What’s a ‘fo’c’s’le’?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: fo’c’s’le…

I read the novel Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis because a friend highly recommended it and, to be honest, because it had won a couple of big awards in 2015 (the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize). Too bad I’m a cat person, because the book didn’t really appeal to me. Still I was pleased when it gave me my word of the week — and what an alphabet soup of a word it was! Complete with three apostrophes, that word was: fo’c’s’le.

Here is how Alexis used the term:

This made for an especially curious site when, after a few days, Bella — with her loping and rhythmically arrhythmic gate — felt confident enough to run if she wanted, her withers dipping and rising while Athena, like a furry passenger on the ship’s fo’c’s’le, joyfully held on.

The fo’c’s’le is an abbreviation for forecastle the forward part of a ship below the deck, traditionally used as the crew’s living quarters. The word is pronounced in the English way, fowk-sul,  (listen to precise pronunciation here) and while the term would be known by all sailors, the position of apostrophes is not universally agreed upon.

The etymology is Middle English from the word  fore- meaning “before” combined with the Anglo-French castle meaning “fortified tower.” The spelling fo’c’s’le reflects sailors’ pronunciation.