AUKUS debate continues: is a submarine a ship or a boat?


Things turned raucous over AUKUS. Last month’s WordPlay queried how to say this newborn acronym, a blend of Australia, UK and US. Nobody doubts how to say each nation, but mash the trio into one and awkwardness ensues.

By way of update, AUKUS is the trilinear accord to build submarines. Originally France was Australia’s lone partner, but PM Scott Morrison torpedoed that deal, seeing a potential FAUST devolve into farce, and maybe a revenge drama by Act III.

Diplomacy turned icy. Trade deals wavered. Yet for most of us, the bugbear emerging from this backflip was how to utter the upshot’s alliance. While each elected crony in the acronym favours aw-kus, several readers have responded with their own views.

David Astle’s WordPlay column about AUKUS last month inspired a strong reader response.

David Astle’s WordPlay column about AUKUS last month inspired a strong reader response.Credit:Jo Gay

Simon Dickinson believes France should return to the table, making way for FAUKUS, a fusion more in keeping with President Macron’s sentiments. Others such as Kel Roberts are eager to massage the amalgam. Given the Seawolf subs are American in design, then surely USUKA says more about the bloc’s hierarchy. In so many ways.

Geoff Lyons votes for a third way. “As Aussies from Oz, ockers or otherwise, if the AU in AUKUS stands for the first sound in Australia, then ok-kus it should be.” Ocker subs? I think you mean sangas, mate.


Ultimately, whichever mash-up or utterance prevails, there remains one cloud hovering over the whole affair. Couch potatoes will know where I’m going, thanks to Vigil, the latest BBC drama, based in a submarine. Whether we’re building them, or watching murder mysteries set inside them, submarines are never called ships, apparently. Never. They are boats. But why?

The short answer is scale. Said another way, a ship can carry a boat, but a boat can’t carry a ship. So goes the golden rule, despite that gold tarnishing a little since being coined. Take these Virginian Seawolves, say, the fleet at the AUKUS heart. Each sub measures some 120 metres long, weighs 8600 tonnes without a sailor aboard. That’s one ship-like boat.