A Word for Wednesday

Langrage, Langrel - n, Langrel shot or langrage is a particular kind of shot used at sea for tearing sails and rigging, and thus disabling an enemy's ship. It consists of bolts, nails, and other pieces of iron fastened together.

I'm not entirely sure why these two words are listed together in the dictionary. They must have been interchangeable when Webster wrote his dictionary. Since then, each word has come to have a more specific meaning. "Langrel shot" is now synonymous with chain-shot and "langrage" refers to bags or canisters of junk (scrap metal, old musket balls, rocks, bolts, gravel, etc) that are then fired from a canon.

The London Encyclopedia of 1829 (or Universal Dictionary of Science, Art, Literature, and Practical Mechanics comprising a Popular View of the Present State of Knowledge) says this:

"Langrel shot, used at sea, consists of two bars of iron joined by a chain or shackle, and having half a ball of iron fixed on each end; by means of which great execution is done among an enemy's rigging."

Langrage is mentioned the story Nelson at the Battle of the Nile from Robert Southey's "The Life of Nelson." Here's a cut-and-pasted passage that (hopefully) gives you a little bit of the story not just the sentence that uses the word:

"The first two ships of the French line had been dismasted within a quarter of an hour after the commencement of the action; and the others in that time suffered so severely that victory was already certain. The third, fourth, and fifth were taken possession of at half-past eight. Meantime Nelson received a severe wound on the head from a piece of langrage shot. Captain Perry caught him in his arms as he was falling. The great effusion of blood occasioned an apprehension that the wound was mortal. Nelson himself thought so [...] When he was carried down, the surgeon, in the midst of a scene scarcely to be conceived by those who have never seen a cockpit in time of action, and the heroism which is displayed amid its horrors, with a natural but pardonable eagerness, quitted the poor fellow then under his hands, that he might instantly attend the admiral. "No !" said Nelson, "I will take my turn with my brave fellows." Nor would he suffer his own wound to be examined till every man who had been previously wounded was properly attended to [...] When the surgeon came in due time to examine the wound, the most anxious silence prevailed; and the joy of the wounded men, and of the whole crew, when they heard that the wound was superficial, gave Nelson deeper pleasure than the unexpected assurance that his life was in no danger."

So there you have it. I'm afraid it's not a very practical word. Unless you're writing naval-based stories, of course, in which case you can add this to your arsenal (especially if it's historical fiction, seeing it's a period word). Now, if I can think of names for the two boys I'm seeing in this scene (does anyone else have trouble with names? or is it just me?), I'll give you the story clip.

"Get down, get down, get down!"

I tackled Wat and rolled both of us into the side of the ship. I just had time to tuck his head under my shoulder before the langrage started to pelt down on me. It burnt through my clothing. I sat up, choking on the gunpowder in the air. Wat started fumbling with his pistol, trying to load the thing while casting panicked glances over the side.

"We're gonna die, Geoff." He was shouting and I could hardly hear him. "We're all gonna die."

"We're not going to die, Wat."

A man came swinging overhead. I shot him and he fell to the deck. I grabbed Wat by his neck and forced him to look at me, praying he didn't see any fear or doubt in my eyes.

"I won't let us die. Not today."

"Langrel shot!" I heard the Captain's voice. "Take cover, men!"

There was a frightful whistling sound and then a thunderous crack as the mast splintered.


Do share your thoughts - I enjoy reading them :)