Said the Pirate King, "Aaarrrf …"

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The Language Log — well, Mark Liberman — tradition of recognizing international Talk Like a Pirate Day (19 September) by posting the Corsair Ergonomic Keyboard for Pirates along with digressions into other matters piratical came to a end in 2008, in a posting with links to earlier celebrations:

In TLAPD posts from earlier years, you can find instructions for the more difficult task of talking (as opposed to typing) like a pirate; the history of piratical r-fulness; and other goodies: 20032004200520062007.

There's actually some serious historical linguistics (and cultural history) involved here, as discussed in "R!?", 9/19/2005, and "Pirate R as in I-R-ELAND", 9/20/2006. And even a bit of mathematical linguistics.

This year I have a reason for returning to the pirate ship (though I'm a bit late in getting around to it): the delightful children's book Seadogs: An Epic Ocean Operetta ("composed by Lisa Wheeler, staged by Mark Siegel" and published in 2004 in hardback, in 2006 by Aladdin Paperbacks), which is at the moment my grand-daughter Opal's very favorite book in the whole world.

I've posted on my personal blog about Opal's introduction (at the age of 6) to the world of grownup performances: a San Jose theatre company's performance of The Mikado and the movie of The Three Musketeers with Kiefer Sutherland et al. Since then Opal's seen the film version of the fabulous Julie Taymor production of The Magic Flute at the Metropolitan Opera (in English, the film version abridged with kids in mind) and the Errol Flynn Adventures of Robin Hood. Opal liked the Mozart a lot — she pronounced it almost as good as The Mikado — and of course adored Robin Hood (with the same enjoyment I experienced when I first saw the movie, when I was about her age). The near future will bring the Michael York et al. Three Musketeers (which her mother and I take to be the best of all the versions around). Maybe the Mickey Rooney et al. Midsummer Night's Dream. And certainly The Pirates of Penzance (in the Kevin Kline, Linda Ronstadt, et al. film version that doesn't suit true Savoyards but is nevertheless immensely enjoyable), which we think will please Opal, given her enthusiasm for Seadogs.

The cover of Seadogs, copped from

Seadogs in this case is entirely literal. Yes, it's an pirate operetta — though the book has only the libretto, without a musical setting for the songs, so Opal gets to make up the tunes herself — done entirely with dogs (true, Opal has been dog-oriented from early childhood, but this book could have been written expressly for her — and the Brave Beagle character is female). The publisher's summary:

A motley crew of dogs presents a rhyming tale of seagoing adventure, illustrated as if it were a stage play.

The Good Dogs are Old Seadog, Brave Beagle, her male partner Dear Dachshund, and Pup the stowaway. Then there's the Pirate King, Captain Jacques Fifi (the Terrier of the Sea), and his Mongrel Horde. (There's plenty of wordplay in there to delight adults involved in reading the book. And to lead to associations like Walt Kelly's Little Arf 'n Nonnie.) It's not nearly as silly as The Pirates of Penzance, but then, what is? (We've gotten around to plotting how to introduce the concept of leap year to Opal before she watches Pirates.)

The Pirate King talks, of course, like a pirate — but a dog pirate. So in his first song, he says to the pirate Rotty Bing:

Aaarrrf …
'tis hard to be feeding this horde.


Aaarrrf …
'tis many a bone buried there.

I don't think there's a Corsair Ergonomic Keyboard for Canine Pirates.


  1. Bob O'H said,

    September 27, 2010 @ 3:55 pm

    Is the pirates' ship a barque?

  2. Dan T. said,

    September 27, 2010 @ 4:04 pm

    The Pirates of Penzance got the leap year calculations wrong, by the way; when they claimed that the protagonist's true 21st birthday would be in 1940 (with birthdays only every 4 years), they seemed to be under the mistaken impression that 1900 was a leap year, which it wasn't due to the century-year rule of the Gregorian calendar. I did the math on this way back in the '80s when I saw a Broadway performance of this play on a high school senior field trip, and the Playbill gave the date of original premiere of the play in London and New York; there was a leap year in the 19th century that, when used as his birthdate, would result in him being of age 21 in real years at the time the play made its debut, and 21 in total birthdays in 1940, but only if 1900 were a leap year.

    [(amz) For Opal, we're focused on getting the vulgar (but technically incorrect) every-fourth-year notion of leap year right. Perfect understanding often comes through easy first stabs and successive approximations.]

