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Did Pirates Really Talk Like That?

Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day, celebrated every September 19th since 2002. The holiday is an invention of Chumbucket and Cap’n Slappy (John Baur and Mark Summers), who dreamed it up in 1995. It’s a fun time to do pirate things, like drink and talk funny, but did real classical pirates talk that way? Not necessarily. The language we use, the gruff voice punctuated with “arrrs” came from the 1950 Disney film Treasure Island, starring Robert Newton as Long John Silver.  

Born in Dorset and educated in Cornwall, Newton based his pirate talk on his own native British West Country dialect. His accent might not have been far off—the south west of England has long been associated with pirates because of its strong maritime heritage; notorious pirate Blackbeard was even said to have come from Bristol, in the heart of that area.

Newton’s iconic role as Long John Silver was so influential that a variation his West Country English became the standard for portrayals of pirates on stage and in the cinema. As historian Colin Woodard told the National Geographic in 2011, “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.”

In reality, pirates of the period came from many countries with a wide variety of speech patterns. Read more about the origins of pirate speech at Time.

And read more about pirates at Neatorama:

Myth-Adventure: The True Story of Captain Kidd

The Last Great Buried Treasure Mystery: The Money Pit at Oak Island

Pirate Lore: 7 Myths and Trrrrruths About Pirates!

5 Little-Known Pirate Stories

Democracy on the High Seas: How Pirates Rocked the Vote

Neatorama Facts: Pirates of the Caribbean

Why It Sucked To Be A Pirate

How to Eat Like a Pirate

The Last Days of Blackbeard


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