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In the short story, The Last Cruise of the Judas Iscariot by Edward Page Mitchel, which tells the story of Captain Cram, a sailor in Main, who builds a schooner with three masts, which was considered by the people of his town as extraordinary and a bad omen. Later, the schooner runs into several accidents every time it sets to sail that Captain Cram decides to give it the name of Judas the Iscariot to describe its demonic nature. People are unable to understand its behavior, for it has no defects in its structure. The narrator discusses this matter saying:

A board of nautical experts sat upon the Judas Iscariot, but could find nothing the matter with her, physically. The lines of her hull were all right, she was properly planked and ceiled and calked, her spars were of good Oregon pine, she was rigged taut and trustworthy, and her canvas had been cut and stitched by a God-fearing sailmaker. According to all theory, she ought to have been perfectly responsible as to her keel.

My question is about the meaning of "responsible as to her keel". Shouldn't he say "responsible for"? But again what would it mean?

  • Hi be contributor! "responsible" simply means "reliable" 9as you can check in a dictionary). Do note that the excellent ELL site exists to ask basic questions, or if you read a sentence which is confusing and you want it explained. – Fattie Sep 18 '18 at 10:12
  • @Fattie, Even if that is the sense of "responsible" that's intended (which I don't believe), the usage meaning in context is not entirely obvious, and this is a perfectly good question for ELU. – The Photon Sep 18 '18 at 15:44
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The question might be clearer if we also include a couple of further sentences of context.

... According to all theory, she ought to have been perfectly responsible as to her keel. In practice, she was frightfully cranky. Sailing the Judas Iscariot was like driving a horse with more vices than hairs in his tail. She always did the unexpected thing, except when bad behavior was expected of her on general principles. ... Start on whatever course she might, the schooner was certain to run before long into one of three things, namely, some other vessel, a fog bank, or the bottom.

This shows that the ship (like a bad horse) doesn't go where it's steered.

So "responsible" is being used here where modern standard English would use "responsive".

If the ship were "responsible" to her keel, she would travel straight rather than unpredictably.

  • That was my first thought, too; but a vessel should be responsive to her wheel or her rudder or her rig, not to her keel -- and now I see you said exactly that in a comment! – StoneyB on hiatus Sep 17 '18 at 23:16
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    @StoneyB, I suspect there's a bit of poetic license taken by the author. AFAIK the keel does contribute to keeping the ship travelling straight, even if the rudder is responsible for turning. – The Photon Sep 17 '18 at 23:18
  • @StoneyB - the keel is to sailors what the "edge" is to skiers. The whole, entirety of sailing is "on your keel". – Fattie Sep 18 '18 at 10:15
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Responsible can mean 'reliable'.

  1. reliable or dependable, as in meeting debts, conducting business dealings, etc.

And as to can mean 'concerning'

Thesaurus: synonyms and related words

Regarding and concerning

Keel may be being used in a figurative sense in terms of balance and stability. So your sentence probably means something on the lines of:

The boat ought to have been perfectly reliable as far as its stability was concerned.

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This appears to be an unusual (and perhaps ironic) extension of "responsible" in the sense of "trustworthy, reliable" to an inanimate object.

As to means "with respect to", and keel is probably intended as a synechdoche for the vessel's entire physical construction, since planking, caulking, spars, rigging and sails are included in the assessment.

So the nautical experts agreed that the Judas Iscariot ought to have been perfectly trustworthy, at least with respect to her construction and materials .

  • I understand keel to mean balance in the given context (as in keel over or on an even keel). – michael.hor257k Sep 17 '18 at 22:47
  • @michael.hor257k That seems unlikely to me in so specifically nautical a context, which calls for the literal sense on which those metaphors are based. – StoneyB on hiatus Sep 17 '18 at 22:49
  • +1 for getting there before me. – S Conroy Sep 17 '18 at 22:51
  • It makes very little sense to refer to all her parts as being in order, then conclude from this that another part of her is reliable. – michael.hor257k Sep 17 '18 at 22:56
  • @michael.hor257k It is, as I say, a synechdoche, and a common one--see OED 1 s.v. Keel, 2--going all the way back to the Romans and still in use in nautical tales: eg "The trench must be deep enough and wide enough for half a dozen keels. We are at risk, of course, and our ships will suffer some damage, but the Danes will suffer more, for we are better at gunnery than they are." -- David Donachie, Breaking the Line, 20o4. – StoneyB on hiatus Sep 17 '18 at 23:13

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