Joseph Conrad, "The Nigger Of The "Narcissus: A Tale Of The Forecastle":

Donkin gulped greedily, glaring over the rim. Belfast made us laugh when with grimacing mouth he shouted:—“Pass it this way. We're all taytottlers here.”

So the sailors are passing the water to each other after the storm. And some of them are saying that it's better than rum.

I couldn't find the word on lexico.com or Merriam-Webster. When I googled it, it showed me the results with different versions of this same book and then another book in some strange English.

Any clues?

  • 14
    I don't know this text or story but I assume it's a pronunciation of teetotalers (people who abstain from alcohol - merriam-webster.com/dictionary/teetotaler) which may be the joke?
    – Ben Zotto
    Jul 15, 2019 at 15:21
  • @ben could you, probably, explain the joke in the answer? I don't get it as for now.
    – P. Vowk
    Jul 15, 2019 at 15:51
  • @ben ah, yes, I do get the joke now. But why has teetotaler become taytottler? There could really be a good answer consisting of the explaining of how teetotaler became taytottler and of the joke itself.
    – P. Vowk
    Jul 15, 2019 at 15:52
  • 1
    I expect it may just be the written representation of that character's accent in speech. (Is Belfast, say, Irish?)
    – Ben Zotto
    Jul 15, 2019 at 15:57
  • 1
    Keep reading Conrad. Read “Youth” at school. Had a great impression on me. “Pass the bottle.”
    – David
    Jul 26, 2019 at 19:05

1 Answer 1


Conrad means the word "teetotaler", someone who doesn't drink alcohol:

teetotalism: the principle or practice of complete abstinence from alcoholic drinks

Almost all the dialogue in Conrad's short novel is written in a way that emulates the accents of the men speaking. As a result you can't assume any words are correctly spelled, but sometimes have to guess what the word should be.

As ben says, since the character of "Belfast" is presumably from Belfast, if you were to write out the way someone with that Irish accent sounds when speaking the word "teetotalers", "taytotallers" is probably pretty close.

  • I think Donkin and Belfast are two different characters. Thank you anyway.
    – P. Vowk
    Jul 15, 2019 at 16:31
  • 3
    @P.Vowk Ah, ok. I've edited the answer. I really didn't read the story very carefully, as the language is pretty dense. Honestly, it's not an easy book, even for a native speaker.
    – Andrew
    Jul 15, 2019 at 16:35
  • I feel much better now. I was really frustrated with reading it at a rather slow pace.
    – P. Vowk
    Jul 15, 2019 at 16:52
  • @P.Vowk It's a huge challenge for three reasons. First, there are few paragraph breaks in the text, so it's often difficult to figure out who is speaking to whom. Second, there's a lot of dialogue written in "misspelled" English. Third, there's a lot of relatively obscure nautical terminology. Have you tried Charles Dickens instead?
    – Andrew
    Jul 15, 2019 at 17:15
  • 1
    @P.Vowk Sure thing. If you like nautical novels, there's always "Moby Dick". Or, for fun, the entire series of 20 Aubrey-Maturin books by Patrick O'Brian, written in the 1960s/70s but in the style of novels from the 19th century, and on which the film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World was based. The series is a much better and more entertaining read than you would expect - but it's definitely not literature.
    – Andrew
    Jul 15, 2019 at 17:23

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