Sailor Speak of the Week – Wardroom

Definition

Noun

  • A compartment that serves as the mess and common room for the officers of a warship.
  • The complement of officers aboard a ship.

Origin

Probably 16th Century. From Middle English warde, and Old English weard, meaning warden or watch officer.

Comments

The size and opulence varies greatly depending on the size of the vessel, but generally the wardroom is one of the “nicer-looking” areas aboard a warship. Whereas the enlisted personnel eat on the mess deck from trays (like in a school cafeteria), officers have their food served separately on plates. As they say, “rank has its privileges.”

That being said, it’s not always a leisurely meal. Often, despite all the pomp and circumstance, officers still just end up shoveling food into their mouths so they can get back to work as quickly as possible. If morale isn’t high enough, then mealtimes can occasionally turn into one big chewing-out session.

Furthermore, the wardroom is not only a space aboard a ship, but it’s also something of a club because it constitutes all of the officers. Since officers pay for their own meals they must contribute a certain amount to the wardroom’s funds. All that fancy stuff doesn’t just appear out of thin air.

There’s an entire etiquette to the wardroom itself, as well. The formality varies depending on the ship and the circumstances. For example, you must ask permission to join the mess and nobody eats until the Captain starts. There are three conversation topics that are never discussed in the wardroom: politics, religion, and sex (they make people uncomfortable). Come to think of it, those forbidden topics should probably apply to the average family get-together during the holidays. Nobody wants to hear about the latest family gossip or Uncle Bob’s insightful analysis on national politics. (That’s why I usually just zone out during Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner.)

Additionally, the wardroom functions as a meeting place for officer briefings and as another casualty collection area. On some vessels it’s also the operating room itself. You can also find officers working long hours into the night in the wardroom because it’s one of the few areas with enough table space to spread your work out on.

References

Crowell, J. (2003, October 31). Naval Terminology, Jargon and Slang FAQ Part 2 – N through Z. Retrieved from http://www.hazegray.org/faq/slang2.htm

Rogers, J.G. (1985). Origins of Sea Terms. Mystic, CT: Mystic Seaport Museum.

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