PIRATE GLOSSARY

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PIRATE GLOSSARY


Admiral of the Black - A title given to the leader of the Brethren of the Coast.

aft - At, in, toward, or close to the stern of a ship.

ahoy - An interjection used to hail a ship or a person or to attract attention.

American Main - The eastern coastal lands of North America.

Arr! - An exclamation.

avast - A command meaning stop or desist.

aye (or ay) - Yes; an affirmation.

ballast - Heavy material that is placed in the hold of a ship to enhance stability.

Barbary Coast - The Mediterranean coastline of North Africa, from Egypt to the Atlantic coastline.

barkadeer - A small pier or jetty vessel.

barque (also bark) - A sailing ship with from three to five masts, all of them square-rigged except the after mast, which is fore-and-aft rigged; a small vessel that is propelled by oars or sails.

belay - (1) To secure or make fast (a rope, for example) by winding on a cleat or pin. (2) To stop, most often used as a command.

belaying pin - A short wooden rod to which a ship's rigging is secured. A common improvised weapon aboard a sailing ship, because they're everywhere, they're easily picked up, and they are the right size and weight to be used as clubs.

bilge - (1) The lowest part inside the ship, within the hull itself which is the first place to show signs of leakage. The bilge is often dank and musty, and considered the most filthy, dead space of a ship. (2) Nonsense, or foolish talk.

bilged on her anchor - A ship holed or pierced by its own anchor.

bilge rat - (1) A rat living in the bilge of a ship. It is considered the lowliest creature by pirates, but many pirates take to eating the animals to survive. (2) An insulting name given by a pirate.

bilge water - Water inside the bilge sometimes referred to as bilge itself.

black jack - A leather tankard.

black spot - A black smudge on a piece of paper used by pirates as a threat. A black spot is often accompanied by a written message specifying the threat. Most often a black spot represents a death threat.

Blimey! - An exclamation of surprise.

blow the man down - To kill someone.

boatswain (also bosn or bosun) - A warrant officer or petty officer on a merchant ship who is in charge of the ships rigging, anchors, cables, and deck crew.

boom - A long spar extending from a mast to hold or extend the foot of a sail.

booty - Treasure.

bounty - Reward or payment, usually from a government, for the capture of a criminal, specifically a pirate.

bowsprit - The slanted spar at a ship's prow which is the furthest front of the ship. It is usually used as a lead connection for a smaller, navigational sail. It was from the bowsprit that Blackbeard's head was hung as a trophy.

Brethren of the Coast - A self-given title of the Caribbean buccaneers between 1640-1680 who made a pact to discontinue plundering amongst themselves. After 1680, a new generation of pirates appeared, who did not trust each other and the fraternity ended.

brigantine (also brig) - A two-masted sailing ship, square-rigged on both masts.

bring a spring upon her cable - To come around in a different direction.

broadside - a general term for the vantage on another ship of absolute perpendicular to the direction it is going. To get along broadside a ship was to take it at a very vulnerable angle. This is of course, the largest dimension of a ship and is easiest to attack with larger arms. A "Broadside" has come to indicate a hit with a cannon or similar attack right in the main part of the ship.

Buccaneer - A pirate, especially one of the freebooters who preyed on Spanish shipping in the West Indies during the 17th century. The buccaneers were first hunters of pigs and cattle on the islands of Hispanola and Tortuga, but were driven off by the Spanish and turned to piracy. Buccaneers were said to be heavy drinking, cruel pirates.

bucko - A familiar term meaning friend.

cable - A heavy rope or chain for mooring or anchoring a ship.

cackle fruit - Hens eggs.

capstan - An apparatus used for hoisting weights, consisting of a vertical spool-shaped cylinder that is rotated manually or by machine and around which a cable is wound.

careen - To take ia ship into shallower waters or out of the water altogether and remove barnacles and pests such as mollusks, shells and plant growth from the bottom. Often a pirate needs to careen his ship to restore it to proper speed. Careening can be dangerous to pirates as it leaves the ship inoperable while the work is being done.

carouser - One who drinks wassail and engages in festivity, especially riotous drinking.

case shot - A collection of small projectiles put in cases to fire from a cannon; a canister-shot.

