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Manavilins

Pronounced /məˈnavɨlɪnz/Help with IPA

Serendipity, ahoy! While searching for nautical foodstuffs, I came across the menu for the inaugural dinner of The Ancient Mariners, a society for former sailors, which was reproduced in the issue of the West Australian of Perth for 27 January 1914. The last item in the menu was manavilins, a word new to me. It turned out that it wasn’t a specific dish but a whimsical use of an old sailor’s term that could mean small items of tasty food:

At sea, the monotonous round of salt beef and pork at the messes of the sailors — where but very few of the varieties of the season are to be found — induces them to adopt many contrivances in order to diversify their meals. Hence the various sea-rolls, made dishes, and Mediterranean pies, well known by men-of-war’s-men ... all of which come under the general denomination of Manavalins.

White-Jacket, by Herman Melville, 1850.

It was once fairly well known in Australia in a derived sense of odds and ends or any small things:

Who the deuce ever built this gunyah and lived in it by himself for years and years? ... He’d a stool and table too, not bad ones either, this Robinson Crusoe cove. No end of manavilins either.

Robbery Under Arms by Rolf Boldrewood, 1889. Gunyah is from an Australian aboriginal language and means a hut, particularly a rough shelter improvised by whites.

Manavilins has always been plural — nobody seems to have ever wanted just the one manavilin — and is of unknown origin. It has been linked with manarval, recorded only in Admiral W H Smyth’s Sailor’s Word-Book of 1867, in which he said it was the action of pilfering small stores. John Camden Hotten defined what must be the same word in his Slang Dictionary of 1864, despite spelling it as menavelings, as “odd money remaining after the daily accounts are made up at a railway booking-office, — usually divided among the clerks.”

Page created 26 Mar. 2011

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Last modified: 26 March 2011.