“Walk the plank, walk the plank”, said the blue and gold feathered companion of the sword wielding pirate.

Did you ever wonder why pirates are always depicted with parrots in movies and books?  There is even a clever macaw in the block buster “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies.  They always seem to be either helping their masters slay the enemy or antagonizing the prisoners.

Why do pirates talk funny?  AAARRRRRRGGGGG Matey!  Shiver me timbers you scally wag!  Was this type of language common for buccaneers or is this another Hollywood fantasy.

I did a little looking into these stereotypes and found a great article describing the myths and facts about our Black Beards and Jack Sparrows.  Here is what I found.

Parrots

Seafarers in the tropics commonly brought home exotic fauna as souvenirs. Parrots were particularly popular because they were colorful, could be taught to speak, and were easier to care for than, say, monkeys.  They also fetched a good price back in London. However, one can’t imagine a crewman actually heaving at the capstan with a bird perched on him.

Hooks, Peg Legs & Eye Patches

Seamen often got seriously hurt in battle or bad weather, and amputation was the primary treatment for major limb injuries – the ship’s surgeon (or carpenter) typically just sawed off the unlucky extremity ASAP and tied off or cauterized the blood vessels. Men missing hands were often seen; surviving the loss of a leg was relatively rare, though, and the ubiquity of peg-legged pirates is almost certainly the Long John Silver effect at work. Lost eyes, and thus patches, weren’t too unusual.

Piratespeak

“Arrrr” showed up late, probably in movies of the 1930s. Actor Robert Newton played Silver in the 1950 version of Treasure Island, one of the better portrayals of old-school piracy, and reprised the role in sequels and on TV; his accent featured a strong rolling R, which likely helped fix “arrrr” in the piratical canon. Much pirate lingo, like “avast,” was simply nautical speech of the time; “shiver my timbers” predates Stevenson, but he ran with it.

Walking the plank

Unmentioned in historical accounts of the golden age; tossing someone over the side was quicker. In one instance from 1829 the perps apparently had some extra time and/or panache, and men were indeed tied, blindfolded, weighted with shot, and made to walk. This can’t have been a total anomaly (ancient pirates may occasionally have used a ladder in some planklike fashion) but it wasn’t common.

Skull and crossbones

This was only one of many pirate-flag insignia. Why fly a pirate flag, anyway? To terrorize victims into surrendering without a struggle. The earliest such flags were plain red or black sheets – red symbolizing blood and battle, black for death. Later captains added emblems: hearts dripping blood, fiery balls, hourglasses, cutlasses, skeletons, etc. Around 1718, Captain Richard Worley flew a black flag with a white death’s-head and crossed femurs, a symbol of death dating to medieval times. By about 1730 this design had caught on among English, French, and Spanish pirates in the West Indies and was called the “Jolly Roger” or “Old Roger.”

Pirate Reading

Here are some good books if you want more pirate facts.  Enjoy and let me know what you think if buy them.

Pirate (DK Eyewitness Books)
The World Atlas of Pirates: Treasures and Treachery
Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates

Cheers to the Salt Life Mates!

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