Illustration for article titled Pirate Speak Is A Myth Perpetuated By Disney

Today is International Talk Like A Pirate Day, but before you get carried away with your ahoys, and your mateys and your timber-shivering, there's something you should know: Pirate-speak, as most of us know it, was invented by Disney; and pirates – real pirates, that is – probably sounded nothing like they do in the movies.

"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. Read more Disney-perpetuated lies:


This io9 Flashback originally ran in 2011.

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