BISMARCK, ND (KXNET) — Look alive, me hearties! Hoist the Jolly Roger, pour a round of Grog for the crew, and be ready to split the plunder — it’s Talk Like a Pirate Day!
There be a long history of pirates in pop culture, but ain’t too many of them have their speakin’ patterns carry over outside’a their films — ‘specially not with their own holidays. Talk Like a Pirate Day be a strange one, alright, but where be it’s origins?
Ye be here to hearin’ the tale of how the day came to be, aye? Then blow me down, ain’t ya in the right place! Our driftin’ digital deckhand Brendan Rodenberg be here to tell ya all about it. Lend ‘im an ear and a doubloon or two (rum don’t pay for itself), and he’ll teach you all ye need to know. He ain’t an actual pirate, not in ‘th least, but he be pretty good at Sid Meier’s Pirates, so that’s a start, we s’pose. He’s also droppin’ the piratey speech while he does the explainin’, just so ye landlubbers don’t go gettin’ too confused.
A Holiday Sets Sail
The founders of Talk Like a Pirate Day are Mark Summers (a behavioral management consultant) and John Baur (a science writer with the Oregon Sea Grant Program) — but nowadays, they’re better known by their nautical names, Capn’ Slappy and Ol’ Chumbucket.
According to the Captain himself, the origin of Talk Like a Pirate Day came as a result of a friendly game of racquetball between the holiday’s two founders on June 6, 1995. During their back-and-forth, one of the players strained a muscle, and reacted to the pain with an unusual cry of ‘AAAAAARRRRRR!’. This led to pirate jokes, and eventually, the idea of Talk Like a Pirate Day sprung up. Out of respect for the Normandy landings which took place on the same day, Summers and Baur instead chose to host the holiday on September 19 — as it was the birthday of Summers’ ex-wife, they figured, it would be easier for them to remember.
While Talk Like a Pirate Day spent several years as an in-joke between the founders and their friends, it didn’t actually catch on until they wrote a letter about the holiday to Miami-based humor columnist Dave Barry. Barry loved the idea and decided to spread the joke to his readers. From there, it only spread like a fire on deck, and it’s been celebrated ever since, with growing media coverage, international acclaim, and official merchandise contributing to its popularity.
Thanks to the decision to not trademark the holiday, different groups have been able to celebrate in their own ways, only adding to its popularity. Talk Like a Pirate Day has been so successful that it’s even been celebrated overseas, with entertainers and charities in the United Kingdom also adopting it as a staple. It’s even become the subject of several songs — notably, Michigan musician Tom Smith (known for an incredible array of quickly-written and improvised songs) wrote the original theme song for the holiday in 2003. Eventually, Capn’ Slappy and ‘Ol Chumbucket wrote their own jaunty sea shanty, “Talk Like a Pirate“, which was then performed by Tom Mason and The Blue Buccaneers.
It’s somewhat of an oxymoron for a holiday focused on pirates to have a patron, but thankfully, you’re not dealing with saints here: Talk Like a Pirate Day has its own big name. In this case, the ‘patron salt’, as it were, of the event is English actor Robert Newton — best known for his multiple roles as pirates over the years of his career. In particular, he played the part of Long John Silver in the 1950 Disney adaptation of Treasure Island (which arguably set the gold standard for portrayals of pirates in film), Edward Teach (better known as Blackbeard) in the 1952 film Blackbeard the Pirate, and Long John Silver again in the 1954 film Long John Silver and its respective spin-off series.
As an actor from the West Country of England, Newton’s exaggeration of the accent is widely regarded as the origin of the gravely ‘scurvy dog’ voice we often associate with pirates. Supposedly, many English sailors came from the West Country, and when piracy was outlawed in the Royal Navy, sailors with the accent moved to the Caribbean to become Pirates — taking their unique dialect along for the ride.
While Newton passed away many years before Talk Like a Pirate Day came into fruition (he died on March 25, 1956), he has long been credited as one of the most definitive pirate figures in pop culture and is now immortalized as the Patron Pirate of Talk Like a Pirate Day.
