International Talk Like a Pirate Day

International Talk Like a Pirate Day

In honor of International Talk Like a Pirate Day, this #TallShipTuesday, we celebrate by learning some nautical terms sailors and landlubbers alike use. While we’re not pirates here on Providence, nautical terms tend to carry over, and these are some terms to know if you wish to talk like a pirate yourself.

Fair Winds and Following Seas

A phrase derived from two sources and is used to give blessing and good luck on someone’s journey. Fair winds is in hopes that there will be favorable winds to carry you and following seas speaks to the waves pushing you in that direction. You may hear this phrase uttered in port as sailors are heading out onto the dangerous seas which are known for being unpredictable and often hostile.

Three Sheets to the Wind

This is a phrase often use to describe a drunk person. