Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Happy International Talk Like a Pirate Day!

Celebrated: Worrrrldwide since 2002, me hearties

Ahoy! Apologies that this post be so late, but piracy takes a good chunk o' the day, and we must make sail while the sun shines.

Just the other day I were pillaging the local market and saw a little lad, no more than four, hanging off the cart and chantin', "Captain Jack Sparrow, Captain Jack Sparrow." Really, now? Are these motion pictures not rated PG-13, and would ye really be showing them to a four-year-old? Or is there some toddler version I'm not privy to, being a seafaring spinster?

Okay, that's enough of that. The truth is, we don't really know how pirates talked. Several of the better-known pirates were gentlemen, educated to the highest standards of their day: Sir Henry Morgan, for example, was a squire's son with an English Letter of Marque, a royal license to capture and confiscate enemy ships. Stede Bonnet, Charleston's "gentleman pirate," was a plantation owner who, according to legend, turned to piracy as an escape from an unhappy wife. Contemporary accounts of Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, report him speaking in language that approaches poetry: "Damnation seize my Soul if I give you Quarters, or take any from you."

At a time when British naval practices were grim, to put it mildly (Winston Churchill later called them "rum, sodomy and the lash"), the life of a pirate in the 18th century might have been as close as a man could get to absolute freedom. Pirate crews were almost all volunteers, except for the occasional skilled laborer pressed into service. Pirate society was a democratic meritocracy, and mixed by race and nationality if not by gender (although history records at least two female pirates, not to mention Grace O'Malley, the 16th-century Irish "Pirate Queen"). Blackbeard's crew included several escaped slaves. The language spoken on pirate ships probably sounded something like the dialects you hear in Caribbean port cities to this day: a slangy combination of English, Spanish, French, Gullah and sailing jargon.

Sailors have always been readers, singers and storytellers; in the days before modern communications, how else would they entertain themselves in the doldrums? Pirates undoubtedly had better stories to tell than the average sailor, and those stories have only improved with time. Blackbeard probably wouldn't recognize Captain Jack Sparrow, but I have a feeling he'd be amused and flattered by his existence.

Illustration borrowed from National Geographic's website, where you can learn much more about Blackbeard and other pirates.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have no need to talk like a pirate since according to some of the local governments, I am a pirate. The ship I am on comes close to violating the 1854 and 1907 conventions on law of the sea. The hanging tree in Charleston, SC was at the corner of Atlantic Ave. and Meeting St. Stede Bonnet was hanged from that tree and that is where your Grandfather built his retirement home. Love, Dad