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Why Prep?

Talk Like a Pirate
Talk-like-a-pirate Day is September 19th.
(But, there is so much more here!  Pirate superstitions, Pirate Lore, Pirate Ship Lingo, etc.)

Clipart from Clipart Library.


I have done some research (sources at the bottom) into what pirates/sailors of the 17th century talked like.

I hope this helps you to prepare for talk-like-a-pirate day!

IMHO, Bad Pirate = One who loots and plunders.
IMHO, Good Pirate = One who seeks hidden or buried or sunken treasures
Buccaneer = (Barbecuer) [The pirates of the Spanish seas would roast their meat over a native grill.]
Filibuster = (freebooter) [English slang for sea-faring pirate]

P.S.  All sources for this page are listed at the bottom.

Table of Contents

Talk like a pirate

Parts of a pirate ship

Pirate Superstitions

Pirate Lore

Pirate literature
(for kids)


Pirate Vocabulary
 and Pirate Speak
(especially for the classroom)

Modern English 

17th-18th-century Pirate English
Yes. Aye.
No. Nay.
Classmate Matey, or Sea-dog (which is a seal) 
Sea-dogs (or just "dogs" for short) were used as metaphor for sailors (and more especially pirates).  A sea-dog is a seal.

A "salty dog" is an old, ornery sailor.

Learn more about metaphors on Leon's Planet Dot Com.

Teacher Captain [+ Surname]
For homeschoolers:  Captain Mom, Captain Dad
Class of Students Crew
one student crewman
learn how to do something learn the ropes
[New sailors had to "learn the ropes"; meaning that they had to learn how to handle the ropes connected to the sails.]
to have to do something hard have the devil to pay
[The "devil" was the longest seam in a ship; and to pay was to pave or caulk it with pitch (tar).  It was a hard job.]
"May I have a word with the teacher?"

"I need help" (from the teacher).

Parle. - [say:  Par-lay]
[Parle is a French word which means "speak."]
Back of the classroom Aftward (Aft)
Front of the classroom Foreward (Fore)
Attention, all students. All hands on deck.
[In this case "hand" is a synecdoche for sailor.]
Let's get to the bottom of it.
Understand it.
Fathom it.
[Fathom is a unit of measuring depth of the water.  1 fathom = 6 feet.]
Class President Figurehead
[The figurehead was the figure at the front of the ship; purely for ornamental purposes.]
Learn something quickly.
Accomplish a task quickly.
Do it hand over fist.
[Sailors would pull the ropes to raise the sails hand over hand or hand over fist.  It was a matter of pride as to who could do it the fastest.]
Go to the restroom.
Go to the toilet.
Go to the head.
The ship's toilet was located at the head of the ship, just under the bowsprit.
Let's dance. Let's get footloose.
[The bottom of the sail was called the "foot".  If it was loose, the sail would dance in the wind.]
Get off-topic.
Color outside the lines.
Do something outside the established parameters of the classroom.
Do too much.
Go overboard.
Leave something undone. Leave it high and dry.
[This refers to ships that were beached, and probably would remain so.]
Tape Jury-rig
[A "jury-rig" was a temporary fix to something broken on the ship until they could get it repaired properly.]
Give students some extra time to complete an assignment.


Let students complete only a portion of the assignment.

Give Leeway.
Lee side = the side of the ship sheltered from the wind.

Lee shore = a shore that is downwind of a ship

Leeway = satisfactory distance from shore when the lee side is facing the lee shore.

Guess. Take a long shot.
[When gunners tried to shot a cannon at a target far away, the accuracy decreased appreciably.  It was called 'a long shot'.]
Trouble-maker. Loose cannon.
Be stressed out because of the task at hand. Be overwhelmed.
[An overwelmed ship was one that was capsized.]
I'm tired. I'm pooped!
[The highest and most rear deck on a ship was called the "poop deck" or "the poop".  If the ship was "too tired" (too slow) and the sea overtook the ship from the rear, slashing water on the poop deck, the ship was said to "be pooped".]
Cross my heart and hope to die if I should ever tell a lie. Shiver me timbers if I tell a lie.
Shiver = break into splinters

me = my

timbers = ship

Lunch A square meal
[Officers were served their meals on a square tray.]
Taking turns Taking turns
[Sailors would signify the end/beginning of a shift/watch by the turning of the hourglass.]
He/she took my answer!

