With yet another storm howling past the windows of my local library and more hail and torrential rain spoiling the great British public’s weekend, I’m beginning to see what it must have been like being a 17th century pirate.
As some of you may remember, I’m publishing my Giles Gimingham pirate adventure “Sweet Charity” chapter by chapter on www.jukepopserials.com. In the interest of historical accuracy I’m therefore researching into the ways of the Caribbean Brethren around the time Jamaica’s Port Royal was all but destroyed by a nasty earthquake and tidal wave in June 1692.
I discovered a wonderful book about Welsh pirates and browsed through 17th century pirate vocabulary and slang last night, marvelling at how many modern English language terms actually stem back to the Age of Sail. Every day phrases that we use quite unthinkingly and take as “modern” expressions were the language of buccaneers, pirates, smugglers, merchants and Royal Navy men.
Did you know that “sling your hook” refers to unpopular ship mates, who were told to go and sling their hammocks elsewhere?
Since space was scarce on overcrowded 17th century ships, nobody wanted to sleep next to an unpopular shipmate. How I’d love to tell the Welsh weather to sling its hook and let off steam, storm and rain elsewhere…but there…it’s already done that and my former haunts in the counties of Surrey and Kent are also being buffeted and deluged as I’m writing this!
Or how about the expression “show your true colours”?
This refers to the Brethren’s habit of hoisting their pirate flag only when reaching firing distance to a merchant or Spanish treasure ship.
My personal favourites so far?
“Shake a cloth in the wind”, which means to be slightly tipsy or drunk but not helpless (or legless!). I’m also rather fond of “yoh-ho-ho, heave to and a bottle of rum” which would do nicely right about now!
Admittedly, these pirate expressions come a close second to:
“Catgut Scraper”, which would describe any of the fiddlers hired to keep the men entertained aboard a ship. Pirate captains would recruit musicians into their crews because pirates got easily bored on long voyages, so disputes and fights would often break out over the smallest disagreements. Getting them to sing a sea shanty on deck during working hours was good for moral; even in Sir Henry Morgan’s and Captain Kidd’s day the entertainment value of “Britain’s Got Talent” couldn’t be ignored.
I like the expression because it reminds me how my beloved Bunny The Cat would wander about the house, seemingly singing to herself:) Almost as scary as meeting Captain Edward Teach himself!
and my absolute favourite is…
“The Doctor”, which in the Brethren’s day didn’t mean TARDIS captains Tom Baker, Christopher Eccleston nor doctors Matt Smith or David Tennant, but simply the cooling trade wind in the West Indies, which brings relief to seafarers when the dry season sets in.
If only a dry season would hit the UK this afternoon!
I could forgo lusting after the “Doctor” and quite endure a little hot air instead, if only it would dry out the long gallery of damp socks, shoes and coats accumulating back home! Nothing dries in this weather…and that brings me neatly back to where I began, namely what it must have been like living in the Age of Sail…and as a good little writer who paid attention in William Stadler’s and Richard Asplin’s class, I mustn’t forget to incorporate weather and its effect on people when I write the next chapter for my Giles Gimingham yarn!
Wishing everyone in the UK “Bon Voyage” and a dry season to start soon!
(original artwork by Maria Thermann – animation sourced via heathersanimations.com)