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Sat, Feb. 22

Williams: Just a word of caution, Matey!

Most of the time, life is a crap shoot, so I let the doubloons land where they may. Today is one of those rare occasions, however, when thinking ahead may be of benefit, particularly for those of you intending to acknowledge and participate in International Talk Like a Pirate Day on Sept. 19. If you’re collecting your eye patch and peg leg for that hallowed annual cultural happening, consider the next few paragraphs as a sort of basic training. If you are confronted with a pirate’s pop quiz while buccaneering on September 19th, you need to be prepared.

First, let’s take a quick look at vocabulary. You might look the pirate part, but if your pirate patter isn’t pitch-perfect, your whole performance will suffer. Don’t call someone a “bilge rat” unless you really intend to insult them or if they’re considerably larger than you are. The always-fun exclamation of “blimey!” can add a zesty flavor to your experience. It’s the shortened form of “God blind me!” The self-respecting pirate refers to hen’s eggs as “cackle fruit.” If your pirate friends invite you to “Crack Jenny’s teacup,” they’re taking you to a house of ill repute. “Dancing the hempen jig” means to be hung. No matter how amorous you may feel, you do not want to “kiss the gunner’s daughter.” That misleading phrase actually means to be hoisted over a ship’s gun and flogged!

When planning your seafaring ensemble, you’ll want to include a feather in your hat. Pirates believed that a feather taken from a wren slaughtered on New Year’s Day would guard against shipwrecks for a year. I haven’t seen any research as to whether investing in a wren’s feather or a State Farm maritime insurance policy would be a better move.

Another sartorial item in the pirate’s closet was the large, gold-hoop earring. Pirates weren’t fashionistas, but they hoped that when they died, a person would use the value of the earrings to give them a proper burial. Seems just a tad naïve for a marauding privateer to expect kindly consideration from someone else. Earrings were also sometimes worn to commemorate a young sailor’s first crossing of the equator or rounding the southern tip of South America.

So, what’s with the eye patch? Did the pirate trade cause the loss of a lot of eyes? While you and I were living our lives, someone, according to Mental Floss magazine, developed the theory that the eye patch aboard ship kept one perfectly functional eye adjusted to the changing light of going below deck and returning topside frequently. Good vision was invaluable during battles, when grappling hooks, cutlass blades and knipple shots were flying throughout the ship. I know, you’re thinking a knipple shot is a 100-proof rum cocktail. In truth, it was a small pair of iron spheres joined with a chain or small bar that when rotated through the air, caused serious damage to anything it contacted. So there.

You should know there are only two historical records of pirates using peg legs. The rest, according to experts, probably hobbled about on crutches.

Another myth was walking the plank. There are no historical records proving that it happened. Keelhauling was more popular. The victim was tied to cannon balls and chains and was dragged under the ship. The result, typically, was death.

Finally, do not board your ship with your left foot leading. And, for God’s sake, once aboard, don’t look back toward shore.

This pirate primer has been provided so you get the most out of your day as a pirate. Arrrrrr!

To comment on this column, email wilaugust46@gmail.com.

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