Admiral of the Black
A title given to the leader of the Brethren of the Coast

aft (or abaft)
At, in, toward, or close to the rear of the ship

An interjection used to hail a ship or a person, or to attract attention.

amidship (or amidships)
The middle of a ship.

An exclamation.

A command meaning stop or desist.

aye (or ay)
Yes; an affirmation.


Heavy material that is placed in the hold of a ship to enhance stability

beam (also arm)
A piece of timber perpendicular to the sides of a ship which supports the deck. Also used to identify objects in relation to objects perpendicular to the ship that are visible from the port or starboard side.

The state of a sailing vessel which cannot move due to a lack of wind.

(1) To secure or make fast (a rope, for example) by winding on a cleat or pin. (2) To stop, most often used as a command.

(1) The lowest part inside the ship, within the hull itself which is the first place to show signs of leakage. The bilge is often dank and musty, and considered the most filthy, dead space of a ship. (2) Nonsense, or foolish talk.

bilge rat
(1) A rat living in the bilge of a ship. It is considered the lowliest creature by pirates, but many pirates take to eating the animals to survive. (2) An insulting name given by a pirate.

bilge water
Water inside the bilge sometimes referred to as bilge itself.

bilged on her anchor
A ship holed or pierced by its own anchor.

bittacle (or bitacola and later binnacle)
A box on the deck of a ship holding the ship’s compass.

black jack
A drink container made of leather

black spot
A black smudge on a piece of paper used by pirates as a threat. A black spot is often accompanied by a written message specifying the threat. Most often a black spot represents a death threat.

An exclamation of surprise.

blow the man down
To kill someone.

boatswain (also bosn or bosun)
A warrant officer or petty officer on a merchant ship who is in charge of the ships rigging, anchors, cables, and deck crew.

A long spar extending from a mast to hold or extend the foot of a sail.

The front of a ship.

The slanted spar at a ship’s prow which is the furthest front of the ship. It is usually used as a lead connection for a smaller, navigational sail. It was from the bowsprit that Blackbeard’s head was hung as a trophy.

A general term for the vantage on another ship of absolute perpendicular to the direction it is going. To get along broadside a ship was to take it at a very vulnerable angle. This is of course, the largest dimension of a ship and is easiest to attack with larger arms. A “Broadside” has come to indicate a hit with a cannon or similar attack right in the main part of the ship.

brigantine (also brig)
A two-masted sailing ship, square-rigged on both masts.

bring a spring upon her cable
To come around in a different direction.

A pirate, especially one of the freebooters who preyed on Spanish shipping in the West Indies during the 17th century. The buccaneers were first hunters of pigs and cattle on the islands of Hispaniola and Tortuga, but were driven off by the Spanish and turned to piracy. Buccaneers were said to be heavy drinking, cruel pirates.

A familiar term meaning friend.

A partition or dividing wall within the hull of a ship.

A popular pirate drink made from rum, water, sugar, and nutmeg or cinamon.

A dispensing hole in a wooden barrel typically sealed with a cork.


A heavy rope or chain for mooring or anchoring a ship.

cackle fruit
Hen’s eggs

An apparatus used for hoisting weights, consisting of a vertical spool-shaped cylinder that is rotated manually or by machine and around which a cable is wound.

To take a ship into shallower waters or out of the water altogether and remove barnacles and pests such as mollusks, shells and plant growth from the bottom. Often a pirate needs to careen his ship to restore it to proper speed. Careening can be dangerous to pirates as it leaves the ship inoperable while the work is being done.

One who drinks wassail and engages in festivity, especially riotous drinking.

chandler, or ship chandler
A dealer offering supplies such as rope, lard, tools and galley supplies . See also sutler.

A ship being pursued.

clap of thunder
A string alcoholic drink

A fast moving ship.

code of conduct
A set of rules which govern pirates behavior on a vessel.

