Friday, September 23, 2011
Booty: Wrapping Up ITLAP Week
That’s why I have to be honest in my reaction to this article over at the usually informative and unbiased NatGeo online. Entitled “Talk Like a Pirate Day Busted: Not Even Pirates Spoke Pirate”, the piece basically begins with “Brace yourself…” and then goes on to tell us that *gasp* no one knows how “real” pirates spoke. In fact, our modern interpretation of “pirate speak” comes down to us from the 1951 Disney movie Treasure Island and specifically Robert Newton, the actor who played Long John Silver.
Forgive me while I say, well blow me down.
Curiously, while the article gets the general gist of pirate language – if such ever existed – correct, they throw in - and omit - a few curious facts. One in particular jumps off the page:
The Golden Age pirate… included large numbers of Scots, Irish, Africans and French, as well as a smattering of Dutchmen, Swedes and Danes.
While, to be fair to NatGeo, this quote is from historian Colin Woodward who authored The Republic of Pirates, it seems like we’re leaving a huge chunk of the pirate population out as well as marginalizing another. From the buccaneer era on piracy was largely a New World profession. Not only were there plenty of English, Dutch and Scandinavian pirates, men (and women) of Native, Spanish, Portuguese and especially Creole descent were represented. Many Golden Age pirates were born in the New World; many pirate and privateer crews were such a polyglot mix that “talking like a pirate” might mean speaking either French or Spanish derived Creole almost exclusively.
The most glaring omission in the article is any mention of The Pirate Guys aside from the introduction. In their book Pirattitude! So You Wanna Be a Pirate? Here’s How! John “Ol’ Chumbucket” Baur and Mark “Cap’n Slappy” Summers have this to say about the origin of the language of the holiday they invented:
… Robert Newton [is] the reason we think of pirates talking the way we do. He did it single handedly.
The English character actor was a ham and, as one critic enthused, “a succulent one!”…
So when he played Long John Silver in the 1951 Disney version of Treasure Island, he drew on his Cornish background and its distinctive dialect to make the peg-legged pirate something truly memorable. He came up with a performance that was all growls and rolling eyes and “Arrr, me hearties.” It made an indelible impression. Even people who never saw Newton’s inimitable performance know that THAT’S what a pirate is supposed to sound like.
To pay the man his due for his influence on piratical speech, we have declared him the patron saint of Talk Like A Pirate Day.
If that isn’t giving the origin of “pirate speak” as we know it its due, I’m not really sure what it is that NatGeo and Mr. Woodward are looking for.
The bottom line: this is all in fun, y’all. I think we can agree that Laurens de Graff never called Nicholas Van Horn a scurvy dog and the Laffite brothers didn’t greet one another with “Ahoy!” Does that make using such language on September 19th less enjoyable? I certainly hope not.
Header: Pirattitude! by The Pirate Guys (find all their books here)