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All souls on board

Posted by Pamela on January 06, 2006

In Reply to: All souls on board posted by Victoria S Dennis on January 06, 2006

: : : I've read the term "all souls on board" in the context of all crew and passengers dying in an air crash ("all souls on board were lost in the accident"). Is the term also used to refer to the living? Would someone say: "Pilot, how many passengers are on the plane?" and hear the reply "We have 200 souls on board?", and if one did, would it be correct to assume that the pilot made the statement in the context of an impending crash? Pamela

: I can't say if a present-day pilot would describe the people on board as "souls" (does anyone on this board know a present-day pilot?), but if s/he did, it wouldn't necessarily imply an impending disaster. "Souls" is traditionally used in aviation and maritime contexts when enumerating everyone on board. The usage may possibly have arisen because ships' officers traditionally - I'm talking about the 18th and 19th centuries here - referred to the rest of the crew, i.e. the before-the-mast sailors, as "the people". Therefore, to say "there were 30 people on board" would have been ambiguous, whereas "30 souls" makes clear that this number includes everyone -officers, crew, passengers, river pilot, the Customs search team, the Board of Trade inspector.

Thanks for that. I did in fact read it in a modern context (a book about accident investigations), but perhaps the academic in question had an archaic turn of phrase. I didn't realise it was a maratime expression (I'll ask someone in the maritime industry if its still used there). Pamela