A small warship.

come about
To bring the ship full way around in the wind. Used in general while sailing into the wind, but also used to indicate a swing back into the enemy in combat.

cordage (see also line)
The ropes on a ship used to control its sails.

(1) A pirate, especially along the Barbary Coast; a romantic term for pirate. This term was used for Christian and Muslim privateers in the Mediterranean between the 16th and 19th centuries. The Barbary corsairs centered on North African states and were often “hired” by Muslim nations to attack Christian ships. The Christian Corsairs were known as the Maltese corsairs and they took their orders from the Knights of St. John to attack the Turks. (2) A pirate ship, often operating with official sanction.

A person who usually steers a ship’s boat and has charge of its crew.

crack Jenny’s tea cup
To spend the night in a house of ill repute.

To procure (sailors or soldiers) by trickery or coercion, or one who crimps.

crow’s nest
A small platform, sometimes enclosed, near the top of a mast, where a lookout could have a better view when watching for sails or for land.


dance the hempen jig
To hang.

Davy Jones’ Locker
A fictional place at the bottom of the ocean. In short, a term meaning death. Davy Jones was said to sink every ship he ever over took, and thus, the watery grave that awaited all who were sunk by him was given his name. To die at sea is to go to Davy Jones’ Locker.

(1) Strong shutters or plates fastened over a ship’s porthole or cabin window in stormy weather. (2) Thick windows set in a ship’s side or deck. (3) Eyes.

dead men tell no tales
Standard pirate excuse for leaving no survivors.



fire in the hole
A warning issued before a cannon is fired.

fo’cs’le (or forecastle)
(1)The section of the upper deck of a ship located at the bow forward of the foremast. (2) A superstructure at the bow of a merchant ship where the crew is housed.

A ship’s mast located nearest to the bow.

To roll up and secure, especially a ship’s sail.

The curved strips of wood that make up the underside of a ship.


A spar attached to the mast and used to extend the upper edge of a fore-and-aft sail.

A large three-masted sailing ship with a square rig and usually two or more decks, used from the 15th to the 17th century especially by Spain as a merchant ship or warship.

A low, flat vessel propelled partly, or wholly by oars.

A board or ramp used as a removable footway between a ship and a pier.

(1) A passage along either side of a ships upper deck. (2) A gangplank. (3) An interjection used to clear a passage through a crowded area.

gibbit ( or gibbit cage)
Chain or metal-slat cages in which the corpses of pirates are hung and displayed in order to discourage piracy.

give no quarter (see also quarter)
The refusal to spare lives of an opponent. Pirates raise a red flag to threaten no quarter will be given.

grog blossom
A redness on the nose or face of persons who drink ardent spirits to excess.

grog (see also spirits)
An alcoholic liquor, especially rum diluted with water. Admiral Vernon is said to have been the first to dilute the rum of sailors (about 1745.)

gunwalls or (gunwhales)
The sides of the top deck which act as a railing around the deck, and have openings where heavy arms or guns are positioned.


The crew of a ship; sailors.

Quickly or carefully; in a shipshape style.

hang the jib
To pout or frown.

hardtack (also sea biscuit)
A hard biscuit or bread made from flour and water baked into a moisture-free rock to prevent spoilage; a pirate ships staple. Hardtack has to be broken into small pieces or soaked in water before eaten.

haul wind
To direct a ship into the wind.

A hole in a ship’s deck through which the anchor cable passes.

A term of familiar address and fellowship among sailors.

heave down
To turn a vessel on its side for cleaning.

heave to
An interjection meaning to come to a halt.

heel (also list)
When a ship leans to one side or the measurement of it’s tilt.

The steering wheel of a ship which controls the rudder.

hempen halter
The hangman’s noose.

Used to express surprise or joy, to attract attention to something sighted, or to urge onward.

(1) A large cask used mainly for the shipment of wines and spirits. (2) A unit of measurement equal to approximately one hundred gallons.

A large area for storing cargo in the lower part of a ship.

