A guide for the Perplexed

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A Guide for the Perplexed

Translations of All Non English Phrases in Patrick O'Brian's Sea Tales

1st Alphabetic Edition, 2002

edited by
Anthony Gary Brown

© 1996, 2002, 2004, 2005 (3rd August 2005)

Anthony Gary Brown

Fine Nautical Books



I deal in O’Brian first editions; rare volumes on the Age of Sail between about 1740 1830; naval documents and autographs. I am happy to recommend, assemble and supply small collections based on areas of clients’ interests. I am always interested in buying good condition volumes within my broad area of expertise

Anthony Gary Brown

is the author of

The Patrick O’Brian Muster Book:

Persons, Animals, Ships and Cannon in the Aubrey Maturin Sea Novels’

(McFarland & Co., 2nd Edition, due Spring 2006)
What the experts said about the First Edition:

Colin White

Deputy Director of The Royal Naval Museum and author of The Nelson Encyclopedia: People, Places, Battles, Ships, Myths, Mistresses, Memorials, and Memorabilia (Stackpole Books, 2003)

‘[Brown] brings to the task an erudition that is a worthy match for O'Brian's and, as a result, his book is one of those works of reference that it is genuinely difficult to put down, with one entry cross referencing to another in an enthralling intellectual trail’
Richard Snow

Editor of American Heritage Magazine

‘An astonishing piece of work ... and a valuable one too. A substantial tribute to O’Brian’

Lewis Lapham

Editor of Harper’s Magazine

‘As indispensable as a mainmast or a compass for any reader who would put to sea in [Jack and Stephen’s] company’

The Chief Translators

David Bird

Latin, Greek

Anthony Gary Brown

French, Italian, Latin; Editor

Anna Ravano

Italian, Latin, French, Spanish

Francis Miles

a multi linguist who contributed extensively to the 2002 revision of the 1996 original

Roll of Honour
(Occasional Contributors, Correctors and Omission Spotters, in random order)

Gibbons Burke; Cathal O'Brien; Richard Ellis; Ed Kane; Allan Janus; Jack Merton; Randy Johnson; Deborah Whitman; Scott Powell; Philip Anderson; Adam Quinan; Richard Benedict; Elisabeth Shields; Gerry Strey; Eldad Ganin; Rafael Landin; Ema Nemes; Tim Sterrett; Don Goyette; Donal O'Sullivan; Richard Ward; Alex Frakt; Eric Raymond; David Van Baak; Roger Giner Sorolla ; Richard Ward; Bob Frewen; Andy Evans; Pierangelo Celle; Mary Stolzi; Chris Moseley; Francis Miles; Bob Bridges; Juan Francisco Castilla Conejo; Don Seltzer; Lindsay Hubert; John Blumel; Jim Whiting; Brian Tansy; Patrick Cullinan; Patrick McGinness.


In addition, the 2002 revision could not have proceded without the extensive research help of the following: E.K.B., Jeffrey Charles, Susan Wenger, Isabelle Hayes, Bruce Trinque, Adam Quinan, Rowen84, Lois Montbertrand, Samuel Bostock and Bill Nyden


If you've ever been perplexed by Patrick O'Brian's flow of Latin, French, Irish, Greek and Spanish (not to talk of Catalan, Turkish, Polynesian and a few other tongues) then here, we hope, is your essential vade mecum. Accurate translations of all   well, almost all   the 'foreign' in O'Brian, easy as kiss my hand.

The entries are arranged in strict alphabetic order (so all groups of words are treated as if spelled as one: hence afflatus precedes a fortiori) and are given as written by O’Brian (so la garce is in the ‘l’ section, not under ‘g’). The page references are all to the Norton first USA editions (which are identical to all but the earliest UK Collins / Fontana first editions). We've included all 20 Aubrey / Maturin books, from Master and Commander through to Blue at the Mizzen, and added the early sea tales The Golden Ocean and The Unknown Shore at the end.

We have preferred literal, even pedantic, accuracy rather than literary elegance (which we happily leave to O'Brian). We believe that, whilst O'Brian's readers may occasionally need assistance with the words themselves, they seldom need assistance with the wider meaning. To this end we have tried to provide English translations that follow the word order of the foreign original, even at the risk of some stiffness of expression.

We have omitted most medical and botanical terms, where literal translation is so often unhelpful even when possible. Kerry Webb maintains an informative and enjoyable web guide   Maturin's Medicine   to all the medical terms found in O’Brian.

