There are lots of terms associated with pirates that you may hear, but do you know what they actually mean? Well, find out with this brief list of words and phrases so the next time you say it, you’ll know its origin.
Jolly Roger – The flags pirates flew (or at least some did). Most pirates seemed to design their own special flag so you’d recognize them when they wanted you to. Pretty good branding tactic. The term may come from the French “jolie rouge.”
Maroon – The Hollywood image of a man left to die on a deserted island may not be too far from the truth. Marooning was apparently a prime punishment for naughty pirates (especially for those who stole from fellow thieves).
Piece of Eight – Common currency – and therefore plunder – during the late 16th and 17th centuries (and still in circulation up to the 19th century). The term “piece of eight” comes from the fact that the coins were often cut into pieces to make payments, and because one piece of eight equaled eight reales.
Careen – Routine ship maintenance. A few times a year, ships needed to be beached and the hulls scraped. It prevented rot and made the ship sail faster. Even modern, non-wood vessels need their hulls scraped regularly.
Letters of Marque – Permission given to privateers from various governments, which basically let them steal from opposing governments – as long as they returned the loot to their employers.
Buccaneer – Comes from the word “boucans,” which means smokehouse. These men had an odd start as pig farmers on the island of Hispaniola. At first, they traded their goods to passing ships. But after the Spanish attacked them, many fled to become some of the most vicious pirates of that time.
Galleon – A type of merchant vessel favored by the Spanish who used these ships to haul their loads of gold and silver from the Spanish Main back to Europe. And often got attacked by pirates en route until they smartened up and started traveling in packs.
East Indiaman – Eventually, the Spanish Main dried up and Europe looked East, especially the Dutch and British, and East Indiamen were there merchant ships of choice. And, consequently, became the choice target for pirates.
Rob Ossian’s Pirate’s Cove is one of the most awesome pirate history sites I’ve found. I used it extensively while researching for Dead Locked. Learn everything you wanted to know and then some at that site.
Stay tuned for a special appearance this week from one of the character’s in Dead Locked!
By User:Fred the Oyster [see page for license], via Wikimedia Commons