Author Topic: Knot Names and Urban Legend  (Read 4453 times)


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Knot Names and Urban Legend
« on: September 16, 2005, 05:45:26 PM »
When the term "Urban Legend" appeared in a book, I decided it was time to try to figure out what it meant.

Apparently, it refers to a piece of information or story presented in a sentence or a short paragraph that captures the public imagination and spreads. One might say it spreads like an infectious virus! ;D  The Urban Legends can be classified as true, false or undecided. I might add the class "who cares, it is a great story".  ;D

It occurs to me that, among knot tyers, many knot names are Urban Legends. Two examples come to mind.

Firstly, consider the knot name, Beer Knot. Two cavers, who used the Water Knot (ABOK #296) to make slings from tubular webbing, were experimenting with new knot structures. They developed an unknown knot. What should we call it, they asked. Well, it is better than the Water Knot. What is better than water? Beer! Beer Knot is the name.  A great story and it may even be true!

Secondly, consider the knot name, Mathew Walker Knot. A sailor, Mathew Walker, convicted of murder, appeals to the vanity of the Judge, an ex-sailor. If I can tie a knot that you cannot tie or untie, will you pardon me? The deal is accepted, the Mathew Walker Knot is tied and Mathew Walker is pardoned. A great story and it is not likely true. However, a great story which has captured knotters' imaginations. I would say that justifies the knot name.

We will never know the origin of most knot names. Information on the origin of particular knot names simply does not exist. However, in those cases, perhaps the Urban Legend justifies those names. If a knot name becomes an Urban Legend and is false, perhaps, it should be preserved in a footnote. That name and its story captures the imagination, makes the knot name "human" and could be used to increase an interest in knotting in non-knotters.



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Re: Knot Names and Urban Legend
« Reply #1 on: September 17, 2005, 04:56:47 PM »
I had a look at       and couldn't find anything really relevant to knotting, but this one did seem somewhat amusing if rather implausible.

this was however, a rare opportunity to combine my two favourite subjects! Knotting and urban legends.
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Re: Knot Names and Urban Legend
« Reply #2 on: September 18, 2005, 01:14:56 AM »

Thanks for the link! Those cat stories were great.

If I ever do a presentation about knot security or the breaking strength of rope, I will remember those stories.  "Knot security?" I'll drawl, "Well, I remember, when I was just a little boy, a darling little kitten .... ".

I like Snopes' point that there is a thin line between some Urban Legends and Jokes. I see clearly now that I am required to spend a little time there!



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Re: Knot Names and Urban Legend
« Reply #3 on: September 18, 2005, 01:43:23 PM »
Thank you both of you for a lighter, nonetheless enlightening, funny moment, not to forget the link.

But I have to sternly admonish you. You from a very young nation, I am telling you, from my old continent, my old country, with so much history ( impersonating of Minister Dominique de Villepin at UN ? yes! so what! he surey deserved it one way or another, you decide which :-) ), you forgot some things :

- never hurt a cat if only with ridicule, bad form in that older nations : U.K, cat's lovers will have your hides for garters! Do you good!

- never make fun of a cat, one should never mock superiors beings.

- never tell sad stories about cats,even in jest, they might transmogrify into  Urban Legends.

- why would there be no flying cats, there are flying women, yes , they are called sorceresses, and not only in Salem.
Grand they do not fly by themselves, they must have a very special sort of broom or a twitching nose.
Thousands of testimonies about that in old grimoires and in Inquisition's  files.

- "The white godess" and "Greek myths" by Robert Graves demonstrate well that behind myths  ( a much heavier caliber thing than legend, agreed!) are facts about civilisation.

- In old Europe we do know that flying cats were a reality! and that it had something to do with ropes.
They were the first ( with some other animals) bacteriological warfare weapons.
Dead cats, we are civilized down, and humans corpses ( too much civilization hinder) here on the other side of the pond, were sent flying above the walls of fortified town and castles, by mean of siege machines and whathaveyou other contraptions with ropes.

Common knownledge have it that there are all sorts of things that have flight capability : saucers, ...err no - here I must stay proper and polite,pigs, ideas...(about flying things, a bit of an Audiard's cinema dialogue : the day idiots will fly, you will be squadron leader..That sure is astopper)

So were is the wonder of flying cats? I ask you. Please be grown up.

Ï state here, with positive academic certainity, me from a world with so much history ( quite a notch above having stories! ? :-) ):
- at work here are ancestral collective memories rising again that make your urban legend, at least those about flying cat. For others I am not so sure.
The point to explore is did all this happened only to black cats, reputed to be familiars of sorcereress, or to cat of all ilk and colo(u)rs ? Very serious tip for research I am giving you here, all free of charge.

