Week fifty-three: LYMPHAD (probability 31000), by David Sutton

A LYMPHAD sounds like something medical, but in fact is it is a kind of Highland boat, a one-masted galley propelled by oars, from the Gaelic longfhada (lang, ship + fada, long). The word is now historical only, but a lymphad is still borne as a heraldic charge on the coat-of-arms of some Scottish families.

On the subject of Highland galleys, we also have the word BIRLINN, a large barge or galley used by clan chiefs in the Western Isles. This too is from the Gaelic, though ultimately from the Old Norse byrthingr, related to burden.

As far as further words for galleys go, we probably all know BIREME, TRIREME, QUADRIREME and QUINQUEREME, denoting galleys with two, three, four and five banks of oars respectively, but may be less acquainted with GALIOT (or GALLIOT) and GALLEASS (or GALLIASS). A galiot was a small galley or boat, propelled by sails and oars, used for swift navigation; the word was particularly applied to Spanish and Mediterranean vessels. A galleass was a large galley, with some of the properties of a galleon, and able to carry broadside guns.

I cannot leave this theme without mentioning the BUCENTAUR, which you might well think had something to do mythical creatures half-man and half-horse, but was actually the Venetian state barge used formerly in a ceremony in which the doge (the ruler of Venice) dropped a ring into the sea, symbolizing the marriage of Venice with the Adriatic.


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