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Pirate Terms and Slang


Some common language of the Pirate

Addled Insane or foolish

Ahoy! - "Hello!"

Avast! - "Hey!"; From the Dutch word for "hold fast" or "stop"

Barker a pistol

Barrack Stanchion a sailor posted on land

"Belay!" - "Stop that!" or "Shut up!"

Bilge - Foolish talk. The bilges of a ship were usually filled with rack water, hence "bilgewater".

Booty - Any form of loot

Brethren of the coast - The name used by 17th century pirates to describe themselves.

Cackle fruit - Chicken eggs

"Cat-o-nine-tails" or "Cat" - A whip with many lashes, used for flogging. To "let the cat out of the bag" is derived from this.

Caulker - A stiff glass of alcohol taken to round off a drinking bout.

"Damn yer eyes" - A popular insult much used by pirates.

Dance the hempen jig - To hang. Ropes were usually made from hemp.

Davy Jones Locker - The place at the bottom of the sea usually reserved for Pirates.

Deadlights - Eyes.

Dead men - empty bottles from which the spirit has flown.

Dead man's chest - A coffin.

Drivelswigger - Someone who reads too many nautical adventures.

Feed the Fish - To be thrown into the sea, dead or alive.

Flying Dutchman - Ghost ship whose sighting spelled doom on the seas

Freebooter - Another term for Pirate, from the Dutch words for "Free" and "Plunder".

Grog - Most any form of a rum based drink. Usually Rum mixed with the putrid drinking water on board a ship to make it more palatable; can also involve fruit juices when available. Derived from a British Admiral who was fond of drink. To feel "Groggy" is to have maybe over done it a bit...

Gully - A knife or dagger

Handsomely - Quickly. "Handsomely now!" meant "hurry it up!"

Jack Ketch - The hangman. To "dance with Jack Ketch" meant to "to hang".

Jolly Roger - General term for a flag emblazoned with emblems of death. These "pirate flags" were used to warn the pirate's victims to surrender without a fight. Click here for more about Flags

Keelhauling - was meted out to sailors for minor infractions at sea. Typically the victim was tied to a rope looped beneath the vessel, thrown overboard, and then dragged under the keel and up the other side. Since the keel was usually encrusted with barnacles and other crud the guy's hide would be scraped raw and he'd think twice about doing whatever it was he'd gotten keelhauled for again. Sometimes they heaped chains and such on him to add injury to insult. Keelhauling crops up in your Hollywood pirate's conversation about as often as shiver me timbers, but as far as can be told, it was officially enacted as a punishment only by the Dutch. The earliest official mention of keelhauling seems to be a Dutch ordinance of 1560 and the practice wasn't formally abolished until 1853.

Kiss the gunner's daughter - To be bent over one of the ship's cannons and be flogged.

Lights - Lungs.

Oggin - The sea.

On the account - The pirate life.

Poxy, or Poxed - Diseased.

Rope's end - Another term for flogging.

Sea dog - An experienced sailor.

Sea rat & Sea rover -Other names for Pirate.

"Shiver me Timbers!" - An expression of surprise, derived from a sudden blow to a ship, like from a cannonball.

Splice the Mainbrace - To take a drink.

Swab - An ordinary seaman who mopped the decks.

Swallow the anchor - To retire from the life of the sea.

Sweet trade - Another term for Piracy.

Walk the plank - A short walk to a watery grave.


More pirate facts to come!


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