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August 10, 2006

Query
Posted by Teresa at 12:39 PM *

What’s a dunsail? Anyone know?

Comments on Query:
#1 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 12:40 PM:

An ocean voyage you've made, as opposed to one you haven't.

#2 ::: Aaron Bergman ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 12:42 PM:

It's not in the online OED that I have access to.

#3 ::: Quark ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 12:46 PM:

I know what a 'dunsel' is, but only because I watched too much Star Trek as a kid.

#4 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 12:47 PM:

IIRC, it got used once in ST the original. 'Captain Dunsail' (or maybe Dunsel), meaning something like an unnecessary or useless captain...

#5 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 12:53 PM:

no clue. There's a synapse or two deep in the back of my brain that says it remembers something about someone saying something about something that sounded like "dunsail", but when asked for more information, it simply hung its head and said

"Meep".

Now it won't do anythign useful at all. In the name of research and all that is good in the world, I'll try some alcohal and see if that loosens him up a bit.

#6 ::: BigHank53 ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 01:02 PM:

Any context, or is this a free-floating wordlet?

#7 ::: J Austin ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 01:07 PM:

Here's all I found for "dunsel," though it does sound derogatory in the few instances I saw of someone calling another "Captain Dunsail!" in a chatroom. Yes, it's a Star Trek reference.


"Dunsel is a term used by mid-shipmen in the 23rd century to describe a part which serves no useful purpose.

The term was used as an insult (albeit a playful one) to Captain James T. Kirk during the war games test of the M-5 Multitronic Unit created by Dr. Richard Daystrom. Commodore Robert Wesley called Kirk Captain Dunsel, to the confusion of Dr. Leonard McCoy. Kirk's First Officer Spock explained the term only after Kirk had left the bridge, stung by the insult. (TOS: "The Ultimate Computer")

McCoy's ignorance of the term suggests that unlike Kirk, McCoy did not graduate from Starfleet Academy but rather received a direct commissioning appointment to Starfleet. This is consistent with the way many staff officers (physicians, lawyers, chaplains) join the U.S armed services today."

There was a photograph of a ship in a bottle on another page, called "Four sails and a Dunsail," but I couldn't tell if it was supposed to be funny or serious.

#8 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 01:17 PM:

"I'm a doctor, not a History buff, dammit!"

#9 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 01:25 PM:

I thought it was the small ship that debt collectors sent out to meet incoming ships at port, to settle any outstanding accounts.

#10 ::: Sean Bosker ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 01:31 PM:

Is it related to the henweigh?

#11 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 01:43 PM:

It sounds like a portmanteau of dunnage and sail, which I would take to mean "a sail that is more useful as dunnage than actually raised."

#12 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 01:44 PM:

It's not in my copy of Grose - I was thinking it might be from British cant. Grose does however claim that the verb 'dun' was initially cant and came from the name of a famously efficient bailiff (what we'd call a bail bondsman or bounty hunter these days.)

#13 ::: Zeke ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 01:53 PM:

I've always thought it was adapted from stuns'l, or studding sail, an extra sail that could be hoisted at the sides of the mainsails (and topsails) of a square-rigged ship. Even well into the age of steam, fighting ships had masts and rigging for sails, and I wouldn't be surprised if the crews considered their stuns'ls to be so much useless baggage.

#14 ::: CaoPaux ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 01:59 PM:

FWIW, there are a few literary references to "dun sail" (e.g. here)

If I were to guess, it'd be a sail made of dungri (the Indian cotton cloth that gives us "dungarees")

#15 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 02:04 PM:

"Stuns'l" reinforces the theory that it's a Star Trek reference.

#16 ::: Michael Walsh ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 02:06 PM:

Context please?

#17 ::: Zeke ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 02:15 PM:

I would read "dun sail" to be a sail that is brownish-gray in color (similar to a dun horse). I did take "dunsel" to be a Star Trek reference, although I have no real evidence as to whether it came from dunnage (as j h woodyat suggests), stuns'l or some other source.

#18 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 02:15 PM:

Dun-colored?

#19 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 02:37 PM:

Ah, yes— well, the literary references I can find on the web to a "dun sail" (separated by a space) seem to read as referring to a ship with dark colored sails, which I would interpret as the Age of Sail's way of saying an "old and busted down, barely sea-worthy piece of junk." (I had never heard the term used before, I'm just grasping at the context where I'm seeing it used.)

Without that space, however, my brain wants to pronounce the word so it rhymes with "gunsel" and I would be left trying to figure out how the dun- part got glued to the -sail part so I could know where on the ship it was expected to fly. Thus, you have my guess about it being a portmanteau, possibly even coined for use in writing that Star Trek episode (I wouldn't be surprised to find out).

