Planes, trains, automobiles and ships

First, a confession. Back when we were younger, my wife and I had a series of arthritic, crumbling Triumph cars, and most of them had names. There was a Herald called Tallulah, then Betty the Vitesse; next came a GT6 whose name I forget, but it was probably sweary, given the amount of money I threw away on the damn thing.

Look, I’m not alone in naming my transport. Charles Lindbergh shot from mail-boy obscurity to titanic fame when he made his non-stop solo flight across nearly six thousand kilometres of Atlantic Ocean in a modified Ryan by the name of Spirit of St. Louis. And then there’s the Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress known as Memphis Belle, one of the first of its type to notch up 25 missions at a time when life for bomber crews was shockingly short.

Another record-breaker is Pacific-type LNER Class A3 locomotive number 4472, better known as the Flying Scotsman. One of its tasks was to haul trains on the London–Edinburgh Flying Scotsman service. Built in 1923, rebuilt lately for millions of quid, the Flying Scotsman is still running today.

And ships. Sink the Bismarck! Raise the Titanic! (Or lower the Atlantic — much cheaper!)

Note that ships’ prefixes, such as SS (Single-screw Steamship), HMS (His/Her Majesty’s Ship), etc., are never italicized: HMS Ark Royal; RMS Titanic; SS Great Eastern.

This next para is for naval-gazing nerds only. Skip if you’re not.

Warships belong to a class, which enables them to be grouped according to their design. Bismarck was a Bismarck-class battleship, whose only other member was Tirpitz. Because Bismarck was the lead ship (the first of her class to be built), she lent her name to the class. To complicate this, there are nested classes. The County-class heavy cruisers (1928–59) of the British Royal Navy comprised three subclasses, Kent, London and Norfolk, all of whose ships were named after English counties. My point here is that ‘County’ is not italicized.

And now the riveting question of whether or not to include the definite article — the Titanic, the Mary Rose, and so on. Descriptions of naval engagements tend to omit it. By way of example, here is an excerpt from the Wikipedia account of Bismarck’s sinking:

In the ensuing battle Hood was destroyed by the combined fire of Bismarck and Prinz Eugen, which then damaged Prince of Wales and forced her retreat.

I reckon you can add the ‘the’ or omit it, just so long as you are consistent. (Note, too, that with a possessive — Bismarck’s — the apostrophe and ‘s’ remain in roman type.)

My next post on names will cover titles of books, records, artworks, and so on.

As for those Triumphs, they are gone. Never again! Abstinence makes the heart go Honda.

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