boat·swain also bo's'n or bos'n or bo·sun (bōsən)
A warrant officer or petty officer in charge of a ship's rigging, anchors, cables, and deck crew.
Usage Note: The word boatswain is pronounced as a single word with two syllables (bōsən). People with sea legs have a long tradition of spelling the word as bosun, bo's'n, and bos'n to reflect the salty pronunciation. This of course has not prevented landlubbers from using the incorrect two-word pronunciation (bōtswān′). Many other nautical words have similarly tricky shipboard pronunciations, including bowline, pronounced (bōlĭn); forecastle, pronounced (fōksəl) and sometimes spelled fo'c's'le; gunwale, pronounced (gŭnəl) and also sometimes spelled gunnel; mainsail, pronounced (mānsəl); and topgallant, pronounced (tə-gălənt). With the exception of gunwale, however, all of these terms can be correctly pronounced as if they were two words.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
The American Heritage Dictionary Blog
Check out our blog, updated regularly, for new words and revised definitions, interesting images from the 5th edition, discussions of usage, and more.
American Heritage Dictionary Products
The American Heritage Dictionary, 5th Edition
The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms
The American Heritage Roget's Thesaurus
Curious George's Dictionary
The American Heritage Children's Dictionary
The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots
The American Heritage Student Grammar Dictionary
The American Heritage Desk Dictionary + Thesaurus
The American Heritage Science Dictionary
The American Heritage Dictionary of Business Terms
The American Heritage Student Dictionary
The American Heritage Essential Student Thesaurus