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Pirate Dictionary

Pirates are always popular. From children's stories like Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson to classic swashbuckling films with Errol Flynn, or the recent Disney Pirates of the Caribbean movies, pirates fascinate and captivate. They also have their own way of talking, and live in a world very different from our own. That's where this dictionary comes in. Here you'll find all the common words and phrases pirates used, and the stories of many famous pirates too.


A feast for fortunate pirates, consisting of any marinated or cooked meat available, plus whatever pickled vegetables, eggs, anchovies, and even grapes, were on hand. The salmagundi was then seasoned with garlic, pepper, salt, vinegar, and oil. Pirate cooks had their own special variations, of course, though details are lacking, for better or worse. The word “salmagundi” itself may come from an old French word, salmigondis, meaning a strongly seasoned stew.

sea artist
A pirate named used by pirates to refer to themselves, adopted to describe their ability as seamen. Their skills, from navigation to ship maintenance to battle, were second to none during the age in which they thrived.

sea chart
Works of other pirates of considerable cumulative value as a guide to the waters of a region.

An old or experienced sailor.

Song, one that usually alternates between a solo and a chorus as sung by sailors working together.

sea shanty
Song, one that usually alternates between a solo and a chorus as sung by sailors working together. Also shanty.

The lines used to trim the sails of a ship to the direction of the wind.

The lines that run from a mast to the sides of the ship to provide support and stability for the mast.

A wooden splinter. The timbers of a hip splintering during battle gave rise to the phrase “shiver me timbers”.

The word used by pirates and others of the time to refer to cannon balls or other forms of cannon shot. Early cannon shot was made of stone, but by the 1600s iron shot was mass-produced, cheaper, and faster, thus becoming the preferred form.

shot across the bow
A warning shot, usually in the form of cannon fire, given by pirates to encourage their targets to surrender.

slow match
A match that burns slowly; used for lighting fuses, and also used by Blackbeard in his hair to make him appear more frightening.

sounding weight
A means to measure the depth of the water. A rope with a weight at one end and marks one fathom (about six feet apart) was dropped from the ship into the water and used to measure depth.

Spanish Main
The entirety of the Caribbean region and surrounding land, so named because it was given to the Spanish by the Pope following the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus.

A strong, thick pole used to make a mast or yard on a ship.

A simple form of a telescope. Used by hand or on a tripod, it was employed when sailing by line of sight.

standing rigging
The stays, shrouds, and other permanent parts of the rigging of a ship.

The right side of a ship when facing the bow. Originally from “steorbord” meaning “rudder side”, since early Teutonic boats were steered using a paddle on the right side.

starboard tack
A tack in which the wind is coming across the starboard side and toward the port side of the ship.

Stede Bonnet Bonnet (Major)
Alias Captain Thomas and Edwards, Bonnet was not raised a sailor. Before turning pirate, he had already retired from the army as a major and owned property in Barbaoes, was married and lived in a nice house, and was well respected. His wife’s nagging is allegedly the reason he became a pirate. He enjoyed a period of success, then fell in with Blackbeard, and soon after fell out again, leading to an attempt at revenge that failed. Bonnet continued his life of piracy, but was captured in October, 1718, and after a trial was hanged at White Point, Charleston, in November that year.

The back of a ship.

The raised deck at the rear of the ship, near the stern. Not all ships have a sterncastle.

A glass container filled with rotten meat or other malodorous items, and then with gunpowder, detonated with the same effect as tear gas is today.

strike colours
Lower the flag of a ship, a practice often done to indicate surrender during a battle or to hide the identity or nationality of a ship.

Clean the deck of a ship.

("bulging bag"), ultimately from, perhaps, Scandanavian origin.

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