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It's still January, but I've already got a nomination for the 2010 WOTY competition: spokespirate:

Saying the US and Europe “have no moral authority” to control the aid going to Haiti, Somali pirates say they plan to donate booty from their hijackings to the relief effort. The pirates have taken in more than $150 million in the past 2 years, by one estimate, and now aim to redistribute some while thumbing their noses at the Western powers. “They are the ones pirating mankind for many years,” a spokespirate tells Agencia Matriz del Sur.

Needless to say, this is not entirely original.  But I haven't previously seen it used in reference to actual ship-hijacking pirates.

Spokes-X has become a reasonably productive pattern, though only a few instances (e.g. spokesmodel) have graduated from the realm of humorous neologisms (such as spokesathlete, spokesbimbo, spokesdrone, spokesfool, spokeskitteh, spokesmime, spokesmoron, spokesnazi, spokespoet, spokesrobot, spokeszombie, …).

[Hat tip to David Donnell]


  1. The Volokh Conspiracy » Blog Archive » “Spokespirate”: said,

    January 30, 2010 @ 4:03 pm

    […] Prof. Mark Liberman (Language Log) reports on this emerging term. Categories: Uncategorized     […]

  2. mollymooly said,

    January 30, 2010 @ 4:45 pm

    Satisfying my curiosity via onelook, I find that spokesmodel has got Random House's imprimatur, and the Doubletongued Dictionary has a nice entry for spokesweasel. Meanwhile, Wikipedia has spokesblogger, spokescouncil, and spokestoon, all tagged as dubious by the wikipolice.

    [(myl) The OED also has spokeslady, spokespeople, spokesperson, and spokeswoman. Also — though apparently just once — spokester, meaning "spokeswoman", cited from Thackeray in 1850 (Sk. & Trav. Lond.) "One of the ladies..begged her companion..to show me in to lunch. The spokester was a stout and tall woman."

    Curiously, LION has the same phrases attributed to Nathaniel Parker Willis, "Brown's Day with the Mimpsons", from Dashes at Life with a Free Pencil, 1845. Did the OED get its citations crossed, or did Thackeray plagiarize? Assuming that this is the same work by Thackeray, it looks like the OED made a mistake, since no such word occurs therein, whereas the quoted passage certainly does occur in Willis's work.

    (Later:) OK, here's the solution — the phrases do occur in a work by Thackeray, "On an American Traveler", but as part of a passage quoted from Willis.]

  3. Peter Taylor said,

    January 30, 2010 @ 5:42 pm

    Spokesmime was so surprising that I googled it. 5 hits, of which 2 are this page and a replica thereof. May I enquire in what circles it has graduated beyond humorous neologism?

    [(myl) I meant the list that spokesmime is in to illustrate the set of forms that have *not* graduated beyond the stage of humorous neologism. Sorry for the confusion.]

  4. This Blog Is Now Hiring for the Position of “Spokebimbo.” | Little Miss Attila said,

    January 30, 2010 @ 6:32 pm

    […] of like a spokespirate, but one has to buy her red wine or gin martinis to get her to do her […]

  5. Peter Taylor said,

    January 30, 2010 @ 6:56 pm

    Obvious on re-reading. I'm the one who owes you an apology. Sorry to waste your time.

  6. Mr Fnortner said,

    January 30, 2010 @ 7:08 pm

    You, myl, can be our spokeslinguist on these matters.

    Regardless, I find the pirates to be noble in this effort, if in none else.

  7. Terry Collmann said,

    January 30, 2010 @ 8:06 pm

    He can't be a genuine spokespirate. He didn't say "Arrr!" once.

  8. peter said,

    January 30, 2010 @ 8:58 pm

    Perhaps it was a spokesmime that Ludwig Wittgenstein had in mind with, "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."

  9. Ray Girvan said,

    January 30, 2010 @ 9:08 pm

    In a debate between the Haves and the Have-nots, would a spokesperson for the former be a spokeshave? :)

  10. mgh said,

    January 30, 2010 @ 9:52 pm

    Ray, I'm not sure, but I believe that when japanese cartoon characters go on strike, they are represented by a spokespokemon.

