What Does It All Mean?

A few common nautical music terms

Sea Shanty:

The dictionary defines a sea shanty as "a song sung by sailors in rhythm with their work," which is somewhat backwards - the sailors did their work according to the rhythm set by the shanty. If you listen to a shanty like "Bully in the Alley," you can almost see the sailors hauling together on the lines on the accented words - "So HELP me BOB, I'm BULly in the ALley, WAY, HEY, BULly in the ALley...." The best shantymen would construct elaborate stories to distract the crew from the tedious tasks - and the shanties were the one place that the officers could be criticized with no fear of reprisal. It should be noted that most shanties were traditionally sung much more slowly than we do them - the idea was to get the work done, not have the crew drop from exhaustion! The dictionary also gives chantey or chanty as the preferred spelling, with shanty and shantey as less-favored alternatives; the variations on the plural versions include chanteys, chanties, chantys, shanties, shantys and shanteys. However, we have chosen to use the older version shanty in honor of Stan Hugill (note: page opens with Stan singing) (1906-1992), author of "Shanties from the Seven Seas" and one of the last of the old-time shantymen.

Fo'c'sle Song:

Fo'c'sle (or fo'c's'le) is a shortened version of forecastle, which is defined as "the part of the upper deck of a ship forward of the foremast" or "the forward part of a merchantman where the crew was housed." The term is used to describe the songs that the sailors might sing to entertain each other while resting in their quarters between shifts. Unlike the shanties, there is no need for a strong rhythm to keep the crew working in unison. "Farewell to Nova Scotia" is an example of a fo'c'sle song, with the familiar topic of thoughts of home. Fo'c'sle songs are also sometimes called forebitters after a pair of posts called the forebitts on the deck near the front of the ship, a place where sailors often gathered when they had a little time off and the weather was good.