On September 19 each year, you're likely to hear a lot of “Arrr!" and “Ahoy!" Why? Because that's the day many people around the world now celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day. And why not? John Baur (“Ol' Chumbucket") and Mark Summers (“Cap'n Slappy"), the pair credited with the invention of this fun holiday, know how much fun it is to talk like a pirate.
Aye! Ye landlubbers, salty dogs, and scurvy knaves can have all sorts of fun wearing eye patches and shouting things like “Avast, mateys!" and “Shiver me timbers!" And anyone who doesn't participate? Well, those scallywags might just have to walk the plank.
After all, it's easy and everyone knows this is how pirates always talked, right? Actually, historians aren't so sure. Experts believe that modern pirate talk may be mostly the result of books and movies rather than real pirate speak.
The Golden Age of Piracy can be traced back to the early 1700s. Unfortunately, we don't have much written history from that time period. We certainly don't have any audio recordings of pirates speaking, and very few of them left any kind of writings for us to read years later.
So how do we know how pirates talked? Where did all of those colorful pirate phrases we're so fond of using come from anyway? Historians believe one author is the source of many of them.
“Shiver me timbers?" Peg-legged pirates? Talking parrots? All of those familiar pirate sayings and ideas — and about 90% of the other pirate sayings and images we hold dear — came from Robert Louis Stevenson's 1883 novel, Treasure Island.
Unfortunately, Treasure Island came along over 150 years after the end of the Golden Age of Piracy. Rather than historical fact, we can thank Stevenson's imagination for the creation of much of the popular images of pirates we know today.
As for the particular word “Arrr," or “Arrgghh" or many other variations, historians believe its popularity started with the 1950 film version of Treasure Island. In that movie, English actor Robert Newton played a pirate from the West Country in the southwestern part of England. He used an accent from that region and threw “Arrr!" into his speech quite frequently.
Newton used the same accent a couple of years later when he played the pirate Blackbeard in a movie. Since that time, the pirate stereotype of using “Arrr!" frequently in speech has been firmly rooted in our society.
So, if pirates didn't really talk like our popular stereotypes indicate, what did they really sound like? Experts will tell you that no one really knows for sure. In fact, the idea that all pirates talked alike is probably wrong to begin with.
During the Golden Age of Piracy, there were many different pirate crews from many different countries. This means that they almost certainly would not all have spoken the same language, let alone used the same slang phrases. Experts believe that, if there was any common thread amongst pirates in the way they spoke, it was probably the fact that they most likely used common nautical terms on a daily basis.