The New Bedford Whaling Museum's Moby-Dick Marathon is an annual non-stop reading of Herman Melville's literary masterpiece. The multi-day program of entertaining activities and events is presented every January. Admission to the Marathon is free.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

You say Harpooner...

So is it "harpooner" or "harpooneer"? Melville's inconsistency didn't strike me until hearing Moby-Dick read aloud. He even used both within the space of three sentences. Perhaps a scholar can explain this phenomenon.

Based on searches of this 1922 edition in Google Books (which includes "Etymology" and "Extracts", at the end(!?)):
  • "harpooneer" appears 12 times, both in direct speech and in descriptive text. This includes one appearance in a footnote, and one in "Extracts."
  • "harpooner" appears 62 times, both in direct speech and in descriptive text.
"Harpooneer" appears in the quoted speech of Ishmael, Peleg, and the landlord of the Spouter-Inn. "Harpooner" appears in the quoted speech of Stubb only.


  1. Yes, but how many times does "harpooneer" appear?

  2. Oops, typo. Fixed now; "-er" well in the lead.

  3. Is there any chance there's some correlation with the particular harpoon operator's skill level? Along the lines of the distinction my piano teacher made between piano players and pianists. Just a thought (I haven't read Moby Dick yet.)

  4. Interesting Google Ngram-viewer comparison between harpooner and harpooneer.

  5. Fascinating graph, there. I wouldn't have guessed that "harpooneer" was the upstart.