Avast, mateys: It turns out "pirate talk" is based on lies propagated by Disney

Illustration for article titled Avast, mateys: It turns out "pirate talk" is based on lies propagated by Disney

Hey everyone, we need to talk. There's really no easy way to put this, so I'll just give it to you straight. Disney lied to us; pirates almost definitely didn't talk like, well, pirates — at least not like the salty dogs and scalawags in Hollywood that we're all familiar with.


"There isn't much in the way of scientific evidence in regards to pirate speech," says historian Colin Woodard, author of The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down.

In fact, according to this article by National Geographic's Ker Than, many of the pirate phrases we're all familiar with can actually be traced back to the 1950s Disney movie Treasure Island, starring Robert Newton in the fictional role of pirate Long John Silver (featured in the clip below).

"Newton's performance — full of 'arrs,' 'shiver me timbers,' and references to landlubbers — not only stole the show, it permanently shaped pop culture's vision of how pirates looked, acted, and spoke," Woodard told Than.

Than explains:

Newton based his pirate talk in the film on the dialect of his native West Country in southwestern England, which just happened to be where Long John Silver hailed from in the Treasure Island novel.

In the English West Country during early 20th century, "'arr' was an affirmation, not unlike the Canadian 'eh,' and maritime expressions were a part of everyday speech," [Woodard] said.

But while many pirates and mariners did hail from the West Country-so you might have heard an "arr" here or there-most did not, so the majority of pirates almost certainly didn't speak like Newton's Silver, Woodard added.

So how did pirates of the 17th and 18th centuries really speak? Historians aren't really sure, though most of them guess that they spoke more or less the same as English-speaking merchant sailors.

But don't let technicalities like these ruin your swashbuckling good time the next time you feel like dropping some yars, thars, and yo ho hos; as far as we're concerned, talking like a pirate — even a fictional one — is always a savvy decision.


Read more about the fact and fiction behind pirate speak over at National Geographic.

Top image via




I'd rather have "Talk Like a Hoser, eh" Day than "Talk Like a Pirate" Day.