A Glossary of Nautical & Foreign Terms

A lot of unfamiliar words appear in Empress of Asia -- unfamiliar to a general North American readership, anyway -- and though many are made clear by their usage or are translated directly in the very next line, a few are not. So here are most of those unfamiliar words, obvious ones and otherwise; I hope you find their definitions useful. In general they're ordered by first appearance in the book.


Backsplice: weave the end of a rope to keep it from unravelling
Messboy: low-ranking assistant in the ship's kitchen
Deckhead: the bottom of the deck above, the ceiling
Ack-ack: anti-aircraft
Companionway: covered staircase within the ship
Hawser: rope with a diameter of more than four and a half inches
Binnacle: stand on which the ship's compass is mounted


Avo: afternoon
Bradman: Sir Donald Bradman (1908-2001) is regarded as the greatest cricket batsman of all time
Bodgy: of inferior quality
Boong, wog: offensive terms for a dark-skinned person
Chunder: throw up
Durry: cigarette
Gink: a fool
Dunny: outhouse
Jiggy-jig: to have sexual intercourse
Pom: British

A few of the following terms appear in the novel phonetically, as they sound to Harry's ear rather than they way they ought to be spelled, eg. his chamar is rightly written camar. The majority of Malay and Indonesian terms, incidentally, are the same in either language.


Pergi ulu: to go into the jungle
Padang: field, village green
Makan: food
Pahit: bitter, a cocktail (from "gin and bitters")


Wakare: dismiss
Tomadachi: friend
Inchi ni san: one, two, three
Kiotski: attention
Tadaima, imaima: right now
Arigato: thanks
Sumimasen: sorry
Benjo: latrine
Tsukan: translator

Japanese (cont.)

Keicho: lance corporal
Shoko: officer
Naore: as you were (from salute to attention)
Migi makay migi: right turn
Hadare: left
Chikusho: beast, monster
Gochui: caution
Mushi mushi: quickly
Kura: (rudely) come here
Yasume: wait, stand at ease
Tenko: parade
Keto: (slang) hairy white man


Parlez-vous français: do you speak French
Décédé des suites des maladies contractées en Chine: died as a result of diseases contracted in China
Dieu merci: thank you, God

Our Don Bradman. Now I ask you, is he any good? Our Don   Bradman. As a batsman he can sure lay on the wood.


Smiecht: rascal
Jij bent niet: you are not
Van-on-der-en: "look out below" or "tim-berrr!"
Benzine: gasoline
Leeg: empty
Vol: full
Goede middag: good afternoon
Voor de japanners: for the Japanese
Vleer-muis-vleer: a bat
Goedemorgen: good morning
Ik heet: he is
Als de japanners: if the Japanese
Goed geluk: good luck

Bouton dialect of South Celebes

Omani: man
Mupati: white
Bombo: ghost
Bawine: woman


Allahu Akbar: Allah is the Most Great
Ash-hadu: I bear witness

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