Two nations separated by a common language

Does anyone across your side of the pond know how the term watchstander came into being? To my version of English, the word feels awkward, although I warrant that one does mostly stand during the watch.

We keep watch.

The stand-on vessel is the one that holds or keeps it’s course.

I think the Navy had watchstanders long before the '72 COLREGS.

Kennebec_CaptainSuper Moderator


The stand-on vessel is the one that holds or keeps it’s course.

As on the Fitz?

What is wrong with this website… it keeps jumping all about the place like a demented rabit withon speed… I can’t see what I sm typing

As on . Fitz?

Working as usual here. (PC, Win10, Chrome)

I was in the US Navy 1965-1993, and “watchstanders” was always the term applied.

I did two deployments with the NATO Standing Naval Force Atlantic, in company with destroyers and frigates from UK, Denmark, Norway, Canada, Germany, Portugal, and France. I believe all used the term watch keeper.

When I hear the term “keeper” now, I tend to think of the goalie… :slight_smile:

Also, on this side of the pond, we spell “common” with a double ‘m’.

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“Stand-on” in a nautical context, including COLREGS, means to keep or hold the ship’s course.

**12.** Nautical To take or hold a particular course or direction: a ship standing to windward

Yes, I understand. I thought you were implying that “watchstander” was derived from “stand-on vessel” which strikes me very much as a bureaucratic neologism coined, I suspected, for the use of COLREGS since “right of way” was no longer appropriate.

“Stand” itself encompasses the full meaning of “stand-on” according to DeKerchove (1949)

Tomato, Tomato

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nouns usually come from the verb
what are you doing ‘standing watch’

Stand (past tense stood )

Of a ship or its captain, to steer, sail, or steam, usually used in conjunction with a specified direction or destination, e.g., The ship stood out of the harbor or The ship stood toward the east or The ship stood toward the missing vessel’s last known position .

The old mans admonishment about using his chair just ain’t the same. “You keep a watch, you don’t sit one” doesn’t work as well.


Then you guys have greenhorns…
We have novices.

I have never understood “greenhorn”. Those animals like stags cattle and goats that grow horns don’t start with green ones. They start short or soft.

Green has long been applied to youth or inexperience. Maybe from the green color (or colour if you prefer) of a sapling , a young tree? As for the horn part, even the savvy NYT magazine can’t find the source.

Although my grasp of the English language is rather limited I would like to give my tuppence on the subject.

The etymology of watchstander is straightforward, the word is a simple contraction of two words like in craneship. I cannot find a date when this word was used for the first time. I suppose that since man went to sea, for their own safety, they must have kept some system of watchkeeping and watchstanding but they probably gave it different names.

The Online Etymology Dictionary does not even know the words watchstander or watchkeeper.

In Dutch the word is ‘Wachtofficier’ (Watch Officer), also ‘Stuurman van de wacht’ (Mate of the Watch). In the Dutch Navy the ‘Watch Standard A’ must be achieved. This is proof that the commander is confident that someone can function independently as a watchkeeping officer under normal circumstances.

I didn’t research it nor given it much thought until now but I would suspect the phrase “watchstander” in whatever language predates humans formalizing a process of navigating a boat or ship. Probably some shepherd 20,000 years ago caught his son dozing off one night & told him to stand up to prevent himself from going to sleep & watch out for predators.

When operating bilingually, it pays to be careful what you use for references:

English as She is Spoke

which can lead to situations such as these:

Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook



English as she is Spoke is the source used by Google translate.