Sailor Speak of the Week – Larboard

Definition

Noun

  • An older term for the port side of a vessel or direction (i.e. left).

Origin

Probably earlier than the 17th century. Some sources indicate an earlier English origin around the 12th or 13th century. From Middle English, laddebord, meaning loading side. Earliest source appears to be from Old Norse, hlada bord, meaning loading side.

Comments

Most of us are familiar with the terms of port and starboard as referring to the directions of left and right, respectively. However, the sailor’s word for “left” wasn’t always port. It used to be called “larboard.” Apparently, the term stems from older words for the side of the vessel were cargo was loaded. You see, before we had centerline rudders, vessels were steered with side rudders or steering oars which were almost always on the starboard side. Therefore, to protect the rudder from damage as vessels tied up to the pier to load cargo, the left side of the vessel was moored against the pier. In this way, the side rudder was on the side of the vessel away from the pier.

References

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

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