Fresh Horizons: This salty spelling challenge is a humdinger

Super-size your  Dinghy Dog: Gentle beast Caesar enjoys riding through the mooring field in Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida.

Super-size your
Dinghy Dog: Gentle beast Caesar enjoys riding through the mooring field in Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida.

Official weekly and monthly tags good for a parking spot at the dinghy dock; two different spellings from two different mooring field staffers.

Official weekly and monthly tags good for a parking spot at the dinghy dock; two different spellings from two different mooring field staffers.

Fort Lauderdale's City Marina at the foot of the Las Olas bridge uses the "Olde English" spelling for dinghies.

Fort Lauderdale’s City Marina at the foot of the Las Olas bridge uses the “Olde English” spelling for dinghies.

Ahoy, sea-faring writers!  This month’s featured word is an everyday term in the marine lexicon. What do you call the vessel that transports you from the mother ship to shore?

Dinghy, of course!

Alternately some folks prefer the word “tender,” and in some states avoid having to pay a separate registration fee for their dink (another term for dinghy) by emblazoning it with the letters “T/T” meaning “Tender To,” as in Baby Gherkin being T/T to the sailing vessel Pickle or Bailing Grace T/T to Sailing Grace.

If you’re not a yachtie or nautical writer, you probably don’t care about all those distinctions regarding the sailor’s family sedan. You just think “dinghy” is a funny word. My harbormaster husband worried about what to talk about for an entire hour when invited to make a guest appearance on a local radio talk show. No problemo. Once the word was brought up, i.e.: “when my wife and I are living on our boat we anchor in the harbor and go ashore in my dinghy,” co-hosts Ed and Dick were off and running.

“How big is your dinghy, Scott?”

The first inadvertent double entendre opened the floodgates.

“How’s your dinghy, Dick? Does it need air?” The dialogue expanded into various comparisons of soft dinghies, rigid dinghies, hard-bottomed dinghies and so on.

The snickering reminded me of Lily Tomlin’s snorting telephone operator Ernestine “one ringy-dingy, two ringy-dingy …”

The eternal editor, I was tsking at misspellings encountered in marinas and mooring fields around Florida this winter. However, dingy and dingey are alternate older spellings, according to at least one credible English source: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/dinghy

In either of those forms the word could also be pronounced “dinjee” as is, “Gosh, that dingy linoleum floor needs a good waxing.”

In most of the boating world and in nautical publications the preferred spelling is with an “h.”

No matter how spelled, these zippy little watercraft are an indispensable part of marine life. And so it is that many a cruising boater’s dearest wish is a dinghy always turgid, never flaccid, an outboard that starts on the first pull and two good oars, just in case.

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