Friday, February 20, 2004

# Posted 12:35 PM by Patrick Belton  

IF YOU CALL ME A NATTERING NABOB, WHO PRODUCES SECOND-RATE ACADEMIC WORK, well, then I'll take it as a compliment: nabob, from Hindi nawwab, refers to a governor in the subcontinent under the Mogul empire. (It derives from Arabic nuwwb, pl. of n’ib, deputy, in turn the active participle of nba, to represent.) In other words, not that bad work, if you can get it.

And in turn, second-rate, to (correctly) describe the precise level of my academic accomplishment, derives, like all good things, from the Royal Navy. British naval vessels of the 18th and 19th centuries were classed principally according to the number of guns they carried. A sixth-rate ship was a frigate (i.e., as in Lord Nelson's exclamation from the quarter-deck of the HMS Vanguard before the battle of the Nile: "Frigates! Were I to die this moment, want of frigates would be found engraved on my heart!"); frigates carried between 22 and 28 nine-pounder guns and a crew of about 150, and measured between 450 and 550 tons. The Sophie of the fictional Captain Jack Aubrey, and the Surprise of the real-life, and far more dashing, Lord Cochrane on which he was based, was a ship of the sixth rate. Ships of sixth rate and above were of sufficient size to qualify as ships of the line in naval battle. On the other hand, first-rate ships, such as Lord Nelson's HMS Victory (still, incidentally, in service), boasted a minimum of 100 heavy cannon (the Victory carries 104), carried a complement of about 850 (there were 821 on board Victory at Trafalgar), and were over 2000 tons Builder’s Measure. To place the Victory's scale in context: she was constructed from approximately 6000 trees, 90% of them oak (this equates to 100 acres of woodland), at a cost of £63,176 in 1765 sterling (the equivalent of a contemporary aircraft carrier in nominal currency), her hulls are two feet thick at waterline, and the total sail area of her 37 sails is 6,510 square yards.

On the other hand, the sixth-rate Sophie was good enough for Aubrey, and its equivalents for Nelson - so think I'd be quite embarrassed, actually, to be classed an unworthy four ratings higher. But in any event, being a second-rate nattering nabob sounds to my ears at least like a quite pleasant prospect.
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