Friday, August 1, 2008


The big cover story on the latest edition of Navy Times is about how the term "shipmate" has evolved into a derogatory term or an insult. There's a discussion board about it on the Navy Times website here.

I have to say I don't agree.

I have heard it used in equally as many positive as negative situations. The difference is really in the tone of voice one uses while saying it. For example, when you've been out at sea for a month, it's been a long day, and your up-coming port call was just canceled, and then your stateroom mate breaks out his secret stash of Diet Coke and Kit Kat and hands one of each to you. A likely response from me would be a huge grin from ear to ear followed by a warm and hearty, "Shipmaaaaaaate!" :-)

The comments on the Navy Times discussion board claimed that the term is always used from a senior to a junior immediately before an ass-chewing. I disagree with that, too. I have frequently heard it and used it amongst my peers. When I think of my second Weps from my Nav tour, the image that comes to my mind is his big smile and I hear his voice saying, "Shipmaaate!" in my head. It's sort of like those really annoying "whazzaaaaaaaap?" commercials - only not annoying. It's actually more like Rob Schneider playing the copy guy on SNL, "Steeeeeve! Steve-O-Rama! Steverunavich! The Stevemeister! Senor Steve!" I can just hear Rob Schneider the copy guy saying, "Shipmaaaaaaaate!"

Now, I will say that I've heard many a COB use the term immediately before offering some form of... not necessarily "ass chewing," but more "constructive criticism" if you will. But I've also heard some COBs use it in a, "Good job, shipmate" connotation.

Heck, within the past year there was some sort of official contest to define the term "Shipmate." (I don't remember if it was just a Pac Fleet thing or if it was a Navy-wide thing.) The winning definition most-definitely had a positive connotation.

So I pose the question to you - my loyal 5 or so readers - what do you think?

Is the fact that "shipmate" is in my vocabulary just a sign that I've always been some sort of lifer-digit-nerd?

Is the fact that I don't consider it derogatory or an insult just a sign that I've become "one of them"? A symptom of my being assimilated by the borg "the system" in my transition to being one of the "upstairs guys"? (Aside: On a 688, all but two of the officers live on the middle level in the vicinity of the wardroom. Only two officers don't live down there - the CO and XO's staterooms are the only two "upstairs" or in the upper level next to the control room.)

I wonder if there is a difference in the way the term is used in the surface navy versus the submarine force?


Anonymous said...

Seeing as how I'm not part of "the fleet" I don't have the exposure your fellow subbies do. But I've heard it on random occasion, usually good. Then again when am I going to witness a junior guy get his butt chewed? Even in casual conversation its MOSTLY positive, sometimes negative.

I wouldn't say you're assimilated into "one of them"...but rather say that, on the surface at least, your demeanor seems a little more even keel than say the average.

Nereus said...

The Goat locker put this term in the insult category starting in the late 90’s.
“The term is always used from a senior to a junior immediately before an ass-chewing.”
Yup, when a dirty blue shirt is approached by a Chief and the first thing that comes out of his mouth is “Shipmate”… You know that the next course of conversation is going to follow the lines of something he sees as deficient. Pointing out something wrong is the correct thing to do; what Chief Petty Officers are duty bound to do and should do to enforce the rules and regulations. But, what always got me pissed off is that I had a last name conveniently sewn on both the front and back of my working uniform. PLUS.. If you are on the boat with me, Know my name and RATE… I responded better to (RATE)or just my last name.
Then, you had the command “Butt-sharks” who would always use this term enthusiastically at the worst moments( when you are Dead dog tired running Vulcan deathwatches yet again bad moments) in an effort to emulate the Chief petty officer that they wanted to be yesterday.. Real “I want to open his mouth by inserting my foot from the other end type of stuff.”
The atmosphere in the Wardroom and amongst the O-gangers is different and should be. So I can see where you might have had the guys who could use it in a fun and endearing manner.
But, once the Submarine Navy got the whole “Formality” thing over-blown to the point you didn’t even address crewmember by even the last name much less the Nickname that used to be a Tradition amongst bubbleheads, The SHIPMATE handle surfaced in the calling aside and dressing down of enlisted, or Dressing down in public. .
So, That is why it has the effect of ground glass on most rag-hats when you address them this way.
Like I said, It wasn’t so much in being corrected for something wrong, But you are on the Boat with these guys.. The least they could do is know you rate and your name is pretty obvious unless you are in full dress blues or whites.

Chase said...

No doubt about it, in power school and prototype, shipmate is a derogatory term. Most likely since it's a training command from the sound of it. Regardless, every negative comment (from stern talking-to, to ass-chewing) begins with "Hey shipmate..". Although it doesn't really happen to us, the officer classes have taken to calling it 'getting shipmated'.

blunoz said...

To Sam, Nereus, Chase, Chap, and The Sub Report,

Thanks for answering my question and providing your honest feedback. I respect and value each of your opinions.

I don't think there's a clear consensus on the subject. Some people clearly think it's derogatory and some people don't, and it can really depend from one command or one community to another.

I think the lesson I should take away from this is that because there are many people who do consider it a derogatory term, that I should use caution and be sure I know who I'm talking to and how they will take it before I use the term casually.