Dude…Ever Notice How Much a Joint Looks Like a Ship Move-y Thingy?

The brain is highly associative. It’s interesting how you suddenly make a connection.

So, I’m listening to my “Minnie the Moocher” channel on Pandora and up popped a Cab Calloway song I had never heard before, “Reefer man.” I was only listening with half an ear but the first verse triggered a connection.

“Man, what’s the matter with that cat there?”
“Must be full of reefer”
“Full of reefer?!”
“Yeah, man!”
“You mean that cat’s high?”
“Sailing lightly!”
“Get away from here!”
“Man is that the reefer man?”
“That’s the reefer man.”

When the call and reply got to “you mean that cat’s high…sailing, ” it clicked that in the days of sail that sails were “reefed” by pulling them into rolls. It was also sailor slang for a midshipmen or other novice.

The Online Etymology Dictionary confirmed that the marijuana “reefer” is probably related to the appearance of a reefed sail. It seems that way back in the day (1930s at least) the association with sailing was strong enough for “sailing” to be a synonym for “high”. I’m pretty sure “high” itself, as a term for doing or feeling well, most likely originated from the higher pay and status received by that sailers who worked as toppers high up on the masts. When a sailor was doing well professionally, he was “high.”

I’d never thought about the origin of the term “reefer” as slang for a marijuana joint. Knowing as many stoners as I have, I just assumed it was, like everything else stoners do, somehow related to bong making.

4 thoughts on “Dude…Ever Notice How Much a Joint Looks Like a Ship Move-y Thingy?”

  1. Bill Brandt,

    I think it revealing just how much of our slang and colloquialisms come from sailing. It shows just how important sea borne trade was to the development of the anglo-sphere.

  2. James Augustine,

    And what about the hemp/rope making connection?

    There probably wasn’t much connection. THC only occurs in any concentration in the buds of immature plants and there isn’t any in the fibers that go into rope. You can’t get high by smoking a hemp rope. Sailors in the age of sail probably had no idea that the source plant for their rope had intoxicating properties.

    The strains of the marijuana/hemp plant used for making rope where thick and fibrous with a low THC content. If you tried to smoke them, even young plants and bulbs, they wouldn’t smolder but burst into flames. While the properties of the hemp plant as a intoxicant or herbal medicine were known for thousands of years, the low THC content meant that just smoking the plant was pointless. Instead, they had to make a paste or gum by extraction from a large number of buds followed by reduction.

    IIRC, the smokable strains originated somewhere in the middle east over the last two centuries and from there jumped to Latin America and the Caribbean. Sometime in the late late 1800s or early 1900s, immigrants from Latin America brought it to the US and from there it spread world wide.

    During the age of sail, anyone getting high would have been smoking a gummy ball in a pipe or hooka instead of a rolled cigarette. (For that matter, the tobacco cigarette is a 20th century invention.)

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