AskDefine | Define brig

Dictionary Definition



1 two-masted sailing vessel square-rigged on both masts
2 a penal institution (especially on board a ship)

User Contributed Dictionary



Etymology 1

  1. abbreviated from brigantine, from Italian brigantino
  2. from the use of such ships as prisons


  1. a two-masted vessel square-rigged on both fore and main masts
  2. In the context of "US": a jail or guardhouse, especially in a military installation
two-masted vessel
  • Croatian: brig, brik
  • Dutch: brigantijn or , brik or
  • Finnish: priki
  • French: brigantin
  • Italian: brigantino
  • Polish: bryg
  • Spanish: bergantín
military jail or guardhouse
  • Spanish: calabozo

Etymology 2


  1. Scottish variation of bridge

Etymology 3

  1. abbreviation for brigadier




From brig.


hr-noun m
  1. brig (two-masted vessel)


Extensive Definition

In nautical terms, a brig is a vessel with two square-rigged masts. During the Age of Sail, brigs were seen as fast and maneuverable and were used as both naval war ships and merchant ships. While their use stretches back before the 1600s the most famous period of the brig was during the 1800s when they were involved in famous naval battles such as the Battle of Lake Erie. Because they required a relatively large crew and were difficult to sail into the wind (the latter trait is common to all square-rigged ships), brigs were phased out of use by the arrival of the steam boat. They are not to be confused with a brigantine which has different rigging.


In sailing, a full-rigged brig is a vessel with two square rigged masts (fore and main). The main mast of a brig is the aft one. To improve maneuverability, the mainmast carries a small fore-and-aft sail (also called a gaff sail).
Brig sails are named after the masts to which they are attached: the mainsail; above that the main topsail; above that the main topgallant sail; and occasionally a very small sail, called the royal, is above that. Behind the main sail there is a small fore-and-aft sail called the boommainsail (it is similar to the main sail of a schooner). On the foremast is a similar sail, called the trysail. Attached to the respective yards of square-rigged ships are smaller spars, which can be extended, thus lengthening the yard, thus receiving an additional sailing wing on each side. These are called studding sails, and are used with fair and light wind only. The wings are named after the sails to which they are fastened, i.e. the main studding sails, main top studding sails, and the main top gallant studding sails, etc.
The brig’s foremast is smaller than the main mast. The fore mast holds a fore sail, fore top sail, fore top gallant sail, and fore royal. Between the fore mast and the bowsprit are the fore staysail, jib, and flying jib. All the yards are manipulated by a complicated arrangement of cordage named the running rigging. This is opposed to the standing rigging which is fixed, and keeps mast and other things rigid. Brigs vary in length between 75 and 165 ft (23–50 m) with tonnages up to 480. Historically most brigs were made of wood, although some latter brigs were built with hulls and masts of steel or iron (such as the brig Bob Allen). By the 1600s the British royal navy defined "brig" as having two square rigged masts.

Historic usage

Brigs were used as small warships carrying about 10 to 18 guns. A skilled captain on a brig could "maneuver it with ease and elegance; a brig could for instance turn around almost on the spot". The need for large crews is what caused the decline of the production of brigs. They were replaced in commercial traffic by gaffsail schooners (which needed less personnel) and steam boats (which did not have the windward performance problems of square rigged ships).

Historic examples

Note that while the famous ghost ship Mary Celeste is sometimes called a brig, she was probably a brigantine.

Brigs in fiction

Modern recreations

See also

brig in Bosnian: Brik
brig in Czech: Briga
brig in Welsh: Brig
brig in Danish: Brig
brig in German: Brigg
brig in Estonian: Prikk
brig in Esperanto: Brigo
brig in French: Brick (bateau)
brig in Icelandic: Briggskip
brig in Dutch: Brik (zeilschip)
brig in Japanese: ブリッグ
brig in Norwegian: Brigg
brig in Norwegian Nynorsk: Brigg
brig in Polish: Bryg
brig in Portuguese: Brigue
brig in Russian: Бриг
brig in Albanian: Brigg
brig in Slovak: Briga
brig in Slovenian: Brig
brig in Serbo-Croatian: Brik
brig in Finnish: Priki
brig in Swedish: Brigg
brig in Ukrainian: Бриг

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

POW camp, bastille, black hole, borstal, borstal institution, bridewell, calaboose, can, cell, clink, concentration camp, condemned cell, cooler, death cell, death house, death row, detention camp, federal prison, forced-labor camp, gaol, guardhouse, guardroom, house of correction, house of detention, industrial school, internment camp, jail, jailhouse, keep, labor camp, lockup, maximum-security prison, minimum-security prison, oubliette, pen, penal colony, penal institution, penal settlement, penitentiary, prison, prison camp, prisonhouse, reform school, reformatory, sponging house, state prison, stockade, the hole, tollbooth, training school
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