Brethren, it's finally here! International Talk Like a Pirate Day! And I'm already celebrating (thus the picture above: an artist's rendition of the scene currently unfolding in my back yard). Most people imagine that if you're really going to talk like a pirate, there will be some swearing. They don't call it "cursing like a sailor" for nothing, right? Or do they?
Sailors in general are a superstitious lot, as we have discussed on more than one occasion. Certain things were absolutely mandatory aboard ship in a given situation lest tragedy befall the ship and crew. As an example, whistling was almost required during a dead calm in order to "whistle up the wind". A sailor not whistling in this situation was thought of as suspicious at best and crazy at worst (the mentally ill were bad luck in any circumstance). On the opposite side of the coin, there were innumerable things that could bring the wrath of God down on the ship and her company. One of these things was swearing.
You might hear a sailor curse a blue streak by land, but aboard ship very few things were more unacceptable than taking the Lord's name in vain with the bodily function kind of swearing coming in a close second. This is not to say that "Hell and damn!" or "shit" weren't heard on a regular basis, but there were limits. Many of the colorful "isms" that we routinely consider to sound piratical are actually just homespun ways of getting around the seven words you didn't used to be able to say on television.
Nobody ever imagined that dogs got scurvy, but scurvy dog was far better than God damn dog any day. Routine sailor euphemisms included thundering, bilious, rot it, dash it, dang, darn, gosh and so on. Next time you tell your kid to use dang instead of damn, spice it up with some pirate talk. It might help.
The Devil and God had a plethora of aphorisms that allowed the sailor to speak with intent without offending any potentially harmful spirits. Deuce was favored for the Devil as in deuce take it or deuce have your hide. God, less colorfully, simply had the first letter in his name amputated: od rot it, od's death, down to the od place.
The last had other connotations as well. Hell was one of the worst things to evoke verbally and the "od" place in that curse may have in fact been more like the "odd" place: Hell. Davy Jone's locker was another such euphemism that implied not a relaxing, scented candles and foot massage post-death experience but the kind of sulphur burning and whip cracking that one saw in Medieval paintings. Disenchanting at best.
The fact is, people swear and sailors perhaps more so than others (at least until long-haul trucking became a viable profession). Be darned if its not cheerful to have some less ear assaulting options to use, though. And it may very well be that we have sailors - and pirates among them - to thank for it. I bet you weren't expecting that, were you, Brethren?
Happy Talk Like a Pirate Day, me buckos! Raise a glass o' grog to the Brethren in the od place, and I'll spy ye in the week ahead.