Talk Like a Pirate Day 2016
Arrrrr! September 19th is Talk Like A Pirate Day. The holiday, invented by John “Ol’ Chumbucket” Baur and Mark “Cap’n Slappy” Summers, was popularized in a 2002 column by Dave Barry. Talking like a pirate for the purposes of the holiday tends to mean using a lot of “pretend pirate,” Treasure Island-inspired vocabulary (think “shiver me timbers!” and “avast, me hearties!”). Historically, however, “talking like a pirate” tended to refer to using profane or coarse language, as a number of historic newspaper articles show.
In an instance from 1882, the incongruity of a woman talking like a pirate accompanied other crossings of traditional gender expectations. A short article titled “Cops in Crinoline” presents one Sadie McBride, who delivered several drunks to the Omaha police department: “She is of medium height, and built like a female Hercules, and talks like a pirate king, her language being more forcible than chaste or elegant.” The article concludes, “Here is a woman, now, who might lay some claim to woman’s rights, as she could fight as well as vote for her rights. Her laudable ambition should be encouraged by Mayor Boyd by appointing her to the first vacancy on the force.”
A rhyme from 1908 presents the pirate’s vocabulary as a way for more generally decorous men to express their anger:
Mild mannered men like pirates talk When raw decisions make them squirm They holler “Kill the umpire” though In truth they wouldn’t hurt a wormFinally, we see the story of a parrot used in a play unleashing curses on unsuspecting chorus girls, in an article from 1907 with the subtitle ”Quiet Bird, Which None Thought Could Talk, Cusses Like a Pirate when Irritated, and Chorus is Panic-Stricken.” As the chorus girls were waiting in the wings for a final entrance, the parrot was awakened by a disturbance backstage and made its presence known with a “torrent of profanity.” The chorus girls fled, believing that they had heard a ghost. However, the story ended happily with a stagehand silencing the parrot by covering its cage with a cloth, and the chorus performing its finale.
Search for more examples of historical pirate talk in Chronicling America, Historic American Newspapers from the Library of Congress, or in other primary source collections from Penrose Library.