September 19th, 2007


Such A Day.

Among the most tersely evocative paragraphs in the English language is the following, reportedly an entry in the log of the notorious Captain Blackbeard:

"Such a Day, Rum all out: — Our Company somewhat sober: — A Damn'd Confusion amongst us! — Rogues a plotting; — great Talk of Separation. — So I look'd sharp for a Prize; — such a Day, took one, with a great deal of Liquor on Board, so kept the Company hot, damn'd hot, then all Things went well again."

So begins International Talk Like A Pirate Day!

But it doesn't end with Blackbeard: the accent we've come to identify with pirates came two centuries later, in a salty performance by actor Robert Newton as the peg-legged, pop-eyed, parrot-wearing Long John Silver, in Disney's 1950 Treasure Island. Newton's performance as the film's most memorable character is distinguished by a roughened version of his native Cornish accent. The piratical "Arr, matey!" comes to us from that performance. Newton wasn't the first to link piracy with Cornwall (Gilbert & Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance takes place in that region, and Cornwall's position at Britain's southwest peninsula made it a likely pirate haven), but his growled Cornish brogue has become the definitive voice of piracy. Tender and villainous by turns, Newton's Silver is not only the archetypal pirate but a marvelous character study, and Treasure Island remains my favorite pirate movie. So go out'n'rent it, me hearties, and mimic such lines as:

  • "So be it! But afore an hour's out, ye'll be beggin' 'elp from me. Them that die'll be the lucky ones."

  • "Sit ee down at table to starboard if ye kindly will, aaaaaarrrrrrrrr."

  • "Well, blow me down for an old sea carf."

  • "You're a smart one, Jim, smart as paint you are."

  • (to his parrot)"Ain't you the pretty one, swearin' blue fire in front of a gentleman."

  • "There'll be no killin' till I gives the word."

  • "When the thirst is on 'e, hahahahah, bite into a pippin (apple) real savage. Hahahahah. It staves off the desire."

  • "'Try reasonin' first,' says I. I never was one to see poor seamen shot down needlesslike."

  • "Truce be over! Cutlasses, you swabs! Slash 'em down!"

  • "Come back 'ere, you lubberly turks. Oh, for ten toes!"

  • "Avast! ... Shove me off or, by the powers, you'll get what I gave George Merry!"

  • "I thinks gold dust o' this 'ere boy. I took to 'im like pitch."

  • "You couldn't say more, not if you was my mother!"

  • "You're a good man, Doctor. I never seen a better. And I'd 'ate t' see the likes o' you skewered on the end of a pike."

  • "Poor rovin' seamen the likes o' you needs every scrap o' scripture 'e can get."

Quotes courtesy this fine Robert Newton page. Don't miss the biographical essay! Among other interesting trivia recounted there is the fact that Newton's great-grandfather co-founded the Winsor & Newton art supply company -- maker of the most popular brush used for inking comics.

P.S. If you've already seen your fill of Treasure Island, be sure to check out Newton as a much younger, more handsome pirate in Hitchcock's Jamaica Inn, opposite a teenaged Maureen O'Hara!