It’s Talk Like a Pirate Day! Here’s your vocab lesson

During the middle of a particularly heated racquetball game in 1995, Mark Summers and John Baur accidentally blurted out a phrase that would change the world forever: “Arrgghh.” Inspired by the “pirate-y” sound of this throaty gurgle, the pair deemed this day, September 19th, Talk Like A Pirate Day. What started as an inside joke quickly became a national phenomena and soon, people from around the world were putting on their imaginary eye-patches and exaggerating their “R”s to celebrate the language of these sea bandits. For those of you who aren’t fluent in “pirateology,” here’s a short list of pirate phrases to get you started:

1) Landlubber (n.): clumsy person who doesn’t know how to sail

To clarify: the word landLUBBER refers to a crew member who doesn’t know how to properly navigate a ship, someone who is so clumsy with the helm that they end up driving the boat right into the sand. The word landFLUBBER is a bouncy, gelatinous substance that sprouts from the ground (or from the lab of a Robin Williams character) and develops a mind of its own. At least, that’s what I imagined it was when I misread landlubber for landflubber while constructing this list.

2) Scallywag (n.): a rascal

There are a few different theories surrounding the origins of scallywag, though most dictionaries continue to list its etymology as “uncertain” or “undetermined.” One is that it comes from the Scottish word “scallag” meaning “servant.” Another suggests that it was taken from the name of the Scottish island Scalloway. Most people think it comes from the Scottish term “scurryvaig” meaning “vagabond.” Its lack of an origin isn’t going to stop me from saying it in my best pirate accent, though.

3) Poop deck (n.): deck closest to the back of the ship above the captain’s quarters

The people that love the phrase “poop deck” are the same people that giggle at the word yurt, which is basically everyone because we’re all secretly immature children trapped in adult bodies. To the disappointment of many readers who were hoping that the poop deck was a deck designed specifically for pooping, the phrase actually just refers to the deck at the back of the ship. You may find a few wads of seagull poop here and there, but that’s purely coincidental.

4) Buccaneer (n.): pirate

Boucanier is a French word referring to a group of hunters that poach cattle and pigs. Pirates may not steal a lot of cattle and pigs, but they “plunder” plenty of other goods, making boucanier’s derivative “buccaneer” a perfect nickname.

5) Shiver me timbers (exclamation): an expression of shock, similar to “oh my”

If you thought saying “scallywag” with a pirate accent was exciting, just wait ‘til you hear this phrase. If you break this phrase down, its meaning is not too difficult to understand. Writer Dan Cossins explains: The word ‘shiver’ is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “to break into small fragments or splinters” while the ‘timbers’ refer to the wooden support frames of old sailing ships. So the saying ‘shiver me timbers’ was most likely alluding to the shock of a large wave or cannonball smashing into the ship…

6) Batten down the hatches (v.): prepare the ship for an incoming storm

To batten down the hatches means to clear the deck of any unnecessary crew members, tie down anything you don’t want launched into the ocean, and pray that the water doesn’t swallow your ship whole. It’s what pirates on TV say right before they charge into a towering wall of water and the dramatic music starts playing.

7) Booty (n.): treasure

It’s been said that eskimos have over a hundred words for “snow” because it is such a significant part of their culture. Similarly, pirates have a few dozen words for treasure including, notably, “booty.” Does this definition of booty have anything to do with the word “booty” meaning “butt”? I don’t know. I surely hope not.

8) Avast ye (exclamation): Listen! Pay attention!

Avast ye comes from the Dutch phrase “hou vast” meaning hold fast. Nowadays, pirates use the phrase to tell their fellow crew members to pay attention, like when they’re about to be engulfed by a giant sea monster and they need to batten down the hatches.

9) Ahoy (exclamation): a greeting

Serious question: why did Chips Ahoy choose a giant talking baked good for their mascot instead of a cookie-loving captain? Why was that not the very first suggestion? Chips Ahoy marketing team, I’m disappointed. Hear me? Disappointed.

10) Jolly Roger (n.): pirates’ trademark skull and crossbones flag

Not many pirates go around actually uttering these words, but they’re still pretty important. Back in 1791, pirates Bartholomew Roberts and Francis Spriggs decided to name their ships’ flag “Jolly Roger.” This eventually became linked with the skull and crossbones flags that we associate with pirates, even though Roberts’ and Spriggs’ flags didn’t have either.

Featured image via Disney. Info via


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