  11. The Politigon said,

    January 30, 2010 @ 10:32 pm

    American Politicians have Spokespeople……

    Somali maritime hijackers have spokespirates. Thanks Language Log. If we had our way, we'd replace all the talking heads' and partisan political blogs' boring word-salad with video-feeds and links back to your interesting site. Spok…

  12. D.O. said,

    January 30, 2010 @ 11:38 pm

    Maybe spokespirate is not a new word, but numerous Google references seem to be very recent. Nothing is reported by Blog pulse and not a pip on Google News before Jan. 29. On Google blogs search there are 3 references before 29 Jan. One is irrelevant and 2 are somehow referencing this very blog post. Another time turner from Google, I guess…

  13. D.O. said,

    January 30, 2010 @ 11:50 pm

    Sorry, I must explain myself better. 2 references on Google blogs search for spokespirate before 29 Jan. are pointing to the posts which took they info from this very blog post.

  14. stormboy said,

    January 31, 2010 @ 8:16 am

    An article from the LA Times of 22 January 1998 ('A Pirate's (Real) Life – Port Royal Privateers drop anchor at O.C.'s Maritime History Center to lay waste to misinformation' uses 'spokespirate':

    "On Saturday in the Orange County Marine Institute's Maritime History Center, they'll hold a free informational workshop covering such topics as costumes in the time of 17th century privateer Henry Morgan (better known these days as spokespirate for Captain Morgan's rum) and working aloft in a ship's rigging."

    I'm sure someone will unearth much earlier references.

  15. Graeme said,

    January 31, 2010 @ 9:09 am

    Why 'spokesperson' anyway? And not 'speakperson' or 'spokeperson'?

  16. uberVU - social comments said,

    January 31, 2010 @ 9:24 am

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by PhilosophyFeeds: Language Log: Spokespirate http://goo.gl/fb/19i7

  17. Ginger Yellow said,

    January 31, 2010 @ 9:44 am

    I can't shake the feeling that a spokespirate should be a parrot.

  18. [links] Link salad plans to go nowhere this Sunday | jlake.com said,

    January 31, 2010 @ 11:23 am

    […] Word of the year? Spokespirate — Um… […]

  19. Coby Lubliner said,

    January 31, 2010 @ 12:54 pm

    And I thought a spokespirate was someone who vandalized bicycles to steal their wheels and sell the spokes.

  20. MB said,

    January 31, 2010 @ 9:54 pm

    Don't forget spokesthing.

  21. The effin' bear said,

    February 1, 2010 @ 2:00 am

    Spokespirate has “graduated from the realm of humorous neologisms”? I'm not sure if I'm convinced by the 1,180 google results … also, they are now quite evidently influenced by the LL's attention to the word.

    [(myl) No, spokespirate is still in the realm of humorous neologisms. I can see that I need to use a larger number of shorter sentences.]

  22. The effin' bear said,

    February 1, 2010 @ 5:11 am

    I am sorry, but I am unable to tap the meaning of your remark.

    [(myl) I managed to cause both you and Peter Taylor to misunderstand which phrases had "graduated from the realm of humorous neologisms" (I only cited one, spokesmodel), and which had not (all the others mentioned in the post, including spokespirate). Thus I need to write more clearly and explicitly — perhaps a larger number of shorter sentences would help.

    But, "tap"? Is semantic interpretation like getting beer out of a keg? Interesting.]

  23. The effin' bear said,

    February 1, 2010 @ 5:59 am

    I back down from any confrontation w/ you, Mark. But I do defend my usage of 'tap'. E.g., can we tap any anti-Mark sentiment here? Can I """""tap"""" any infidels here among all you true Noah's Ark believers???? Etc. You have provided a useful device. I don't mean to joke/mess around w/ you; thanks for your name and everything!

  24. The effin' bear said,

    February 1, 2010 @ 6:02 am

    I'm sorry; I was speaking irrationally. I was just saying that the back-up of you guys at the LL is helpful toward arguing against the bigots who believe that Earth is 6,000 years old, but I like you in other ways as well. Maybe someday we can start getting along.

  25. The effin' bear said,

    February 1, 2010 @ 6:06 am

    see: this.

  26. The effin' bear said,

    February 1, 2010 @ 6:16 am

    Thank you for your understanding. It's difficult to get a reference or trope past you; hence the fun of the LL. Although I am not such a fan of PZ Myers's militant brand of atheism, I do get quite kick out of his engagement of the various scribes and pharisees that line the publice discourse.

  27. greg said,

    February 1, 2010 @ 2:59 pm

    I think it was my senior year at NCSU, we had a Student Body Pirateadent (Prespirate? wait…ew). Yes, we elected a guy who dressed up as and spoke as a pirate as Student Body President.

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