I hold a special place in my heart for the Pirates of the Caribbean series, and not just because Jack Sparrow and the half-ghost, monkey pirate are involved. That is not to say I like pirates because, historically, they’ve actually done some pretty terrible things, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate their vocabulary. (Who do you think proposed Facebook’s pirate speech feature?) While I’m sure everybody has heard “walk the plank” and “ahoy matey,” there are some other, more obscure terms that are worth knowing in case you ever run into a band of pirates or get recruited to write for the next POTC movie, in which case, I give you permission to credit me for this information and cast me as the lead. No pressure though.
Hornswaggle (v.): to defraud; to cheat someone out of money; to bamboozle
Though the origins of this word are unknown, its first recorded use appears to be in 1829. To put that into perspective, in 1829, Andrew Jackson was coming into his presidency and Texas was still under the control of the Mexican government, so it’s safe to say the term is pretty old. It also happens to resemble the word “hornswoggle,” which, unbeknownst to me, is also the name of a WWE fighter who enjoys dressing up as a leprechaun. So if you were planning on fact-checking this article, don’t be alarmed when your webpage is flooded with images of Irish wrestlers.
Landlubber (n.): big, clumsy person who doesn’t know how to sail
Contrary to what I originally thought, landlubber is not actually “land lover” said by a sailor with a stuffy nose. In fact, the two ideas are not at all related. Landlubber refers to an inexperienced sailor, especially one who is large and clumsy. An accurate depiction of a landlubber might be Bombur from The Hobbit (2012) if he were a pirate. Yes, I’m judging this solely from Bombur’s looks and Tolkien’s description of him in the book. That doesn’t make him any less lovable.
Squiffy (adj.): somewhat intoxicated
I imagine that squiffy is the old-fashioned version of “tipsy.” First used around 1955 by British novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, squiffy sounds like a mix of spiffy and…I don’t know, really. Just a Q, maybe? With the rum always being gone, I’m sure pirates had plenty of uses for this term.
Buccaneer (n.): a pirate
For such a simple definition, the word buccaneer actually has a complicated origin. Buccaneer started from the Arawak term for “wooden frame for smoking meat.” From this word came the French word boucanier, meaning a hunter who uses such frames for smoking meat, and was later changed to buccaneer by English colonists. Many buccaneers, who mainly sailed around the Caribbean, originally passed themselves off as “privateers,” or, government-run groups authorized to attack foreign vessels, by carrying fake “letters of marquee” that permitted them to do so. (Plus, with a large portion of the population being illiterate, no one could really tell the difference.) Everyone knows Hollywood has no qualms about ridiculous movie pairings, so I expect a Buccaneer and Buckaroo special ASAP.
Grog-Blossom (n.): a redness on the nose or face of a person who drinks excessively
This makes me question how many people were naturally flushed or who were actually alcoholics (Santa, Clifford, Rudolph…have I ruined your childhood yet?). The word’s first recorded use was in 1796 in a “Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue,” and it refers to a heavy drinker’s red face. How it is related to blossoms or grogs (whatever that is), I don’t know. All I can say is that I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a fair share of grog-blossoms on a pirate’s crew.
Poop Deck (n.): the partial deck on a ship’s stern
I know I said I would try to cover more obscure terms, but I decided to throw this one in there to correct whatever (literally) dirty connotations people have with this term. The poop deck is not a deck covered in poop. It does not have a bathroom. It does not look like a bathroom. It probably doesn’t smell more like a bathroom than the rest of the ship. The term “poop” here stems from the French word “la poupe,” meaning stern. Get your head out of the gutter, people.
Scuttle (v.): to sink one’s own vessel (deliberately)
The definition of scuttle may appear more unusual than the word itself, but there seems to be a logical explanation behind it. Meaning “to cut holes in the bottom of a vessel” in an attempt to sink it, scuttle was often used as a self-defense mechanism for sailors (and pirates) to avoid capture or humiliation. It’s the kind of word that would be followed by, “If we can’t have this ship, neither can you!” and the “blub blub blub” sound of the ocean engulfing the boat.
That constitutes the basics of pirateology for me, but what do you guys think? What’s your favorite “pirate” word?