from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition
- n. A sailor who has crossed the equator.
- n. A veteran sailor.
from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License
- n. worldly sailor
- n. a sailor who has already crossed the equator
from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia
- n. An old sailor; a seadog; a barnacle.
The "shellback" initiation is a traditional ceremony dating back to when Noah was a boy.
In speech, the old-time 'shellback' was notoriously reticent -- almost inarticulate; but in song he found self-expression, and all the romance and poetry of the sea are breathed into his shanties, where simple childlike sentimentality alternates with the Rabelaisian humour of the grown man.
A wiry, slight man though a real "shellback," one who had been steeped in and saturated with every sea, was "giving the sea best," nerve-shaken, so he said -- and yet sailing a cutter with but 3 or 4 inches of free board "single-handed."
"Welcome aboard the _Yorkshire Lass_, mister," I was greeted by a great burly specimen of the British "shellback", as I stepped in over the rail.
The old shellback glanced at me; but only muttered something, and went on his way aft.
What does my being a shellback have anything to do with being a no-show?
Yes, I am a shellback initiated into the Ancient Order of the Solemn Mysteries of the Deep.
Not to cast doubt upon her reputation, but our due diligence tells us that she holds letters of marque from IMPERIUM NEPTUNUS REGIS and has earned the right to be called a shellback.
It is said that those who fail to appear before Neptunus Rex are forever damned as pirates, and no shellback shall ever tread upon the deck of a pollywog without incurring the wrath of said monarch.
Her shellback thimblecasket mirror only can show her dearest friendeen.
Wordnik is becoming a not-for-profit! Read our announcement here.