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Flotsam (oh, all right ... and Jetsam)

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305811.  Fri Mar 28, 2008 9:29 pm Reply with quote

Messages in bottles - I always assumed they were just a cartoonists' convention. But does the archetype of a man on a desert island sending a distress signal correspond to any historical event?

Wikipedia has this:
The first recorded messages in bottles were released around 310 BC by the Ancient Greek philosopher Theophrastus, as part of an experiment to show that the Mediterranean Sea was formed by the inflowing Atlantic Ocean.

On his journey back to Spain after discovering the New World, Christopher Columbus's ship entered a severe storm. Columbus threw a report of his discovery along with a note asking it to be passed on to the Queen of Spain, in a sealed cask into the sea, hoping the news would make it back even if he did not survive. In fact Columbus survived and the sealed report was never found.

In the 16th century the English navy, among others, used bottle messages to send ashore information about enemy positions. Queen Elizabeth I even created an official position of "Uncorker of Ocean Bottles", and anyone else opening the bottles could face the death penalty.

This all looks pretty dubious to me. I think maybe I'll set the toilers in the outer darknesses a task: two tickets to the show to anyone who can find an authenticated message-in-a-bottle story. Trouble is, there are so many threads these days that I don't suppose many of them will pick this one up.

Worth a try, though.

305816.  Fri Mar 28, 2008 9:36 pm Reply with quote

There's this one, but it's disappointingly modern. I like the way the girl who wrote it found the finder of it on the internet though.

305822.  Fri Mar 28, 2008 9:58 pm Reply with quote

Yes, I don't think that one does the trick - we really need to find the prototypical marooned sailor from way back. Anyway, I've set them the challenge.

305828.  Fri Mar 28, 2008 10:32 pm Reply with quote

In 1992 29,000 plastic bath toys, mainly yellow ducks but also beavers, turtles, and frogs, were dropped into the Pacific when a container ship lost some of its cargo in heavy seas. They were caught in the Subpolar Gyre and 10 months later many of them were swept up on the coast of Alaska. Others continued around the Gyre and were taken as far south as Hawaii, but some went through the Bering Strait and became frozen into the polar ice, which carried them Eastwards across the Arctic. In 2000 they reached the Atlantic, thawed out and headed down the eastern coast of America. It took them till 2007 to cross the Atlantic: the first one to reach the UK was found in Devon in July. If you find one and send it in to the manufacturers they’ll supposedly pay you $100 for it.

The path which would be taken by the ducks was predicted accurately by oceanographer Dr Curtis Ebbsmeyer, including the business about them being caught in the Arctic ice for 5-6 years.

Which is quite impressive if true. It sounds to me like it may have acquired a slightly mythic quality, but the story is reported by multiple respectable sources: the Christian Science Monitor, CBS and Ebbsmeyer himself amongst them.

There must be something we can do with this. For my information: is the word “floater” generally understood to mean “faux pas”, or is that expression only used by old-fashioned people like me?

305832.  Fri Mar 28, 2008 10:44 pm Reply with quote

An immediate response was posted to the outer boards to point out that the Elizabethan Uncorker is said to exist on no less an authority than today's QI column in the Telegraph. Over to Molly,then ...

305878.  Sat Mar 29, 2008 5:31 am Reply with quote

I certainly recall the rubber duck story.

gives proof of the $100 reward.

(not a great site!) brings the story up to date.

305880.  Sat Mar 29, 2008 5:32 am Reply with quote

Be careful with "floater". I always understood it to be something nasty that wouldn't flush.

305899.  Sat Mar 29, 2008 6:18 am Reply with quote

Yes, that's always been my understanding of it too - never heard of it as a faux pas.

305929.  Sat Mar 29, 2008 7:03 am Reply with quote

I think the meanings might well be linked. It was certainly used to mean "faux pas" in Wodehouse:
Harsh words, of course, as from aunt to nephew, but I bore her no resentment. No doubt, if you looked at it from a certain angle, Bertram might be considered to have made something of a floater.

Right Ho, Jeeves

Frederick The Monk
306012.  Sat Mar 29, 2008 10:12 am Reply with quote

Well I've sent a message in a bottle and got a reply. I was ten and dropped a message in a bottle in the sea en-route from Newcastle to Bergen by ship. Inside was just my name and address and a request to write back if anyone found it. A year later I got a letter from a Swedish doctor who had found the bottle on the south shore of the Skagerrak. Which was nice.

Frederick The Monk
306014.  Sat Mar 29, 2008 10:14 am Reply with quote

I was meant to be looking into flotsam this week so here's what I've got so far:

What's the difference between Flotsam, jetsam and lagan?

Flotsam is wreckage from a ship found floating on the surface, jetsam are goods deliberately thrown overboard by a ship in peril, lagan are goods or wreckage lying on the bottom of the sea or marked by a buoy with the intention of recovery.

Notes:Flotsam Law. Such part of the wreckage of a ship or its cargo as is found floating on the surface of the sea. Usually associated with JETSAM.
[Liber Niger Admiralitatis cxxxvi. (1871) I. 82 Pippe de vin flotants, balles de marchandises ou autre chose quel~conque comme floteson.] 1607 COWELL Interpr., Flotsen alias (Flotzam). a1688 tr. Blacke Bk. Admiralty (1871) I. 83 Pipe of wine floating, bales of goods, or any other thing whatsoever, as ffloatson. 1708 J. CHAMBERLAYNE St. Gt. Brit. I. II. ix. (1743) 81 To the Lord High Admiral belongs..a Share of all lawful prizes, Lagon, Flotson, and Jetson. 1814 SCOTT Diary 11 Aug. in Lockhart, The goods and chattles of the inhabitants are all said to savour of Flotsome and Jetsome. 1853 Act 16-17 Vict. c. 107 §76 All Goods derelict, jetsam, flotsam, and wreck brought or coming into the United Kingdom.