I suspect it's important to know whether there is supposed to be a space there or not.

#20 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 02:45 PM:

Wiki claims it's an invented word, maning something like 'a part with no useful function'. It does seem to have gotten into use, though.

With that definition, can we apply it to Shrub?

#21 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 03:23 PM:

j h woodyatt: Old sails became threadbare and white (beached by the sun, and weakened by salt).

They were quite popular as fabric for the making of trousers and shirts.

#22 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 03:31 PM:

I think Teresa is playing with our heads. Distracting us from something sinister, maybe.

Quick, grab her energy drink and get it to the lab for testing!

#23 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 03:48 PM:

Stefan... I was wondering when someone else would become curious about why Teresa had come up with that question.

#24 ::: kate ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 04:39 PM:

I'd been told (folklorically) dunsel itself was corrupted from dunsail, which was a useful but not vital part of a sailboat. So it's a kind of useless person, hanging around not doing much.

(And since I got told this by my mother, who is not a part of fandom and has not watched Star Trek nor read Trek books, I suspect the usage goes back further than Trek.)

#25 ::: Bill Humphries ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 05:41 PM:

Ah, you mean "security theatre?"

#26 ::: Branduno ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 05:48 PM:

My best guess, assuming it isn't about something more sinister, as has been suggested: a dunsail is the kind of sail Lord Dunsany used. It is (some people might say) unnecessarily ornate, but it is very pretty.

#27 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 06:07 PM:

Well, you'd better go catch it.

#28 ::: joe ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 06:10 PM:

That's the first name of that Washington guy who starred in "Inside Job." Great movie.

#29 ::: Karl Kindred ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 06:26 PM:

It can't be directly from Star Trek, as my fiction-hating conservative grandfather used it once in reference to an "unnecessary" part of his pickup (the tail-gate to be specific).

As he would have had NO Star Trek frame of reference (as he loathed any TV but Jeopardy and Wheel-of-Fortune), and used it in a context as part of his everyday speech, I'm quite sure it predates any specific "Captain Kirk" evocation.

As for it's original source, I personally conjecture that it is some kind of old mariner phrase...big surprise there...

#30 ::: Karl Kindred ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 06:34 PM:

WOW, do I hate re-reading a comment after I post it. Of all the forums on which to foist a brutally gormless sentence, this is the one I fear the most.

I long for a way to revise my poor sentence structure, but I'll settle for pointing out my errors:

A pickup truck, two too many uses of "as" in a single sentence, and my long running abuse of ellipsis...

...ugh.

---

On another note, my mother assures me that her father (the grandfather in question) used the word "dunsail" long before Star Trek ever aired.

#31 ::: Rachael de Vienne ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 06:53 PM:

"LET out the wet dun sail, my lads,
The foam is flying fast;
It whistles on the fav'ring gale,
To-night we'll anchor cast.
What though the storm be loud, my lads,
And danger on the blast;
Though bursting sail swell round and proud,
And groan the straining mast;
The storm has wide, strong wings, my lads,
On them our craft shall ride,
And dear the tempest swift that brings
The sailor to his bride."
--From: The Sailor and His Bride by Isabella Valancy Crawford

#32 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 06:54 PM:

Wasn't Roddenberry in the Navy at some point before he became a cop and before getting into TV work?

#33 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 06:56 PM:

I thought Roddenberry was air force . . . more to the point, who wrote the episode?

#34 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 07:13 PM:

DC Fontana wrote that episode of Star Trek. As for where the dunsail bit came from, your guess is as good as mine. Hmm... I wonder if Fontana will be attending LAcon's 40th anniversary celebration of Star Trek on Wednesday night.

#35 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 07:22 PM:

Roddenberry was Air Force - although original Startrek has been said to be more like the tin can navy than anything else.

So far as I can tell dunsail is a variant spelling of dunsel with almost all uses traceable to the M5 and TOS.

So far as I can tell dunsel is a variant spelling of dunzel from German slang (Bavarian?)

“The Donzel, Dunzel, (wetterau.) smaller, lively girl, after Weigand (oberhess. Intell.Bl.1845, S 325) of franz. donzelle, ital. doncella, dominicella, damicella, splinter doncella, English damsel. Diez, Wbch. 127, Grimm Wbch.II, 1566”


To the “Dunzel” again Grimm says:

DUNZEL, f. a thoughtless girl, in the joke or verächtlich so mentioned, from franz. donzelle, novel. donzella demoiselle, which is likewise used. donsel thoughtless woman picture SCHMIDT Westerwäld. idiot. 47. see nevertheless dunzel! point to me generally speaking gesangbuch no beautiful songs than this. as du's understands FR. MUELLER 1, 229 does not speak. usually gives to such a girl one dunzel means it best wüszts and understands anything Vth HOORN Gesch. 2, 59.