A piece of soft sandstone used for scouring the wooden decks of a ship.

To cheat.

The body of a ship.


One that trespasses on a trade monopoly, as by conducting unauthorized trade in an area designated to a chartered company; a ship used in unauthorized trade.


A flag, especially one flown at the bow of a ship to indicate her nationality.

A pole mounted on the bow of a ship from which a jack is flown.

Jack Ketch
The hangman. To dance with Jack Ketch is to hang.

Jack Tar (or tar)
A sailor.

Jacob’s ladder
A rope ladder with wooden rungs used to access a ship from the side.

A triangular sail stretching from the fore-topmast head to the jib boom and in small craft to the bowsprit or the bow.

jolly boat
A light boat carried at the stern of a larger sailing ship.

Jolly Roger
A pirate flag depicting a skull-and-crossbones. It was an invitation to surrender, with the implication that those who surrendered would be treated well. A red flag indicated “no quarter.”

jury rig (also jury rigging or jury mast)
A temporary or makeshift mast erected on a sea vessel with whatever materials and tools were on hand, including spare parts of smaller masts. In combat, the mainmast was often the most damaged (providing the ship didn’t sink.) Without the mainmast a ship was powerless so it was imperative to build a jury rig for the ship. Sometimes the mizzenmast could be moved and used as a jury rig.


The underside of a ship which becomes covered in barnacles after sailing the seas.

To punish someone by dragging them under a ship, across the keel, until near-death or death. Both pirates and the Royal Navy were fond of this practice.

A servant boy or a dishonorable man. Also a Jack in a deck of cards.


A way to address a younger male.

landlubber (or lubber)
A person unfamiliar with the sea or seamanship. The term doesn’t derive from “land lover,” but rather from the root of lubber, meaning clumsy or uncoordinated. Thus, a landlubber is one who is awkward at sea for familiarity with the land. The term is used to insult the abilities of one at sea.

lanyard (or laniard)
A short rope or gasket used for fastening something or securing rigging.

A way to address a younger female.

lateen sail
A triangular sail set on a long sloping yard.

The side away from the direction from which the wind blows.

letter of marque
A document given to a sailor (privateer) giving him amnesty from piracy laws as long as the ships plunders are of an enemy nation. A large portion of the pirates begin as privateers with this symbol of legitimacy. The earnings of a privateer are significantly better than any of a soldier at sea. Letters of marque aren’t always honored, however, even by the government that issues them. Captain Kidd had letters of marque and his own country hanged him anyway.

line (see also cordage)
A rope in use as part of the ship’s rigging, or as a towing line. When a rope is coiled up on deck, not yet being used for anything, it is simply called a rope.

To lean or cause to lean to the side.

loaded to the gunwalls
To be drunk.

long boat
The largest boat carried by a ship which is used to move large loads such as anchors, chains, or ropes. pirates use the boats to transport the bulk of heavier treasures.

long clothes
A style of clothing best suited to land. A pirate, or any sailor, doesn’t have the luxury of wearing anything loose that might get in the way while climbing up riggings. Landsmen, by contrast, could adorn themselves with baggy pants, coats, and stockings.

A person posted to keep watch on the horizon for other ships or signs of land.

A two-masted sailing vessel with a lugsail rig.

A quadrilateral sail that lacks a boom, has the foot larger than the head, and is bent to a yard hanging obliquely on the mast.


The longest mast located in the middle of a ship.

main sheet
The rope that controls the angle at which a mainsail is trimmed and set.

man-of-war (also man-o’-war)
A vessel designed and outfitted for battle.

To abandon a person on a deserted coast or island with little in the way of supplies. It is a fairly common punishment for violation of a pirate ship’s articles, or offending her crew because the victims death cannot be directly connected to his former brethren.

To be stranded, particularly on a desert isle.

The upright wooden post or spar that carries a sail or sails.

A piratical way to address someone in a cheerful, if not necessarily friendly, fashion.


measured fer yer chains
To be outfitted for a gibbet cage.

