Tuesday, 19 September 2006


Shiver me timbers! The great grand house opposite the fine bookshop be flyin' the flag as ye see in the photo, and it be International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Here at How To Be Speakin' Pirate-Like be advice for ye scurvy dogs on how to be doin' it.
      Enough of that. Why pirates should talk that way is a combination of regional accent (seafarers of the 1600s-1700s tended to come from the English West Country) and stereotype, helped along by cinema and the wonderful Robert Newton (last year the excellent Language Log discussed in some detail - R!? - theories for pirates' strongly rhotic accent). Check out Modern Drunkard Magazine for a nice article, Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum, on the interesting mix of reality and myth that forms our view of pirates.
      I've one book recommendation today: George MacDonald Fraser's The Pyrates. Fraser is the author of the Flashman series novels, but this book has an even looser grip on reality: an impeccably researched, yet thoroughly anachronistic (Gucci boots, tannoys and Kleenex) comic yarn based vaguely on the exploits of Long Ben Avery with cameos of most of the famous pirates that ever lived. It also has the distinction of the longest starting sentence I know of, an evocation of a fictional Merrie England...

It began in the old and golden days of England, in a time when all the hedgerows were green and the roads dusty, when hawthorn and wild roses bloomed, when big-bellied landlords brewed rich October ale at a penny a pint for rakish high-booted cavaliers with jingling spurs and long rapiers, when squires ate roast beef and belched and damned the Dutch over their claret while their faithful hounds slumbered on the rushes by the hearth, when summers were long and warm and drowsy, with honeysuckle and hollyhocks by cottage walls, when winter nights were clear and sharp with frost-rimmed moons shinning on the silent snow, and Chad Duval and Swift Nick Nevison lurked in the bosky thickets , teeth gleaming beneath their masks as they heard the rumble of coaches bearing paunchy well-lined nabobs and bright-eyed ladies with powdered hair who would gladly tread a measure by the wayside with the gallant tobyman, and bestow a kiss to save their husband's guineas; and England where good King Charles lounged amiably on his throne, and scandalised Mr Pepys (or was it Mr Evelyn?) by climbing walls to ogle Pretty Nell; where gallants roistered and diced away their fathers' fortunes; where beaming yokels in spotless smocks made hay in the sunshine and ate bread and cheese and quaffed foaming tankards fit to do G. K. Chesterton's heart good; where threadbare pedlars with shard eyes and long noses shared their morning bacon with weary travellers in dew-pearled woods and discoursed endlessly of 'Hudibras' and the glories of nature; where burly earringed smugglers brought their stealthy sloops into midnight coves, and stowed their hard-run cargoes of Hollands and Brussels and fragrant Virginia in clammy caverns; where the poachers of Lincolnshire lifted hares and pheasants by the bushel and buffeted gamekeepers and jumped o'er everywhere

...that Fraser instantly demolishes with the reality about sanitation and poverty. There be a fine bibliography o' pirate books at its stern end, an' here be a review by the New York Times - Buckling down the swash. Read on, ye landlubbers, damn ye for a lizard else. - Ray

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