also spelled Chantey, or Chanty (from French chanter, "to sing"), English-language sailors' work song dating from the days of sailing ships, when manipulating heavy sails, by means of ropes, from positions on the deck constituted a large part of a sailor's work. The leader, or shantyman, chosen for his seamanship rather than his musical talent, stood at the leading position on the rope, while the sailors crouched along the rope behind him. The shantyman would intone a line of a song and the group respond in chorus, heaving on the rope at a given point in the melody. The shantyman was one of the crucial members of the ship's crew, and it was said that "a good shantyman was worth four extra hands on the rope." He selected a song of appropriate type and speed for the task, and, by improvising verses, he could spin the song out for as long as needed; shanty texts are thus far more fluid than published versions indicate.
Learn more about shanty with a free trial on Britannica.com.