Today is a very special day. Today, Pirates of the Caribbean 4 premieres, so you can imagine where I’ll be tonight!
If someone had told me eight years ago that I’d one day be going to see the fourth adventure of Captain Jack Sparrow…I might have believed them! Especially since Johnny Depp said, way back when, that he’d be in for Pirates 6 or 7. And I’m right there with him. In some ways, I’m an easy fan–put Johnny on the screen as Captain Jack, and I’m there. Throw in mermaids and zombies and Blackbeard, and that just makes it better.
Considering the occasion, I naturally have to give you a POTC story for Fiction Friday. I decided to go with a short story I wrote, almost eight years ago. This is set midway through the first movie. Jack and Will are on their way to Tortuga, to pick up a crew before going to rescue Will’s kidnapped ladylove, Elizabeth. And along the way, they have a language lesson.
Will realized, as he turned away from the railing of the ship, that Jack was staring at him. He frowned. “Something wrong, Jack?”
“Well…I’ve been thinkin’,” the pirate captain admitted.
Will felt a qualm of worry. He hadn’t known Jack for long, but it had been long enough to know that when Jack started thinking, things started happening. “What about?” he asked warily.
“We’ll be makin’ berth in Tortuga by nightfall, if the wind stays with us. And I’ve been thinkin’…it might not have been such a good idea aft’r all.”
Will was not happy with that. “‘Not such a good idea?’ I got you out of the cell. You promised to help me rescue Elizabeth. That was the agreement! And now you want to just…just…renege on the deal!”
Jack sighed. “Pirate. But that isn’t the point.”
“You’re reneging on the deal!”
“I’m not reneging on anything. I’ll help ye on yer gallant rescue mission. I’m just thinkin’ that Tortuga might not be such a superb idea.”
Will looked at him, reassured but still doubtful of the whole thing. “Doesn’t the whole plan center on picking up a crew in Tortuga?”
Jack nodded. “It does, it does. It’s just…” He seemed somewhat reluctant to continue. He eyed Will for a moment, then shrugged extensively and finally concluded, “It’s just I’m thinkin’ ye might embarrass me.” Seeing Will’s indignant expression, he hastened to add, “It’s just that yer so respectable, and I’ve got me reputation to think of.”
Indignation faded to be replaced by confusion. “Respectable’s bad?”
Jack flung his arms out. “Lad, we’re goin’ to Tortuga! Filled to the brim with drinks, women, music! It’s…it’s…the pirate capital of the world! Respectable is, ah…frowned upon. Yer friend Norrington would never make it out alive.” He considered. “Well…they might let ‘im out alive, but certainly not with wig intact. And as for the charming Governor Swann, they’d ‘ave ‘im in the well faster’n ye could say ‘clap him in irons.’”
“Oh,” Will said faintly.
“Don’t s’pose I could convince ye to drink a lot o’ rum and break a few windows when we get there?” Jack said hopefully. “Or start a fight, mebbe? Throw a few chairs at people?”
“I’m not going to go around damaging private property!”
“An’ there’s the other trouble…ye’ve got such a high-minded way o’ talkin’. Pirates ain’t partic’lary erudite.” Will was still puzzling over Jack’s use of the word ‘erudite,’ when the pirate had another thought. “I’ve got it! Ye don’t have to break anythin’. Ye just got to talk like a pirate,” Jack said triumphantly, tone clearly indicating that this should be regarded as the best idea since the creation of rum.
“Talk like a pirate?” Will repeated.
Jack nodded vigorously. “’zactly. If ye sound right, no one’ll question ye.”
“I don’t know, Jack…”
“It’s easy. I’ll teach ye.” And so he launched into the first lesson, without waiting for an agreement to the plan from Will. “First things first. How do you address people?”
Will blinked. “By name?”
“No.” Jack paused. “Well…yes. But more import’nt to our purposes is what ye call ‘em when it’s not by name. All lasses of reas’nable good looks are referred to as ‘luv.’ If yer partic’larly fond of a lass—in yer case, Elizabeth—then ye call her ‘love.’”
Busy trying to follow that, Will forgot that he had never agreed to this to begin with. “Wait…I call all women ‘love’…but I also only call Elizabeth…?”
“No, no, ye call all women ‘luv,’ as opposed to…” Jack trailed off. “Ferget it. Just call all lasses ‘love,’ unless Elizabeth’s around. And incidentally, ye don’t call ‘em women, ye call ‘em lasses or wenches. Lasses being slightly nicer, though wenches isn’t necessarily insulting. Got all that?”
“I think so…”
“Good. Now as to the men, if yer on friendly terms with ‘em ye call ‘em ‘mate.’”
“What if they’re unfriendly?” Will asked. Tortuga didn’t sound particularly friendly to him.
“Well…I like ‘scabrous dog.’ But you might want to call ‘em ‘sir.’”
Will bristled. “I can take care of myself!”
