Skipper's daughters --restricted regional use??

Posted by Keith Rennie on December 11, 2004

In Reply to: Skipper's daughters posted by ESC on December 11, 2004

: : : "Skipper's daughters"

: : : Today for the first time I came on this beautiful phrase "skipper's daughters", in Robert Louis Stevenson, ("The education of an engineer", Scribners 4 Nov 1888) later reproduced in Across the Plains, 1892.

: : : On Scotland's north coast, at Wick: "It was a gray, harsh, easterly weather, the swell was pretty high, and out in the open there were "skipper's daughters," when I found myself at last on the diver's platform, twenty pounds of lead upon each foot . . ."

: : : A few years later the CAnadian poet Bliss Carman used ~ evocatively in Ballads of Lost Haven: A Book of the Sea (Lines 55, 63, 111).

: : : - Why the phrase? It clearly means something like whitecaps or white horses, but what's the connection? What does it signify? Is it because ~ portend a
: : : storm, and like the ~ they spell danger, stay well away from them, sailor (cf. don't mess with the boss's daughter, don't dip your pen in company ink etc.)? Other interpretations?

: : : - Where can I find the phrase identified or explained? (not in Brewer, 1898)

: : : - Are there other notable examples of its use (esp. pre 1888)? Is it well known and I just missed it?

: : : Thanks for your suggestions or contributions

: : : - Keith

: : Eric Partridge, A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English defines "skipper's daughter" as "a crested wave." He says the expression appeared in c. 1888, leading me to suspect that Stevenson was Partridge's source too. Colloquial at first; became standard English c. 1910.

: I looked in several references including two nautical phrase books and couldn't find it.

Hmm. Thanks indeed for trying. Curiouser and curiouser. Primarily British or even Scottish coastal fishery term? R L Stevenson's father was a lighthouse inspector on the east coast of Scotland, and Stevenson learned his sea lore from there. But how did Bliss Carman get hold of it? From Stevenson's writings? and what's the evidence for the statement that it became "standard English" ca 1910? I'm fascinated, now. I have emailed my father, now 90, whose family is from Aberdeenshire.
- Keith