Frank's Blog - Yes, Finally
Bar Fight Issues - 10 November, 2016
In the sailing world (as in most spheres of human endeavor), there are things that I call "bar fight issues." These are the sort of things where one
group of people is absolutely convinced that their way of doing, saying or being something is the "correct" way and, therefore and by definition, all
other ways must be wrong. In order for it to be a bar fight issue, though, there must be another group of people who are equally convinced that
their way of doing, saying or being this thing is "correct" and, therefore, the first group of people must be wrong (I swear this has nothing to do with
One of the most obvious "bar fight issues" I have ever seen is the pronunciation of the word "leeward." Now, if you had never seen this word or
heard it pronounced, and I were to show it to you and ask you to pronounce it, you would invariably say "lee-ward." (You might also question my
sanity, since the question and answer are so obvious). However, as any "true" seaman knows, this word "correctly" pronounced "loo-ard," which
makes perfectly good sense, right? I mean, after all, any other time we see the letters "lee," we pronounce them "loo."
Oh, wait, no. That's not right, is it? We never talk about the "loo side of the boat." We never talk about "sailing by the loo." No one has ever
"clawed off a loo shore in heavy winds" (although I have to admit that, if you do have to sail upwind away from an approaching shoreline in heavy
weather, it would be handy to have a loo nearby). No, every time we see the word "lee," we pronounce it as "lee." Except once.
Now, here is why I call it a "bar fight issue." You can go to any sailor bar anywhere in the English-speaking world, order a drink and then, when it
arrives, say "we were doing just fine until Bob fell off to 'lee' ward." Then, hold on to your drink. Half of the people in the bar are going to leap up
and chastise you, telling you that you are obviously no sailor and that you need to sell your boat, buy an RV and drive as far inland as possible.
At this point, the other half of the bar will leap up and tell the first group that they are wrong, that the pronunciation of the word was just fine and
that the first group are hide-bound traditionalists that need to get off their oaken buckets and into the 21st century. At this point, a huge bar fight
will break out and you will be able to sneak out of the bar without paying for your drink.
I know, it is a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. I have actually seen two fellows get into a screaming match about this very subject. Here is
the thing about "bar fight issues." There is no "right" answer. In fact, that is the very problem with bar fight issues. No one can be "correct"
because there is no reason why one position is better than the other.
Let's look, for example, at the word "leeward" again. Why do some people pronounce it "loo-ard"? Because that is the way it has "always" been
pronounced, starting with the British, hundreds of years ago (or so we are told - there are not a lot of 400-year-old Britians today). When asked
why, most people will simply admit that they don't know why, it is simply the way that it is - and "should be." Some argue that it actually is an
anglicized version of some other language - which, if you think about it, makes it make even less sense.
On the other hand, why should pronouncing as it is written be considered "correct"? There are plenty of words in the English language that are
not pronounced the way they are spelled and we are just fine with that. For example, try to find the "r" in "colonel" or the "ee" in "pinochle." Words
are often pronounced differently than they are spelled and English is more interesting for it.
This is, by the way, the most important thing about "bar fight issues." There can be no "correct" answer because no position is actually based on
an observable fact. The underlying reason for one position or the other is simply "because that is what I was taught/told/believe." Other examples
of bar fight issues are what to call the tubular arrangement supporting the lifelines in the stern of a boat ("stern pulpit" vs. "pushpit"), whether a
GPS location is "better" than one provided by LORAN (sort of a moot point now, I know, but the argument still continues in sailors of a certain age),
what the best anchor is (this goes beyond bar fight into crusade/jihad) and who should be at the wheel while docking (the husband or the wife). All
of these have people who support one answer over the other and all of them (I swear) I have seen people get into an argument over.
Of course, there are things that look like bar fight issues, but are not. For example, there are people who argue about how to tie a line onto a
cleat. Some argue for one way, others for a different way (I will discuss this more sometime in the future). But, the problem is that neither way is
correct ALL OF THE TIME. In fact, in certain situations, one way is better and in other situations, the other way is better. The key is knowing WHY
each one is used and then using it appropriately.
Here is the bottom line about "bar fight issues." As I go through my sailing life, I am occasionally met by someone who has one of these bar fight
issues tucked into their head. When I am doing/saying/being something and I do it/say it/be it differently than they believe is "right," they will do
their best to "correct" me. I have run across a lot of bar fight issues and I have decided, in most cases, where I fall and why. So, when someone
tries to "enlighten" me, I always try to be polite and thank them for their effort. I apologize for doing it "wrong" and assure them that I will make an
effort to do better in the future. Then, when they go away, I go back to doing it the way that I have decided I will do/say/be it. At the end of the day,
life is too short to fight about things that don't make any difference.
Now, if I could just reach that state when it comes to politics!