Cat o'nine tails (or cat) - a whip with nine lashes used for flogging. "A taste of the cat" might refer to a full flogging, or just a single blow to "smarten up" a recalcitrant hand.

Chain Shot - Two cannonballs chained together and aimed high in order to destroy masts and rigging.

chandler, or ship-chandler - see sutler.

chantey (also chanty, shantey or shanty) - A song sung by sailors to the rhythm of their movements while working.

chase - A ship being pursued. ie: "The chase is making full sail, sir" translates to "The ship we're after is going as fast as she can."

chase guns - cannon situated at the bow of a ship, used during pursuit.

clap of thunder - A strong, alcoholic drink.

clipper - A fast moving ship.

code of conduct - A set of rules which govern pirates behavior on a vessel.

coffer - A chest in which treasure is usually kept.

cog - A small warship.

come about - to bring the ship full way around in the wind. Used in general while sailing into the wind, but also used to indicate a swing back into the enemy in combat.

Corsair - (1) A pirate, especially along the Barbary Coast; a romantic term for pirate. This term was used for Christian and Muslim privateers in the Mediterranean between the 16th and 19th centuries. The Barbary corsairs centered on North African states and were often "hired" by Muslim nations to attack Christian ships. The Christian Corsairs were known as the Maltese corsairs and they took their orders from the Knights of St. John to attack the Turks. (2) A pirate ship, often operating with official sanction.

coxswain - A person who usually steers a ship's boat and has charge of its crew.

crack Jennys tea cup - To spend the night in a house of ill repute.

crimp - To procure (sailors or soldiers) by trickery or coercion, or one who crimps.

crow's nest - A small platform, sometimes enclosed, near the top of a mast, where a lookout could have a better view when watching for sails or for land.

cutlass - A short, heavy sword with a curved blade used by pirates and sailors. The sword has only one cutting edge and may or may not have a useful point.

dance the hempen jig - To hang.

Davy Jones' Locker - A fictional place at the bottom of the ocean. In short, a term meaning death. Davy Jones was said to sink every ship he ever over took, and thus, the watery grave that awaited all who were sunk by him was given his name. To die at sea is to go to Davy Jones' Locker.

deadlights - (1) Strong shutters or plates fastened over a ship's porthole or cabin window in stormy weather. (2) Thick windows set in a ship's side or deck. (3) Eyes. ie: "Use yer deadlights, matey!"

dead men tell no tales - Standard pirate excuse for leaving no survivors.

doubloon - A Spanish gold coin.

draft - The depth of a vessel's keel below the water line, especially when loaded; the minimum water depth necessary to float a ship.

draught (also draft) - (!) The amount taken in by a single act of drinking. (2) The drawing of a liquid, as from a cask or keg.

driver - A large sail suspended from the mizzen gaff; a jib-headed spanker.

execution dock - The usual place for pirate hangings, specifically on the Thames in London, near the Tower.

fathom - A unit of length equal to six feet, used principally in the measurement and specification of marine depths.

fire in the hole - A warning issued before a cannon is fired.

fire ship - A ship loaded with powder and tar then set afire and set adrift against enemy ships to destroy them.

flogging - The act of beating a person severely with a rod or whip, especially the cat or the punishment of being beaten.

fluke - The broad part of an anchor.