 1. The throwing of goods overboard; = JETTISON n. Obs.
[1600 COKE Rep. v. 106b, Ietsam est quant le nief est in perill d'être merge et pur disburden le niefe les biens sont iects in le nul de ceux byens que sont appelles Ietsam Flotsam ou Lagan sont appeles wreck cy longe come ils remain in ou sur la mere, mais si ascun de eux sont mise al terre per le mere, donques ils seront dit wreck.] 1641 Termes de la Ley 187b, Ietsam is when a Ship is in perill to be drowned, and to disburden the Ship the Mariners cast the goods into the sea,..but if any of them are driven to land by the sea, there they shall bee said wrecke, and passe by the graunt of wrecke. 1755 [see JETTISON n.]. 1839 BOUVIER Law Dict., Jettison, Jetsam, the casting out of a vessel, from necessity, a part of the lading; the thing so cast out. 1883 Wharton's Law Lex. (ed. 7), Jactus, or Jactura mercium (a throwing away of goods), jetsam.

    2. Goods thrown overboard from a ship in distress in order to lighten the vessel (and afterwards washed ashore).
  The last clause is no part of the etymological meaning, but is found as early as 1570, having apparently originated from taking the word as ‘that which is thrown or cast ashore by the sea’. This is directly opposed to the quot. from Coke in sense 1, and its transl. in Les Termes de la Ley. But it is the sense given in recent Law-books. Spelman and Blackstone took the meaning as ‘merchandise thrown overboard and sunk in the sea’. Both explanations evidently arose in the attempt to distinguish jetsam from flotsam, in the phrase flotsam and jetsam. Etymologically flotsam should mean that which is afloat in consequence of a wreck or from the action of the wind or sea itself, jetsam that which has been thrown overboard to save the ship, without reference to whether it floats or sinks. 
  (In quot. 1570 the word appears to be used as adj. or adv.)

Lagan - Goods or wreckage lying on the bed of the sea. Cf. FLOTSAM and JETSAM.
[1200 Carta de Dunewic in Stubbs Sel. Charters (1895) 311 De ewagio de wrec et lagan.] 1531 Charterparty in R. G. Marsden Sel. Pl. Crt. Adm. (1894) 37 Yff the sayd shype take any pryse purchase any flotson or lagen. 1533 Ibid., Flotezon or lagason. 1591 Articles conc. Admiralty 21 July §6 Any ship, yron, leade, or other goods floating or lying under the water or in the depth, of which there is no possessor or owner, which commonly are called Flotzon, Jetson, and Lagan. 1605 COKE Rep. v. (1624) 106b Lagan (vel potius ligan) est quand [etc.; translated in quot. 1641]. 1622 CALLIS Stat. Sewers (1647) 18 [citing Coke] Flotsan, Jetsan and Lagan are goods on or in the Sea, and..they belong to the King. 1641 Termes de la Ley 193 Lagan is such a parcell of goods as the Mariners in a danger of shipwracke cast out..and fasten to them a boigh or corke, that so they may finde them... These goods are called Lagan or Ligan à ligando. 1707 J. CHAMBERLAYNE St. Gt. Brit. I. II. x. 143 To the Lord High Admiral belongs..a Share of all lawful Prizes, Lagon..that is, goods lying in the Sea, on Ground. 1865 KINGSLEY Herew. I. vi. 171 Prowling about the shore after the waifs of the storm, deserted jetsom and lagend. 1894 Act 57-8 Vict. c. 60 §510 In this Part of this Act..‘wreck’ includes jetsam, flotsam, lagan, and derelict found in or on the shores of the sea or any tidal water. 1906 Westm. Gaz. 13 June 4/2 These are, says Mr. Clifford, the ‘ligan’ of history. 1909 Daily Chron. 20 Mar. 5/5 The custody of flotsam, jetsam, and ligan. 1952 Brewer's Dict. Phr. & Fable 534/2 Lagan, or Ligan, goods thrown overboard, but marked by a buoy in order to be found again.

307180.  Mon Mar 31, 2008 4:17 am Reply with quote

That's interesting. I was always told that the difference between Flotsam and Jetsam was that Flotsam was floating on the water and Jetsam was washed up on shore, but otherwise they were the same thing.

I wonder if that's known widely enough to count as a GenIg?

307186.  Mon Mar 31, 2008 4:35 am Reply with quote

I'm with dr. bob on this too.

307203.  Mon Mar 31, 2008 5:12 am Reply with quote

I just thought of Flotsam and Jetsam as a knockabout Music Hall double act, so you can count me in as well.

The response in the outer darkness to my question about messages in bottles was rather successful.

307209.  Mon Mar 31, 2008 5:19 am Reply with quote

Well, whaddya know - I was joking, but:
Mr. Flotsam (Bentley Collingwood (B. C.) Hilliam (1890-1968)) and Mr. Jetsam (Malcolm McEachern (1883-1945)) were an original British musical comedy act of the 1920s and 1930s. Hilliam wrote most of their songs, played the piano and sang in a light, high tenor voice. By contrast, McEachern had one of the deepest bass voices on record. Their material consisted of comic songs with rapid-fire delivery, songs with mild social commentary as well as sentimental songs.

They are sometimes considered a precursor of Flanders and Swann.


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