We hear the terms steer clear of, hit the deck, don’t rock the boat,
and to harbor a grudge
and give little thought to their origin. Left together on ships for months, and often for years, pirate crews developed expressions that made their way into common usage. Terms for things related to life at sea became idioms used by land lubbers,
a term derived from the holes in the platforms surrounding the mast that allowed sailors to avoid climbing the rigging around the platforms. A lubber
was someone who was very clumsy, so a land lubber
is someone who knows nothing about sailing and rigging.
Centuries ago, men wore wigs of length denoting their wealth and importance. Soon, many naval captains, including Sir Henry Morgan and Captain Chaloner Ogle, who killed Black Bart Roberts, began to adopt the style. A law was passed in England declaring that only nobility, judges, and bishops could wear full-length wigs and so was born the term bigwig.
Reading through these words and phrases is an abbreviated trip through history, with lists of major naval mutinies, a summary of the slave trade, and even jokes. This dictionary is written to be entertaining as well as informative, to give a flavor of the interesting times from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries when pirates controlled many sea lanes. It also contains a treasure trove of factual information about life aboard the ship, important pirate haunts, and technical terms.