Saturday, April 21, 2012

S is for Slipper Skipper

Boat on the Bay, outside my front door.

OK. So this term is not quite in the Dictionary of Newfoundland English. I think the dictionary needs to catch up with local useage. I've heard the term used more that a few times to recognize it's validity.

How on earth, you may ask, can these two words be linked?

Allow me to tell you.

Slipper skippers are those who never darken the doorway of a wheel house on a ship or haul in a catch in their nets. They can even be so far from the ocean as to make the term “dry dock” refer to a sober physician.

No, they stay completely housebound. They may own the boat but all on board don't report to them, and may never even see their slipper skipper for these skippers never go to sea. A figure head only. To front for the real skipper, for whatever reasons. It wouldn't be wise to ask.

But boy, what a mess at tax-filing time.

I'm worth every penny.

skipper n Cp OED ~ sb2 1 'master of a small ... vessel' (1300-), EDD sb2 1 'head man on board a fishing-boat,' Fisheries of U S 149 'skipper of the dory' for sense 1; BERREY 401 'father' for sense 4.
1 The master of a fishing boat, vessel or crew; BOAT MASTER. Cp PLANTER.
1861 DE BOILIEU 25-6 The cargo unloaded and stored, the crews are divided in parties of three or four men, each being titled according to the position he holds in the boat. For instance, 'skipper,' 'second hand,' 'midshipman'; last comes the 'captain,' who has the least to do—merely, indeed, to cook for the rest and to keep the boat clean. 1866 WILSON 207 [The planter] generally commands the boat himself, and his title is skipper... The planter's wife is generally skipper of the shore crew. [1877] 1898 Nfld Law Reports 147 The defendant, seven with himself to a cod-seine boat, and five under plaintiff, who received a bounty as skipper in a hook-and-line boat. 1898 Christmas Bells 14 Skipper Tom (skipper being the especial title of boat-masters at that time) and three other hardy fishers were 'fit-out.' 1936 SMITH 31 When Sunday came Skipper Garland came over, a distance of five miles, to know how we were getting on, and was delighted to hear of our good luck. He had met with the same luck himself, and had got fish in the first haul after setting his trap. 1953 Nfld Fish Develop Report 18 In most 'lay' arrangements, the owner of the fishing enterprise, i.e., the skipper (and his partners, if any), bears the full extent of these costs as well as capital costs. 1974 SQUIRE 18 The skipper of the schooner took half the catch of fish. The other half was shared equally among the crew... The skipper provided everything for the voyage, the schooner, boats and gear, food for his crew up to six months of the year. 1976 Decks Awash v (2), p. 4 The license, which is slated to go to all fishermen, skippers and crewmembers, must be granted before any other fishing license can be given to the fisherman.
2 Term of respect for a person of high status or esteem; in some contexts a familiar form of address; UNCLE.
[cl830] 1890 GOSSE 53 During the first summer, while the skipper (our representative for the modern term 'governor') was in England... 1858 [LOWELL] i, 90 They called him 'Skipper' as a token of respect. 1895 J A Folklore viii, 37 The word skipper is in universal use, and so commonly applied as almost to have lost its original meaning of the master of a small vessel. It is used toward every person whom one wishes to address with respect, and is almost as common as 'Mr' is elsewhere. Generally the Christian name is used after it, as Skipper Jan, Skipper Kish. 1897 WILLSON 38 ... patiently waiting until they could unfold their grievances or their demands to the 'skipper,' as Sir William is called. [1915] 1972 GORDON 3 As was the case with most of the little communities one finds along the coast, this one had its leader or 'skipper,' as he was generally called. 1924 ENGLAND 46 Everybody aboard a sealing vessel is 'skipper.' T 406-672 What do you say, skipper?
3 Principal of a merchant house or his delegate in shore operations on fishing premises.
