Adventures in Etymology – Landlubber

In this Adventure in Etymology we look into the word landlubber, and related words in English and other languages.

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A landlubber [ˈlænd.lʌ.bə / ˈlænd.lʌ.bɚ] is:

  • Someone unfamiliar with the sea or seamanship, especially a novice seaman.

It comes from lubber (a big, clumsy, stupid fellow who lives in idleness), from Middle English lobre (lazy lout) from lobbe (a lump), or from Old French lobeor (swindler, parasite), or from a Nordic word [source].

Related words include abbey-lubber (an able-bodied idler who grew sleek and fat from the charity of religious houses; a lazy monk), lubberly (clumsy, awkward, coarse), lubberland (a land of plenty), and lubberwort (a mythical herb that produces laziness) [source].

Landlubbers are also known as landsmen, land-lopers or fresh-water seamen in English.

Words in other languages for landlubber include landkrabbe (“land crab”) in Danish, landrot (“land rat”) in Dutch, and marin d’eau douce (“freshwater mariner”) in French [source].

Experienced sailors and seaman used to call themselves, and were called (Jolly) Jack Tars or Tars in English. The name Jack is/was used as a generic name, in the UK at least, and tar is probably related to the use of tar on ships to make things waterproof [source].

For more seafaring-related words, see this Omniglot blog post: Buckling Swashes, and this podcast, which inspired this post:

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I also write about words, etymology and other language-related topics on the Omniglot Blog, and I explore etymological connections between Celtic languages on the Celtiadur blog.

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