. From the XVII century to the present time it has been customary for prayers to be read in ships before going into action.

Drake's Prayer
"O Lord God, when Thou givest to Thy servants to endeavour any great matter, grant us also to know that it is not the Beginning but the continuing of the same until it be Thoroughly Finished which yieldeth the True Glory."

The Naval Prayer
The two opening prayers in the "Forms of Prayer to be used at Sea" in the Prayer Book are preceded by the rubric "the two following prayers are to be used also in H.M. Navy every day". Then follow the "Naval Prayer" (O Eternal Lord God, who alone spreadest out the heavens and rulest the raging of the sea ...) and the "Naval Collect" (Prevent us, O Lord, in all our doings ...). The naval prayer, which contains a brief summary of the objects of the Navy (... a safeguard unto our most gracious Sovereign and her dominions and a security for such as pass on the seas upon their lawful occasions) ...), is generally regarded as having been written by Robert Sanderson, Bishop of Lincoln 1587-1663; the rubric ordering its daily use in the Navy first appeared in the Prayer Book of 1662.

Nelson's Prayer before Trafalgar
The following was written by Lord Nelson in his diary on the morning of 21 October, 1805.

May the great God, whom I worship, grant to my country, and for the benefit of Europe in general, a great and glorious victory; and may no misconduct in any one tarnish it; and may humanity after victory be the predominant feature in the British fleet. For myself individually I commit my life to Him who made me, and may His blessing light upon my endeavours for serving my country faithfully. To Him I resign myself and the just cause which is entrusted to me to defend. Amen. Amen. Amen.

Name-ship for officers and ratings serving at the Admiralty. The ship herself is berthed in the River Thames (King's Reach) on the Victoria Embankment; she is the headquarters ship of the London division of the R.N.V.R. Completed in 1918 as one of the ANCHUSA class of Sloops, she was originally named H.M.S. SAXIFRAGE (the botanical name of the plant one of whose varieties is commonly known as "London Pride").
PRESSGANG The Pressgang
The pressgang acted by sanction of both custom and the law: as far back as the days of King Edward I legal sanction for it exists. Men liable were "eligible men of seafaring habits between the ages of 18 and 55 years" with a few exceptions, but these restrictions were often ignored, with disastrous results. The last law on the subject was passed in 1835 and restricted the length of naval service of a pressed man to five years with the additional proviso that he could not be impressed a second time. Soon after this date the pressgang died a natural death but the various laws authorising it have not in fact been repealed.
PRIZE Hoisting the Ensign of a Prize
It has long been the custom for the ensign of any captured ship to be hoisted inferior to (below) that of its captor. In old prints a prize is often shown being towed into harbour with the two ensigns hoisted as stated above, and this custom was carried out during the Great War of 1914-18 and in the recent war.

Permission to Proceed
It is the custom for H.M. ships, when about to leave a harbour in which a senior officer is present, to ask for "permission to proceed". This custom is carried out in spite of the fact that the officer to whom the request is addressed may have no authority to refuse.

There is one incident recorded in which an officer who was discourteous enough to proceed without asking permission was ordered to return to the anchorage, the senior ship going to "Action Stations" and threatening to open fire unless the junior obeyed the order. The senior ship was commanded by an officer of the same rank and only a few days senior to that of the other commanding officer, but that was sufficient to entitle him to act as he did.


Promotion Hook
In Valetta, Malta, near the top of St. John's Street (or Strada San Giovanni, as it used to be called), on the southern side, there projects from the wall an iron hook, known to the Navy as "Promotion Hook". Custom ordained that a junior officer desirous of promotion must crawl through this hook (it is just big enough) - for preference on his way back to his ship after attending a performance at the Opera.

Some say that this hook was used to get the cathedral bells up the hill: others that it was in connection with the pillory which stood nearby certainly as late as 1750.

Officers' name for the feverish symptoms displayed by some officers at the time of the making of the half-yearly recommendations for promotion to Commander and Captain.

PUNT Copper Punt
The name given to the raft used by the Side party for work about the ship's water line. The name originates from the days when ships were sheathed with copper, the raft being used by shipwrights for making repairs to the sheathing. The raft is often also called the Balsa Raft since this latter life-saving raft was replaced by Carley Floats.

Discharge by Purchase
Suspended in 1939, reopened 9th March, 1954; rate of discharge to be controlled by Admiralty; men with less than three years' man's time not eligible to apply. No man has the absolute right to purchase his discharge at any time; a man wishing to purchase his discharge must satisfy his Commanding Officer that he has a "good and sufficient reason" - request is then forwarded to Admiralty for consideration vis-a-vis other requests and the current manning situation etc. Purchase price varies between £125 and £50 (nil after 16 years' service) depending on length of man's service and his trade.

Discharge, free, on compassionate grounds runs in parallel with (not as part of) discharge by purchase and each case is considered on its own merits.

PUSH To Push the Boat Out
Old naval expression meaning to stand drinks all round.

The inevitable corruption of PURSER and/or PAYMASTER.

Pusser Built
Naval slang description of an officer or rating who abides closely to the letter of the regulations.

An adjective used to describe any article of service stores, especially clothing, to differentiate it from the similar article bought from civilian sources.

Pusser's Crabs
Naval slang name for boots bought from the slop room.

Pusser's Crabfat
Naval slang name for Admiralty pattern grey paint.

Pusser's Dirk
Naval slang name for the uniform clasp-knife, part of every seaman's kit.

Pusser's Tally
Naval slang for a false name, such as may be given by a malefactor to the patrol or on other occasions when the concealment of a man's own name seems desirable.

Pusser's Vinolia
Naval slang name for soap, particularly for Admiralty pattern hard yellow soap.

PUTTY The general nickname for a ship's Painter rating - i.e., the man who mixes and/or prepares the paint and has charge of the paint store.

On the Putty
Naval slang expression for Aground.