  3. richard howland-bolton said,

    September 27, 2010 @ 4:06 pm

  4. George said,

    September 27, 2010 @ 4:35 pm

    Do we know that pirates actually spoke such an aarful dialect? Has it been documented somewhere, or is it possible that this has since become a theatrical marker of pirate speech?

    [(amz) This is why I include links back to earlier postings, so we don't have to start topics over again from the ground. See the discussion in Mark's 2005 posting. Though it's worth adding that the pronunciation has certainly become a conventional theatrical marker of pirate speech.]

  5. Liz said,

    September 27, 2010 @ 5:28 pm

    Has Opal encountered Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds? Sounds like she'd love it.

  6. Ralph Hickok said,

    September 27, 2010 @ 7:23 pm

    A couple of movie notes:
    I think the best movie version of "The Three Musketeers" was the 1948 film with Gene Kelly as D'Artagnan and Van Heflin, Gig Young, and Robert Coote as the musketeers.
    And I think the "Arrrrr" of pirate talk comes from Robert Newton's over-the-top performance of Long John Silver in the 1950 version of "Treasure Island." I can remember seeing it when I was 11 and joining with my friends for some days afterward in saying, "See here, Marrrrster Harrrkins" to anyone who would listen, even if they didn't want to.

    [(amz) On Robert Newton in the 1950 Treasure Island: already suggested in the ML material I cited. I would like to add this film to my Opal list, because it's one of the great favorites of my childhood. And I've seen it several times since, and still think it's brilliant. (I'd read the RLS book several times before I saw the film — I was a bookish child — but the film totally colored my mental picture of the story. This was before I appreciated the power of film to override other modes of knowing; eventually, I resisted (and still resist) seeing the film of Bern Malamud's The Natural, because I have my own mental version of the story, and Robert Redford isn't in it. Alas, just knowing that Redford played Roy Hobbs tends to replace the version in my head that I built up long before the movie, and long before I knew Malamud.)]

  7. Debbie said,

    September 27, 2010 @ 7:50 pm

    Check these out if you're into pirate-y themes and Dudley check out Sept. 19th Rati comment from me to you re: said topic.

  8. Laura Blanchard said,

    September 27, 2010 @ 8:29 pm

    Our German shepherd, the Late Great Mr. Darcy, could say "arrrrrrr" when commanded to talk like a pirate.

  9. Kevin Wald said,

    September 27, 2010 @ 9:38 pm

    Dan T: In The Pirates of Penzance, the time is either March 1, 1873 (if the leap year calculation was done correctly) or March 1, 1877 (if it was done incorrectly). Pirates premiered on December 31, 1879, so neither date matches exactly, and purely on that basis either date would be possible. What's more, HMS Pinafore premiered on May 25, 1878, so (as Isaac Asimov once observed in a story) with either date Major General Stanley, who can "whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore" is somewhat ahead of his time. (Asimov suggested that perhaps it was 1877 and he had seen an advance copy, but I doubt it — March 1, 1877 is before even The Sorcerer, G&S's previous opera.)

  10. AlexB said,

    September 28, 2010 @ 1:40 am

    @Ralph Hickok

    The Watford Long John Silver Impersonators certainly say Arrrrr

  11. maidhc said,

    September 28, 2010 @ 3:07 am

    I've seen some other Hollywood movies from the 1940s — forgettable low-budget ones — that used the same kind of over-the-top pirate accent.

    It's mostly a West Country accent, as would fit the crew of Sir Francis Drake, the inhabitants of Penzance and other seafaring Cousin Jacks.

    Were there other popular plays about pirates prior to Pirates of Penzance that might claim to have set the mold?

  12. h. s. gudnason said,

    September 28, 2010 @ 6:34 am

    Last week something reminded me of Sailor Dog, a book by Margaret Wise Brown with illustrations by Garth Williams. Scuppers, the dog, is not a pirate, but he sails the oceans and engages in ship construction. It was one of my son's and my favorite books when he was a tad younger than Opal.

  13. katherine said,

    September 28, 2010 @ 7:47 am

    "To err is human, to arrrr is pirate."

  14. Jeremy Wheeler said,

    September 30, 2010 @ 12:51 pm

    For an amusing combinaiton of talking like a pirate and grammar (not to mention being very funny) try this excerpt from BBC Radio 4:

  15. Piratical Pope | Arnold Zwicky's Blog said,

    July 15, 2013 @ 8:52 am

    […] piratical "Arr", see my posting "Said the Pirate King, “Aaarrrf …” ", with links to earlier TLAPD postings by […]

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