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Derek NelsonDerek Nelson has been writing the Friday Funnies since 2002. He also creates the Photo of the Week feature for this website. A long-time Naval Safety Center employee, he is head of the Media Division in the Communications and Marketing Department. He is author of more than 200 freelance magazine articles and ten books about Americana and military history.

Skylarking

Posted January 29, 2013

Longtime, careful readers of the Friday Funnies may remember the following bit of playful silliness, starring a couple of jolly shipmates who were whiling away the time on a balcony one afternoon. One of them, whom we’ll designate JS1, was sitting on the railing. JS2 figured it would be worth a few laughs if he pretended to push JS1. The catch was that JS1 actually lost his balance and grabbed JS2 to steady himself. They both went over and plummeted to the shrubbery. One of them broke his collarbone (the mishap report wasn’t clear, but I always hoped it was JS2).

And there you have the pros and cons of skylarking, to use the classic term. Today we call it “horseplay.” It tends to be boisterous and rowdy, perhaps aggressive but not necessarily mean. It starts out playful but ends up painful. By the time I read about one of these incidents in a mishap report, “Oops!” and “Ouch!” had figured into the sound track, and it had become time for visits to medical and unconvincing explanations to supervisors.

My cronies in the data-management department did a word search on five and a half years of mishap reports and found the word “horseplay” 57 times. The resulting damage included a broken noses, wrists, hands and ankles, a stab wound in the arm, hyperextended shoulders and elbows, injured ears and jaws, a crushed leg, a torn ACL, and a torn rotator cuff. Sound like fun?

Lest you think this is some sort of modern invention, you should know that skylarking has been around for centuries. In fact, a definition from 1809—“to run up and down the rigging of a ship in sport”—implies that Sailors have been prime participants since the days of sailing ships. The term literally referred to the swooping and darting of birds.

Here’s a good example. A corporal and a lance corporal were at a child's birthday party that featured of those inflatable “bounce houses.” Once the kids got tired, seven so-called adults piled into it and, in the words of the mishap report, "began to wrestle, etc." (which is about as good a definition of horseplay as I’ve come across). The "etc." included the Marines jumping at the same time on a collision course and knocking heads, which inflicted enough of a gash on one of them so that he needed stitches. This sort of thing is always highly educational for the kids.

Here’s another example. A 22-year-old ET3 playfully shoved a fellow Sailor as he walked past her at 0400 in an apartment. He picked her up over his shoulder and just as playfully flipped her onto the bed. The loud cracking sound that ensued was a vertebra in her neck, dislocating. The message says that the problem was "failure to realize the dangers of throwing someone on his or her head." Why wouldn’t that be obvious?

Just one more. An E-5 was on liberty in the U.K. and acquired a souvenir glass, perhaps after swilling an unspecified amount of ale from it. Awaiting the duty van, he and a shipmate started roughhousing. The glass shattered and punctured an artery in the Sailor’s arm. He spent three days in a hospital, a month and a half on light duty. He also had a session with a surgeon that no doubt left him with a much more permanent souvenir. Guess who had to take care of that month and a half of work that he couldn’t do. Correct—the shipmates who hadn’t been screwing around.

I’m not sure how the term “skylark” gave way to “horseplay,” and I have no idea how horses got mixed up into it. But I do think that people who hurt themselves or others during horseplay should get an official t-shirt, bearing the words "Horseplay Participant" on the front, emblazoned above a picture of the hind end of a horse, which is what all skylarks end up looking like.

Remember—your buddies and/or bystanders are not large, animated toys.

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