In truth many different nationalities and languages would have been represented on board pirate ships during the ‘Golden Age of Piracy’, between the 16th – 18th centuries. Yet most pirates characterized on film or on stage speak with a pronounced West Country accent. This is no accident as England’s south western ports provided many of the captains and crews . Here are some essential words and phrases.
Ahoy! - Hi there!
Ahoy, Matey - Hello, my friend!
Ahoy, me Hearties! – Hello, my friends!”
Avast ye – Stop and check this out or pay attention
Aye – Yes
Batten down the hatches – Tie everything down on board ship because a storm is brewing
Blimey! – Short for ‘God blind me’ expressing shock or surprise
Blow me down! – An expression of shock or disbelief
Booty – Treasure
Buccaneer – A pirate operating in the Caribbean during the 16th – 18th centuries
Cat ‘O’ Nine Tails - A painful whip with nine strands
Cleave him to the brisket – To cut across the victim’s chest, from one shoulder to the lower abdomen
Corsair – North African pirates operating mainly in the Mediterranean Sea
Crow’s nest – A small viewing platform on top of the main mast
Cutlass – A short heavy curved bladed sword used by pirates
Davy Jones’ Locker – fabled, mythical place at the bottom of the ocean where the evil spirit of Davy Jones lures sailors and pirates to their death
Doubloons – High value gold or silver coins
Feed the fish – Be killed at sea and thrown overboard
Hang ‘im from the yardarm – Suspending a victim from the ship’s mast
Head – The pirate ship’s toilet
Heave Ho – Give it some muscle and push it
Hempen Halter – A noose for hanging
Hornswaggle - To defraud or cheat out of money or belongings
Jacob’s Ladder – The rope ladder used to climb aboard a ship
Jolly Roger – Pirate flag showing a white skull and crossbones over dark background
Keel haul – A punishment in which the victim is dragged underneath a ship from side to side
Lad, lass, lassie – A young person
Landlubber – Someone unused to life at sea
Letters of Marque – Letters issue from countries during wartime to private ships making legal the capture of enemy vessels
Man-O-War – A ship fitted out for battle
Me – My
Mizzen – The third mast from the bow of the ship on ships that have three or more masts
Old Salt – An experienced sailor
Oh arrh! – A cry of recognition or disgust
Pieces of eight – Spanish treasure coins
Pillage – Rob, sack or plunder
Poop deck – The part of the ship furthest to the back, usually above the captain’s quarters.
Privateer – Private ships used for military purposes by governments during wartime
Rum – A pirate’s traditional alcoholic beverage made from molasses
Run a shot across the bow – A warning shot fired over an enemy ship
Savvy? – Do you understand and do you agree?
Scallywag – A rogue
Scurvy dog – A common insult to a sailor
Scuttle – To sink a ship
Seadog – An old pirate or sailor
Shark bait – A potential victim at sea
Shipshape – Tidy and well organized
Shiver me timbers! – Exclamation of surprise
Son of a Biscuit Eater – Insult directed towards someone you don’t like
Splice the mainbrace! – It’s time for a few drinks!
Thar she blows! – A whale sighting
Three sheets to the wind – Someone who is very drunk. One sheet is mildly drunk and four sheets passed out.
Walk the Plank – A punishment in which the victim is forced to walks off a board jutting over the side of the ship while at sea resulting in drowning.
Weigh anchor and hoist the mizzen! – Pull up the anchor and set sail
Ye – You
Yo Ho Ho – A cheerful cry of pleasure