Friday, September 23, 2011

Booty: Wrapping Up ITLAP Week

International Talk Like A Pirate Day was officially on Monday and, to my way of thinking, today closes a full week of piratical celebration. This was a time to “get yer pyrate on”, whether you simply want to spice up your morning hellos with a few “me hearties” or go full force in “pirate drag”, now’s your chance. As The Pirate Guys, who started this brilliant annual festival in 1995 on a racquetball court in the Pacific Northwest, have noted it is all in good fun.

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)


Capt. John Swallow said...

Funny ye mention this...maybe NatGeo should have read me (very brief) post - for a moment I thought they might've plagarized a bit, but then read some o' Woodwards ridiculous comments...

And no one said "arr" in the West Country, it were "Yarr" - a slurred contraction of "Yes Sir" (or as me great Uncle - who spoke mostly French - would label his creations, "Yessir!"

Pauline said...

Thankee for your link and the added info. The implication that those of us who delve with gusto into our collective seafaring history aren't aware that Robert Newton invented "modern pirate speak" set my teeth on edge I must say.

In fairness, it was actually ol' Timmy! who pointed out the puoted passage in Pirattitude! after Triple P supporter Dwight sent us the link to the NG post.

Capt. John Swallow said...

Aye, Timmy's got a good eye (some say he has two) for keepin' things ship-shape, as it were! While we all like to have a good time and enjoy pokin' fun at "polyester pyrates", we do take a serious turn at separatin' fact from fiction...many a seafarer died early for want o' proper knowledge!

We're none of us wee'ns wavin' a plastic cutlass around; we've a few leagues sailed and a few tankards emptied - and perhaps more than a passing idea o' what we speak (or at the very least the wherewithal to do the research).

Thank ye for keep the ship aright...

Timmy! said...

Ahoy, Pauline! And thankee for the props... Thankee to Captain Swallow for noticin' me good eye too. That's the one try to keep open most times. But in all fariness, ever since me catract surgery a few years back, they both be pretty fair.

Pauline said...

It's all good, Timmy! As long as they both work to some degree, who is to question? (Vague reference intended)