Pirate Terms and Phrases

, Staff Writer
Updated December 5, 2022
list of four pirate terms restated from the article
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Maybe you are reading a great pirate book, like Robert Louis Stevenson's classic Treasure Island, or you’re playing Sea of Thieves and are looking for some meanings. Perhaps you're in a play or dressing up like a pirate for Halloween or a costume party, and you want to learn some pirate terms and phrases so you can really get into character. Do you want to pick up some lingo for Talk Like A Pirate Day? Whatever the reason, learning some pirate terms can be useful and fun. Read on, me hearties!

Glossary of Pirate Terms and Phrases

If you think that there are only a few pirate terms and phrases to learn, you are absolutely mistaken! We've provided a vocabulary list of 75 fascinating pirate sayings (although many more pirate idioms abound), and you will see that there is quite a bit more to talking like a pirate than running around saying "Aarrr!"

We have included the pirate phrases, as well as the modern English translation of that phrase.


Pirate Greetings and Exclamations

Learn to say “hello” the pirate way!

  1. ahoy - hello
  2. Avast ye! - Stop you!; pay attention!
  3. blimey - something said when one is in a state of surprise
  4. heave ho - instruction to put some strength into whatever one is doing
  5. Savvy? - a question that means, “Do you understand?”
  6. Shiver me timbers! - an expression used to show shock or disbelief
  7. Sink me! - an exclamation of great surprise
  8. yo ho ho - possibly from yo-heave-ho, a chant when doing strenuous work, but also can be used to call attention to the speaker

Pirate Insults, Threats, and Dark Omens

Need to threaten or insult someone in pirate lingo?

  1. bilge-sucking - an insult indicating someone drank dirty bilge water from the bottom of the ship
  2. black spot - a death threat (found in Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson)
  3. blow the man down - it possibly means getting knocked to the ground or killed (found in a 19th-century sea shanty)
  4. cleave him to the brisket - cut a man nearly in half with a sword
  5. dance with Jack Ketch - to hang (Jack Ketch was slang for the hangman)
  6. dead men tell no tales - the reason given for leaving no survivors
  7. give no quarter - show no mercy; pirates raised a red flag to threaten no quarter
  8. landlubber - a person who is uncomfortable, or not incredibly skilled, at sea
  9. lily-livered - an insult for someone who displays cowardice
  10. keelhaul - a punishment in which someone was dragged back and forth under the ship
  11. mutiny - a situation in which the crew chooses a new captain, sometimes forcibly removing the old one
  12. scallywag - an inexperienced pirate, considered an insult
  13. scurvy dog - an insulting name
  14. shark bait - If you're made to walk the plank, chances are you'll be shark bait. Also, a dying sailor whose body will soon be thrown into the sea
  15. son of a biscuit eater - an insult
  16. walk the plank - A punishment, probably more myth than truth, which entails making someone walk off the side of the ship along a plank. The person's hands were often tied so he couldn't swim and drowned (and then fed the fish).

Pirate Slang

Understand what pirates have to say with popular pirate slang.

  1. briney deep - the ocean
  2. cackle fruit - hen's eggs
  3. clap of thunder - a strong alcoholic drink
  4. dance the hempen jig - to be hanged
  5. Davy Jones' locker - mythological place at the bottom of the sea where drowned sailors were said to go
  6. feed the fish - if you lose a sea fight, your body will feed the fish
  7. fire in the hole - a canon that is loaded and ready to fire
  8. hang the jib - to frown or scowl
  9. hearties - friends and comrades
  10. hempen halter - the noose used to hang people
  11. hornswaggle - to cheat, swindle
  12. no prey, no pay - a pirate law meaning the crew didn't get paid but took a share of any loot
  13. peg leg - a wooden leg
  14. run a rig - play a trick
  15. sea legs - when a pirate can walk comfortably on a moving ship
  16. scuttle - to sink a ship
  17. scuttlebutt - a cask of drinking water; slang for gossip
  18. swashbuckler - a daredevil
  19. three sheets to the wind - someone who is quite drunk

Phrases Related to Pirate Ships and Crew

Next time you’re aboard a ship, you’ll be able to speak like a pirate.

  1. abaft, or aft - toward the back of the boat
  2. all hands hoay - everyone on the deck
  3. batten down the hatches - a signal to prepare the ship for an upcoming storm
  4. bilge - the lowest decks of the ship, often filled with water.
  5. binnacle - where the compass is kept on board the ship
  6. black jack - a pirate flag; a large tankard
  7. buccaneer - name for a pirate mainly found in the Caribbean in the 17th and 18th centuries
  8. coaming - a surface that prevented water on the deck from dripping to lower levels of the ship
  9. cockswain or coxswain - the helmsman
  10. crow's nest - the place on the ship where the lookout stand is built
  11. duffle - a sailor's belongings and the bag they were carried in
  12. dungbie - rear end of the ship
  13. flibustier - name for the American pirates found around the West Indies during the Golden Age of Piracy
  14. freebooter - a pirate or looter, from the same origin as flibustier, someone who took loot or booty
  15. head - toilet on board the ship
  16. Jacob's ladder - rope ladder that was used to climb aboard ships
  17. Jolly Roger - the famous pirate flag with a skull and crossbones on it
  18. man-o-war - the name used for a pirate ship that is heavily armed and ready for battle
  19. old salt - a sailor that has a great deal of experience on the seas
  20. orlop - lowest deck in the ship where cables are stored
  21. poop deck - deck that is the highest and farthest back
  22. privateer - a sailor sponsored by the government, paid by what he could plunder from an enemy, technically a step up from a pirate
  23. rigging - the lines and ropes that held the sails
  24. seadog - an old sailor or pirate

Pirate Terms About Money and Weapons

Of course, no pirate story would be complete without the right words for weapons and treasure.

  1. booty - treasure or loot
  2. bounty - the reward for a deed
  3. cat o’ nine tails - a whip with nine separate strands on the end
  4. chase gun - a cannon at the prow, or front, of a ship
  5. coffer - a chest full of treasure
  6. cutlass - type of sword used by the pirates
  7. doubloons - Spanish gold coins
  8. pieces of eight - Spanish coins

Talk Like a Pirate

You might be surprised to already know some of the sayings on this list of old pirate terms. Yes, certain pirate expressions have made their way into everyday life. For example, people still often say "three sheets to the wind" about a drunk person at a party, or they will give something the "heave ho."

For more wordy fun, try learning some great pirate quotes from both real and fictional pirates. Then, explore some fun pirate puns that are sure to shiver your timbers!