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International Talk Like a Pirate Day 2023

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Authored by Laura Wales
Published on 19th September, 2023 3 min read

International Talk Like a Pirate Day

Today (19/09/2023) is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. The parodic holiday was created in 2002 by John Baur and Mark Summers. They decided that there should be a day where everybody talks like a pirate. 

The idea came to the pair whilst playing a game of racquetball. One of them suffered an injury during the game, causing them to call out “Arrr!”, which was redolent of a pirate’s cry. The ensuing conversation between the two friends resulted in the conception of International Talk Like a Pirate Day. The holiday gained exposure when Baur and Summers wrote to columnist Dave Barry about their idea. He included it in one of his columns. Since then, it has been celebrated annually by pirate enthusiasts across the globe. It has even been adopted by the Pastafarian movement as an official holiday. 

The day encourages participants to embrace pirate slang and colloquialisms. Pirate lovers will often celebrate by wearing costumes, playing pirate themed games, singing songs, and attending themed parties. Traditional sea shanties are sung along with more modern pieces including filk musician Tom Smith’s original Talk Like a Pirate Day which was written especially to mark the day. 

The figure of the pirate has been mythologised in pop culture through the influences of literature and film. The picture many of us envisage when we think about pirates is a somewhat caricatured version of the historical, violent criminals of the sea. The modern-day perception of an archetypal pirate with a wooden leg, eye patch, parrot, and tricorn black hat can be attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1883 novel Treasure Island and its subsequent film adaptations. The novel was originally serialised in Young Folks magazine between 1881–1882 and is said to be the first piece of children’s literature about pirates. Its sensationalised imagery created an enduring stereotype. 

Byron Haskin’s 1950 film adaptation of Treasure Island likewise helped to establish the archetypal slang and dialect we associate with pirates. Many popular pirate phrases originated with Robert Newton, the actor who played Long John Silver. Given that pirates were sailors, it is true that they would have used a wide range of nautical jargon. Newton, however, made-up phrases in his stage performance that had not been used by real pirate communities. 

There is some truth to the accent that Newton adopted for the characterisation of Long John Silver: he used a very exaggerated southwest of England/Cornwall accent. Because the west country is located close to the coast, it has typically been associated with seafaring activities and many pirates did in fact come from this region. Some of the main occupations in the area were related to fishing and mining. Those who worked in these industries already possessed some of the transferrable skills that pirates required, such as sailing and tunnelling. The terrain of the Cornish and Devon coast also lent itself to the activities of smugglers and pirates as the many coves and bays provided ideal hideaways. Thus, many pirates would have originated from this part of the UK and spoken with the west country accent. Newton exaggerated the accent’s strong “r” sound and introduced the signature “arrr” of his character. This has influenced the portrayal of pirates ever since, including the dialect that International Talk Like a Pirate Day celebrates. 

Authored by Laura Wales

Laura Wales

Laura Wales is a Marketing and Editorial Assistant at British Online Archives. She is an English Literature graduate from Durham University. She has a particular interest in the history of the First World War, along with the legacies of historical literature in contemporary writing.

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The British Online Archives Notable Days diary is a platform intended to mark key dates and events throughout the year. The posts draw attention to historical events and figures, as well as recurring cultural traditions and international awareness days, in both religious and secular contexts.

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