The Spanish expression al garete means literally "to drift" or even "to sink" depending on the context (among other figurative meanings). The Royal Spanish Academy considers the word garete to have an uncertain origin. Spanish etymologist Joan Corominas considers most plausible the origin of the word as being derived from French être égaré, which I think it's closer to "to be lost", please correct me if I am wrong.

In fact, the 1899 edition of the Royal Spanish Academy dictionary did consider garete as a derived word from French égaré, although that etymology was afterwards discarded. Corominas considers the French origin as only a hypothesis because he could not find any text in French using the expression être égaré applied to a ship in a nautical context.

I have found a case of the Spanish expression venir al garete in a text written in 1594:

[...] ví venir muchos barcos al garete y se ahogó mucha gente [...].

I saw many ships sinking and many people drowned.

I would like to determine if that hypothesis is really plausible. I have seen in the CNRTL that the word égarer was already used in 1120 as "to lose the right way", maybe in religious contexts. But is there any evidence that the verb was used in French texts by the time of the previous example (before 1600) in nautical contexts to convey the meaning of ships drifting or sinking?

  • What do you mean correct you if you are wrong?? You are citing a Spanish authority....
    – Lambie
    Commented Oct 19, 2020 at 15:50
  • @Lambie I just meant that I don't know enough French to know if "être égaré" can be translated as "to be lost" or if maybe another translation would be more suitable.
    – Charlie
    Commented Oct 19, 2020 at 15:54
  • You put it right after the quotation from the guy. It has to be: Please correct him if he is wrong. Not you.
    – Lambie
    Commented Oct 19, 2020 at 15:56
  • 1
    @Lambie no, the translation of "être égaré" as "to be lost" is mine, so I'm the one that can be corrected. I'll try to fix the sentence to make it clear.
    – Charlie
    Commented Oct 19, 2020 at 15:58
  • Yes, of course, s'égarer is to get lost.
    – Lambie
    Commented Oct 19, 2020 at 17:18

1 Answer 1


Your translation is right, égarer means to lose something and s'égarer means to lose one's way like I believe the Spanish extraviarse.

The verb égarer was definitely used in nautical contexts before 1600.

For example in this 1581 Histoire de France, by Lancelot-Voisin de La Popelinière:

enter image description here

... : Richard, égaré en mer par une tempête fut contraint de faire escale à Chypre.

and this 1586 Du miroir de la navigation, de la Mer Occidentale, contenant toutes les cartes..., Lucas Jansz Waghenaer:

enter image description here

Entre lesdits deux coins on se dirige vers le Hontswijck qui est une fort mauvaise entrée et un dangereux passage, d'autant qu'en ce lieu plusieurs navires s'égarent, pour avoir à cet endroit trop peu tourné.

  • In the second example, the idea behind "plusieurs navires s'égarent" is "many ships get lost" because they cannot find the way or because they sink in the dangerous passage?
    – Charlie
    Commented Oct 19, 2020 at 15:42
  • My understanding is that they just get lost. The fact that earlier in the text, the pass was described as dangerous might suggest a worst fate but I doubt about it. The present tense is used so I guess if these ships had sunk, it would have been reported later, and it isn't the case.
    – jlliagre
    Commented Oct 19, 2020 at 16:22

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