April 25, 2006

Apocalypse not now

True, starboard and port are not synonymous with right and left -- but it would be more than a little difficult to find a dictionary in which these (aero)nautical terms are not defined in terms of right and left. Consider the OED's definition of starboard:

A. n. a. The right-hand side of a ship, as distinguished from the LARBOARD or PORT side; the side upon which in early types of ships the steering apparatus was worked. (See LARBOARD note.) Also used with reference to aircraft. Often in the phrases a, on, upon, to starboard.

Note that there's not even a point of reference in this definition, though if you go to the "LARBOARD note", you find:

The side of a ship which is to the left hand of a person looking from the stern towards the bows.

Now why couldn't that also have been in the starboard entry?

I think the uses of right and left on an airplane are simply understood to be relative to someone facing the front of the plane (as most people on a plane are, most of the time). Even if I'm running toward the emergency exits behind me, I think I'd know to turn left if a flight attendant cries out: "Use the exits on the right!" -- and I'm sure I'd have to pause to think if I heard: "Use the exits to starboard!"

[ Comments? ]

Posted by Eric Bakovic at April 25, 2006 11:07 AM