December 2nd, 2016 — On December 20, 1792, the whaling ship Asia was making its way through the Desolation Islands, in the Indian Ocean, when the crew decided to stop for lunch. According to the log keeper, the meal was a great success: “At 1 PM Sent our Boat on Shore After Some refreshments,” he wrote. “She returned with A Plenty of Woggins we Cooked Some for Supper.”
Right about now, you may be feeling peckish. But you may also be wondering: What in the world is a woggin?
New species are discovered all the time. Unknown old species—extinct ones, found as fossils and then plugged into our historical understanding of the world—turn up a lot, too. But every once in a while, all we have to go on is a word. New or old, known or unknown, no one knew what a woggin was until Judith Lund, whaling historian, decided to find out.
Like all professionals, 18th-century whalers had their share of strange jargon. A “blanket” was a massive sheet of blubber. “Gurry” was the sludge of oil and guts that covered the deck after a kill, and a “gooney” was an albatross. Modern-day whaling historians depend on their knowledge of these terms to decode ship’s logs—vital for understanding the sailors’ day-to-day experiences, as well as gleaning overall trends. Being elbow-deep in whaleman slang is just part of the job.