Pop Culture Piracy
Pirates in media have come a long way since the days of Robert Newton, and nowhere is that clearer in pop culture than the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Originally spawning from the Disney ride of the same name, the original blockbuster hit Curse of the Black Pearl — featuring Johnny Depp as the now-iconic Captain Jack Sparrow — brought piracy back to the silver screen with more force than a cannon blast. Pirates of the Caribbean later received four more films (Dead Man’s Chest, At World’s End, On Stranger Tides, and Dead Men Tell No Tales), and is the 14-highest-grossing film series of all time (as well as the first franchise to produce two or more movies grossing over $1 billion). A sixth film is stated to be in production, with the first draft of the screenplay finished in May of 2020 and a female-led spinoff film also on the horizon, but Depp himself has stated he has no interest in stepping aboard the Black Pearl again.
The worldwide pirate craze even carries on overseas, in some regards, and tales of piracy are popular in more than England and the Americas. The biggest example of this, surprisingly, comes from Japan: the series One Piece, starring a plucky young man with stretchy powers and his pirate crew, is the best-selling manga in history, the best-selling comic printed in book volumes, and one of the highest-grossing media franchises of all time, even placing above James Bond, Superman, and Star Trek. It’s branched out into many films, side stories, action figures, and cookbooks, as well as a wildly popular live-action series on Netflix. The franchise even includes reimaginings of famous figures from pirate history, with references to Captain Kidd, Blackbeard, Anne Bonney, and more (albeit with plenty of creative liberties taken). The series recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, but plans are in place to end the story within the next 3-5 years.
Even the internet has gotten in on the pirate resurgence: Facebook introduced a pirate-translated version of its website to celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day in 2008, and many video games and companies will include Talk Like a Pirate day on their list of major holidays, offering nautical-themed deals and outfits. It’s even extended into education, with O’Reilly book publishing at one point discounting books related to the R Programming Language on the day in celebration of the iconic pirate growl.
Learn Yer Lingo
Interested in learning how to celebrate the holiday yourself, or just want to have some pirate phrases on deck for emergencies? We’ve got you covered. Try introducing a few of these into your conversations today…. we hear they’re a great way to ward off scurvy.
- Ahoy – Hello, Greetings, Good Day, etc.
- Avast- To stop or cease.
- Aye- Yes, right away.
- Blow Me Down! – Amazement, shock, surprise.
- Booty- Treasure, valuables, plunder.
- Davy Jones’ Locker– The bottom of the ocean.
- Grog- A mixture of rum and water, typically a pirate drink.
- Hearties/Me Hearties- Friends, comrades, sailors, or co-workers.
- Heave-Ho!- Put your weight and muscle into it.
- Hornswaggle/Hornswoggle- To cheat someone out of their assets or money.
- Jolly Roger- A Pirate Flag.
- Landlubber– Someone inexperienced with sailing who has no nautical skills. Also used as a general insult during Talk Like a Pirate Day.
- Maroon- To leave someone stranded on a deserted island with no supplies.
- Mutiny- When a pirate crew ganged up on and rebelled against authority, including the ship’s captain
- Plunder- To take treasure or burglarize. Also sometimes used to describe treasure.
- Poop Deck- Make your jokes, but this isn’t the bathroom. The highest deck at the ship’s rear.
- Run a Rig- To play a joke or trick on someone.
- Savvy? – A question asking “Do you understand?”
- Scallywag- A type of word used to address a younger pirate, usually as a joke.
- Sea Dog- An old and experienced sailor or pirate.
- Shipshape- Clean, managed, and under control.
- Shiver Me Timbers!- Another expression of shock or surprise.
- Thar She Blows!- A term to describe a whale sighting.
- Yo Ho Ho!- A cheerful expression, usually used to get someone’s attention
‘N there ye have it. A full chest ‘o information on Talk Like a Pirate Day. That deckhand’a ours may have ‘is head lodged in the crow’s nest half the time, but he do be good where it counts.
If ye be interested in more about Talk Like a Pirate Day, go visitin’ its official website, or the page on the National Day Calendar. Now, the crew here at the S.S. KX’s digital deck be headin’ out for clearer waters…. an’ by that, we of course are meanin’ waters where our grammar ‘be a wee bit better. Until next year, ye scurvy scallywags!