Sailor Speak of the Week – Harpoon

Different types of whaling harpoon circa 1887.



  • A barbed spear used for fishing and/or whaling.


  • Referring to the use of the harpoon spear.


16th century. Possibly of Basque origin or from the Dutch word harpoen, of the same meaning.


For many of us, an image of the vengeful Captain Ahab brandishing a spear comes to mind from Herman Melville’s classic, Moby Dick. There’s nothing terribly complex about a harpoon, and you certainly wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of one. Of course, not to be confused with the modern day RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile.


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

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