Myth Buster: Did Pirates Have Their Own Slang?

Saturday, September 19th was 2020’s “International Talk Like A Pirate Day”. For those who participated, their sentences were likely full of “Arghhh”s and “Yo ho ho”s. After all, that’s how pirates have always talked in the movies and TV shows. For example, Captain Hook in Disney’s Peter Pan (1953) movie, Disney Junior’s Jake and the Neverland Pirates TV show, and other pirates in similar films. Contrary to popular opinion, the majority of these freebooter phrases are traced back to works of fiction rather than actual history. Nonetheless, without recordings there is little factual evidence to support this “fact”.

Going off the first idea which the article “‘Talk Like A Pirate Day’ Busted: Not Even Pirates Spoke Pirate” from National Geographic stated, “[m]ost scholars think English-speaking… pirates spoke exactly the same as English-speaking merchant sailors of the time…,”. Therefore, one could say that Disney invented the classic pirate accent. After all, Robert Newton- who played Long John Silver in Disney’s Treasure Island (1950) motion picture- derived some phrases from his native English West Country dialect and included them in his performance. Among those phrases was the iconic “argh”. Newton further spread his seadog style language when he played Blackbeard in Disney’s Blackbeard, the Pirate (1952).

Since Newton’s freebooter reign, most if not all pirates have carried on his buccaneer slang. In fact, it has become part of the pirate lifestyle right next to hooks, peg legs, and parrots. All things considered, the recognizable “pirate talk” may not be very historic but is definitely fun.

by Peyton Erb

photo: pirate101

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