Nobody has ever come across a bonafide pirate treasure map. As a general practice pirates didn’t hoard their ill-gotten gains, they spent it like drunken sailors. Which they were.
Pirates believed piercing their ears would enhance their eyesight. Which is no more absurd than modern people thinking piercing their nose will enhance their appearance.
Another term for pirate is freebooter, which comes from the Dutch vrijbuiter, plunderer. Your average pirate didn’t speak Dutch so they decided to be a freebooter and to heck with the Dutch.
A privateer was a sort-of pirate licensed to kill. Something like James Bond. Countries engaged privateers to wage undeclared war on enemy ships using a black budget navy they could deny responsibility for. Something like the CIA.
The whole “Ar-r-r, matey” pirate talk business came from a 1950 movie version of Treasure Island. It was actor Robert Newton’s version of a Bristol accent as it’s thought Blackbeard was born in Bristol. Blackbeard did his pirating out of South Carolina, but “Hey, y’all” just doesn’t sound very piratey, does it?
Early 16th century pirates the “Flying Gang” inspired Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean. Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow manner of speech is patterned after Keith Richards who was not born in Bristol and isn’t a pirate.
Who was Roger of the Jolly Roger and what made him so jolly? Skulls with a full set of bared teeth look to be smiling. Though more of an evil grin, a ghoulish rictus or an all-the-better-to-eat-you-with smirk than a jolly smile. Which is beside the point because that’s not what makes Roger jolly or a Jolly Roger.
The first pirate flags were all black, signaling a targeted ship that should they submit without a fight the crew would be spared. If resisted the pirates would hoist a red flag indicating no quarter would be given. It is thought this red flag was the original Jolly Roger. Folks debate about the origin of the name. Some speculate it’s from the French jolie rouge, meaning “pretty red.” Others say it was named after Sicilian King Roger II who they believe was first to fly it. Nobody really knows for sure.
Not every Jolly Roger sported the now cliché skull and crossbones, or Death’s head. Even so, they were usually festooned with something scary which was the whole point of the flag, instilling fear. Besides skulls, full skeletons were popular as were swords and drinking. The flag was a warning label: ship contains armed and dangerous drunkards. Many were personalized as sort-of pirate logos, a kind of terror branding. Below are our renditions of six Jolly Rogers from some notorious pirates in history.
Top row: Calico Jack, Edward Low. Middle row: Blackbeard (Edward Teach), Stede Bonnet. Bottom row: Thomas Tew, Terry and the Pirates. OK, that last one was our little joke. The real number six is the right flag in the opening pic: Edward England.
While pirates have a colorful, swashbuckling image today they were nothing but sea gangsters who went around robbing and murdering people. To this day there seems to be some kind of connection between flamboyant attire and thuggery. Might be a hedonism thing, we couldn’t say.
“Now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be Pirates.”
“It is when Pirates count their booty that they become mere thieves.”
“The average man will bristle if you say his father was dishonest, but he will brag a little if he discovers that his great-grandfather was a Pirate.”
“Yo, ho, ho, and a bottle of rum.”
–Long John Silver
We wish we had more pirate quotes to quote, we looked, we found, but most were not worth repeating. So to fill out this section we add this one last tidbit:
Believe it or don’t, in the entire Pirate Age, roughly 1690 to 1720, not a single person was ever hung for piracy. You can look it up yourself. In a dictionary. Just like in the opening pic, pictures are hung, pirates are hanged.
Some pro sports teams have mythical names: San Francisco Giants, Tennessee Titans. Others have fierce animal names: Chicago Bears, Detroit Tigers. Others are not-so-fierce animals: Toronto Blue Jays, Indianapolis Colts. And yet others are just plain stupid: Miami Heat, Utah Jazz. But this is article concerns pirates so we can ignore all that. Here are the pirate related team names.
Pittsburgh Pirates Story goes the team was originally the Spiders, but due to their raiding other teams rosters for talent folks started calling them pirates. So they changed the name to Pirates.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Another name for pirate is buccaneer, which comes from the French boucanier, from boucaner, to smoke meat. So that’s bacon…bacon maker…pirate. Connect the dots on that one, ‘cause we can’t.
Oakland Raiders Not pirates strictly speaking, but their logo has a guy with an eyepatch and crossed swords, pretty darn piratey in our book.
Minnesota Vikings Not exactly pirates, Vikings were sea raiders that looted towns instead of other ships. Still, they sailed around plundering like pirates, so that’s close enough for us.
Los Angeles Clippers Man a clipper ship with a crew of violent thieves, hoist the Jolly Roger and there you go. Pirates.
Buffalo Sabers Admittedly pirates used swords, but not sabers. Hangers, rapiers, falchions, and scimitars maybe, but not sabers or cutlasses which both came along after the golden age of piracy ended. We list them all the same because pirates and swords go together like mom and apple pie. Actually pirates are nothing like your mom or ours, but you know what we mean.
Vancouver Canucks Most folks don’t know that canuck is the native Chinook word for pirate. Not buying it? Didn’t go for the Saber bit either? Oh well, on to the last bit.
A usage of brace you don’t hear much these days, “The pirate sported a brace of pistols.” Quite simply, a brace is two. The pirate carried two pistols. So, why not say a pair of pistols? we hear ourselves ask. We hear ourselves guess, back in the day if they weren’t a matched set they weren’t a pair. Think of a pair of glasses or a pair of gloves. Two the same, pair; two of a type but different, brace.
We think the British call suspenders braces. So they might wear a pair of braces, but not a brace of braces. Which would be two pairs of suspenders, four suspenders in total. A single suspender would be a Sam Browne belt. Which didn’t hold up pants, rather it held up itself, if that makes sense.
Pirates didn’t wear Sam Browne belts that we’re aware of, so perhaps we shouldn’t have brought them up. We have no information on whether pirates wore suspenders or not. They did wear eye patches, though never in pairs. They also had hooks for hands and peg legs. Or sans peg leg a crutch, a different kind of brace. The pirate business was obviously pretty hazardous.
Most pirates didn’t have a brace of pistols, they fought with swords. If the more colorful reports are to be believed, they also fought with tooth and nail, which we imagine means in the heat of battle they’d bite people or claw their eyes out. Which might explain all the eye patches.
Pirates kept monkeys and parrots for pets. Perhaps just to be colorful, or maybe because cats don’t go in for sailing. On the other hand there were sea dogs, which weren’t actual dogs but the ship’s crew. Then there’s Chicken of the Sea which…
We seem to have strayed from the word brace through some guff about pirates winding up at some silliness about canned tuna. Which means we’re scraping bottom or scraping the bottom of the barrel. Gone overboard? Call it what you will, it’s the end.