A fore-and-aft sail set on the mizzenmast.

The largest and, perhaps, most important mast located in the mizzen; the third mast or the mast aft of a mainmast on a ship having three or more masts.

The largest amount of booty discovered.

To rise against authority, especially the captain of a ship.


Nelson’s folly

A small cup or drink

no prey, no pay
A common pirate law meaning a crew received no wages, but rather shared whatever loot was taken.

no quarter
See give no quarter.


(1) To slacken a line. (2) To gain upon in a chase; to overtake.


parley (sometimes incorrectly “parlay”)
A conference or discussion between opposing sides during a dispute. The term was used in “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” as part of Pirate law.

parrel (also parral)
A sliding loop of rope or chain by which a running yard or gaff is connected to, while still being able to move vertically along, the mast.

A scoundrel.

To rob of goods by force, especially in time of war; plunder.

A light boat propelled by sails or oars, used as a tender for merchant and war vessels; a boat for communication between ship and shore.

Robbery committed at sea.

One who robs at sea or plunders the land from the sea without commission from a sovereign nation; the opposite of a privateer.

To take booty; rob.

(1) A seaport. (2) The left side of the ship when you are facing toward her prow.

A company of men commissioned to force men into service such as on a vessel, specifically a pirate ship.

A sailor with a letter of marque from a government. Technically a privateer was a self employed soldier paid only by what he plundered from an enemy. In this, a privateer was supposed to be above being tried for piracy. A privateer is theoretically a law-abiding combatant, and entitled to be treated as an honorable prisoner if captured. Most often, privateers were a higher class of criminal, though many became pirates.

The person responsible for discipline on board a ship.

prow (see also bow)
The forwardmost area of the ship.


quarter (see also give no quarter)
Derived from the idea of “shelter”, quarter is given when mercy is offered by pirates. Quarter is often the prize given to an honorable loser in a pirate fight.

The after part of the upper deck of a ship.

During the Golden Age of Piracy this was the highest ranking pirate on a ship under the captain, usually elected by the crew. The quartermaster was the only officer on a ship who could veto a captain’s decision, but only when the ship was not engaged in battle or on a mission.


A mischievous person; a scoundrel.

reef sails
To shorten the sails by partially tying them up, either to slow the ship or to keep a strong wind from putting too much strain on the masts.

The system of ropes, chains, and tackle used to support and control the masts, sails, and yards of a sailing vessel.

rope’s end
Another term for being flogged.

A flat piece of wood at the stern of a ship that dips into the water and is used for steering. The rudder is controlled at the helm.

run a rig
To play a trick.

run a shot across the bow
A command to fire a warning shot.


Sail ho!
An exclamation meaning another ship is in view. The sail, of course, is the first part of a ship visible over the horizon.
Scupper that!
An expression of anger or derision meaning “Throw that overboard!”

A salad usually consisting of chopped meat, anchovies, eggs, and onions, often arranged in rows on lettuce and served with vinegar and oil.

A villainous or mischievous person.

A fore-and-aft rigged sailing vessel having at least two masts, with a foremast that is usually smaller than the other masts.

scourge of the seven seas
A pirate known for his extremely violent and brutal nature.

Openings along the edges of a ship’s deck that allow water on deck to drain back to the sea rather than collecting in the bilge.

(1) A small opening or hatch with a movable lid in the deck or hull of a ship. (2) To sink by means of a hole in a ships hull.

sea legs
The ability to adjust one’s balance to the motion of a ship, especially in rough seas. After walking on a ship for long periods of time, sailors became accustomed to the rocking of the ship in the water. Early in a voyage a sailor was said to be lacking his “sea legs” when the ship motion was still foreign to him. After a cruise, a sailor would often have trouble regaining his “land legs” and would swagger on land.

A line running from the bottom aft corner of a sail by which it can be adjusted to the wind.

Shiver me timbers!
An expression of surprise or strong emotion.