1836 [WIX]2 42-3 While I was thus engaged [in sermon], Mr John Cosens, who had been absent, returned, and heard with much satisfaction, of the very hospitable reception which his 'skipper' had given me on my arrival. [1870] 1973 KELLY 19 We got into harbour about 8 a.m. 'Skipper George,' alias George Reynolds, the man in charge of the merchant's rooms, coming out ... with a crew, to pilot us in through the narrow entrance. 1909 BROWNE 70 The merchant, in the fisherman's vocabulary, is the outfitter who provides the supplies for the fishing industry ... and the principal of the 'firm' is known as 'The Skipper.' M 71-95 'Skipper' was used for the head of a household, firm or any employer.
4 Husband; head of the household.
1874 Maritime Mo iii, 547 Jerusha Biddicomb ... observed that 'she should have to wait long before her "skipper" took out the baby for an airing.' P 102-60 As a young man I had a rifle which the skipper gave me permission to use and any seal that I shot from the bank would sink to the bottom this was my share of the catch. P 210-70 Older married people in Carbonear don't call each other by their first names. The man is always 'Skipper' and the lady is always 'Missus.' 1973 WADEL 55 An outport wife is supposed to admit, at least in public, that the husband is in charge—in the local language, that the husband is 'the skipper.' 1977 QUILLIAM 1 The son told the skipper if their old mutt could be taught it would be a wonderful companion when he was away. 1982 Evening Telegram 2 Jan, p. 13 The poor old skipper spoke to everyone [even] to the family rooster, here you are son, dig in your heels, there's lots [of food] for everyone.
5 In the woods industry, contractor for a logging operation.
[1952] 1965 PEACOCK (ed) iii, 746 "The Boys at 'Ninety-Five' " ... Herb Porter is our skipper, with him we did go way, / He is a good old lumberjack raised up in Trinity Bay. / Herb Baker is some foreman as you may understand, / No bigger sport can be found on the shores of Newfoundland. P 65-64 The man in charge of a lumber camp is the 'skipper.' He owns the camp, some tractors, horses, sleds, etc.
6 Attrib skipper man: see sense 1 above. Cp PLANTER MAN.
1909 GRENFELLI 63-4 George Read was skipper-man an' th' rest was just youngsters. 1916 FPU (Twillingate) Minutes 1 Mar The Chairman then asked all the skipper men and old members to come forward and take seats on the platform. 1953 Nfld Fish Develop Report 21 Moreover, the conclusion is based on an investigation of families of skipper men—and it is possible that among sharemen, who belong probably to a younger age-group than skippers, some of the more strenuous alternative occupations contribute more significantly to family incomes. T 50/2-64 Every oar in the water at one time, and a man scullin' —mostly the skipper man, with a big oar. 1975 Evening Telegram 1 Feb, p. 11 In 1968 ... there were 68 skippermen in trap boats, while last year only 23 drew berths and only 14 traps were fished. 1979 Salt Water, Fresh Water 65 And the captain of a dragger today represents the restoration of the Newfoundland aristocracy, which always was the skipper man, the master of his own vessel.

Today's post brought to you by the letter S from The Dictionary of Newfoundland English in partnership with the rest of the alphabet beginning here.


  1. When I began reading this, WWW I was thinking along the lines of "armchair quarterback" or bar-room lawyer" - but turns out this expression is not of the same ilk.

    When the penny dropped (I hope) I thought, yes, we almost certainly have a cabal of metaphorical "slipper skippers" running the flippin' world right now!

  2. So a slipper skipper is a like an armchair general? Only found in a nice warm bunker?

  3. T:
    Absolutely, you got it right, all the credit and glory been taken but no hands are getting dirty!

  4. GM:
    Similar, except for all the tax finagling. Oh wait. Generals have been known to....

  5. Nick - yes but with no authority whatsoever.

  6. We have them in all fishing communities all over the world. We also have similar characters in other trades like owners of private airplanes who could be called slipper skippers as well as owners of trucks who could be called slipper truckers! You can classify me as a slippery character.

  7. Ah yes, Ramana there's no end to the crooked and suspect....


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