Fo'c's'le (or Forecastle) - (1) The section of the upper deck of a ship located at the bow forward of the foremast. (2) A superstructure at the bow of a merchant ship where the crew is housed.

fore (also forrard) - At, to, or toward the front end of the ship.

furl - To roll up and secure

gabion - A cylindrical wicker basket filled with earth and stones, used in building fortifications.

gaff - A spar attached to the mast and used to extend the upper edge of a fore-and-aft sail.

galleon - A large three-masted sailing ship with a square rig and usually two or more decks, used from the 15th to the 17th century especially by Spain as a merchant ship or warship.

gally - A low, flat vessel propelled partly, or wholly by oars.

gangplank - A board or ramp used as a removable footway between a ship and a pier.

gangway - (1) A passage along either side of a ships upper deck. (2) A gangplank. (3) An interjection used to clear a passage through a crowded area.

gibbet (cage) - Chains in which the corpses of pirates are hung and displayed in order to discourage piracy.

Gold Road - A road across the Isthmus of Panama used to transport gold by train of pack mules.

to go on account - A pleasant term used by pirates to describe the act of turning pirate. The basic idea was that a pirate was more "free lance" and thus was, more or less, going into business for himself.

grapple (also grappling hook, grappling iron, or grapnel) - An iron shaft with claws at one end, usually thrown by a rope and used for grasping and holding, especially one for drawing and holding an enemy ship alongside.

grog (see also spirits) - An alcoholic liquor, especially rum diluted with water. Admiral Vernon is said to have been the first to dilute the rum of sailors (about 1745.)

grog blossom - A redness on the nose or face of persons who drink ardent spirits to excess.

gun - A cannon.

gunwalls - The sides of the top deck which act as a railing around the deck, and have openings where heavy arms or guns are positioned.

hail-shot - A shot that scatters like hail when fired from a cannon.

hands - The crew of a ship; sailors.

handsomely - Quickly or carefully; in a shipshape style.

hang the jib - To pout or frown.

hardtack (also sea biscuit) - A hard biscuit or bread made from flour and water baked into a moisture-free rock to prevent spoilage; a pirate ships staple. Hardtack has to be broken into small pieces or soaked in water before eaten.

haul wind - To direct a ship into the wind.

hearties - A term of familiar address and fellowship among sailors.

heave down - To turn a vessel on its side for cleaning.

heave to - An interjection meaning to come to a halt.

hempen halter - The hangmans noose.

ho - Used to express surprise or joy, to attract attention to something sighted, or to urge onward as in Land ho! or Westward ho!

hogshead - (1) A large cask used mainly for the shipment of wines and spirits. (2) A unit of measurement equal to approximately one hundred gallons.

holystone - A piece of soft sandstone used for scouring the wooden decks of a ship.

hornswaggle - To cheat.

hulk - British prison ships that captured pirates and privateers.

interloper - One that trespasses on a trade monopoly, as by conducting unauthorized trade in an area designated to a chartered company; a ship used in unauthorized trade.

jack - A flag, especially one flown at the bow of a ship to indicate her nationality.

Jack Ketch - The hangman. To dance with Jack Ketch is to hang.

Jack Tar , or tar - A sailor.

jib - A triangular sail stretching from the foretopmast head to the jib boom and in small craft to the bowsprit or the bow.

jolly boat - A light boat carried at the stern of a larger sailing ship.

Jolly Roger - A pirate flag depicting a skull-and-crossbones. It was an invitation to surrender, with the implication that those who surrendered would be treated well. A red flag indicated "no quarter."

jury mast - a temporary or makeshift mast erected on a sea vessel after the mainmast has been destroyed. Often, in combat, the mast was the most damaged (providing the ship didn't sink). Without the mast, a ship was powerless, so a term grew out of the need to make masts to power damaged ships.

keel - The underside of a ship which becomes covered in barnacles after sailing the seas.

keelhaul - To punish someone by dragging them under a ship, across the keel, until near-death or death. Both pirates and the Royal Navy were fond of this practice.

killick - A small anchor, especially one made of a stone in a wooden frame.

lad - A way to address a younger male.

landlubber or just lubber - A person unfamiliar with the sea or seamanship. The term doesn't derive from "land lover," but rather from the root of lubber, meaning clumsy or uncoordinated. Thus, a landlubber is one who is awkward at sea for familiarity with the land. The term is used to insult the abilities of one at sea.

lanyard (or laniard) - A short rope or gasket used for fastening something or securing rigging.

lass - A way to address a younger female.

lateen sail - A triangular sail set on a long sloping yard.

league - A unit of distance equal to three miles.

lee - The side away from the direction from which the wind blows.

