International Talk Like a Pirate Day

Community Administrator and Content Manager Jo Opoku explores the story and the history behind the cultural phenomenon that is International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Ahoy, me hearties! Yes, it’s International Talk Like a Pirate Day on 19th September. You didn’t know such a thing existed? Incredibly, it’s taken place on this date each year since 2002 (though the concept was devised in 1995). The day was created by John Baur (Ol' Chumbucket) and Mark Summers (Cap'n Slappy) with no other aim than to have a laugh. Nowadays some people dress up as pirates too, and raise money for charity for doing so.

A romanticized view

Blimey! It’s quite a strange thing to celebrate really isn’t it? I think it’s fair to say that International Talk Like a Pirate Day is based on a romanticized view of pirates, all peglegs, parrots and treasure; a red bandana, earring, hat and bottle of rum in hand. It brings to mind fairly harmless, jovial, bearded men getting drunk and diving into brawls. But really pirates are Bad People - thieves, murderers, ransackers, rapists. Why on earth do we celebrate these terrible people? Scupper that!

And shiver me timbers! The thing is, this vision of pirates is great fodder for stories and films. They have become an entertaining caricature, comedic in the case of films such as Dustin Hoffman’s Hook and Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean.

A cultural phenomenon

It’s understandable the guys behind International Talk Like a Pirate Day felt so inspired - knowing how to talk like a pirate is a cultural phenomenon. We’re not sure if the ‘arrs’ and ‘shiver me timbers’ are factually correct, but we all know them. Apparently the pirate-talk we all know and love today is a Disney invention. A British actor named Robert Newton starred as Long John Silver in a 1950 version of Treasure Island, and brought his West Country accent to the role.

“Newton’s iconic role as Long John Silver was so influential that a variation of his West Country English became the standard for portrayals of pirates on stage and in the cinema.”- Time magazine

Aye. And pirates provide the background for epic adventures. Ho! Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island for example is a great story. Adventure, bravery, an epic quest. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of this band of misfits, desperately searching for treasure?

Treasure Island

I remember listening to the Tell-a-Tale audiobook cassette version of Treasure Island as a child, adoring the opening theme music, ( Die Moldau - The Vienna Symphony Orchestra) and feeling ever so slightly scared. Or maybe not scared, but a little concerned for poor Jim Hawkins, a young boy thrown into this world of treachery and betrayal - and pirates! He comes across an assortment of characters, a dastardly blind man, Blind Pew, a ferocious cook, Long John Silver, an outcast ex-pirate, Ben Gunn.

It’s a thrilling tale, covering themes such as greed, courage, deception and trust. It’s also a coming-of-age story, taking a young boy from innocent beginnings through to the harsh realities of adulthood. We decided to feature the whole, unabridged story as part of our Comprehension pack, knowing that it’s a popular story for KS2. Chapters are broken down into extracts, and learners work though comprehension strategy activities such as “digging deeper” and “emotion journey”, along the way.

Sail ho!

What do you think about International Talk Like a Pirate Day? Is your school dressing up to celebrate?


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