After searches “dandy” resulted in so far: “A word OF uncertain origin”; a few speculations find themselves
.


Dunsel f. “conceited, stupid female person”. Dess eat e bleed Dunsel! Out frz. donzelle “Ms, lady”, this out mittellat. dominicella. SH I 1840 Dunzel.
Dunsel f. "eingebildete, dumme weibliche Person". Dess iss e bleed Dunsel! Aus frz. donzelle "Fräulein, Dame", dies aus mittellat. dominicella. SH I 1840 Dunzel.

#36 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 07:39 PM:

Apologies for the rather poor machine translations above - one button translation is a snare and a delusion - as Newton said when his publisher asked for an errata sheet to go with Principia - anybody who cares will be able to make the corrections.

It's amusing to Google and see TOS cited for the usage in several languages.

I do have a call in to my best sources.

#37 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2006, 11:06 PM:

Dunsail? It's an oddly heavy beer made from barley malt with top-fermenting yeasts, which makes you exceptionally stupid after drinking it.

#38 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2006, 02:20 AM:

Clark what's M5 in this context? Is TOS "the original season" of Star Trek?

I feel so stupid when people refer to things by their initials, because I never can be sure what they're talking about.

#39 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2006, 02:35 AM:

"TOS" is "The Original Series" (as opposed to "The Next Generation" or any of the other Star Trek series.) M5 was the name of the computer in "The Ultimate Computer", I don't know if we ever got an explanation or expansion for it.

#40 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2006, 03:46 AM:

j h woodyatt: Old sails became threadbare and white (beached by the sun, and weakened by salt).

I think not - Hornblower, etc, are full of references to French ships being recognisable by their white, unweathered sails, as the blockade meant they spent most of their time in port, whereas the British spent most of their time at sea.

From the synopsis of a book by Knox-Johnston:

"On Friday 14 June 1968 Suhili, a tiny ketch, slipped almost unnoticed out of Falmouth harbour, steered by the solitary figure at her helm, Robin Knox-Johnston. Ten and half months later Suhili, paintwork peeling and rust-streaked, her once white sails weathered and brown, her self-steering gone, her tiller arm jury-rigged to the rudder head, came romping joyously back to Falmouth to a fantastic reception for Robin, who had become the first man to sail round the world non-stop single-handed."

#41 ::: rockycoloradan ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2006, 12:03 PM:

I don't know what it is, but here's a picture of one

#42 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2006, 12:13 PM:

M5 was the name of the computer in "The Ultimate Computer"

And M5 happens to be the name of the MythBusters's outfit. Coincidence? Conspiracy? You be the judge.

#43 ::: Howard Peirce ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2006, 04:23 PM:

Someone upthread mentioned gunsel. If it's true that the word dunsail originated on TOS, it's worth pointing out that the word gunsel originated in the screenplay for The Maltese Falcon. The script originally used ganzel, which mean catamite in Yiddish.

Apparently the reference to the nature of the relationship between Wilmer Cook and Kaspar Gutman was too explicit for Warner Bros., and they substituted the invented sound-alike word gunsel, which the censors (and everyone else) assumed was some sort of underworld cant for gunman.

#44 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2006, 04:40 PM:

I'm declaring Willet and Hauman the official winners of this thread. Also, the official losers.

Damn you both for arriving at those answers before I could.

#45 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2006, 05:32 PM:

Thanks, Howard. By the way, you did know that Elisha Cook, who played Wilmer Cook, also played a lawyer in... Yes, Star Trek. In the episode Court-martial.

It all comes together so neatly.

#46 ::: DominEditrix ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2006, 05:40 PM:

This is entitled "Four Sails and a Dun Sail".

"Dungaree", btw, is from the Hindi "dungri" meaning "coarse cloth".

#47 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2006, 05:57 PM:

ajay innocently misattributes: "j h woodyatt: Old sails became threadbare and white (beached by the sun, and weakened by salt)."

That wasn't me. I have some personal experience with old and worn sails, and— at least, with sailcloth made with modern processes and from modern materials— what I've seen with my own eyes is contradicted by the assertion misattributed here to me.

I will defer to Mr. Karney's expertise on the question of how sailcloth reacted to exposure to sun and salt air in the 18th and 19th centuries. I honestly don't know.

