From the NHHC’s archives…
According to Rear Admiral Samuel E. Morison, USN, author of the historic 15-volume History of United States Naval Operations in World War II:
The sea has a language of its own, and the air has largely taken it over, with a few necessary additions and modifications. Everyone who writes naval or maritime history should endeavor to use the strong, short words and plain, terse phrases that are consecrated by centuries of sea usage, and not try to translate them into current journalese or other jargon.
1. Ship and Plane Motion
Never say trip when you mean passage or voyage. The distinction between the two is that a passage (outward, homeward or from one point to another) is part of a voyage. Trip may be used only only for a boat trip from ship to shore or for a coastwise journey, like some of the short-range amphibious operations in New Guinea and the Philippines.
There are three different verbs to use for the act of a ship making an exit from port: sail, depart, and leave. All three are correct; I prefer the first two. Sortie should be used sparingly, never for a single ship, and only when a task force or other large group leave a harbor with a restricted channel in accordance with a sortie plan. Sortie is used in a special sense by naval aviation, meaning one flight by one plane. For instance, if 3o planes of carrier YORKTOWN make a morning and afternoon strike on 8 May, 23 other planes make one strike only, and 8 are sent out on search missions; she is said to have made 91 sorties that day. Planes flown as combat air patrol and anti-submarine patrol are now counted as sorties.
For a verb expressing the motion of a naval vessel or force, sail or steam is preferable to go or proceed, although the latter are correct. “The task force sailed from Oahu to Leyte” and “The cruisers steamed through the Straits of Gibraltar.” Note how flat it sounds if you substitute went r proceeded. It does not matter if neither sail nor steam are used as motive power; the derived verbs are still best for the motion of a ship.
Similarly, aircraft are always said to fly, even though their motive power is very different from that of a bird.
To read the rest of Professor Morison’s notes, click here.