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Words like right and left are relative terms that depend upon one's vantage point. One person's right is another's left, when facing each other. Misunderstanding a simple direction at sea can result in devastating consequences. For that reason, every part of a ship is given a special name. The word port refers to a ship's left side no matter which direction a sailor is facing. Starboard is a ship's right side. Precise terms such as these help to avoid confusion, misunderstandings and at times even disasters.


  1. Use the Wizard of Id cartoon (Figure 9) to begin a discussion on the different meanings of the following words: round, circular, oval, spherical, globe, and disk.
    Wizard of Id comic strip
    Figure 9. A classic case of miscommunicating with vague words.
    (by permission of Johnny Hart and Creators Syndicate, Inc.)
  2. Did Columbus really discover America? The problem with answering this question lies with the meaning of discover. To qualify as a discovery, must the event have been totally unknown to all humans? What if animals had discovered something before humans? Can you discover something for yourself even if it is already known to others? Divide the class into small groups to discuss the difference between a(n):

    discoverer, pioneer, adventurer, traveler, settler, and explorer.

  3. Have the class use a dictionary or the Glossary at the back of this Teacher's Guide to find the meaning of the following nautical measures of distance:

    league, fathom, and nautical mile.

    1. Compare a nautical mile with a land or statute mile.
    2. Critique the title of Jules Verne's novel, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, in light of the fact that the average depth of the ocean is 3 miles, while the deepest trench is 7 miles. The earth's equatorial diameter is 7,926 miles. What is the maximum depth in leagues that the ocean could be, if the earth were totally water?

      Solution: 1,321 leagues, which equals the earth's radius.

    3. Columbus' ships carried sounding line about 220 fathoms long. By measuring how deep this rope sank, the ship's captain could determine the depth of the water. This was especially important in order to avoid going aground. The Santa Maria met this fate when it hit a reef at Christmas time in 1492. The pounding surf broke the vessel apart and claimed its first shipwreck from the Old World. If the sounding line sinks straight down, what is the maximum depth in feet that Columbus could measure? If the ship is under sail and tows this line at an angle, what problem would the captain face?

Words from the Sky

The western world has always held the stars in high regard. Today our greatest heroes are still called Stars, while our greatest Stars are idolized as Superstars.

The Romans had two words for stars: sideris and aster.

A person who is considerate is one whose concern for others stems from character that resembles the nobleness of the stars. Considerate literally means "with the stars."

From the word aster we get terms like astronomer, one who studies the stars and astronaut, a star voyager. For many cultures, stars are symbols of good luck, prompting people to wish upon them, whether it be the first star of night or a shooting star. While being in harmony with the stars was believed to bring good fortune, falling out of favor with the stars could spell disaster.


  1. Find other words in the English language with roots from the word for star.
  2. Shakespeare began the play Romeo and Juliet, with the line: "A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life" (Prologue, l. 6). What did he mean by star-cross'd? Compare this with the popular phrase: "Count your lucky stars."