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3 Myths About Pirates…Exposed

September 1, 2015

Avast ye, and read these myths about swashbuckling buccaneers. Argh!

Myth About Pirates

Pirate talk

The idea of pirates saying “argh!” and “shiver me timbers!” comes straight from Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale of pirate adventure, Treasure Island. Written in 1883, it’s about 150 years removed from the heyday of high-seas piracy, and Stevenson took a lot of liberties, including the invention of pirate slang. Pirates saying “argh!” is even more recent, stemming from the 1950 Disney film version of Treasure Island. Robert Newton played a pirate from the “low country” of southwestern England and simply exaggerated his accent while uttering pirate nonsense. Newton starred in several more pirate movies, cementing the stereotype. (And real pirates were from all over the world, not just England, meaning that not only did they not share a single “brogue,” but they didn’t even share the same language.)

Pirate plunder

Pirates in movies are always going on and on about gold: where to get the gold, where to hide the gold, etc. Real pirates didn’t care much for gold, because 1) Large amounts of it were not shipped on boats across the ocean, because it stayed in the economic centers of Europe and Asia, and 2) Spices were far more valuable. The Golden Age of Exploration is centered around the spice trade, with Europeans traveling around the world in search of pepper and other additives. If pirates encountered a shipment of spices, they could easily steal it, and resell it.

Pirate patches

Numerous accounts by sailors attacked by pirates recount the plundering buccaneers wearing eye patches. As it was tough, violent work, stealing from other people, injuries were common, and sailors figured the patches hid empty eye sockets where an eye used to be. Not so. Pirates actually wore eye patches only while raiding other ships. They would have to fight (and loot) both above deck and below deck, where it could be quite dark. Wearing the patch helped a pirate’s eye adjust very quickly to dark—they’d simply take it off in the darkness, and adjust twice as fast.

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