Letter of Marque - a document given to a sailor (privateer) giving him amnesty from piracy laws as long as the ships plunders are of an enemy nation. A large portion of the pirates begin as privateers with this symbol of legitimacy. The earnings of a privateer are significantly better than any of a soldier at sea. Letters of marque aren't always honored, however, even by the government that issues them. Captain Kidd had letters of marque and his own country hanged him anyway.

line - A rope in use as part of the ship's rigging, or as a towing line. When a rope is just coiled up on deck, not yet being used for anything, it's all right to call it a rope.

list - To lean or cause to lean to the side.

loaded to the gunwalls - To be drunk.

log - (1) A record of a ship's speed, its progress, and any shipboard events of navigational importance, or the book in which the record is kept. (2) A knotted length of line with a piece of wood at the end which is thrown into the water to determine how many "knots" run out in a set period of time.

long boat - the largest boat carried by a ship which is used to move large loads such as anchors, chains, or ropes. pirates use the boats to transport the bulk of heavier treasures.

long clothes - A style of clothing best suited to land. A pirate, or any sailor, doesn't have the luxury of wearing anything loose that might get in the way while climbing up riggings. Landsmen, by contrast, could adorn themselves with baggy pants, coats, and stockings.

lookout - A person posted to keep watch on the horizon for other ships or signs of land.

loot - Stolen goods; money.

lugger - A two-masted sailing vessel with a lugsail rig.

lugsail - A quadrilateral sail that lacks a boom, has the foot larger than the head, and is bent to a yard hanging obliquely on the mast.

main sheet - The rope that controls the angle at which a mainsail is trimmed and set.

man-of-war - A vessel designed and outfitted for battle.

maroon - To abandon a person on a deserted coast or island with little in the way of supplies. It is a fairly common punishment for violation of a pirate ship's articles, or offending her crew because the victims death cannot be directly connected to his former brethren.

marooned - To be stranded, particularly on a desert isle.

matey - A piratical way to address someone in a cheerful, if not necessarily friendly, fashion.

me - My.

measured fer yer chains - To be outfitted for a gibbet cage.

mizzen - A fore-and-aft sail set on the mizzenmast.

mizzenmast - The largest and, perhaps, most important mast located in the mizzen; the third mast or the mast aft of a mainmast on a ship having three or more masts.

mutiny - To rise against authority, especially the captain of a ship.

Nelsons folly - Rum.

nipper - A short length of rope used to bind an anchor cable.

nipperkin - A small cup or drink.

no prey, no pay - A common pirate law meaning a crew received no wages, but rather shared whatever loot was taken.

overhaul - (1) To slacken a line. (2) To gain upon in a chase; to overtake.

parrel (also parral) - A sliding loop of rope or chain by which a running yard or gaff is connected to, while still being able to move vertically along, the mast.

Pieces of Eight - Spanish silver coins worth one peso or eight "reales.," sometimes literally cut into eight pieces, each worth one real.

pillage - To rob of goods by force, especially in time of war; plunder.

pink - A small sailing vessel with a sharply narrowed stern and an overhanging transom.

pinnace - A light boat propelled by sails or oars, used as a tender for merchant and war vessels; a boat for communication between ship and shore.

piracy - Robbery committed at sea.

pirate - One who robs at sea or plunders the land from the sea without commission from a sovereign nation; the opposite of a privateer.

Pirate Round - Route from North America to the Indian Ocean.

