Thanks for the reminder Google

Google would like to remind you…

“Talk Like a Pirate Day” could be the first internet-generated holiday (could Joss Whedon’s birthday be far behind?).  Originated as an inside joke between a couple of friends, and popularized by Dave Barry, September 19 is a day to answer your friends with an, “Arrr, matey!” or to announce your intention to run out the guns, order your opponent to heave-to and prepare to be boarded. Heck, do your best impersonation of Robert Newton’s Long John Silver, dress with a hook for a hand, eye patch and a fake parrot and you can get free donuts. Its whimsical, harmless fun that brings to mind a cartoon Captain Hook or storybooks filled with peg-legged buccaneers digging up the sands, hoping X really marked the spot.

Which, really, is how we’d rather think of pirates.  Its a fun, sanitized version that in no way calls to mind the atrocities committed along the American coastline of the 17th and 18th centuries. It also keeps us from thinking of their fates, like Edward Teach (aka Blackbeard), who was killed in combat. Or Major Bonnett, an associate of Blackbeard’s, who was executed by hanging.

Major Stede Bonnet, at the gallows. via wikipedia.com

Major Stede Bonnet, at the gallows. via wikipedia.com

You can read more about them, and about 20 more, in Cpt. Charles Johnson’s, A General History of the Robberies & Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates. In 1794, it was an exciting and racy depiction of the pirates of the time. Ironically, its been used as inspiration for the fictional pirates of Peter Pan and Treasure Island.

1998 Ed.

How serious does anyone take piracy?  Under US law, you go away for life.

Whoever, on the high seas, commits the crime of piracy as defined by the law of nations, and is afterwards brought into or found in the United States, shall be imprisoned for life.

Which is a little more kind than the 1819 statute, under which Thomas Smith, former crewman of the Creollo was sentenced:

That if any person or persons whatsoever shall, upon the high seas, commit the crime of piracy as defined by the law of nations, and such offender or offenders shall be brought into or found in the United States, every such offender or offenders shall, upon conviction thereof, &c., be punished with death.

Oddly, International Talk Like a Pirate Day falls close to the anniversary of a New Jersey piratical event.  It was on September 20, 1797, that William Brigstock, mariner on board the frigate Hermione, murdered a lieutenant Foreshaw, “with a certain tomahawk, the value of eight-pence.” Mr. Brigstock was a mariner  under the command of Captain Hugh Pigot, who “did betray the trust in them reposed as mariners,” and, “with force of arms did turn pirate.”

Circuit Court of the US, NJ District,Middle Circuit

Circuit Court of the US, NJ District, Middle Circuit

According to the court records, he was, “moved and seduced by instigation of the Devil,” and was described as acting, “feloniously, piratically, [and] wilfully…”

Acting “piratically,” it seems, did not involve parrots or peg legs.

So is it weird that we’re embracing these characters by pretending to talk like pirates for a day?  No way.  Even in the 1790’s authors like Captain Johnson were exploiting and romanticizing stories of pirates, and society loved them. We’re celebrating the fun, the myth of Hollywood pirates from Erroll Flynn to Orlando Bloom. International Talk Like a Pirate Day is going to stay great fun as long as anyone continues to remember Johnny Depp swaggering around, Keith Richards-like in dreadlocks and high-top boots. Who takes history seriously when they’re ordering donuts with a deep “Arrr” and holding a plastic toy hook?

 

(Edit: 24 Sept. Added categories)

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Join the conversation! 6 Comments

  1. The interesting wrinkle here is that the accent was made up specifically for the Disney adaption of Treasure Island. http://dialectblog.com/2011/05/24/pirate-accent/. Does this remove the fans from the truth/reality of who pirates were? Thoughts?

    Reply
    • Not to me. Like I’d said, I look at it as a celebration of the myth, the same way that a Renaissance Faire is a celebration of something we’ve romanticized. People can enjoy it on its surface.

      Is there an analogy with enjoying Labor Day and forgetting the plights of workers in the 19th and early 20th centuries?

      Reply
  2. This just goes to show that cultures can be adapted for any audience! Pirates of the Caribbean made scallywags and first mates kid friendly, a phenomenon we see in many other IPs. In the earliest Batman comics, Batman carried a gun and shot people dead, but, in the ’90s, we got Batman: The Animated Series featured right next to The Animaniacs on the WB. Repurposing characters can open up doors to reaching a whole new fandom, even if the origins aren’t all sunshine and rainbows.

    Reply
    • Totally. Bring something into pop culture in an easily accessible manner, and you can bring everything about the covert culture associated with it.

      I remember when Renaissance Faires weren’t as popular as they are now; they were small, well-acted affairs that drew moderate crowds. As pirates and swashbucklers became more popular in movies, RenFaires started to adapt. Now, they’re much bigger affairs, with pyrotechnics and bigger budgets.

      (You have to admit, though Batman; the Animated Series was much more gritty and intense than any previous depiction of Batman.)

      Reply
  3. For starters, I have to say I’m a bit bummed that I missed out on Talk Like a Pirate Day yesterday. Maybe I’ll catch it next year. This post made me think of the way we characterize pirates today, like Wayne said.
    But to be able to do that correctly, there must be a level of respect and acknowledgment about the origin of pirates (or any other type of culture/icon/historical figure). Do billion dollar industries like Disney do it well? Maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but it’s changed the way we view things, so much so that we create something like this holiday, which is all in good nature, but there may be a need, somewhere, to understand the past.

    Reply
    • I like that things like this can open a dialogue, or point out something that we see in popular culture and bring up its obscure origins. For example, I started reading about the history of the French Foreign Legion after talking about Cinc de Mayo with a military history aficionado years ago.

      And feel free to have your own Talk Like a Pirate day tomorrow…if anyone asks, tell them I said it was okay.

      Reply

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About mikewgoodman

I am a renaissance-swordfighting enthusiast and I enjoy historical reenactments (where I focus my attention on Elizabethan culture, historical swordfighting, and the London Masters of Defense). I'm an avid roleplaying gamer, have done some game design, and I write. I share my home with a son who loves games, a wife who loves her garden, and a pack of mercenary cats.

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history, participatory culture

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