He/she is copying me.

He/she took the wind out of my sails!

He/she is taking the wind out of my sails!

[Taking the wind out of one's sails was stealing the wind from another ship by crossing or sailing between it and the wind.]
To be sick or to get sick. To be under the weather.
If a sailor was stationed on the "weather side" of the ship, he/she was constantly hit by waves onto the deck.  Those sailors tended to get sick and have to go underdeck to their quarters to get better.
"Time Out" Davy Jones' Locker
Ugh! Aaaaarrrg!


Parts of a Pirate Ship

Clipart from Clipart Library.

Starboard = right side of the ship
Port = left side of the ship


Pirate Superstitions

FOREWORD:  Pirate superstitions revolved around what would bring good luck or bad luck to a sailor.

Good Luck Bad Luck

Dolphins swimming with the ship were thought to be a sign of good luck.



Sharks following a ship were a sign that somebody was going to die.


A pirate would wear a gold circular earring if he/she had sailed around the world or crossed the equator.  Gold rings were especially popular because they were thought to bring the sailor good luck.

Whistling on ship

Whistling on ship was thought to bring high winds (dangerous for ships).

Hence the term "whistling up a storm".

Name of the Ship

For good luck the ship must be named with a woman's name (as all ships are female), but the wrong name can be disastrous...

Also, it is considered bad luck to change the name of a ship; unless, of course, the original name of the ship is bad luck.

Name of the Ship

To name a ship after an engaged or married woman was taboo as it was thought to make the ship jealous.

While many female names end in "a", to name a ship with a name ending in "a" was considered very bad luck.

Right Boot

To catch a right-footed boot in the fishing nets was very good luck, and some sailors (especially the Scots) would fasten the boot to the mast for added good luck.

Also, a sailor should always embark with his right foot in order to ensure a safe journey.

Left Boot

To catch a left-footed boot in the fishing nets was the ultimate bad luck.  To avoid the bad luck sailors would spit on the boot and throw it back into the sea.

To embark with one's left foot was considered bad luck.

Throwing Coins into the sea

Throwing coins into the sea as the ship sets sail is "toll" to Neptune and considered a very good thing to do bringing good fortune on the journey.

Cutting nails or hair at sea

Offering nails or hair was something done to Proserpine (Proserpina) and Neptune would get jealous if that was done in his domain.

Cat(s) Onboard

Sailors believed that having a cat onboard was in general a propitious thing because the behavior of the cat would give sailors warnings of impending weather.

For instance, if a cat licked its fur against the grain it meant a hailstorm was coming; if it sneezed, rain was on the way; and if it was frisky, the wind would soon blow.

If a cat approached a sailor and stayed, it was considered good luck for that sailor.

Cat(s) Onboard

If the ship's cat approached a sailor then immediately walked away, it was considered bad luck for that sailor.

No sailor would ever throw the ship's cat overboard on purpose, but if the cat fell overboard or accidentally got thrown overboard, that would be VERY BAD for the entire crew, because a bad storm would come.



Sailors would often get tattoos of symbols that were thought to bring them good luck.

Red Sky

Red sky at night, Sailor's delight; Red sky at morn, Sailor be warned.


Setting sail on a Sunday was always a good thing.


It is unlucky to set sail on a Friday.


Blue (or any shade/tint of blue) is the best and most propitious color for sailing, but any color except black or green is okay for sailors.  Why?  Because blue is the color of the sea!

This may be one reason why Lapis Lazuli was considered a good luck stone.


Wearing black clothing was not welcome on ships for its association with bad luck, and thus Priests wearing black were not welcome on ships.

