Ahoy, me mateys! It be another Talk Like a Pirate Day, so raise a pint o’ grog or walk the plank. Or better yet, be fly to death, because people like pirates for the same reason they like Kanye.
Let’s take a step back here. The weird thing about pirate-speak is that it’s not actually real. Talk Like a Pirate Day’s inventors acknowledge that the unofficial holiday is a nod to Robert Newton’s Long John Silver character from the 1950 movie adaptation of Treasure Island. Silver’s speech is based on Newton’s home dialect from England’s West Country.
So the cheesy pirate-speak of Talk Like a Pirate Day may not be historically correct, but it’s become accepted as standard pirate lingo. But there’s a good reason this particular speech pattern is so popular, and it’s the same reason you like rap lyrics.
Pirate talkers and hip hop artists both employ solecisms — intentionally incorrect grammar. Double negatives, inversions, and unusual word ordering is used to create emphasis and to add some writing snazz (famous users include Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, and Robert Frost). Modern pirate talkers use them too, with their “shiver me timbers” and “ahoy me mateys.” And even hip characters of the furry or sci-fi kind — here’s looking at you, Yoda and Cookie Monster — speak in this odd but fascinatingly trippy dialogue.
“I knows they boldly sails three ship through the channel last week” contains multiple grammatical errors, just like the line “You know what that mean, I’m fly to death” in Kanye West’s song “Mercy.” But the lines stay with you longer, sort of embedding themselves in your soul because of the inversion:
It makes sense, if anything, that history’s most subversive bad kids — whether they be pirates or rap stars — would invert to solecism. After all, what’s more badass than taking what’s socially normal and acceptable and flipping the script? For (fake) pirates and rapsters alike, taking what’s considered normal and accepted has never been part of their deal, and inverting language offers a linguistic, audio clue to the listener that whatever’s coming from the person’s mouth is not only inverted but also — by nature of going against the grain — cool. As a 2012 exploration — “Coolness: An Empirical Investigation” suggests, rebelliousness makes for a huge indicator of being cool:
The second factor, which explained a more modest amount of the variance, was comprised of five elements each rated as more cool than socially desirable. The elements of factor two either did not load on factor one (e.g.,irony) or loaded in the opposite direction (e.g.,emotional control). Rebelliousness had the highest loading, and is arguably its most central theoretical element. This second factor better embodies the core construct identified as cool in the scholarly literature (Frank, 1997; Heath & Potter, 2004; Pountain & Robins, 2000). This factor presents coolness as more opaque, less active, and less engaged: coolness as detachment and camouflage. We termed this factor Contrarian coolness.
In conclusion: Talk like a pirate, channel your inner Kanye, and be the coolest you you can be.
Photos via Getty Images / Jamie McCarthy