Originally published by The Lookout Newspaper, on 6 February 2023, this article is reproduced here in its unedited state.
Scuttlebutt is a commonly used term with a naval origin. As far back as the 17th century, a scuttled butt was the term for a barrel that had been breached to provide a source of fresh water for the crew. Much like a modern water cooler, rumours and gossip were often shared, and these tidbits of information were referred to as scuttlebutt.
In naval vernacular, scuttle refers to a breach, as in the verb scuttle where the hull of a ship is breached in order to deliberately sink the vessel. As a noun, scuttle refers to a round opening, or “window,” in the side of a ship, something which is normally referred to as a porthole in non-naval circles. On a warship, a scuttle normally comes with a battle cover, which is a metal cover (shade) which may be closed when the order “darken ship” is given. An uncommon term related to a scuttle is the rigol, a raised rim above the outside of a scuttle which somewhat resembles an eyebrow.
While the term scuttlebutt still finds plenty of used in a naval context, there is no longer a scuttled butt aboard HMC ships. In more modern times rumours might emanate from anywhere the ship’s company may gather, such as a breezeway, quarterdeck, lounge, or smoking patio. In the past, the galley was one place where sailors gathered and talked, as smoking was allowed there. The term galley packet originated from this situation. Even today, galley packet may refer to a juicy rumour, whether it originated in the galley or not, i.e., “I heard the juiciest galley packet just now on the quarterdeck.”
Dit is a word that can refer to rumours, i.e., “Bloggins has all the best dit.” More explicitly, “dit” can be modified to be a “no s**t dit,” a rumour verified as being true, or “bad dit,” a rumour verified as false. In a more general military context, rumours can be referred to as buzz. The unflattering term white rat might refer to a junior sailor who is being used by a senior sailor to spread rumours. Rumour Control refers to a fictitious entity in every ship that seems to be involved in scuppering rumours.
A term that has wide usage outside the military, scupper canrefer to something being thwarted or ruined, i.e., “Bloggins trip to the beach was scuppered by the weather.” The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that the verb “scupper” originated in the late nineteenth century as military slang meaning “to surprise and massacre.” In more modern times it became meant, “To defeat, ruin, destroy, or put an end to.”
Often interchanged or confused with the term scuttle, in naval context scupper refers to a deck drain meant to carry water overboard. When it comes to neophytes and young sailors, it was always helpful to describe a scupper as a “hole” in the deck and a scuttle as a hole in the ship’s side.
You will find over 4000 examples of Jackspeak in my book Jackspeak of the Royal Canadian Navy (2nd ed.).