Where did the common pop-culture way of portraying pirates (yarr!) come from? Did pirate captains commonly have birds on their shoulders?

  • 5
    This question would be much awesomer with a picture!
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Apr 29, 2011 at 17:59
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    Avast! Don't forget, September 19th is Talk like a pirate day ;)
    – Oliver_C
    Commented Apr 29, 2011 at 18:01
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    Question should have been asked using pirate talk.
    – Josiah
    Commented Apr 29, 2011 at 19:41
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    @Sklivvz - that is OBVIOUSLY not a picture of a real pirate. No pirate would keep their cutlass in such horrid state.
    – user5341
    Commented Apr 29, 2011 at 20:16
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    The cliche pirate accent (with all the "arrrr"s) is the accent of the Cornwall district of Great Britain -- traditionally the location of the ports used by (English) pirates. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Country_dialects
    – user2173
    Commented Apr 29, 2011 at 22:37

1 Answer 1


From http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2729/why-are-pirates-depicted-with-a-parrot-on-their-shoulder:

Piratespeak. "Arrrr" showed up late, probably in movies of the 1930s. Actor Robert Newton played Silver in the 1950 version of Treasure Island, one of the better portrayals of old-school piracy, and reprised the role in sequels and on TV; his accent featured a strong rolling R, which likely helped fix "arrrr" in the piratical canon. Much pirate lingo, like "avast," was simply nautical speech of the time; "shiver my timbers" predates Stevenson, but he ran with it.

To specifically prove "avast" mentioned above, http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/avast says:

Etymology: From the Dutch hou' vast (“hold fast”), from houd (“hold”) + vast (“fast”)

As far as parrots - the above linked straightdope article didn't really have enough level of details, but this blog does: http://pirates2.sakraft.com/labels/History.html (Of Pirates and Parrots; Thursday, June 19, 2008) as well as "Parrots in History" page which quotes from that blog and adds its own info:

Pirates and Parrots?

By the time of the Golden Age of Piracy (1680 – 1730) there was a well established trade in parrots. Usually animals aboard a ship were used as provisions rather than as pets but fortunately parrots weren’t a favorite meal.

It is thought that the pirate & parrot cliché originated from Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island”.

However, the historical journal of Pirate Captain William Dampier describes that in certain cases pirates actually did take parrots on board, most likely because they wanted to sell them at a profit to the high society of Europe. In Dampier's journal it is mentioned that parrots were stored along with other animals and provisions on the ship, while anchoring at a Caribbean island:

"The tame Parrots we found here were the largest and fairest Birds of their kind that I ever saw in the West Indies. Their colour was yellow and red, very coursly mixt; and they would prate very prettily; and there was scarce a Man but what sent aboard one or two of them. So that with Provision, Chests, Hencoops and Parrot-Cages, our Ships were full of Lumber, with which we intended to sail."

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    I suspect real pirates were a whole lot less charming than they are portrayed. Commented Apr 29, 2011 at 17:32
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    your dutch translation is a tad confusing, since vast is closer to fastening (fast as in tight). the way wiki states it makes me see it as in fast = quick (or related to speed.) and i've never heard fast used the way the wiki does it around where i live. en.wiktionary.org/wiki/vast#Dutch
    – Andy
    Commented May 5, 2011 at 12:06
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    @Andy: it's an anachronism, actually. Modern English doesn't really use "fast" to mean "tight", but somewhat earlier modern English did.
    – Ernie
    Commented Jun 14, 2011 at 16:48
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    @MikeDunlavey having met several enterprising seafaring folk around the world who would auto- and reasonably qualify as modern day pirates, I suspect that pirates of old were by their communal ad-hoc nature quite a bit funnier, socially adept, and resilient than the Hollywood portrayals. Not to glorify it, but the necessities of the land and community demanded in those days quite a bit higher of a standard than what could be portrayed by feature film and accepted by Western audiences. Commented Aug 1, 2014 at 1:51
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    @JAB &Ernie also any _fast_eners.
    – Baldrickk
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 15:32

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