raise Moby Dick

greatbear

Banned
India - Hindi & English
In the novel Moby-Dick, Ahab, the ship captain, sticks a doubloon onto the mainmast of the ship (The Pequod) and offers it to anyone who "raises Moby Dick [the white whale]." I understand "raise" here to mean "spot," but I don't see this meaning listed on either of Merriam-Webster or OALD dictionaries. Is my understanding of the word correct? Why isn't it listed in the dictionaries? (Or is it there and I've missed it?) Also, is the verb "raise" used to mean "spot, spy" even today, and is it only in maritime language or elsewhere, too?

Thanks a lot in advance for all your replies!
 
  • PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    It is not a nautical use of "to raise", but a hunting term:
    Raise v. 1b To drive (an animal or bird) from a lair or hiding place.


    2006 York (Pa.) Dispatch (Nexis) 17 Nov., We were knee deep in a freshly cut cornfield hoping to raise a pheasant.
    From OED.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Raise v. 1b To drive (an animal or bird) from a lair or hiding place.
    The difficulty with that interpretation seems to me (1) that a whale does not have a lair or hiding place and (2) that nothing a whaler could do would be able to drive a whale anywhere.

    I would understand 'raise Moby Dick' as meaning 'see Moby Dick rise'.

    This is a figure of speech whereby the sense of one term is transferred to another. It is not a specific meaning of 'raise'.
     

    greatbear

    Banned
    India - Hindi & English
    Thanks a lot, PaulQ, but how could this meaning be attached here? The sailors on Ahab's boat cannot hope to do anything to drive Moby Dick out from the depths of the sea, wherever she may be: they can only spot her and ring out "There she blows!", isn't it? I don't understand how could Ahab offer a reward for something like driving Moby Dick out into the open: after all, it would be difficult to decide whose destiny/impending death brought Moby Dick out once again...

    EDIT: Posted at the same time as wandle's post, so didn't see it. Thanks, wandle; that does make more sense: any other similar usages of "raise" are recorded or used?
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    ... any other similar usages of "raise" are recorded or used?
    May I point out first that the correct way to phrase this as a direct question is:
    'Are any other similar usages of "raise" recorded or used?'

    It is possible that this usage was common among whalers or fishermen.
     

    greatbear

    Banned
    India - Hindi & English
    ^ Thanks, wandle. As for the phrasing of direct question, you are indeed correct about standard English, but in Indian English, we do phrase questions like that (yeah, I know, sounds not quite right to speakers of other forms of English). I guess I should be speaking in the more usual Brit. or Am. English here!
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Ahab is mad, and is using a term which suggests that it is possible for a sailor to cause the whale to rise from the depths.

    I think the suggestion is that the person who first spots him is the person who has effected this miracle.

    So I don't think it just means 'spot', Greatbear.
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    The difficulty with that interpretation seems to me (1) that a whale does not have a [...] hiding place [...]
    They hide in the depths of the ocean.

    Ahab is obsessed with hunting Moby Dick and he is not rational; I can see no other meaning and I would maintain the OED definition, regardless of the 'apparent' inconsistency. And I believe it is only 'apparent' - Ahab wants Moby Diock at all costs. In saying, "raises Moby Dick" Ahab "I don't care how you do it, just cause Moby Dick to come to the surface, I want to be able to see Moby Dick!"

    OED:
    1938 Delaware (Federal Writers' Project) iii. xv. 509 Once in a while there has been a report that dogs raised a deer, which everyone at once turned out to kill.1960 G. W. Target Teachers (1962) 147 We mustn't raise hares we cannot, at this time, er, chase.
    2006 York (Pa.) Dispatch (Nexis) 17 Nov., We were knee deep in a freshly cut cornfield hoping to raise a pheasant.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Here are two examples from the whaling literature showing 'raise a whale' used to mean 'see a whale rise':

    Bark Kathleen Sunk By A Whale
    by Thomas H. Jenkins 1902
    When they were going up to mast head I told them to look sharp for some one was going to raise a whale before night.

    Beneath the American Renaissance
    David S. Reynolds - 2011
    Halyard's Wharton the Whale-Killer! (also 1848) includes a sequence in which a ship's captain offers a reward to the first sailor who can raise a whale; his wager is met when a greenhorn sights a whale from a masthead
     
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    greatbear

    Banned
    India - Hindi & English
    Thanks a lot, Thomas and Paul, and once again, wandle: judging from the two examples given above by wandle, it seems to me that it is not Ahab's madness that is the reason to use "raise." Maybe, "raise" does mean "sight, spot, spy" in nautical lingo. However, Thomas' suggestion does seem useful in that Melville may have deliberately chosen to use the word "raise" here, to mean something more than "spot." Maybe, we don't have many books on seafaring language of the times to verify this?
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    They hide in the depths of the ocean.
    Do they? They certainly swim there, but they do not remain lying low in one place to keep out of sight of predators, as pheasants and hares do.

    The key point is that there is no way of forcing a whale to move (at least until he is struck by a harpoon).
    A line of beaters advancing over the ground do force hares or pheasants to rise from their place and flee.
    For whalers, the first need is to sight the prey.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    There does seem to be a nautical use of raise. The WR English dictionary has this as meaning 20:
    to cause (something) to seem to rise above the horizon by approaching: we raised land after 20 days

    And I found this in Jack London's John Barleycorn (click):
    For sixty days we never raised land, a sail, nor a steamer smoke.
    In the dictionary definition, the idea is "see rise above the horizon". In the John Barleycorn quote, raise may be being used more loosely, with a meaning similar to "catch sight of".
     
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    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Maybe, we don't have many books on seafaring language of the times to verify this?
    If I may offer another correction without offence, the above sentence is not a question and therefore should not have a question mark.

