Talk Like a Pirate with MGHL and Howard Pyle

Ahoy mateys! It be that day where ye let loose that inner buccaneer that lives in yer soul. So smartly belay that landlubber talk and set forth wit’ me on a grand adventure to celebrate Talk Like A Pirate Day.


by Howard Pyle, Harper’s Weekly, 1900.

In order to get in the spirit of the day, we best be gettin’ some pirates.  Let’s look at the illustrator best known for pirate illustrations: Howard Pyle.

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by Howard Pyle, Book of Pirates

When we think of pirates, there is a common visual image that comes to mind, along with the way they talk and act.  Back in the early 20th century, however, knowledge of pirates was not a common thing.  Pyle did research on the then undiscovered subject and wrote and illustrated a book, which continues to shape the way we visualize pirates.  His illustrations of Robin Hood and King Arthur have had similar effects.

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by Howard Pyle, compiled in 1921

In addition to pirates, Pyle also specialized in pictures of knights and chivalry.  However, he illustrated stories from a range of genres, including historical figures from America and Europe and romantic stories.

Pyle thought that pictures should capture the drama and emotions of the scene.  Every detail in the picture contributes to capturing the emotion and telling the story.  Some of the illustrations have a generic caption of the scene, while others are a specific line that a character in the story says.  Many of his pictures would be on the first page of the magazine as a teaser to the reader for a featured story appearing in the later pages of the magazine.

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by Howard Pyle, from New York Colonial Privateers, Harper’s Weekly, Feburary 1895

In addition to illustrating, Pyle also taught others and helped develop an American style of illustration.  Some of these lessons he would give for free.

In the spirit of Pyle’s free lessons, Modern Graphic History Library will offer free lessons on pirate lingo, so yer Talk Like A Pirate Day can be something to boast to your hearties.

Aye!  Let’s get started.

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by Howard Pyle from A Sense of Scarlet, Harper’s Weekly, February 1907

Well, it seems that this lass is not interested in participating, although the ducks are giving it a fair shot.  Talking like a pirate is not mandatory, so no one will be forced to walk the plank. She is waving her arms around though, and pirates do like to gesture, so it’s a fair start.

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by Howard Pyle, from Special Messenger, Harper’s Weekly, February 1905

A couple of mistakes here.  First, pirates never say “you” – it should always be yer.  Also, when talking to a pretty lady, she should be addressed as “me beauty”. So “Are yer lonely, me beauty?” would be more pirate-like.   For a more romantic situation, “lass” can be substituted for “beauty”.  Then, you might suggest that if she is indeed lonely, she should find herself a parrot.

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by Howard Pyle, from In the Second April, Harper’s Weekly, March 1907

This gentleman became so focused on accurate pirate swordplay that he’s forgetting to talk.  Pirates love to shout insults, so calling your opponent a scurvy bilge rat would be appropriate.  If nothing else, you can always shout Arrrr! which can mean just about anything a pirate wants it to mean.

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by Howard Pyle, from The Castle of Content, Harper’s Weekly, August 1903

Well, pirates do like to sing with rhymes, but these words are a little too romantic. Maybe if this singer had found someone to accompany him with hornpipe, instead of using a lute, the proper musical mood would have been set.

Well, shiver me timbers! That be the time?  Best of luck to you in using your pirate lingo. But take heed, talking like a pirate can be exhausting.

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by Howard Pyle, from On The Torgugas, Harper’s Weekly, August 1887


Modern Graphic History Library has copies of Harper’s Weekly  in its Periodicals Collection.

Reed, Walt. The Illustrator In America 1860-2000. Society of Illustrators, 2001.

How To Talk Like A Pirate.  Wikihow, n.d.

About the author

Andrea Degener is the Visual Materials Processing Archivist in the department of Special Collections at Washington University Libraries.