More, there are flying bats, ( some in my belfry ?, agreed), sort of glorified flying mouses, yes, yes, they are,
So in an ordered world there must be flying cats somewhere, to make it balanced ( much in nead of balance we are!)

End of admonishment. And as of now behave!

Anonymity for knots's origins, well seeing that most are from maritime origine, at least that is what is attributed to many, it  goes well with the anonymity of the sailors or captains cited in traditional sailors's songs from the tall ships days.
Nice looping back to knots if only peripherically, you will note.
Hope it is not a sliding loop aka a noose around my favored neck, mine.

Songs do not remember if is was John, Mizen topman, or John, foresail topman who did the song, probably not even sure it is a John, but sure the thing happenned to somebody! or ist is at least "vraisemblable" (possible). And that is the main thing.

That is the surviving fittest of some Maritime Legend, and in a century or so it will be interesting to see what Urban Legend, about knots or cats are the survivors. So they can be "historical" facts of sorts when they survive.

Urban Legend may be are like wines : good gets better and not so good makes for vinegar or worse and get poured in the gutter.

Jokes, Urban Legends, not so sure, that is the epiphenomena, that must rest on a much deeper trait of the human mind, and a need deeply seated.
Just as having names for things is a deeply seated need.

Sure it is quite improbable ( but probability does not equal zero so not impossible, at least in theory, for some knot(s) ).
But I hope that we can try, by historical research, to get at the sedimentation of names in the run of time. Not an urgent and vital task, for sure.


Charles /Nautilus

PS hope I did not fouled too much the topic's leadline ?

PPS : certify not having been under the influence of any mind bending toxic while writing, just a perfectly natural state. Be kind and compassionate.


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Re: Knot Names and Urban Legend
« Reply #4 on: September 18, 2005, 04:16:16 PM »
Nautile / Charles,

I would be very interested in a source for songs of the sailor that celebrate his skill with rope and knots. As you imply, there can often be interesting facts and information in the lyrics.

I enjoyed a "traditional cowboy song" that celebrates the roping skills of the cowboy. Basically, two cowboys are branding cattle in the Sierrra Peaks. After a long day, they head into town for a few drinks. On the way home, the devil appears to collect their souls and the cowboys promise the devil a good fight.

The appropriate verses are:

"He (Sandy Bob) swung his loop and he swung it straight
and he also swung it true
He caught the devil by both his horns and taken his dally too
Now Buster Jiggs was a reata man with his rawhide coiled up       neat
He shook it out, built him a loop
and lassoed the devil's hind feet

"Well they stretched him out and they tailed him down
while their irons was a-gettin' hot
They cropped and swallow-forked his ears
and they branded him up a lot
And they left him there in the Sierra peaks,
next to a Blackjack Oak
But before they left, they tied some knots in his tail
just for a joke

"So if you're ever up there in the Sierra Peaks
and you hear one helluva wail
It's just the devil a-yellin' about
them knots tied in his tail"

The roping skills of the cowboy are celebrated in song! What first jumped out for me was the rawhide rope of the early West and the use of the name reata (Lariat). The techniques used on the devil are the techniques used, even today, in a rodeo competition.

Don't you think that it would be appropriate if the knots in the Devil's tail were the "Franciscan Threefold Overhand Knot"? ;D

Naturally, the lyrics vary and I don't know the song's origin. The complete lyrics (from which the above is quoted), of one variation of the song, is from here: .



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Re: Knot Names and Urban Legend
« Reply #5 on: September 18, 2005, 04:51:08 PM »
Hi Brian

I know some of the French sailor's songs, they are so numerous and many are already lost with the old men dying ( a man dying is a library burning...and all that).

Well, err... the knotting exploits told there are not with the knot a proper minded person would speak about in a public forum : it is titled "Jean-François de Nantes" . Will send you via private mail the text if I find it. In French.
Do not know of knoting annotations, but then, them being french songs they mostly have to do either with girls from here or overthere, or with beating the hell out of RN sailors     or making fun of them ( yes it happened a few times in spite of Trafalgar).

You give a good example of how you can by dating the song, or the text, have some idea of something being in existence ( for how long, that is another story to steal from Kipling).



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Re: Knot Names and Urban Legend
« Reply #6 on: September 19, 2005, 08:32:28 PM »


Thank you for showing me something else ("cat"-apult??) to do with cats, rope, and pine trees!!


(Just kidding, Charles /Nautilus!  I would never abuse a pine tree like that! ;D )
Thank you all, for everything.  As of 6/6/6, I have changed my password to a random string (which I forgot), thereby assuring that anyone posting as "Jimbo" in the future will NOT be me.  Good luck!!!


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Re: Knot Names and Urban Legend
« Reply #7 on: September 21, 2005, 09:42:12 PM »
 I have a standard answer when people ask if I like cats. It usually ends the conversation right then and there.
"Yes, if they're cooked right." :D