Take the con.

I’m in the middle of reading The Mote in God’s Eye, a science fiction novel by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. A lot of the action takes place abord the ship MacArthur. I’m around page 100 at this point, and three or four times, I’ve seen the phrase “take the con”, usually spoken by the Captain to one of his subordinates. It was clear that he was saying “take over control of the ship”, but I was curious about the usage of the word con. I thought that it was perhaps an shortened form of control; I was wrong.

Apparently, the verb con can mean, on top of its meaning in the sense of a “con artist,” to direct the steering of a ship. Furthermore, the word con can be a noun, meaning “the action or post of conning a ship.” The word is indeed a shortening of another word, but not control; instead, the word is a shortened version of the now-obsolete cond, ‘conduct, guide’, which comes from the Old French word conduire.

(All of the information in this entry is from Oxford Online Reference.)

By |2007-07-05T14:03:37+00:00July 5th, 2007|English, Vocabulary|5 Comments


  1. Nils July 5, 2007 at 4:29 pm - Reply

    Now that’s interesting. I’ve heard that word plenty too, often in those submarine movies. Never knew this, though.

  2. Josh July 9, 2007 at 6:28 pm - Reply

    I’m now tempted to watch Das Boot again and see if a similar phrase is used in German.

    • mk January 7, 2013 at 8:15 am - Reply

      Being German by birth, I can tell you that in German they usually just say “├╝bernehmen Sie!”, i.e. the object of the phrase is omitted, as in “Nummer 1, ├╝bernehmen Sie!” (“Number One, take the con!”)

      • Josh January 7, 2013 at 9:20 am - Reply

        Thanks for the info!

  3. Ed in Cary September 30, 2012 at 3:12 pm - Reply

    The phrases “con the ship” and “take the con” are used extensively in Herman Wouk’s “The Caine Mutiny” in reference to a WWII destroyer minesweeper.

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