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  • Derived from the Latin altum meaning the deep or the ocean, “altumal” designates the dialect of merchant seamen and shallow-water traders, a sort of mercantile language of the sea, shaping and reshaping coastal dialects.

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  • "'Boat your oars,' said Jack. 'Clap on to the halliard — no, the halliard. God's death — haul away. Bear a hand, Stephen. Belay. Catch a couple of turns round the kevel — the kevel.'

    "The scow gave a violent lurch. Jack dropped all, scrambled forward, caught two turns round the kevel and slid back to the tiller. The sail filled, he brought the wind a little abaft the beam, and the scow headed out to sea.

    "'You are cursed snappish tonight, Jack,' said Stephen. 'How do you expect me to understand your altumal cant, without pondering on it? I do not expect you to understand medical jargon, without giving you time to consider the etymology, for all love.'

    "'Not to know the odds between a halliard and a sheet, after all these years at sea: it passes human understanding,' said Jack."

    --Patrick O'Brian, The Fortune of War, p. 272

    February 6, 2008

  • A Sea of Words: "The mercantile style or dialect. Altumal cant is the language of petty traders and tars. It derives from the Latin word altum, "the deep," i.e. the sea." (p. 83)

    October 13, 2008

  • 'Perhaps to some degree it may lie in the altumal simplicity of our diet, a diet produced by no effort of our own, and served up at stated intervals; whereas on land is a frequent subject of consideration, and the gastric juices are therefore perpetually solicited: but no doubt a more important factor on shore is the presence of an entirely different sex, of the excitation of other appetites, and the appearance of of a whole new set of social and even moral values.'

    -- Patrick O'Brian, The Surgeon's Mate

    January 27, 2009