“‘Course ye can,” Jack said, in a manner that didn’t speak of bounds of confidence in Will. “Now as I was sayin’, friends and members of yer crew…actually—“ he bowed slightly “—my crew, ye refer to as ‘mate,’ short for ‘shipmate,’ but only in the second person. In the third person, callin’ ev’ryone ‘mate’ is just too confusin’.”
“So if it’s short for ‘shipmate,’ can I call them ‘shipmate?’”
Jack considered. “Ye could, but it would brand ye as a foreigner. Speakin’ o’ which, it’s ‘leh-verage,’ not ‘lee-verage.’ ‘Lee-verage’ sounds pompous and British, and this is the Caribbean.”
“It matters that much?”
“Most of soundin’ like a pirate is in the pronunciation,” Jack explained. “We drop letters every-which direction. H, for example. Sure-fire way to sound uncultured and illiterate. Drop all yer H’s.”
“Sure. Lemme show ye.” Jack considered, and when he spoke he punctuated each word with a flourish of his hand. “In ‘artford, ‘ariford, and ‘ampshire…” He paused, shrugged, and finished up with, “hurricanes ‘ardly ‘appen.” Jack being Jack, he managed just the right tone and flare to turn a nonsense line into something surprisingly charming.
“You said ‘hurricanes,’” Will objected.
“Because ‘urricanes sounds stupid. Now you try.”
Will shrugged. “In Artford, Arriford, and Ampshire, hurricanes ardly appen.” Somehow, it wasn’t quite so charming when Will said it.
Jack frowned. “On further consid’ration, forget the H’s. Or rather, remember ‘em. Don’t drop ‘em. Nothin’ as messy as lots of H’s to pick up. Ye could be droppin’ other things though. G’s, for example, at the end of i-n-g. Most o’ the rest is word specific. ‘Them,’ for example. ‘Them’ becomes ‘em.”
“Em,” Will repeated dutifully.
“And ‘you’ becomes ‘ye, and ‘your’ and ‘you’re’ becomes ‘yer,’ most of the time.”
“Ye and yer. Sounds like an ancient dialect.”
“You speak yer language yer way, an’ I’ll speak my language my way. Speakin’ of my, ‘my’ becomes ‘me.’ Sometimes.”
“When ye emphasize it, then it’s ‘my.’ As in ‘my ship, my crew, my bottle of rum.’ Whereas if we’re just talkin’ about me old friend Gibbs, then it’s ‘me.’ Got that?”
“We’ll move on. Vocabulary. There’s certain pirate words ye gotta know.”
“Pirates have their own vocabulary?”
Jack nodded sagely. “Pirates’re much more complex individuals than people b’lieve. Ye gotta know the right words if ye wanna pass as a native. Fer one thing, pirates don’t steal, rob, or burgle.”
Will stared at him. “Of course you do. Pirates are famous for it. Pirates always—”
“Plunder,” Jack interrupted. “We pillage. We plunder. We rifle and loot. We don’t steal, rob, burgle, or give a hoot.”
“We plunder ships. We pillage and loot from landlubbers. There’s another word, ‘landlubbers,’ they’re non-sailors. I’ll give you anoth’r: ‘scourge.’ Apply it to yerself an’ it’s a compliment, apply it to anyone else an’ it’s an insult.”
“That’s a little strange,” Will observed.
An extensive shrug was Jack’s only response to that. “Then there’s ‘ahoy,’ but use it with restraint. Ye can replace ‘yes’ with ‘aye’ anytime ye want.”
“How about ‘avast?’” Will asked.
Jack appeared to be restraining a loud guffaw. “‘Avast.’ Yes. Well. We just…don’t say ‘avast.’ We just…don’t.”
Will frowned. “No avast. What about ar?”
“Ar?” Comprehension dawned. “Oh, you mean ‘arrr.’” Jack considered the matter. “Well, ‘arrr’ is a funny one. One too many ‘arrrs’ and ye just sound silly, so ye got to pick an’ choose yer ‘arrrs’ with care. They can be used to great effect if ye know how. Ye followin’ all o’ this?”
“Maybe,” Will said cautiously.
“Now, am I fergettin’ any rules?” Jack thought about it. “’Course, one thing to rem’mber is that they ain’t really rules. More like…guidelines, really. Ye don’t follow all of ‘em all of the time. In one sentence ye might say ‘you’ and you also might say ‘ye.’ As to which ye say when, it’s almost instinct. When ye know, ye know. If ye don’t know, then ye don’t know. As to how you know if ye know, well…” Jack shrugged. “Ye just know. Y’know?”
Will stared at him. “No.”
Jack frowned. “Could ye fake it?”
Will considered, went over what Jack had been saying, and realized that very few of Jack’s explanations had, well, explained anything. “I don’t think so.”
“Oh.” Jack sighed. “Well…mebbe you could just…drink some rum, hit on a wench, an’, I dunno, throw a bucket o’ water on someone.”