With Talk Like a Pirate Day right around the corner, many of us are brushing up on our pirate phrases and language. Here’s a fun list of common sayings. Can you tell if they’re fictional or the Real Deal?
Espy, descry: To see something. Usually when searching the horizon for a sail. Authentic.
Me hearties!: During the Golden Age of Piracy the phrase was “My hearts!” as in “Friends of my heart.” “Heart” was also a slang term for a “stout heart,” and thus for a sailor. By the late 18th century the pronunciation was often rendered as “My hearties,” and in the 19th as “Me hearties.” A little authentic, a little from Hollywood, so your answer is right no matter what you guessed.
Pluck a crow: To pick a fight. Authentic.
Catch a Tartar: Pick a fight with someone stronger than yourself. The reputation of Genghis Khan and his so-called Tartars was still strong in the 18th century. Authentic.
Shiver me timbers: Timbers are the wooden parts that make up the ship’s hull and support the decks and, they did shiver, meaning they splintered and shattered, as in “shivered to pieces.” This was most likely to happen in a ship that has run aground. However, the phrase was not used by pirates. It was first popularized by novelist and naval officer Francis Marryat (famous for his semi-autobiographical novel Mr. Midshipmen Easy) in the early 19th century. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Long John Silver made it famous in Treasure Island. Though this period is often thought of in connection with pirates, it was in fact 100 years later. Fiction.
Dead man’s chest: The phrase became famous through Treasure Island and no one is quite sure what Stevenson meant. “Dead Man’s Chest” is the English translation of caja de muerto, or coffin. Caja de Muerto is the name of an island off Puerto Rico, so-named because it resembles a coffin. Fun to know, but real pirates probably never talked about it.
Show your heels: To run away. Authentic. Also – having light heels meant likely to run away.
Ballast her well: Ballast was the weight put into the bottom of a ship which causes it to stay upright in the water. This phrase was also use to request that a bartender pour a tankard completely full. Authentic.
Yo ho ho: Though “Yo ho,” was a chant used to help a group work together when hauling or heaving. It was popularized in Treasure Island. Fiction.
Piece-of-eight: a Spanish dollar, worth eight reals or royals, and the currency upon which the U.S. dollar was founded. A silver coin that could be divided into eight pieces. Authentic.
Plain-dealer: one who speaks plainly Many sailors, seamen and pirates prided themselves on speaking plainly and honestly. They felt that this was a contrast to landsmen, who often lied and acted dishonestly. Authentic.
Thundering fellow: a loud, shouting person with a deep voice, often the bosun. Authentic.
Arr! A common phrase on the West Country of England, exaggerated by Robert Newton who played both Long John Silver and Blackbeard in the 1950s. Newton exaggerated his own West Country accent, as in “Arr, yer a good ‘un, Jim,” which was his pronunciation of “Aw, you’re a good one, Jim.” Fiction.
Linguister: a translator, one who speaks other languages. Authentic.
Jackanapes: A cocky or impudent person. From the term “Jack, from Naples.” Monkeys were often carried by traveling entertainers, many of whom came from Italy, or pretended to. The term may have been applied to sailors a sailor due to their ability to climb aloft. Sailors, like monkeys, were also known for being impudent. Authentic.
Smart as paint: Although this phrase may sound like the modern-day “smart as a cheese sandwich,” it was a genuine complement. “Smart” is a term often meaning well-dressed or fashionably decorated. Ships were painted to make them look “smart” and so by saying that a person was “smart as paint,” one was comparing him to the origin of a ship’s “smartness.” But it’s entirely fictional, invented by Robert Lewis Stevenson for Treasure Island.