The question is about those two spellings for fo'c's'le / fo'c'sle (that is with two or three apostrophes) to identify missing parts for the word forecastle:

The Wikipedia article says

[...] but the position of apostrophes is not universally agreed. The positioning of the apostrophes represents deleted letters, thus fo[re]c[a]s[t]le.

How come the 3 apostrophes version wouldn't reflect the sailors' pronunciation ("Spelling fo'c'sle reflects sailors' pronunciation." - Online Etymology Dictionary) or do they simply mean in relation to the full word?

The "t" in castle is not pronounced but it is still part of the word; is it because of this we have the two apostrophes version (all other missing letters must be pronounced)?

Ngram shows 2 is more frequent, but 3 is there too.

Secondly is it true that no native speaker will ever utter "forecastle"1, as in never (to describe the part of the spar-deck of the ship forward of the fore rigging)? What is the state of the language on this?

1. I saw Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) with M. Brando. At some point he says to the sailors "Keep that for the fo'c's'le" but I heard "fox hole", thought that was the name of a pub, leisure time in any case. Then I watched a "remake", Under Siege (Seagal, 1992) and in a scene they're in the control room and they all say fo'c's'le only but there's a diagram of the ship on a screen, and I could read "forecastle", and only then did I get it; so Seagal helped a learner and I'm thankful.

  • It's an anomaly. I think there's a good chance this word was never modernized simply because it's rarely in use today, except in historical contexts.
    – J.R.
    Jul 1, 2015 at 7:33
  • @J.R. What do you generally mean when you say "modernized"? Thanks.
    – user16335
    Jul 1, 2015 at 8:05
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    It is sailor language which has a lot of shortened forms which is normal for frequently used words in a clique. You find such words in novels, but they play no role in normal language. And as to spelling and pronunciation I don't think that there are standard versions for such special shortenings of a special group language.
    – rogermue
    Jul 1, 2015 at 8:12
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    I am German and my answer can't be competent. But I would say forecastle as I am no sailor and nobody can suppose that I speak like sailors having worked on a sailing ship for years. "focsl" is sailor slang, not normal language.
    – rogermue
    Jul 1, 2015 at 8:23
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    I know that I've answered this below with the OED approved version, but I have to admit that it's got me thinking about the other version in the OP's question. I clearly remember the rule that I was taught many years ago - that you use an apostrophe where any letter or group of letters is removed. So, if we follow that rule then the other version, fo[re]'c[a]'s[t]'le would be correct.
    – PerryW
    Jul 2, 2015 at 5:53

2 Answers 2


The OED has the the apostrophes placed as: fo'c'sle.

Pronunciation is a little more tricky. Originally, it would have been pronounced and written in the long form:

1624 J. Smith Gen. Hist. Virginia iii. vi. 62 Targets..about the forepart of our Boat like a fore-castle.

Today though, the naval shortened pronunciation 'Fok-sel' is most widely used and I believe, although I can't find a reference to support it, that it's become something of a shibboleth in boating circles

  • 1
    Thanks, had never heard of shibboleth before, that's quite interesting. Should I read in from what you wrote that forecastle is never fully pronounced?
    – user16335
    Jul 1, 2015 at 8:07
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    I'd never say never, but, I've not personally heard the long form pronunciation used. Another, similar example to look at is boatswain...
    – PerryW
    Jul 1, 2015 at 8:43
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    and rowlocks - source of many schoolboy jokes [well, one joke, repeated many times] ;) Jul 1, 2015 at 9:30

We have gunwale and gunnel, so feel free to spell it fokesel.

  • Thanks, I didn't know gunwale/gunnel were the same, haven't heard either in fact; learner here. When you're in college and such and you write "fokesel" are you saying you can't be marked wrong? If I go to the teacher and show the Century with fokesel is that good enough? Do you really have that freedom with the language?
    – user16335
    Jul 1, 2015 at 23:42
  • There is no agreement on how the word is spelled. But using three apostrophes in a word is absurd.
    – TimR
    Jul 2, 2015 at 11:17
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    Thanks! Feel free to expand on that in the answer, for instance why is it absurd, as in it would be cumbersome to write? Would that make this word the word with the most apostrophes in the language? I've seen the the word used in other Q&A here and here for instance.
    – user16335
    Jul 2, 2015 at 11:33
  • I don't know. I haven't been to Quizzo in a while.
    – TimR
    Jul 2, 2015 at 11:44

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