Piratical Pope

Talk Like a Pirate Day isn’t until September 19th, but George Takei posted this entertaining piratical moment (passed on to me by Victor Steinbok) recently, and I don’t want to wait two months to post it here:

That would be Alexander Pope (“To err is human; to forgive, divine”, from An Essay on Criticism) crossed with stereotypical pirate talk (“Arr, me hearties!”).

On piratical “Arr”, see my posting “Said the Pirate King, “Aaarrrf …” “, with links to earlier TLAPD postings by Mark Liberman; and this later posting “R!” (about a piratical t-shirt). One of Mark’s postings traces the spread of the stereotype to actor

Robert Newton [playing Long John Silver] in the 1950 movie version [of Treasure Island]. A short bio of Newton is here.

Mark then asked where Newton got it, and Geoff Nathan wrote:

many pirates (such as those of Penzance, for example–those who plough the sea) … originated in the Southwest of England, which is, of course, r-ful, and in fact has always seemed to me to be somewhat more hyperarticulatedly r-ry than American r-fulness.

The theory I originally heard was that Maritime Pidgin English (early nineteenth century version) was based on that area. Stereotypical pirate talk (including invariant ‘be’ for all copulas, for example) was a fossilized survivor of the Pidgin (‘That be the white whale, me hearty’).


for what it’s worth, Robert Newton apparently hailed from Shaftesbury in Dorset [in SW England]. I think that “maritime pidgin English” was more of a 17th and 18th century development, but maybe its r-fulness was well established among buccaneers by the time that Stevenson wrote about.

[Addendum: I just realized that there are plenty of pirates in Asterix, but I don’t know what they exclaim as the equivalent of “Arr!”, in French or in the English translations. Anyone have some evidence?]

One Response to “Piratical Pope”

  1. Chris Waigl Says:

    This quote (the classical part) used to throw me for a loop as my English-speaking friends erroneously, I thought, came up with some mushy stuff about forgiving and divineness as a second half. We young Germans were taught the Seneca-the-younger version: To err is human, to persevere in error is of the devil (“Errare humanum est, perseverare autem diabolicum, et tertia non datur”). So no lofty feeling but a stern reminder.

    I have the full version, with the piratical part, on a sweatshirt.

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