Hello again, folks! I’m back with Part 2 of the How To Be A Pirate series!
Last time, we covered how to dress the part, and getting the look down. This time, we’re going to cover something a little more subtle: how to act the part.
Being a pirate is obviously more than looking like one. You’ve got to have attitude, the right speech patterns, and terminology. Sean made some great points about the different kinds of pirates that are out there, but they all come back to the same three things. You’ll see what I mean.
Attitude is a big part of your foray into piracy. If you’re not fearsome in appearance then you’d better be fearsome in manner. Pirates in the 1700s had the benefit of their reputation to strike fear into the hearts of the general public and, on the seas, the sight of the Jolly Roger being hoisted was often enough to coerce a merchant vessel into surrender. A Tauren is intimidating enough because of his size, but a Gnome pirate might have to have a wild look in her eye, be quick to anger, and shout a lot to be feared. Take Baron Revilgaz, for example. He’s not very tall… how do you fear someone who can barely reach your belt buckle? If I had to make my guess, I’d say that the Baron is feared because of one thing: reputation. Revilgaz is no doubt wealthy, so his crewmates would have to be paid well, which lends their loyalty to the leader (let’s face it, a pirate’s true loyalty is to his gold), so he has a reputation for having a solid crew, willing to fight and fight well for him. But for him to be so hated and feared by the Bloodsail Buccaneers, the Baron’s real reputation has to be a bit more sinister or fearsome. Maybe he’s a calculating tactician. Maybe he’s an impressive duelist. Maybe it’s something even darker (Adelai Niska, anyone?). Whatever the Baron’s secret is, he projects an air of confidence and superiority – and you know that when he makes a promise, he’ll keep it, whether it’s a promise of money, or a promise to spill your blood.
Now that we’re sufficiently awed (or terrified) by attitude, let’s talk speech patterns. Pirates speak with a certain cadence to their words. Depending on whether you’re the Brutal Buccaneer, the Cavalier Corsair, or the Polite Privateer will determine your method of speech. Pay close attention to the way Captain Barbossa sounds, the way Jack Sparrow talks, and the way Errol Flynn delivers his lines… but these methods are best when you’re playing the part of a captain. Captains of ships were more often than not educated men to some extent (as evidenced by Barbossa’s banter with Elizabeth Swann early in Curse of the Black Pearl – “I’m disinclined to acquiesce to your request. Means ‘no.’”), so they are more likely to use words befitting their education in the presence of others with an education… with other pirates, not so much. In Jack Sparrow’s case, educated words weren’t his method of speech, but he used his intellect and shrewdness to his best advantage in order to get his way (pretty much any conversation Jack has with anyone… watch the movie again, and you’ll see). The average pirate will use shorter words, use more slang than the captain, and, in the event that they know “educated” words, they’ll probably use them wrong (the difference between ‘infer’ and ‘imply’ is a good example to refer to).
Once you’ve got your attitude fixed firmly in mind, and your speech cadence to match your playstyle, it’s time to learn some terms… because if you’re on deck and the captain shouts, “Belay the bosun’s order! Hard a-port, into the fog! Any man-jack who says a word’ll get a taste of the cat and be keelhauled! Move handsomely, ye feckless swabs, or we’ll all dance with Jack Ketch if we’re caught! With a will!” you’ll be in big trouble if you’re still standing around trying to figure it out. There are a few basic glossaries out there that you can check out, but to really get into how a pirate speaks, you’re going to have to do some work. Watch films, read novels, and spend some time on the History Channel and in the library.
Beyond all of this, it’s a matter of personal taste. No two pirates are the same. They won’t talk the same way, and maybe they won’t use all of the usual or well-known pirate terms, but the one thing they’ll always agree on is nautical terminology. Be sure to keep that in mind.
So there it be, mateys! A right smart guide t’ findin’ yer place among the scurvy, scabrous dogs o’ the seas! Batten down the hatches, trim the main, and get ready to set sail, for when we meet again, ye’ll be wantin’ a way t’ spread word o’ yer exploits, all t’ strike fear into the hearts o’ yer foes!