Happy International Talk Like a Pirate Day! If you’ve been living under a rock for the last (almost) 25 years you may be asking yourself:
What is international talk like a pirate day?
Well, according to our friends over at Wikipedia, it’s a parodic holiday. John Baur (Ol’ Chumbucket) and Mark Summers (Cap’n Slappy) created the holiday in 1995. Legend has it that the two men were playing sportsball when one of them became injured, shouting “Arrrrrr!” What started as an inside joke became an international sensation. Especially after American syndicated humor columnist Dave Barry promoted the day in 2002. And the rest, they say, is history!
So in honor of one of my favorite holidays, I thought I’d share (and maybe debunk) some of the most common myths about pirates.
Common Pirate Myths
- Pirates buried their treasure
The reality is that most pirates didn’t even come across real “treasure” in the form of gold, silver, and jewels. They more commonly stole every day commodities like flour, rum, textiles, timber, and ambergris. When they did steal gold and silver, they typically wanted to spend it as quickly as possible at their favorite tavern or brothel. There is record of some pirates, like William Kidd, burying their treasure. But why bury it where someone else could find it or you might forget where it was?
- Pirates had peg legs, eye patches, and received workman’s comp
There’s an element of truth to these particular myths. The rumor for eye patches was that it helped pirates go above and below deck without having to worry about adjusting to the darkness. This is because one eye would be adjusted from wearing the eye patch. But that’s really just rumor. There was one famous pirate who wore an eye patch after losing his eye in combat: Rahmah ibn Jabir al-Jalahimah, a famous Arabian ruler and pirate. And Robert Louis Stevenson’s Long John Silver likely popularized the peg leg characterization. But he may have based that characterization on any number of real peg-legged individuals. For example, Francois le Clerc who once commanded a fleet of eight huge vessels and 300 seamen. After losing his leg in a 1549 skirmish, he became well known for pirating from the Spanish. So well-known, in fact, that the Spanish gave him a nick name: “Pie de Palo” or “peg leg.”
- Pirates made their victims walk the plank
There’s scant historical record to suggest that pirates made their victims walk the plank. While many pirates were known to be brutal, torturing survivors for information about what goods or treasure might be on board, you would more likely be keelhauled, flogged, marooned, or simply murdered. Pirates often had codes that included how they treated each other and their captives.
- Pirates said “Arrrrrr” and spoke with an accent
Historically, pirates were considered “villains of all nations” and came from France, the Netherlands, and other locations in addition to England and North America. There may be some historical basis for why we think pirates talked a certain way. At least according to Molly Babel, a University of British Columbia assistant professor of linguistics. For those who did come from England, they were heavily recruited from southwestern England. It was a region known as the West Country. This is the region where actor Robert Newton hailed from, most famous for bringing to life Long John Silver in Walt Disney’s 1950 version of Treasure Island. According to Babel, “Speakers of the regional dialect tend to emphasize their r’s, unlike other British regions. They tend to replace the verbs ‘is’ and ‘are’ with ‘be,’ and indeed, use the word ‘arrr’ in place of ‘yes.’” This is why, according to the originators of the holiday named Newton the Patron Saint of International Talk Like a Pirate Day.
- Pirates had a code of honor
Some scholars believe there were codes or articles among the crew on some if not most ships. But these were mostly to keep order. The codes determined things like how to divvy up the loot, how bad behavior was to be punished, whether gambling was allowed on board, etc. Most of the pirate codes we know about, though, come from Captain Charles Johnson’s A General History of the Pyrates and only a couple of those have been validated in the historical record. But they weren’t like the “parlay” of Pirates of the Caribbean film fame.
- Women couldn’t be pirates
Grace O’Malley, Anne Bonny, Mary Read, and Ching Shih are just a few of the many women who joined the ranks of pirates. While many of them disguised themselves as men, most likely as a means of protecting themselves, some were open about their femininity. Although they might be rare, they certainly weren’t unheard of. Bonny and Read were known to be just as ruthless as their captain, Calico Jack Rackham.
What are some of your favorite pirate myths?