Myth Trivia: Nesians, knots and the United States Marine Corps

What does nautical knots, Nesians and the Marines have in common? Other than the oceans blue, not much

U.S. Marine Corps flag.
U.S. Marine Corps flag. (Image via Wikipedia)

CHARLOTTE, N.C., June 10, 2015 – Emblems, strange words and water speed are the subjects for the day as we once again invade the world of trivial information.

1 – Why the Marines use a globe, an eagle and an anchor as their symbol: Since the United States Marine Corps was founded as the Continental Marines at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia on Nov. 10, 1775, they have “adapted to overcome the ever-evolving threats facing our nation and our world.”

Initially the mission of the Marines was to conduct ship-to-ship fighting, provide shipboard security and discipline and assist in landing forces. Because of the need for Marine forces at sea, the corps has served in nearly every military conflict in the history of the United States.

Over time, the role of the Marines has evolved according to military necessity. Their history is rich and their legacy long which has endeared them into the hearts of Americans as the nation’s most revered expeditionary force.

Today the Marine Corps symbol is an eagle, globe and anchor, but what is the significance of these three elements? The official web site of the Corps explains, “The eagle with spread wings represents our proud nation. The globe points to worldwide presence. The anchor stands for naval tradition.”

The final sentence of the explanations sums it up by saying, “Together, they represent a dedication to service in the air, on land and at sea.”

First and foremost, every Marine is a disciplined rifleman regardless of his service specialty. From that basic concept, the fighting force provides security with “incomparable warfighting capabilities” and an emphasis on winning battles.

In the end, the purpose of the Marines, by congressional mandate, is to be the nation’s rapid response force that is “most ready when the nation is least ready.”

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2 – Where do “nesians” come from?: First it might be helpful to define what a “nesian” is. Don’t try to find it in the dictionary because you won’t. On the other hand you have probably heard the word used as a suffix all your life and never realized it.

“Nesia” is derived from the Greek and means “islands.” A cluster of small islands, usually at sea but also in a large body of fresh water, is called an “archipelago” such as what was once known as the “Indian Archipelago.” That term no longer exists today because it has been replaced by a destination we now know as Indonesia or “Indian Islands.”

By the same token, Melanesia translates to mean “Islands of the Black-Skinned People” while Micronesia becomes “Small Islands” and Polynesia is defined as “Many Islands.”

It all seems to be wrapped up into a nice little bundle, but in English there are exceptions to almost every rule. The word “amnesia,” which is also Greek, meaning “loss of memory,” appears to have nothing to do with islands of any kind.

Unless, of course, you are referring “islands of memory” but we’ll save that for another day.

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3 – How fast is a nautical knot?: We are not talking about “Knot’s Landing” here, but enough about what this story is not and more about what this story is knot.

A nautical mile is measured at 1.852 kilometers or approximately 1.151 miles per hour, which is standard throughout the world.

The interesting part of this story however, is how the term “knot” came to be.

Until the mid-19th century the speed of ships was measured by something called a chip log. A wooden panel was connected to reel by a line of rope or something similar. The piece of wood was weighted on one side so it would float at a 90-degree angle to the water’s surface.

For measurements, the chip log would be tossed into the sea from the stern and allowed to play out into the water. Knots in the line were placed 47 feet and 3 inches apart and passed through a sailor’s fingers as the chip log continued to float away from the ship.

A second sailor would time the process using a 30-second sand-glass, or hour-glass as we know it today. When all the sand had moved through the glass, the first sailor reported the “knot count” and the speed would be recorded.

Hence the term “knots” for measuring the speed of vessels at sea. Or to paraphrase William Shakespeare’s Hamlet in act III, scene I of “The Tragedy of Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark,” “To be or knot to be, that is the question.”

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Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.

Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (

Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

Follow Bob on Twitter @MrPeabod

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