Plate Fleet - Fleet of Spanish ships used to carry silver and gold to Europe.

plunder - To take booty; rob.

poop deck - The highest deck at the stern of a large ship, usually above the captains quarters.

port - (1) A seaport. (2) The left side of the ship when you are facing toward her prow.

pressgang - A company of men commissioned to force men into service such as on a vessel, specifically a pirate ship.

Privateer - a privateer is a sailor with a letter of marque from a government. This letter "allows" the sailor to plunder any ship of a given enemy nation. Technically a privateer was a self employed soldier paid only by what he plundered from an enemy. In this, a privateer was supposed to be above being tried for piracy. A privateer is theoretically a law-abiding combatant, and entitled to be treated as an honorable prisoner if captured. Most often, privateers were a higher class of criminal, though many turned plain pirate before all was said and done.

provost - The person responsible for discipline on board a ship.

prow -- The "nose" of the ship.

quarter - derived from the idea of "shelter", quarter is given when mercy is offered by pirates. To give no quarter is to indicate that none will be spared. Quarter is often the prize given to an honorable loser in a pirate fight. If enraged, however, a pirate would deprive the loser any such luxury.

quarterdeck - The after part of the upper deck of a ship.

red ensign - A British flag.

reef - An underwater obstruction of rock or coral which can tear the bottom out of a ship.

reef sails - To shorten the sails by partially tying them up, either to slow the ship or to keep a strong wind from putting too much strain on the masts.

rigging - The system of ropes, chains, and tackle used to support and control the masts, sails, and yards of a sailing vessel.

rope's end - Another term for flogging. ie: "Ye'll meet the rope's end for that, me bucko!"

rum - An intoxicating beverage, specifically an alcoholic liquor distilled from fermented molasses or sugar cane.

run a rig - To play a trick.

run a shot across the bow - A command to fire a warning shot.

rutters - Detailed instructions listing all that is known about a place or rout.



Sail ho! - An exclamation meaning another ship is in view. The sail, of course, is the first part of a ship visible over the horizon.

salmagundi - A salad usually consisting of chopped meat, anchovies, eggs, and onions, often arranged in rows on lettuce and served with vinegar and oil.

scallywag - A villainous or mischievous person.

schooner - A fore-and-aft rigged sailing vessel having at least two masts, with a foremast that is usually smaller than the other masts.

scourge of the seven seas - A pirate known for his extremely violent and brutal nature.

scuppers - Openings along the edges of a ship's deck that allow water on deck to drain back to the sea rather than collecting in the bilge. "Scupper that!" is an expression of anger or derision meaning "Throw that overboard!"

scurvy - (1) A disease caused by deficiency of vitamin C often affecting sailors. (2) Mean and contemptible; a derogatory adjective suitable for use in a loud voice, as in "Ye scurvy dogs!"

scuttle - (1) A small opening or hatch with a movable lid in the deck or hull of a ship. (2) To sink by means of a hole in a ships hull.

Sea Legs - The ability to adjust one's balance to the motion of a ship, especially in rough seas. After walking on a ship for long periods of time, sailors became accustomed to the rocking of the ship in the water. Early in a voyage a sailor was said to be lacking his "sea legs" when the ship motion was still foreign to him. After a cruise, a sailor would often have trouble regaining his "land legs" and would swagger on land.

sheet - A line running from the bottom aft corner of a sail by which it can be adjusted to the wind

Shiver me timbers! - An expression of surprise or strong emotion.

shrouds - One of a set of ropes or wire cables stretched from the masthead to the sides of a vessel to support the mast.

Sink me! - An expression of surprise.

six pounders - Cannons.

skysail - A small square sail above the royal in a square-rigged vessel.

sloop - A single-masted, fore-and-aft-rigged sailing boat with a short standing bowsprit or none at all and a single headsail set from the forestay. This boat was much favored by the pirates because of its shallow draught and maneuverability.

smartly - Quickly. "Smartly there, men!" = "Hurry up!"

snow - A square-rigged vessel, differing from a brig only in that she has a trysail mast close abaft the mainmast, on which a large trysail is hoisted.