And, sailors are not to have black bags either, for it is bad luck to have a black bag on a ship.


Pouring a little wine on the deck was considered good luck.

Also, before drinking, all sailors know that they should offer some to Neptune first to ensure a safe journey.


As green is associated with land, ships were not colored green for fear of hitting land.

And, in extreme cases, nothing green was allowed onboard.

Another possible reason for the no-green rule is because of its association with mold and death (green color skin of the deceased).


Pirate Lore

Item Lore behind it
Birds Sea birds, like albatross and gulls are highly respected by sailors, because it was thought that the birds carried the souls of the sailors lost at sea back home.  To kill one is a BIG NO-NO!  And brings unusual bad luck.

Ravens - since they are not sea birds and are black, portend a bad omen.  Sailors don't like to see ravens around their ship.

Davy Jones Davy Jones was the evil spirit of the sea, who tried to capture sailors to their watery grave.

Davy Jones was a real pirate, but he was a bad one (a really bad one); and he was not liked by his crew.  Eventually he was killed and thrown overboard.  Since that time, he has roamed the seas trying to "capture" sailors and drag them down to his "locker".

Davy Jones' Locker The bottom of the sea.
Flying Dutchman This was a real ship (built and sailed by the Dutch) in the 17th century, but it disappeared at sea and was presumed lost at sea (capsized in a storm probably).  Many sailors (including pirates) have reported seeing the Flying Dutchman as a ghost ship, and to see it is not good.  It portends some impending bad luck for those who see it.
Jonah There was a man (in the Bible) who was very bad luck for the ship he was on, and the ship was almost capsized by high winds, because he defied God.  His name was Jonah.  They threw him overboard to save the rest of the crew and passengers on the ship.  (Read the story in the Bible to find out how he survived).

But, in Pirate Lore, anyone who was bad luck for the ship was called a "Jonah".


Sirens originally had the tail of a fish, the body of a woman, and wings of a bird, but they lost their wings when they lost a singing competition with the Muses.

Sirens were located off the southern coast of Italy, and that area was strictly avoided by sailors, because Sirens would lure sailors to their watery death with their songs and beauty.

Learn more about Sirens on Leon's Planet Dot Com.

Sea Monsters

Portion of map if Iceland

Learn more about Lake Monsters and Sea Monsters on Leon's Planet.


Pirate / Sailor Literature
(for kids)

Title Author Grades
A Wizard of Earthsea Ursula K. LeGuin Great for high school.
My son and I read it while he was in high school.  It combines magic with sailing.  (No pirates).
Isle of Swords Wayne Thomas Batson It's got over 300 pages, but easy reading, so I'd say Middle School.
Moby Dick Herman Melville Great Illustrated Classics (simplified version) is great for kids grades 4-8

Original version for High School.

Mutiny On Board the HMS Bounty William Bligh Great Illustrated Classics (simplified version) is great for kids grades 4-8

Original version for High School.

No pirates, but great nautical literature.

Pirates of the Caribbean Disney Probably can find different versions for different grade levels.
The Pirates of Penn Cove Eldritch Black 4-8
Swiss Family Robinson Johann Wyss Great Illustrated Classics (simplified version) is great for kids grades 4-8

Original version for High School.

Treasure Island Robert Louis Stevenson Great Illustrated Classics (simplified version) is great for kids grades 4-8

Original version for High School.

The Wanderer Sharon Creech
No pirates; but a book about life at sea.
Grades 4-8



Leon's Sources:

CrewSeekers  (pirate talk)

First Class Sailing  (PG-rated)  [nautical superstitions]

Naval History and Heritage  (the head)

Online Etymology Dictionary  (buccaneer and filibuster)

Online Etymology Dictionary (sea-dog)

Pirates Forum  (PG-rated)  [superstitions]

Sea Museum  (pirate superstition)

Theoi  (Sirens)

UTEDWEB  (Color Green)

Wikipedia  (Flying Dutchman)

Wikipedia  (Sailors' Superstitions)

Wikipedia  (Salty Dog)






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