As a youngster I did not enjoy a very boring holiday week in Great Yarmouth. Nothing against Great Yarmouth, it was the torrential rain which threw a very real dampener on things. Yet for years one image stuck in my mind, that image is still there in the form of the Barking Smack public house. At the time I had no idea that 'Barking' was a place name and that a 'smack' was a vessel. Recently I visited the resort again and, reminded of the visit years ago, wondered why a vessel would ever be called a 'smack'. Not only is the smack examined here but many other vessels, not all to be found at sea.
Barge can also be used to mean 'bump into', and it came as something of a surprise to find this usage is derived from the vessel normally handled quite roughly. The name of the vessel came to English from Old French barge and ultimately from Latin barica and Greek baris meaning 'Egyptian boat' and this from Coptic bari or 'small boat'. Barque (sometimes 'bark') shares this origin.
Although trireme is a much better known term, there is also a bireme, the difference being the former has three rows of oars and the latter just two. The suffix in each case comes from the Latin remus meaning 'oar' and derived from same root as the word 'row' in Proto-Indo-European ere with the same meaning.
Brig is a shortened form of 'brigantine', itself referring to a vessel most often associated with trouble, particularly piracy. Hence it has the same root as 'brigand' and also 'brigade' in Italian briga 'to fight' and also seen Gaelic brigh and Welsh bri both meaning 'power'. Note the prison on board ship, known as the brig, is derived from the name of the vessel as, once again, it was associated with trouble.
The canoe may have been used for millennia but the word can be traced to the 15th and 16th century voyages of Christopher Columbus. The Spanish canoa is taken directly from the Arawakan (Haiti) word canaoua, used solely to refer to the boat.
Caravel came to English from Middle French caravelle, this from the Spanish caravo and Latin carabus referring to this small wicker boat covered with leather. Further back we find an apt description of the upturned boat in the Greek karabos meaning 'beetle, lobster'.
Catamarans were first seen when trading in what were then known as the East Indies. As most will know the modern catamaran uses two small hulls with the main body of the vessel atop that connecting these hulls. It came as no surprise to find this was the origin, where Tamil kattu-maram literally means 'tied wood' and from kattu 'binding' and maram 'wood, tree'.
Clipper is less than two centuries old and named for its speed, the verb 'clip' still used to speak of a fast pace.
Coracles are those ancient one-man craft typically seen in an artist's impression of early life in Britain. Our modern word came from the Saxons, itself related to Welsh corwgl, Gaelic curachan and Middle Irish curachan, the latter meaning simply 'boat'. These all likely share a root with Latin corium meaning 'hide, leather', cortex 'bark', Sanskrit krith 'hide', and Russian skora 'hide' and kora 'bark' in Proto-Indo-European ker 'to cut' and point to this framework being covered with skins
Dinghy is a Hindi word, where dingi simply means 'small boat'. It is doubtless related to Sanskrit drona-n 'wooden trough' and dru-s 'tree'.
Dreadnought is not so easy to see today but, when coined by the Royal Navy in the late 16th century, simply meant 'fearing nothing'.
Ferry, as a vessel, comes from its use as a verb which originally meant 'to carry, bring, or transport' (particularly over water) and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European per and shares an origin with 'port'.
Galleon shares an origin with galley and galliot the origin of all uncertain but is certainly of great antiquity as it is represented in most European languages.
Gondola is recorded since the 16th century but prior to that nothing is known of its origins.
Junk always seemed an odd word for a vessel but of course the modern 'rubbish' use has a quite different etymology. As the name of a vessel it has travelled quite a long way, coming to us from Portuguese junco 'Chinese sailing ship', from Malay jong 'large boat' and ultimately from Japanese djong.
Kayak came to English from Danish kajak and Greenland Eskimo qayaq meaning 'small boat of skins'. Note the kayak is, at least in its homeland, the male craft and the 'umiak' its counterpart really does mean 'woman's boat'.
Ketch is derived from the Middle English cacchen meaning 'to capture' and another vessel named for its use in warfare.
Launch may seem obvious but it is not named from the verb, albeit the spelling has been influenced by such. This comes from the Malay lancharan itself from lanchar meaning 'quick, agile'.
Liner is surprising recent, unknown prior to 1838 and simply means 'a vessel belonging to a shipping line'. Interestingly the use of 'line' here is also very recent, dating from around 1786 when it referred to lines of horse-drawn coaches.
Luggers are named for their lug sail, itself named for its supposed resemblance to an ear flap (lug hole!), which in turn shares an origin with the handle of a pitcher.
Pinnace comes from a root shared with the Latin pino 'pine tree' and also 'ship'.
Punt is an Old English word for a flat-bottomed boat taken from the Latin ponto and named for its apparent resemblance, and also effective use, to a bridge.
Sampan is a light Chinese boat name from the Chinese san pan, quite literally meaning 'three boards'.
Schooner is related to the archaic term scon, once used to mean 'to send over water'. Both are related to shun, itself meaning 'to turn aside', which also came to be used by the railways in the form of 'shunt'.
Skiff is a small boat with a name shared with 'ship', itself common to many European languages in a variety of forms and traceable back to Proto-Indo-European skei meaning 'cut, split' and referring to wooden ship construction.
Sloop came to English from Dutch sloep, this from Middle Dutch slupen 'to glide'. Interestingly this also shares a root in Proto-Indo-European sleubh, which has also given us 'sleeve' and that part of the garment which can the wearer has to 'slide' on.
Tugs are powerful vessels doing what their name suggests. The term 'tug' as a verb can be traced to Proto-Indo-European deuk meaning 'to lead'.
Yacht is quite well known as being from the Dutch, although the Germanic root is common to many of this group of languages and describes speed. The Proto-Germanic yago and earlier Proto-Indo-European yek both originally used to refer to 'the hunt'.
And of course the smack, the name that started it all. Not seen before the early 17th century, as this single-masted boat did not exist prior to that, came to English from the Dutch or German smak meaning 'sailing boat' and ultimately from smakken 'to fling or dash'. This can only be seen as the noise made by the sails as it catches the wind.