Maybe you are reading a great pirate book, like Robert Louis Stevenson's classic Treasure Island, or playing Sea of Thieves and are looking for some meanings. Perhaps you're in a play or dressing up like a pirate for Halloween or a costume party, and you want to learn some pirate terms and phrases so you can really get into character. Do you want to pick up some lingo for Talk Like A Pirate Day? Whatever the reason, learning some pirate terms can be useful and fun. Read on, me hearties!
50 Pirate Terms and Phrases
If you think that there are only a few pirate terms and phrases to learn, you are absolutely mistaken! We've provided a vocabulary list of 50 fascinating pirate sayings (although many more pirate idioms abound) and you will see that there is quite a bit more to talking like a pirate than running around saying "Aarrr!"
We have included the pirate phrases, as well as the modern English translation of that phrase.
- Abaft, or aft = toward the back of the boat
- Ahoy = Hello
- All hands hoay = Everyone on the deck
- Avast ye! = Stop you!; pay attention!
- Batten down the hatches = A signal to prepare the ship for an upcoming storm
- Binnacle = Where the compass is kept on board the ship
- Black jack = A pirate flag; a large tankard
- Black spot = A death threat (found in Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson)
- Blimey! = Something said when one is in a state of surprise
- Blow the man down = It possibly means getting knocked to the ground or killed (found in a 19th-century sea shanty)
- Booty = Treasure or loot
- Buccaneer = Name for a pirate mainly found in the Caribbean in the 17th and 18th centuries
- Cackle fruit = Hen's eggs
- Coaming = A surface that prevented water on the deck from dripping to lower levels of the ship
- Cockswain, or coxswain = The helmsman
- Crow's nest = The place on the ship where the lookout stand is built
- Cutlass = Type of sword used by the pirates
- Dance the hempen jig = To be hanged
- Davy Jones' Locker = Mythological place at the bottom of the sea where drowned sailors were said to go
- Dead men tell no tales = The reason given for leaving no survivors
- Duffle = A sailor's belongings and the bag they were carried in
- Dungbie = Rear end of the ship
- Feed the fish = If you lose a sea fight your body will feed the fish
- Flibustier = Name for the American pirates found around the West Indies during the Golden Age of Piracy
- Freebooter = A pirate or looter, from the same origin as flibustier, someone who took loot or booty
- Give no quarter = Show no mercy; pirates raised a red flag to threaten no quarter
- Head = Toilet on board the ship
- Heave ho = Instruction to put some strength into whatever one is doing
- Hempen halter = The noose used to hang people
- Hornswaggle = To cheat, swindle
- Jacob's Ladder = Rope ladder that was used to climb aboard ships
- Jolly Roger = The famous pirate flag with a skull and crossbones on it
- Landlubber = A person who is uncomfortable, or not incredibly skilled, at sea
- Man-O-War = The name used for a pirate ship that is heavily armed and ready for battle
- No prey, no pay = A pirate law meaning the crew didn't get paid but took a share of any loot
- Old salt = A sailor that has a great deal of experience on the seas
- Orlop = Lowest deck in the ship where cables are stored
- Pieces of eight = Spanish coins
- Poop deck = Deck that is the highest and farthest back
- Privateer = A sailor sponsored by the government, paid by what he could plunder from an enemy, technically a step up from a pirate
- Run a rig = Play a trick
- Scuttle = To sink a ship
- Scuttlebutt = A cask of drinking water; slang for gossip
- Seadog = An old sailor or pirate
- Shark bait = If you're made to walk the plank, chances are you'll be shark bait. Also, a dying sailor whose body will soon be thrown into the sea
- Shiver me timbers! = An expression used to show shock or disbelief
- Son of a biscuit eater = An insult
- Three sheets to the wind = Someone who is quite drunk
- Walk the plank = A punishment, probably more myth than truth, which entails making someone walk off the side of the ship along a plank. The person's hands were often tied so he couldn't swim and drowned (and then fed the fish).
- Yo ho ho = Possibly from yo-heave-ho, a chant when doing strenuous work, but also can be used to call attention to the speaker.
Talk Like a Pirate
You might be surprised to see some of the sayings on this list of pirate terms. In fact, certain expressions have made their way into everyday life. For example, people often say "Three sheets to the wind" about a drunk person at a party or they will give something the "heave ho." Learning the origin of some everyday expressions is extremely interesting.