“Hey, Kat, I hear you wrote a book. What’s it about?”
“It’s a time travel romance.”
“When’s it set?”
“In the early 1700s.”
“Ooh, so it’s about the American Colonies?”
“…Sort of. It’s got pirates in it.”
And here it comes. The inevitable…
“Arrrrrr, matey! Shiver me timbers!”
Why the cringe, you say? Because real pirates never talked like that. Our idea of pirate-speak we so love to imitate actually comes from Robert Newton’s portrayal of Long John Silver in the 1950 version of Treasure Island, and his version of Blackbeard in Blackbeard the Pirate, not the real deal.
So, how did pirates really talk?
Let’s start with a breakdown of just a few of the many different types of pirates:
-A booter is a generic term for a pirate of any sort, derived from the word freebooter.
-A corsaire, from the French, is a privateer engaging in la course, i.e. marauding for payment. This is different from a corsair, who’s a pirate from North Africa, and let’s not forget the Spanish, who’ve got their own version: corsario.
-It’s the English who have their sea dogs, especially if we’re talking about Elizabethan-era pirates, and in later eras, they have their sea rovers and seekers.
That’s all well and good, but have you heard of the intelligencer, the linguister, or the true artist? Why, then, you’ve got a spy, an interpreter, and an expert swordsman on board.
When you’re sailing, if you’ve got a light pair of heels, you’re sailing fast, but if you’reshowing your heels, you’re running away.
And of course, let’s not forget a few choice phrases for intimidation and boarding enemy ships, taken from historical reports:
How does she stand? Which direction is the ship sailing? How’s she sailing?
Ahoy the ship: We’re hailing you! Hello!
Aviza la vela, cornuto! Lower your sail, cuckold! (Spanish!)
You speckled-shirt dog! No translation needed.
Allons, enfants, a borde! Board how you will, and let the slaughter begin. (French)
Jesus, son demonios estos! Jesus, these men are devils! (Spanish)
Open your hatches, haul down your sails. Good quarter is granted. Give up peacefully. We’ll grant you your lives… Probably.
And that, me hearts (not hearties!), is just a morsel of real pirate speak.