Ahoy - A sailor's call to draw attention.
Articles - Contract signed by pirates when
signing with a ship. It stated the rules as well as
shares of profits.
Avast - Stop
Black Jack - A leather tankard made stiff with a coating of tar. Used by dockside pubs and taverns to serve wine and beer.
Ballast - Heavy materials at the bottom of a ship used to keep the ship upright.
Blow - Short, intense gale or storm.
Boatswain or Bosun - The Warrant Officer in charge of sails, rigging, anchors and associated gear.
Booty - Term for profits taken from
Boucan - French word for a grill used to smoke
meat. The word buccaneer came from boucan. Smoking
meat for sale to passing ships was common from about
1620 to 1670. Men were illegally hunting and smoking
the meat until the Spanish cracked down on them. Many took up pirating since their livelihood was over.
These men at the time were known as
Bow or fore - Front of ship, Forward.
Broadside - The simultaneous firing of all the guns on one side of a ship.
Bulkhead - A vertical partition inside of a ship.
Buccaneer - The Term originally applied to the hunters of wild oxen and pigs on the island of Hispaniola, but later it was used to describe the pirates and pirateers who plundered the shipping and coastal towns in the West Indies and on the coasts of South and Central America in the second half of the seventeenth century.
Bumboo - A mixture of rum, water, sugar, and
nutmeg. Favoured among West Indians as well as
buccaneers and pirates.
Careen - To heel over a ship to clean the seaweed and barnacles from her bottom.
Castles - These were raised sections of ships.
They came from earlier times when archers would use
the raised platforms to gain an advantage over their
foe. Those ships had extremely high castles. Castles
were either fore ( forward ) or aft ( rear ).
Cat-O'-Nine-Tails - A whip made from knotted
ropes, used to punish crewmen. What was meant by
Cog - A ship developed to withstand pirate attacks. It had very high sides and a raised bow and stern.
Colors - The flag flown by a vessal to show her nationality.
Commissions - Governments would issue these
licenses to privateers. They authorized raids on
Corsairs - A Pirate or Privateer operating in the Mediterranean. The most famous corsairs were those based on the Barbary Coast of North Africa who were authorized by their governments to attack the merchant shipping of the Christian countries.
Crimp - a person who is tricked or press ganged into serving on a crew.
Cutlass - A short, curved, thick sword. The prefered weapon of many a buccaneer. Possibly a carry over weapon from the days of making boucan.
Davy Jones' Locker - According to sailor's lore,
Davy Jones is an evil spirit in the sea. His locker
was the ocean where he received dead sailors.
Dead Man's Chest - A true location now called
Dead Chest Island in the Virgin Islands. Robert Louis Stevenson ran across the reference while reading "At
Last: A Christmas in the West Indies", a travel book
by Charles Kingsley. Stevenson used the phrase in his book "Treasure Island", combining it with a little
sea-ditty as thus:
Fifteen men on the dead man's chest
Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
Drink and the devil had done for the rest.
Deck - The exposed area of the ship which the men did their work.
Dirk - A long thin knife. It was used for fighting in close quarters, as well as cutting rope.
Doubloon - A gold coin minted by Spain or Spanish colonies. Worth about seven weeks pay for an average sailor
Earrings and Eyepatches - There is no proof that
pirates wore either of these decorations. They seem
to be the imagination of authors to liven up their
characters. At the height of the age of piracy,
around 1700, earrings were no longer fashionable, and pirates like everyone else were in keeping with the
fashions of their day.
Fathom - A measure of six feet, used to describe the depth of water.
Figurehead - A carved figure perched on the front or bow of sailing vessels that helped establish a ship's identiy. This also refers to the captain when the spouse is on board.
Flibustier - French term for pirates during the golden age of piracy.
Fluke - The portion of an anchor that digs securely into the bottom, holding the boat in place; also, any occasion when this occurs on the first try.
Freebooter - Another term for pirate.
Gibbet - A wooden frame from which dead pirates were hung, often in a metal cage especially fitted for the dead man. This was done as a warning to others who would think of taking up a career in piracy.
Go on the account - to embark on a piratical cruise
Grog - British naval seamen received a portion of liquor every day. In 1740, Admiral Edward Vernon
ordered the rum to be diluted with water. Vernon's
nickname was Old Grogram, and the beverage was given
the name grog in their disdain for Vernon.
Grommet - A name British seamen gave to an
apprentice sailor, or ship's boy. The word comes from the Spanish word grumete, which has the same
Jolly Roger - The Jolly Roger was the pirate's
flag. It had a black background and a symbol (usually white) symbolizing death. The jolly roger came into
use about 1700. Before then pirates used the colors
of their nationality. Only Edward England flew a flag with the skull and crossbones motif, but all those
flying the Jolly roger had symbols signifying either
death, violence or limited time. The variations were
Keel - Lowest lengthwise running timber of
Land Ho! - Traditional calling when a sailor
Landlubber - Lubber is an old slang word for
someone who is stupid and lazy. Sailors added land to it to describe someone stupid about the ways of life
aboard a ship.
