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June 16, 2008

#01-122: Talk Like a Pirate - Part I

two men in full pirate regalia with old-fashioned guns and swords
The founders of International Talk Like a Pirate Day
(Wikipedia)

Note: Ahoy, there, me hearties! Be ye able to talk like a pirate, ye lubber? Ye'd do well to lend an ear!


Get Ready: Have you ever noticed the way pirates talk in movies? What's unusual about it?


I've just watched Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (again) and was thinking how much fun it is to talk like a pirate. In fact, there's even a holiday, "International Talk Like a Pirate Day," in September. It's a day when men (mostly) act like children.

So I thought I'd share some "pirate-speak" with you. We get this mostly from literary sources, such as Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island (see Lesson #08-074). So of course this is a stereotype; there's no such thing as a true "dictionary of pirate-speak."

Lots of it is simply a change in pronunciation. And some of it is nonsense. But I'll try to give you some of the more ... uh ... useful expressions!

OK, I admit the most famous expression in pirate-speak is actually useless, unless you use it for fun. That's "Shiver me timbers!" It's an expression of surprise, like "I'll be darned" or "Really?" "Timbers" would be the wood framework of a ship; a heavy storm would cause the timbers to "shiver" or shake, causing great surprise to the sailors.

As for the word "me" in the expression: as I mentioned, much pirate-speak is based on strange pronunciation, or even strange grammar. "Me" instead of "my" could be either one.

In other strange grammar, pirates seem to have a hard time with the verb "to be." They say things like, "I be a pirate" or "Be ye (you) a pirate?" And all past-tense is "were": "I were a pirate for 20 year." (year=more bad grammar)

And now for a few "pirate words" that are also found elsewhere in English:

Ahoy!: This is simply a greeting, like "hello!" In fact, "Hello" seems to be a recently-created word. The earliest-known use in literature is in 1846, and it was first listed in a dictionary in 1883. Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, actually suggested that telephones be answered with the older, more common word "Ahoy" (or "Ahoy-hoy" for emphasis). But the "new" word hello won out, and has become the more common way to answer the phone in English. "Ahoy," like "hello" or the Chinese "wei," can also be used like "hey!" to get someone's attention.

Aye!: It's an old-fashioned word for "yes." In a meeting, people still often vote "aye" and "nay." If the yes votes win, we might then say, "The 'ayes' have it." When pirates use the word, they often double it, as in "Aye aye, cap'n" (captain).

Davy Jones' Locker: The bottom of the sea, used as a euphemism for the place where drowned sailors go. The phrase can turn up in everyday speech even among those who are not sailors.

We'll learn more pirate-speak in Lesson #01-123!

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Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Talk_Like_a_Pirate_Day


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. ahoy
  2. aye
  3. Davy Jones' Locker
  4. emphasis
  5. euphemism
  6. grammar
  7. past-tense
  8. pirate
  9. Shiver me timbers!
  10. were

  1. "I'm shocked!"
  2. often used (by pirates) instead of "was"
  3. hello there
  4. yes
  5. the final destination for sailors who die at sea
  6. the proper form and structure of sentences
  7. using a nicer word for an unpleasant one
  8. the proper form of a verb describing something that happened before
  9. a person who lives by stealing from others, especially at sea (or, these days, in media products)
  10. placing stress or importance on something

Answers are in the first comment below.


Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for June 16, 2008


1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. c; 2. d; 3. e; 4. j; 5. g; 6. f; 7. h; 8. i; 9. a; 10. b

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