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"US Navy ranks" Topic

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Bozkashi Jones27 May 2019 2:27 a.m. PST

Well, Confederate Navy really.

The CSS Alabama's most senior officer after Captain Semmes was Lieutenant John M. Kell, known to the ship's company as the 'First Luff'.

I'm just curious to know:

1) Did the American navies in the 19th Century use the title 'First Lieutenant', like the British, instead of 'Executive Officer' as I believe it has been since the 20th Century?

2) The fact that he was called 'Luff' seems to imply that lieutenant was pronounced 'Leff-tenant', as it is in the UK, rather than 'Loo-tenant', as it is in modern American English

Just curious.


79thPA Supporting Member of TMP27 May 2019 6:09 a.m. PST

Luff is a nautical term, so I think it would be incorrect to try and devine the pronunciation of the word lieutenant from it.

The USN rank structure went through multiple changes in the 19th century. I guess the XO may be referred to as the First Lieutenant if the XO position was that of a lieutenant, but the executive officer might also be a commander, Lt. Commander, ensign or midshipman, so they certainly wouldn't be referred to as a First Lieutenant.

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP27 May 2019 12:49 p.m. PST

I've no idea when it changed, but during the
sailing Navy days, the order of officers (lieutenants)
was determined by the date of the commissioning
of the individuals.

That is, if a ship's TO called for four lieutenants,
the lieutenant with the oldest commission date would
be the First Lieutenant, the next eldest in commission
the Second Lieutenant, etc.

Same practice in the RN, IIRC.

Pyrate Captain09 Aug 2019 5:32 a.m. PST

noun: luff; plural noun: luffs

the edge of a fore-and-aft sail next to the mast or stay.

verb: luff; 3rd person present: luffs; past tense: luffed; past participle: luffed; gerund or present participle: luffing

steer a yacht nearer the wind.
"all you need to do is luff up, head to wind"
obstruct (an opponent in yacht racing) by sailing closer to the wind.
"he can luff you, but must leave you room to get clear"

Middle English: from Old French lof, probably from Low German.
Translate luff to
Use over time for: luff

Master Caster Sponsoring Member of TMP11 Aug 2019 10:14 a.m. PST

There were a lot of Brits in CSS Alabama's crew

Bozkashi Jones28 Aug 2019 2:47 a.m. PST

Good point Master Caster – that could well be it.

With regard to the word luff in nautical terms, I was aware as I do sail, mostly in traditional gaffers, but I can't see the correlation between that and a rank. I suspect it may just be coincidence.

Interesting points though, cheers guys.

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