Spanish Main - Lands taken by Spain from Mexico to Peru including the Caribbean islands.

spanker (see also driver)- The after sail of a ship or bark, being a fore-and-aft sail attached to a boom and gaff.

spike - To render (a muzzleloading gun) useless by driving a spike into the vent.

spirits - An alcoholic beverage, especially distilled liquor.

splice the main brace - To have a drink or perhaps several drinks.

spyglass - A telescope.

square-rigged - Fitted with square sails as the principal sails.

squiffy - Somewhat intoxicated; tipsy.

starboard - The right side of the ship when you are facing toward her prow.

stern - The rear part of a ship.

strike colors - To lower, specifically a ships flag as a signal of surrender.

sutler - A merchant in port, selling the various things that a ship needs for supplies and repairs.

swab - (1) To clean, specifically the deck of a ship. (2) A disrespectful term for a seaman. ie: "Man that gun, ye cowardly swabs!"

swing the lead - The lead was a weight at the bottom of a line that gave sailors a way to measure depth when near land. To Swing the Lead was considered a simple job, and thus came to represent one who is avoiding work or taking the easy work over the hard. In today's terms, one who swings the lead is a slacker.

tack - (1) The lower forward corner of a fore-and-aft sail. (2) The position of a vessel relative to the trim of its sails or the act of changing from one position or direction to another.

tackle - A system of ropes and blocks for raising and lowering weights of rigging and pulleys for applying tension.

take a caulk - To take a nap. On deck of a ship, between planks, was a thick caulk of black tar and rope to keep water from between decks. This term came about either because sailors who slept on deck ended up with black lines across their backs or simply because sailors laying down on deck were as horizontal as the caulk of the deck itself.

tender - A vessel attendant on other vessels, especially one that ferries supplies between ship and shore; a small boat towed or carried by a ship.

topgallant - Of, relating to, or being the mast above the topmast, its sails, or its rigging.

topmast - The mast below the topgallant mast in a square-rigged ship and highest in a fore-and-aft-rigged ship.

topsail - A square sail set above the lowest sail on the mast of a square-rigged ship or a triangular or square sail set above the gaff of a lower sail on a fore-and-aft-rigged ship.

transom - Any of several transverse beams affixed to the sternpost of a wooden ship and forming part of the stern.

trysail - A small fore-and-aft sail hoisted abaft the foremast and mainmast in a storm to keep a ship's bow to the wind.

walk the plank - Perhaps more famous than historically practiced, walking the plank is the act of being forced off a ship by pirates as punishment or torture. The victim, usually blindfolded or with bound hands or both, is forced to walk along a plank laid over the ship's side and fall into the water below. The concept first appeared in nineteenth century fiction, long after the great days of piracy. History suggests that this might have happened once that can be vaguely documented, but it is etched in the image of the pirates for its dastardly content.

warp - To move (a vessel) by hauling on a line that is fastened to or around a piling, anchor, or pier.

weigh anchor - To haul the anchor up; more generally, to leave port.

wench - A young woman or peasant girl, sometimes a prostitute.

wherry - A light, swift rowboat built for one person usually used in inland waters or harbors.

yard - A long tapering spar slung to a mast to support and spread the head of a square sail, lugsail, or lateen.

yardarm - The main arm across the mast which holds up the sail; Either end of a yard of a square sail. The yardarm is a vulnerable target in combat, and is also a favorite place from which to hang prisoners or enemies. Black Bart hung his governor of Martinique from his yardarm.

yawl (or dandy) - A two-masted fore-and-aft-rigged sailing vessel similar to the ketch but having a smaller jigger- or mizzenmast stepped abaft the rudder; a ships small boat, crewed by rowers.

ye - You.

Yellow Jack - A yellow flag flown to indicate the presence of an illness, often yellow fever, aboard a ship. Often the flag is used to trick pirates into avoiding potential targets.

yo-ho-ho - An exclamation associated with pirates.

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