Davy Jones’s Locker

Originally published by The Lookout Newspaper, on 11 October 2022, this article is reproduced here in its unedited state.

Davy Jones, a legendary name among mariners, is thought by some to be a sixteenth century purveyor of spirits who was infamous for drugging sailors so they might be abducted by press gangs. A mythical personification of evil, Davy Jones’s ghost now lies at the bottom of the ocean and acts as a malevolent spirit that is to be feared by all who ply the sea. Thus, the name Davy Jones ­refers to a mythical “sea devil.” There is some evidence the name might have been derived from “Devil Jones,” or possibly from the term “Duffy” (ghost) of Jonah. Historically, the name was first used in 1700s literature penned by Daniel Defoe and Tobias Smollett. However, the legend of Davy Jones probably began much earlier.

In popular culture, Davy Jones might be better known as a character from a Pirates of the Caribbean movie, or the name of a singer in the 1960s boy band, The Monkees. Both of these references actually attempted to make a connection to the legendary Jones that superstitious sailors have learned to fear. The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise also makes reference to the Kraken, a feared entity of mythological lore. The name Kraken is derived from a Norwegian sea creature often described as resembling a giant squid. Of course, giant squids do exist, but they do not attack ships, dragging them down to the depths of the sea. Or do they?

To a sailor, Davy Jones’s locker is often referred to as that mythical place below the waves where all sunken ships, objects, or perished sailors lie. E.g., “Bloggins’s wallet went into the oggin, all the way down to Davy Jones’s locker,” meaning the wallet was now a permanent feature at the bottom of the ocean. Oggie or oggin is another way a sailor might refer to the sea. A word originating in the Royal Navy, according to John Irving’s book Royal Navalese (1946), the term oggie is derived from hogwash, another nickname for the sea.

The ocean bottom might also be described as the deep six, making reference to the bottommost fathom of water below the ship, i.e., the last six feet. The act of deep-sixing an object is to toss it away, whether into the sea or not. E.g., “Bloggins deep-sixed his old sea boots into the dockyard dumpster.”

Marine debris is often referred to as flotsam and jetsam. Flotsam describes items resulting from a shipwreck or accident and not deliberately thrown overboard. Jetsam describes items deliberately thrown overboard from a ship in distress, likely to lighten the ship’s load. Under maritime law flotsam may be claimed by the original owner, whereas jetsam may be owned by the person who discovers it.

To a sailor, general garbage is referred to as gash, a combination of the words garbage and trash. On civvie street, the term junk loosely refers to garbage, but in a naval context it specifically refers to old ropes and rope ends. In a military context, an office waste bin is called File 13, or the circular file, easily reminiscent of something you’d find in a shore-based headquarter. Sailors might imagine more majestic happenings in these HQs, as they often refer to them as a Puzzle Palace, or Crystal Palace, in the case of National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa. Yes, it’s true. Sailors do have an interesting nickname for almost everything.

You will find over 4000 examples of Jackspeak in my book Jackspeak of the Royal Canadian Navy (2nd ed.).

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