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 plunder.

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 Boucaniers.

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 being "flogged".

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 foreign shipping.

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 meaning.

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 unlimited.

Keel - Lowest lengthwise running timber of ship.

Land Ho! - Traditional calling when a sailor sights land.

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 crew's work.

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 pay.

Peg Leg - This was a nickname, given by pirates to those who had replaced a leg with a wooden prosthetic. The Spanish name is Piť de Palo, the Dutch is Houtebeen. Two of the best known peg-legged pirates were Francois le Clerc and Cornelis Jol.

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 circulated.

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 crew.

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.

Page best viewed with a 1024x768 screen resolution.

Copyright © 2000-2005 KAL/BrethrenCoast. All Rights Reserved. 1