Semantics…it’ll git ya everytime!

Semantics: 1. The study of language meaning. 2. The meaning of a word, phrase, sentence, or text.

This is a boat:

This is a ship:

In simple terms, a ship is big. A boat is not. Even large yachts are still boats. In the navy they are mostly ships. The exceptions being PT boats, used for close shore operations, Navy tugs, and submarines. Though immense in size, the Navy always refers to submarines as boats.

My parents lost this ship/boat distinction many years ago. I was a Junior Officer aboard the ship USS Randolph, pictured above. In fact, I am in this photo as I was aboard on the date this picture was taken, somewhere off Norway in the North Sea.

It was customary back then for officers or enlisted to invite guests aboard for a meal when the ship was in port. In keeping with this tradition, I once invited my parents to have dinner with me and the other officers in the wardroom. It’s a special occasion as we recognize guests before the meal begins. But first, some background.

My dad died when I was in college. My mother remarried. After she married my stepfather, they bought a small cabin cruiser. Though they lived in New Jersey they would occasionally cruise down the inland waterway to Florida.  On this occasion, we were in our home port at the time they arrived in the Norfolk, Virginia area. We planned to meet for the dinner. They berthed in a marina in Portsmouth, VA, which is a twenty-minute drive from where my ship moored.

When we connected by phone, they said let’s meet at 5:30 on the boat. Dinner aboard my ship is at 6:00. Being well versed in nautical terminology as I was, it meant meeting on their boat, not my ship. Also, being an officer and a gentleman, I arrived at their boat right on time. No parents. I looked all around the marina. Still no parents. I called the ship. Sure enough, the Officer of the Deck told me they were aboard my ship and looking for me. I rushed back to the ship. I will never forget the comment made by the Officer of the Deck, a friend, upon my arrival. “What a bum you turned out to be”, chortling and enjoying every delicious moment of my embarrassment.

The worst part of it was the dinner was held up for everybody until I arrived. The Executive Officer glared at me without uttering a word. Thankfully, the Captain was ashore. I sheepishly introduced my parents to all at the dinner table and apologized. The conversation soon veered to the erstwhile miscommunications and everyone had a good laugh, except me.

This is me at my court-martial under Naval Regulation 26.16, that is, “failure to receive naval guests in the prescribed manner and, in general, being a dumbass.”

Do you have any miscommunication stories to share?