Rereading that old classic, Treasure Island. Trying to figure out what Long John Silver means when he says:

“Have I lived this many years to have a son of a rum puncheon cock his hat athwart my hawser at the latter end of it?”

What the heck is cock his hat athwart my hawser supposed to mean? I only know Silver’s angry and telling the other pirates they’re being cheeky.


And looks like I’m not the only one. I googled “son of a rum puncheon” and found some other Treasure Island readers similarly bemused by Silver’s salt-crusted aphorism:

Somehow son of a rum puncheon cock his hat athwart my hawse isn’t what most people think to say on Talk Like a Pirate Day. Then you mostly hear “Arrrh” and “Avast” — and maybe, if you’re really lucky, “Shiver me timbers!”

After consulting a dictionary, I believe rum would either be the alcoholic beverage or (more likely?) a British word meaning odd or presenting difficulty. Puncheon has various obscure meanings but the key point seems to be something long and thin and upright. Whatever a rum puncheon is (the phrase occurs three times in the book) a son of one would, presumably, be worse. “Cock his hat” might to mean to tilt or turn up or to one side, usually in a jaunty or alert manner. Athwart means so as to thwart; perversely, and the hawse is the area in front of an anchored ship between its bows and the anchors. So, honestly, I still have no idea what the devil he’s talking about.

Plus, different versions of the text has the said son of a rum puncheon cocking his hat either at Silver’s hawse or his hawser. Mine has hawser, which I believe to be some sort of rope attached to a ship. Hawse is as above, an area in front of the ship.

As to why cocking your hat “athwart” a ship’s bow or mooring rope is considered offensive… no idea. I’m not even sure how you do that “athwart”-ly.

Then there are these twins reading the same book. ( Someone calling his twin “son of a rum puncheon” is not something you hear very often!)

Justin you “cowardly son of a rum puncheon”, you!  You haven’t posted in over a week.

I don’t actually think you’re a son of a rum puncheon (because 1.) that would also make me the son of a rum puncheon, and 2.) I have no idea what a puncheon is), but ever since reading that epithet I’ve been trying to work it into my everday conversation.  This was my first go and I’d describe the attempt as “seamless”.

Okay, my librarian brain couldn’t handle not knowing…I had do some digging–a puncheon is a type of cask or a type of rum — either way it’s kind of a lame saying (“Son of a rum cask”.  “Son of a rum rum”.–so it will fit right in with my lexicon–boo-yeah! (case in point)).

There’s disagreement about what a puncheon is. A long straight thingy, or a barrel, or a type of rum. Which obfuscates Silver’s pirate-ism even more. Maybe he made it up on the spot.

Another Silver-ism is “… and you may lay to that!“.

“‘Tain’t much use for fools, you may lay to it – that, nor nothing,” cried Silver. “But now, you look here: you’re young, you are, but you’re as smart as paint.

‘Tain’t earning now, it’s saving does it, you may lay to that. Where’s all England’s men now? I dunno. Where’s Flint’s?

“That’s enough, cap’n,” shouted Long John cheerily. “A word from you’s enough. I know a gentleman, and you may lay to that.”

Which was obscure when I read it at the age of twelve. Now I guess it is a nautical term, as in laying a course or heading for a ship. Silver states something, with as absolute certainty as a compass and sextant readings backed with almanacs and sea-charts, so much that you can lay a ship’s course to it, and you may lay to that!

Aren’t I smart as paint?


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