Today is another milestone for Triple P. This post marks the one year anniversary of Sailor Mouth Saturday. Traditionally a favorite (if number of hits are any indication), this is my 53rd SMS post. So what better word to delve into than pirate? The very essence of Triple P. And, of course, who else but Jean Laffite, pirate, privateer, racketeer and smuggler, to grace the header? Between the jaunty hat, the moustache, the tiny hands and the anchors on the coat, that picture (produced in 1873, approximately 50 years after the subject's demise) never fails to crack me up.
So pirate. A pirate is a thief at sea. Essentially a highwayman of the oceans, there have been pirates as long as there have been floating objects to plunder. The word has jumped from one language to another, changing subtly but generally carrying that basic meaning.
It looks as if the original word was Greek coming from either peiran, meaning to attempt, or peirates, meaning to attack. Peirates seems to have come out on top and migrated into Roman Latin as piraicos, a sea robber or his ship or both. As Latin continued to evolve into the Dark Ages the word kept the same meaning but began to be pronounced piratia.
The word continued to evolve, becoming pirata in Italian and other Mediterranean lingua franca both in Europe and Africa. Sometimes pirata meant simply a sea captain but eventually the definition of a robber of ships on the high seas stuck.
Pirate entered Middle English during the Medieval period while corsaire, meaning a pirate but morphing in and of itself to mean a privateer, joined the French cannon sometime in the early Renaissance. Once Elizabeth I christened her privateers "sea-dogs" the cat was out of the bag. Now we have buccaneers, freebooters, Barbary corsairs, filibusters and even swashbucklers. The last, interestingly enough, actually meant "highwaymen" until the birth of the English novel in the 18th century. Now Errol Flynn as Captain Blood is thought of as swashbuckling.
Finally, of course, there are the brand of pirates that we know today (with the tag "Somali" so frequently accompanying the word). These are pirates only in the sense that they work from ships. If we're honest in our language, they are thugs and terrorists. But I suppose a victim of Blackbeard or Henry Morgan might have said the same thing.
Not so for our man Laffite, however. Ask those romance novelists and they'll tell you; he was a gentleman to the very end...