    To address the point, though, if you follow the second link in post 9, the author does mention the influence of seafaring literature on Melville, including the following sentence:
    'Spectacular whale chases, often punctuated with salty seaman's slang, were featured in many adventure novels.'
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    Do they? They certainly swim there, but they do not remain lying low in one place to keep out of sight of predators, as pheasants and hares do.
    A male sperm whale can stay submerged for up to 2 hours. Whales are quite aware of danger. To retreat to a place of safety may be seen as "hiding" particularly by someone obsessed as Ahab.
    The key point is that there is no way of forcing a whale to move (at least until he is struck by a harpoon). A line of beaters advancing over the ground do force hares or pheasants to rise from their place and flee.
    For whalers, the first need is to sight the prey.
    The keys for me are that (i) Ahab is obsessed, (ii) Ahab is hunting and using a hunting term (iii) figurative use cannot be discounted (iv) Moby Dick is allegorical (v) Not to put a great deal of weight on this point but sailors (particularly Victorian sailors) were very superstitious and might well have some belief in being able to "literally" raise a whale.

    I cannot deny that raising a whale involves "sighting a whale" but given the context, it must "be raised to visibility" as per the quotations given above.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    It seems clear from the whaling literature quoted that 'raise a whale' is simply a standard whaler's expression meaning 'see a whale rise'.

    This text on American Romanticism discusses this passage of Moby Dick and includes the following note on 'raise':
    20. To raise a whale is to spot or identify it in the sea.

    After all, it is only when whales rise that they can be spotted. A few other examples:

    The Arctic Whaleman: Or, Winter in the Arctic Ocean Page 36
    In October, 1832, when in lat. 12° S., Ion. 80° W., the ship ninety days from port, we raised a whale. The joyful cry was given of "There she blows !"

    Na Motu: Or, Reef-rovings in the South Seas ... - Page 30
    This post was only reached by " shinning" up the top-gallant stays, and our instructions on these occasions were to "look sharp for blows, flukes, or white water," and he who first raised a whale from which we could secure a "blanket piece," should be rewarded with five pounds of "Mrs. G. B. Miller's fine cut," and a new pair of duck trowsers.

    One from Melville:

    Moby Dick Or, The Whale
    "Why, thou monkey," said a harpooneer to one of these lads, "we've been cruising now hard upon three years, and thou hast not raised a whale yet. Whales are scarce as hen's teeth whenever thou art up here."
     
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    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    Correction. Having now read Captain Jenkins' account of the sinking of the bark Kathleen (see post 9), I see that 'raise' simply means 'sight' or 'spot'.
    The term is not confined to whales, but is used in references to boats or anything else.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Interestingly, at the start of Chapter 133, when they are wondering who saw the whale first, the conversation goes as follows:

    "And did none of ye see it before?" cried Ahab, hailing the perched men all around him.
    "I saw him almost that same instant, sir, that Captain Ahab did, and I cried out," said Tashtego.
    "Not the same instant; not the same- no, the doubloon is mine, Fate reserved the doubloon for me. I only; none of ye could have raised the White Whale first.


    That last word, first, is interesting, because he doesn't saybefore me. Is his suggestion that they all saw it at the same time? I don't think so. But then he's off his head. He had been climbing into the rigging when he spotted the whale, but there were look-outs above him who would have seen the whale earlier if it came up at a great distance from the ship. Notice that the other men have to climb into the rigging to see the whale.

    I get the strong impression that to raise is being used to mean to see something which one is looking out for. Perhaps to spot carries the same overtones, though it maybe lacks the whiff of venery present in this use of to raise.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    I think that's what I was suggesting in post 12:).
    So you were. Perhaps, however, there is after all, as Thomas Tompion suggested in post 7, more to it than just 'to spot'.

    If Jenkins' usage is typical, it does not mean 'see something rise'. 'See ... rise' works for landfall, since it is inevitable that the land will come into view (as long as you keep going in the right general direction). However, there is nothing inevitable about picking out a boat or a whale in the middle of the ocean.

    There seems to be an element of intention present. It is often difficult even to distinguish sea from sky. There must be an element of interpretation of what is seen. It is likely that two people may look at the same grey scene and one of them fail to spot the indistinct object. I would therefore understand it as meaning 'bring it to the attention' of those present.

    The one who, seeing the same data as everyone else, is the first to read it as the object it is: that is the one who 'raises' whatever it is. He raises it from being unrecognised to being recognised.
     
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    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    Just for the sake of completeness, the online Oxford English Dictionary agrees with Loob (and with everyone else who agrees with Loob):

    24. trans. Naut.
    b To come in sight of (land, a whale, etc.).

    1775 B. Romans Conc. Nat. Hist. E. & W. Florida App. 61, I would not come nearer than just to raise the land.

    1851 H. Melville Moby-Dick xxxvi. 179 Whosoever of ye raises me a white-headed whale..he shall have this gold ounce.

    1890 Cent. Mag. May 516 In October 1832, the ship Hector of New Bedford raised a whale and lowered for it.
     

    greatbear

    Banned
    India - Hindi & English
    Thank you so much, everyone, for participating! This has been a more enriching discussion than I had anticipated at the time of starting the thread. What is wonderful to remark is that the word carries a certain ambiguity: that is, different readers have different opinions about its meaning/purpose, from Ahab's vengefulness to mere spotting of something in the ocean. Already, by virtue of such different connotations for different people, the text of Melville seems enriched (regardless of what Melville intended!).
     

    DairineElena

    New Member
    English - American
    Question: What does “Not the same instant: not the same-no, the doubloon is mine, Fate reserved the doubloon for me. I only; none of ye could have raised the white whale first.” I get the whole, raising the white whale parent, but not the doubloon. Is he speaking about the currency?
     
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