Letters of Marque - A commission or license issued by the
government authorizing seizure of enemy property. In Britain and her colonies the letter was issued by the sovereign, the Lord High Admiral, or a Colonial Governor
Maroon - Pirates used marooning as an act of
punishment. A transgressor of their codes would be
stripped and left upon an isolated island with only a few supplies, if any at all. Most transgressors
preferred a quick death to marooning, for it could
mean starvation or worse, isolation for years, until
rescue or death.
Mast - These were upright beams which sails were
suspended from. The number of mast varied. Their
names were, mainmast ( largest mast centrally located ), fore-mast ( front of ship ), aft-mast ( rear of
mainmast ), mizzenmast ( usually lateen-rigged, rear
and sometimes front of ship, used to improve steering ), bowsprit ( extended out at an angle over the bow
Mate - The word mate comes from the word meat,
and originally meant people who shared food. Later it came to be known as a companion. Mate was also the
title of an officer aboard naval and merchant ships.
The mate oversaw the sailors, ensuring that the
captain's orders were carried out. He also was
responsible for stowing cargo and organizing the
No Purchase, No Pay - A term used to mean "no
plunder, no pay". At the time, the English word
purchase referred to any plunder, loot, or booty. A
pirate sailing under this term ( in the ship's
articles ) would have to seize loot or forfeit
Peg Leg - This was a nickname, given by pirates
to those who had replaced a leg with a wooden
prosthetic. The Spanish name is Pié de Palo, the
Dutch is Houtebeen. Two of the best known peg-legged
pirates were Francois le Clerc and Cornelis
Peso ( Piece of Eight ) - The peso was the main
coin in the Spanish-American colonies. It was
slightly larger than the 19th century U.S. silver
dollar. It had a value of eight reales. Often the
coin would be cut into 8 sections, each one
representing 1 reale. Hence the name "piece of
eight". The Spanish government minted an immense
amount of these coins and they were widely
Picaroon - Term meaning both pirate and slaver.
Ponton - An English prison hulk, or converted ship hull where captured pirates were held.
Port - Left side of a ship.
Press Gang - a group of sailors who "recruit" for their ship using violence and intimidation
Privateer - An armed vessel or persons aboard, which are authorized by a commission or "letter of marque" from a government to capture the merchant vessels of an enemy nation.
Prize - A prize was a ship which was captured.
The word is derived from the latin pretium, meaning
prize, value, reward, wages.
Quarterdeck - As the need for castles was
diminished so too was their size. Fore and
aft-castles were replaced with the terms quarter-deck and fore-deck.
Quartermaster - Under pirates, the quartermaster
had an almost equal amount of authority as the
captain. He was elected and as such was the crew's
voice. If a ship was captured, the quartermaster
almost always took over the captured ship. He
maintained order, settled arguments, and distributed
supplies. The quartermaster was in charge of all
booty gained and distributed it among the
Sailing - The fine art of getting wet and becoming ill, while slowly going nowhere at great expense.
Scuppers - holes pierced in deck near bulwarks to allow surplus water to drain off.
Scurvy - A disease resulting from a vitamin C deficiency charactorized by weakness, anemia, and spongy gums. In the sense of 'scurvy dog' it meant low or mean. (not angry but low in quality)
Sea Rover - A pirate or pirate's ship.
Shiver my timbers - An imprecation used by "stage-sailors" presumably of nautical origin, shiver here is used in the sense of "to shatter" or "splinter into pieces", the timbers of a ship.
Starboard - Right side of ship.
Stern or aft - Rear of ship.
Strike the Colors - to haul down a ship's flag as a signal of surrender.
Sweet trade - the career of piracy.
Swab - A swab is a mop made from rope used to
clean the deck. It is also an insult intended to show contempt for a crude, ignorant person.
Treasure Map - Once again this is a fictional
device dreamed up by authors. Pirates did not bury
their loot. It probably came about after Captain
Kidd's capture as he was purported to have seized
more booty than was found with him. The populace
found that the burial rumour was a plausible
explanation for the lack of booty and the burial
theory has been with us ever since.
Walk the Plank - Walking the Plank referrred to
blindfolding a prisoner, tying his hands to his
sides, and forcing him to walk a plank that was
suspended out over the sea. This vivid description of pirate's torture and entertainment sparks the
imagination, and well that it should, for that is
where it sprang from. It is fictional, the work of
19th century artists.
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