Sailor Speak of the Week – Oakum

Oakum and some tools used for caulking.

Definition

Noun

  • Caulking material made out of fine tarred yard and fibers. Early types were also made of flax, known as tow.

Origin

Probably earlier than the 15th century. From the Anglo-Saxon word, acumba, meaning tow. Middle English, ockam, was also used.

Comments

From the days of sail, oakum was packed into the seams of a ship’s haul to stop leaks. Often made out of old pieces of rope that has been unraveled, shredded, and tarred. Making oakum was tedious and often used as punishment.

References

King, D., Hattendorf, J.B, & Estes, J.W. (1997). A Sea of Words: A Lexicon and Companion for Patrick O’Brian’s Seafaring Tales (2nd Ed.). Owl Books.

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

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