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Member since: Sat Sep 24, 2011, 10:36 AM
Number of posts: 16,444

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Never trust an author

I'm sure this is only of interest to those who suffer from a terminal case of OCD, but I learned something today.

I've read a number of seafaring novels by authors who insist that sailors serve "in" a ship, not "on" a ship. Robert Heinlein comes particularly to mind, because he made a big deal about it and was himself a former serving officer in the U.S. navy, so presumably he knows what he's talking about, eh?

Except I was just reading a novel about the Asiatic Fleet by a gentleman who eventually rose to the rank of Vice Admiral and command of the U.S. 7th Fleet, and he speaks of sailors serving "on" the ship. Presumably, he knows what he's talking about, too.

So who's right? Fortunately, Google is there for us; alas for Mr Heinlein, it appears that according to the official style guide of the U.S. Navy, one serves "on" a ship:


"Also, a Sailor is stationed "on," "at," "is serving with" or "is assigned to" a ship. A Sailor does not serve "in" a ship."

Since VADM Mack and ex-lieutenant Heinlein are also near-contemporaries, one cannot even conjecture that there is some temporal change to account for the discrepancy. Although maybe some writers of British naval fiction use a different style guide. In any event, here I have thought for some 50 years that one served "in" a ship. How too bloody embarrassing.

-- Mal
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