Saturday, December 15, 2012

Sailor Mouth Saturday: Corsair

We have made it to the middle of December, Brethren, and that means that for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere our time in darkness is soon to be redeemed by light. The Solstice is only six days away. It also means that chez Pauline is celebrating the 232nd birthday of my favorite uncle: Renato Beluche, corsair-extraordinaire. So, as a bit of a birthday present, I'm changing things up for this SMS and offering the definitions and etymologies of the key words used to mean a raider on the high seas. Not all mean "pirate" and some distinctions are subtle. Points we can be a little prickly about in my family.

Buccaneer: The general understanding is that the word is an anglicized version of the French boucanier, one who cooks things on the type of barbeque known in old San Domingue as a boucan. Admiral Smyth, in The Sailor's Word Book has this to say under his buccaneer entry:

A name given to certain piratical rovers, of various European nations, who formerly infested the coasts of Spanish America. They were originally inoffensive settlers in Hispaniola, but were inhumanly driven from their habitations by the jealous policy of the Spaniards; whence originated their implacable hatred to that nation.

Corsair: Also of French origin; corsaire means privateer in French. We know from their letters that many of the Laffite brothers' men referred to themselves as "corsairs." Renato Beluche certainly did. In a letter to a Venezuelan newspaper in 1822 he wrote: "General Padilla remembers that I was a corsair. And what is the matter with that?" Where the General had implied piracy on Beluche's part, the accused took onus and reminded the readers that he sailed under Bolivar's flag as a privateer. The term was also applied to pirates from Barbary shores.

Filibuster: This too began as a French word: filibustier meaning freebooter. In this sense, which originally meant a soldier of fortune, it was applied by the Spanish to the original buccaneers. By the early 19th century it had taken on a new meaning in North and South America. Filibusters were the secret groups of speculators formed, particularly along the Gulf Coast and most notably in New Orleans, to supply arms to South American rebellions for cash. Again the Laffites, Dominique Youx and Beluche were involved in a post-War of 1812 group of filibusters supplying small arms and cannon to Mexico.

Pirate: The Latin word pirata may have meant sea captain but the English word pirate is essentially the seagoing version of the land-based word highwayman. A pirate is a sea robber with no connection to cause or country - other than themselves and their ships.

Privateer: Admiral Smyth says it best:

Men-of-war equipped by individuals for cruising against the enemy; their commission is given by the admiralty, and revocable by the same authority. They have no property in any prize until it is legally condemned by a competent court.

The issue of proper libel by a court is the real sticking point in the difference between pirate and privateer. Letters of marque, like any other document, can be easily forged. But courts for condemning legal prizes are not so easily come by.

Sea-dog/Sea-wolf: These terms sprang up in England during the reign of Elizabeth I who used them to describe her sea captains - her favorite being Sir Francis Drake - who raided the Spanish Main. In that sense, another euphemism for privateer.

I believe that list covers the highlights fairly well. Happy Saturday, Brethren; may your commission stay valid, and the courts of libel smile upon every prize you bring in.

And Happy Birthday, Uncle Renato, you old corsaire you.

Header: Engraving from a painting of Renato Beluche by Francisco Capuleta now in the Museo Naval de Venezuela


Pam Keyes said...

Joyeaux anniversaire, Renato!

Pauline said...

Pam, well said indeed!

Timmy! said...

Happy Birthday, uncle Renato!

"This is nothing but an obvious attempt at saying something..." is my favorite quote from Beluche's letter, Pauline.

Pauline said...

Absolutely! You can just imagine him red-in-the-face angry at General Padilla. Go get 'em, Beluche.