8 Words to Spice Up Your Talk Like a Pirate Day

Celebrate a more authentic Talk Like a Pirate Day with these pirate pronunciations and pirate sayings.

Mignon Fogarty,
Pirate ships

International Talk Like a Pirate Day is coming up on September 19, so today we’ll talk about pronunciations and phrases associated with pirates! 


For example, you may be wondering why pirates are usually portrayed as speaking a rhotic variety of English—in other words, why do pirates say, “Arr”? 

One theory is that many famous pirates, including Blackbeard (real) and Long John Silver (fictional), were said to come from a British region known to have a strong rhotic West Country accent. 

The 'Arr!' of a pirate comes from the West Country English accent.

Pirates also came from other regions, and “Arr” was used in some depictions of pirates before the 1950s, but the actor Robert Newton is largely responsible for popularizing the “Arr” sound for depicting pirates. Newton played Long John Silver in the movie “Treasure Island” in 1950 and Blackbeard in the movie “Blackbeard, the Pirate” in 1952. 

Newton grew up near that same West Country region in southwestern England as these pirates—Dorset, to be specific—and he used the local accent to portray the pirates on film, and the hard-R accent has been associated with pirates ever since. But pirates weren’t a homogeneous group. There were Scottish pirates, French pirates, Spanish pirates, and so on, so you can’t say there was one specific way that pirates talked. Some may have said “Arr,” but a lot probably didn’t. We don’t have recordings or even many writings to help figure it out.


The word “pirate” itself is old. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it is “Of multiple origins. Partly a borrowing from French [and] partly a borrowing from Latin.” Many languages have a similar sounding term for these sea raiders including Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, German, and Italian. Online Etymology Dictionary traces it all the way back to the Proto-Indo-European word “per-ya-.”

Other long-used names for pirates include “buccaneers” and “freebooters.”


“Buccaneer” first described pirates along the Spanish coast, and believe it or not, the word is related to “barbecue.” A boucan was a type of barbecue, and a boucaner was someone who dried meat on the barbecue. French settlers on St. Domingo were called “boucanier,” which meant “someone who hunts wild oxen” and dries it on the boucan or barbecue. Those French hunters turned to pirating “after being driven from their trade by Spanish authorities,” according to Online Etymology Dictionary, and thus, “buccaneer” became another word for “pirate.”


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‘Freebooters” is a another word for “pirate” that surprised me because I’ve only heard it used recently to refer to online pirates—usually to refer to people who steal other people’s YouTube videos and post them to their own accounts—but it also goes way back. You can trace it to a Dutch word in the 1500s that meant “free booty” as in “free plunder or profit” that led to the word “vrijbuiter,” which meant pirate or robber—someone who goes after that free booty. From the Dutch “vrijbuiter,” English-speaking people called pirates “freebooters.” 


And Another current word you’ll know that has surprising origins in piracy is “filibuster.” It goes back to that same Dutch word that gives us “freebooter,” this time coming to English via the Spanish, who called pirates in the West Indies and Central America “filibustero.” (The French also called pirates a name from the same origin: “flibustier.”) 

In English, “filibuster” originally referred to those same West Indies and Central American pirates, but in the 1850s and 1860s also came to refer to outlaw adventurers from the United States who, according to Etymology Online, “tried to overthrow Central American governments.”

Someone who is filibustering is pirating the senate.

A few years later it was used to describe a senator who tried to obstruct the normal function of the the legislature. A filibuster described a person just like a gardener describes a person and a player describes a person. Soon after again, it came to refer to the act itself. Someone who is filibustering is essentially pirating the senate (or other governing body), and “filibuster” was a noun that got verbed, so to speak, for the people who like the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon that says “Verbing weirds language.”


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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