September 19 was International Talk Like a Pirate Day, the one day a year when it’s acceptable to greet people with “Ahoy!”
But how did it get started? According to the website talklikeapirate.com, the official site of the holiday, it began in 1995 when John Baur and Mark Summers were playing racquetball. They began cursing at each other in pirate patois—plenty of “Arrrs!”—and Baur and Summers realized that while the pirate slang hadn’t actually made them better players, it had made the game more fun and the time pass more quickly.
They decided that the world needed a new holiday celebrating the scurvy seadog slang, but it took them a few years to actually do anything about it. In 2002, they decided to email humor columnist Dave Barry with their pitch for Talk Like a Pirate Day and asked him to be the spokesman for the event. To their amazement, he said yes.
With Barry’s help, Talk Like a Pirate Day went from an inside joke between friends to an international phenomenon. Google and Facebook both give you the option of choosing “Pirate” as your language, and businesses such as Krispy Kreme and Long John Silver’s give away free food to customers who order in pirate-ese on September 19.
So how can you talk like a pirate? While Grammarly doesn’t usually advise writing in non-standard grammar, we’ll make an exception for this silly, salty holiday. Read on, me hearties, for a basic primer in pirate vocabulary and grammar.
- When greeting someone, it’s appropriate to bellow “Ahoy!” Variations include “Ahoy, matey” (Hello, friend) and “Ahoy, me hearties” (Hello, all my friends).
- “Avast” can mean “stop,” “wait,” or “look,” depending on context.
- “Aye” means “yes.” “Aye Aye” is a more formal version.
- Instead of “my,” use “me,” as in “me beauty” or “me hearties.”
- Similarly, replace “you” with “ye” and “your” with “yer.”
- Treasure or loot is commonly called “booty,” as in “Arr, I got me some fine booty at Krispy Kreme.”
- “Arr” is an all-purpose interjection to be used as much as possible. Variation: “yarr.”
- Practice poor enunciation. Start by dropping the G’s from the end of your participles and gerunds. Examples include “runnin’” and “fightin’.” Roll any R sounds, and drop initial H sounds as in “’im” and “’ouse.”
- “Bucko” (short for “buccaneer”) is another name for a pirate. (See also: freebooter, sea dog.) The opposite of a bucko is a “lubber,” or land lover.
- Instead of the verb “is,” use “be,” as in “There be a fine ship, me lad.”
- When ordering an alcoholic beverage, ask for “grog.”
- “Shiver me timbers” is a common expression of shock or disbelief. If you’re in a hurry, “blimey!” will do.
- To “hornswaggle” is to cheat, as in a card game.
- It’s easy to insult someone in pirate slang. Try “bilge rat” or “scallywag.” If that’s not salty enough for you, add a modifier such as “scurvy” or “poxy.”
Did pirates actually speak this way? National Geographic says no, unfortunately. Pirates weren’t generally literate, so very few written records exist. Colin Woodward, a historian and author of The Republic of Pirates, claims that our current concept of how pirates spoke is actually less than 70 years old.
“Many of the phrases that most people think of as pirate speech today can actually be traced back to the 1950s Disney movie Treasure Island, starring Robert Newton as fictional pirate Long John Silver,” said Woodward. Newton drew his inspiration from his childhood in the West Country of England, where the fictional Long John Silver hailed from, but Woodward says that most English-speaking pirates were probably from the area around London.
You van view a video clip of Newton’s performance in Treasure Island here.