Show a leg!
A phrase used to wake up a sleeping pirate.

One of a set of ropes or wire cables stretched from the masthead to the sides of a vessel to support the mast.

Sink me!
An expression of surprise.

A single-masted, fore-and-aft-rigged sailing boat with a short standing bowsprit or none at all and a single headsail set from the forestay. This boat was much favored by the pirates because of its shallow draught and maneuverability.


To render (a muzzleloading gun) useless by driving a spike into the vent.

An alcoholic beverage, especially distilled liquor.

splice the main brace
To have a drink or perhaps several drinks.

A telescope.

Fitted with square sails as the principal sails.

Somewhat intoxicated; tipsy.

The right side of the ship when you are facing toward her prow

The rear part of a ship.

An upright beam at the stern bearing the rudder.

strike colors
To lower, specifically a ship’s flag as a signal of surrender.

A promiscuous woman; a female prostitute.

A merchant in port, selling the various things that a ship needs for supplies and repairs.

(1) To clean, specifically the deck of a ship. (2) A disrespectful term for a seaman. ie: “Man that gun, ye cowardly swabs!”

swing the lead
The lead was a weight at the bottom of a line that gave sailors a way to measure depth when near land. To Swing the Lead was considered a simple job, and thus came to represent one who is avoiding work or taking the easy work over the hard. In today’s terms, one who swings the lead is a slacker.


(1) The lower forward corner of a fore-and-aft sail. (2) The position of a vessel relative to the trim of its sails or the act of changing from one position or direction to another.

A system of ropes and blocks for raising and lowering weights of rigging and pulleys for applying tension.

take a caulk
To take a nap. On the deck of a ship, between planks, was a thick caulk of black tar and rope to keep water from between decks. This term came about either because sailors who slept on deck ended up with black lines across their backs or simply because sailors laying down on deck were as horizontal as the caulk of the deck itself.

A cylindrical, single-handled drinking mug, usually made of pewter. During the 18th century, pewter often contained traces of lead, causing lead poisoning or grout.

to go on account
A pleasant term used by pirates to describe the act of turning pirate. The basic idea was that a pirate was more “free lance” and thus was, more or less, going into business for himself.

Of, relating to, or being the mast above the topmast, its sails, or its rigging.

The mast below the topgallant mast in a square-rigged ship and highest in a fore-and-aft-rigged ship.

A square sail set above the lowest sail on the mast of a square-rigged ship or a triangular or square sail set above the gaff of a lower sail on a fore-and-aft-rigged ship.

Any of several transverse beams affixed to the sternpost of a wooden ship and forming part of the stern.

A small fore-and-aft sail hoisted abaft the foremast and mainmast in a storm to keep a ship’s bow to the wind.




walk the plank
Perhaps more famous than historically practiced, walking the plank is the act of being forced off a ship by pirates as punishment or torture. The victim, usually blindfolded or with bound hands or both, is forced to walk along a plank laid over the ship’s side and fall into the water below. The concept first appeared in nineteenth century fiction, long after the great days of piracy. History suggests that this might have happened once that can be vaguely documented, but it is etched in the image of the pirates for its dastardly content.

To move (a vessel) by hauling on a line that is fastened to or around a piling, anchor, or pier.

weigh anchor
To haul the anchor up; more generally, to leave port.

A young woman or peasant girl, sometimes a prostitute.



A long tapering spar slung to a mast to support and spread the head of a square sail, lugsail, or lateen.

(1) The main arm across the mast which holds up the sail (2) Either end of a yard of a square sail. The yardarm is a vulnerable target in combat, and is also a favorite place from which to hang prisoners or enemies. Black Bart hung his governor of Martinique from his yardarm.

yawl (or dandy)
(1) A ships small boat crewed by rowers. (2) A two-masted fore-and-aft-rigged sailing vessel similar to the ketch but having a smaller jigger or mizzenmast projecting out behind the rudder.




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