Letter: Be they rowers or be they oarsmen?

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Sir: As a product of mid-20th century rowing, I have been used to 'oarsman' as the universal term for one who pulls a boat along. I wonder how many 'oarsmen' grated their teeth at your caption to the photograph of the Olympias trireme ('The good ship Democracy', 14 June) which told us 'The ship has 170 rowers'? Alas, the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary attributes 'rowers' to Chaucer in 1374 in the extremely plausible 'Be rowers and be maryners . . . drunken by wickede drynkes', and 'oarsman' to the Weekly Register of only 1811. With great internal consistency, it defines a rower as 'one who rows, an oarsman' and an oarsman as 'one who uses oars. A rower'.

I am not unaware of the march of time whereby many ladies now row but, O Great Lexicographer, please let us speak always of 'oarsmen'. I wonder what the ladies think?



House of Lords

London, SW1

14 June