On the other hand, I can say with near absolute confidence that sails used for dunnage would not stay white for very long at all. Just to be clear: I had never heard the word "dunsail" before this thread.

#48 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2006, 08:43 PM:

j h woodyatt: I hadn't thought of them as sitting in the lower hold.

ajay: I can't speak to Hornblower. I can say the reports of Mr. O'Brian are to the contrary behavior of long stretches of blue water sailing. I do know the sails (no longer canvas) of the Endeavour, when she came into Long Beach, were not stained and brown, though they had been used for several months.

Certainly the effect of sun on flags which flap in it are not that it becomes darker, be those flags inland, or on the masts of ships in the San Fransisco Marina.

I don't recall, from reading the accounts of the voyage being attested to in the newspaper clipping, of his mentioning the color of his sails. I agree that the sides of the ship will get streaked and stained, from the effect of water on the metal fittings.

#49 ::: dilbert dogbert ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2006, 08:57 PM:

The Oxford Companion to Ships & The Sea has no listing for dunsail.

#50 ::: Trip the Space Parasite ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2006, 09:00 PM:

Terry Karney: I agree that the sides of the ship will get streaked and stained, from the effect of water on the metal fittings.

I don't even have two full cents to put in here, but wouldn't sails have metal grommets that would also stain the sails with oxidation? Or would leather have been used in the Old Days?

#51 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2006, 09:43 PM:

Trying not confess too much personal information here...

There are many stupid ways to mistreat and abuse your nice, clean white sails that will have the predictable result of staining them ugly and brown. One good way is to stuff them lazily into a dirty bag while they're still wet and leave them there to make a cozy home for opportunitistic molds and other fungus. Another good way is to let your wire rope shrouds and stays get all rusty and continually rake your nice, clean white sails across them as you're tacking. Yet another way is to not sweep the dirt and soot off the deck very often, allowing all the associated mud to get all through the lines and sheets, and on the shoes of your crew who are stepping on your nice clean, white sails, willy-nilly, while stuffing them, wet and unfolded, into their bags.

I would expect the crew of HM Bark Endeavor to be more diligent about avoiding these kinds of stupidities than some people I've known and will not name here.

#52 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2006, 01:05 AM:

I asked because another editor asked me. She'd been asked by a friend of hers, who I believe is reading Patrick O'Brian. Neither of them could find it. They asked me. I could find instances of the word being used, but I couldn't pin down its meaning. Asking Making Light's readers seemed like an entirely logical next step.

"A part which serves no useful purpose" would fit with the uses I've seen. Thank you all.

#53 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2006, 05:51 AM:

Sean Bosker wrote: "Is it related to the henweigh?"

Sean, what's the henweigh?

#54 ::: Ken Hirsch ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 04:13 PM:

"Sean, what's the henweigh?"

About five pounds.

#55 ::: BoB ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2009, 02:04 PM:

A Dunsail is a sail that serves no purpose in catching the wind, but a small sail from the forward mast to the prow of the ship. It comes from the days of the tall sailing ships. It was not usually used in normal sailing operations, but used to complete the full sailed appearance of the ship in battle and when the ship was on dispaly coming in or leaving a harbor. A Dunsail is a useless sail. It is only for show. The other sails do all the work.

#56 ::: BoB ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2009, 02:07 PM:

A Dunsail is a sail that serves no purpose in catching the wind. It is a small triangular sail that runs from the forward mast to the prow of the ship. The term comes from the days of the tall sailing ships. It was not usually used in normal sailing operations, but used to complete the full-sailed appearance of the ship in battle. It was also used when the ship was on display coming in or leaving a harbor. A Dunsail is a useless sail. It is only for show. The other sails do all the work.

#57 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 12, 2009, 02:15 PM:

BoB:
Neat. Thank you!

#58 ::: KEVIN ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2012, 04:06 AM:

Donzel; a useless part of a machine the serves no purpose. But none-the-less, the machine will not function without it. (Paradox)

#59 ::: Cadbury moose Querys a spam probe ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2012, 05:23 AM:

Malformed link in the poster name.

#60 ::: Cadbury Moose has a red face ::: (view all by) ::: June 13, 2012, 05:25 AM:

Oops! It appears to be on topic, despite the malformed link. Scratch that spam report please.

#61 ::: Steve ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2013, 03:12 PM:

It's similar to the word "elefino". What kind of a tree is that? Elefino!
A dunsail is some part of a sailing vessel that apparently "doesn't sail" the ship, a useless geegaw. This was a common term at the US Naval Academy in the 1950's. It definitely pre-dates ST:TOS

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