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Shiver Me Timbers - Talk Like a Pirate Day

Published on September 21st 2005.


Once upon a time, two Americans were happily playing racquetball, hoping to become a tad healthier and a smidgen thinner. One of them was reaching for a low shot, which had come off the wall at an unusually high rate of speed, and strained something best left unstrained. "Arrr!," he cried. He had started something.

One thing lead to another, and John Baur and Mark Summers were soon encouraging each other in pirate slang, gradually morphing, banana man style, into their alter egos, 'Ol’ Chum Bucket' and 'Cap'n Slappy'. "That be a fine cannonade," one said, to be followed by, "Now watch as I fire a broadside straight into your yardarm!" and other such helpful phrases.

After an hour on the court, they were convinced that lapsing into pirate lingo made the game more fun. They determined there and then that what the world really needed was a new international holiday to celebrate this discovery.

They decided that, to further the noble causes of the sweet trade of piracy, September 19th be the day when all souls over the world should be talkin' like pirates.

'Talk Like A Pirate Day' was born.

But ye canny jus’ declare people be pirates an’ expect ‘em te follow ye (apologies, by the way, for any lapses into a strange Scottish/ Geordie medley…).

For seven years, the idea didn’t really catch on and John and Mark were forced to celebrate Talk Like a Pirate Day on their lonesome. Valiant efforts were going to waste, until they stumbled upon the email address of a certain Dave Barry. Barry is quite well-known in the States, where he be writin' a humour editorial for the great masses o' landlubbers out yonder.

He became devoted to this unlikely cause, and promoted the day in his popular national column. From thar, the media across the seven seas carried the story, and it reached every corner of the world!

So how does one go about speaking pirate? Here are some handy tips for beginners:

1) Double up on all your adjectives. Pirates never speak of “a big ship”, they call it a “great, grand ship!”

2) Drop all your “g’s” and “v’s” when you speak. You'll get words like “sailin’” and “fightin’”, “ne’er” and “o’er”.

3) Instead of saying “I am”, pirates say, “I be”. “You / they are” = “You / they be”.

4) Ne'er speak in anythin' but the present tense, and if it be helpin', start yer sentence wi' a "Arr, me hearty," in a deep, throaty voice — ye'll find that the rest be comin' much easier.

And now for some basic vocabulary.

Ahoy: Hello!

Aye: Why yes, I agree most heartily with everything you just said or did.

Beauty: The best possible pirate address for a woman. Always preceded by “me,” as in, “C’mere, me beauty,” or even, “me buxom beauty,” to one particularly well endowed.

Cat o' nine tails: whip for floggin' scallywags.

Grog: A pirate's favourite drink, usually rum diluted with water, but on TLAP Day you can use it to refer to any form of alcohol.

Lily-livered scurvy dog: a fierce weapon in your arsenal of piratical lingo, meaning faint o’ heart, a bit o’ a nancy.

Matey / Me Hearty: A shipmate or a friend.

Shiver me timbers: an exclamation of surprise, to be shouted most loud.

Smartly – Do something quickly. “Smartly, me lass,” you might say when sending the bar maid off for another round on TLAP day. She will be so impressed she might well spit in your beer.

Sprogs: raw, untrained recruits

Swashbucklin': fightin' and carousin' on the high seas!

Thar: The opposite of "here".

Walk the plank: this one be obvious.

Wench: a lady, although ye gents not be wantin' to use this around a lady who be stronger than ye.

Yo-ho-ho: Pirate laughterJohn and Mark hasten to point out, however, that pirates were bad people. Even the most casual exploration of the history of pirates leaves you hip deep in blood and barbarity, and the friendly Yanks aren't for one minute suggesting that real, honest-to-God pirates were in any way worth emulating. The point of the day is, well, pirate speak is funny. Silliness is the holiday's best selling point, so if you missed last Monday’s event, it’s only another 364 days until the next momentous TLAP Day.

I be already countin’ down.

Jemma McCann

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