We have omitted most single foreign words that have come into the language and can be found in a decent English dictionary. Almost all foreign-looking words that you cannot find here in Perplexed are in fact archaic or nautical English and can thus be found in decent dictionaries.

The Books
M&C Master and Commander (1969)

PC Post Captain (1972)

HMS HMS Surprise (1973)

TMC The Mauritius Command (1977)

DI Desolation Island (1978)

FW The Fortune of War (1979)

SM The Surgeon’s Mate (1980)

IM The Ionian Mission (1981)

TH Treason’s Harbour (1983)

FSW The Far Side of the World (1984)

RM The Reverse of the Medal (1986)

LM The Letter of Marque (1988)

TGS The Thirteen Gun Salute (1989)

NC The Nutmeg of Consolation (1991)

C/T Clarissa Oakes (UK title) / The Truelove (USA title) (1992)

WDS The Wine Dark Sea (1993)

COM The Commodore (1994)

YA The Yellow Admiral (1996)

HD The Hundred Days (1998)

BM Blue at the Mizzen (1999)

21’ 21: The Final Unfinished Voyage of Jack Aubrey (2004)

GO The Golden Ocean (1956)

US The Unknown Shore (1959)

à bas, Buonaparte [TMC 132]

down with Buonaparte (French)

absit omen [FW 52]; absit, o absit omen [HMS 368]

let it not be an omen;

let it not, O let it not be an omen! (Latin)
abune [NC 58]

above  (Scots dialect)

Académie des Sciences [COM 210]

The Academy of Sciences (French)

accoucheur [SM 41, 141, 330]

a male midwife, or obstetrician (French)

ace and trey; deuce and cinque [CO/T 114]

one and three; two and five (from Old French)

a cuishle [GO 193]; acuisle [YA 39]; acushla [PC 447, IM 14]

lit: pulse or heartbeat; i.e. 'Darling' (Irish)

acullico [FSW 160]

a chewed up wad of coca leaves (Spanish)

adagio [TH 81, WDS 61, COM 265, YA 127]

lit.: at ease; musically, a slow pace (Italian)

ad captandum vulgus [HMS 155]

to deceive the rabble (Latin)

adieu [YA 201]; adieux [PC 85, WDS 121]

goodbye; farewells (French; lit: 'to God')

à Dieu va [TH 326, LM 30]

lit.: may you go with God (French)

a droit [FW 240, 241]

to the right (French)

aegis [HMS 10; BM 232]

shield; patronage (Latin, Greek; originally only refers to the shield of either Jupiter or one of the other gods)

aetat [SM 316]

at the age of (Latin)

afflatus [IM 208, 273]

lit.: a breeze; inspiration (Latin)

a fortiori [TMC 210, FW 98, IM 328]

even more so (Latin)

a gauche, je te dis [FW 240, 241]

to the left, I tell you (French)

âge ingrat [NC 93]

that awkward age (French)

agent provocateur [FW 181, SM 150, 352]

one who acts to provoke (French; a secret agent who induces his enemies to commit an illegal or revealing act)

agnus [TH 59]

lamb (of God) (Latin)

a gradh [GO 25, 34, 49, 81, 153, 197, 199, 244]

my dear (Irish)

agricolas [PC 154]

farmers (Latin)

aguardiente [M&C 265; PC 492, BM 225]

brandy (Spanish; lit.: burning water)

a haon, a dó, a trí, a ceathir, a cúig, a sé, a seacht, a horcht, a naoi, a deich, a haon déag, a do dhéag [COM 62]

numbers 1   12 (Irish)

Ah tutti contenti saremo cosí [LM 240, 284]

Ah, then we shall all be happy (Italian; the final chorus of Mozart's Marriage of Figaro)

aid de con [BM 150]

an attempt at aide de camp, lit: an assistant in the camp, the assistant to a senior officer (French; con means idiot, though it’s now often used as a rather more vulgar insult)

aide memoire [FW 231]

a memory aid (French)

aides de camp [NC 92]

lit.: assistants in the camp; assistants to a senior officer (French)

aiguillettes [COM 160]

slivers (French)

akvavit [LM 265] lit.: water of life(Danish; distilled liquor)
al fresco [GO 173]

outdoors; lit.: in the fresh air (Italian)

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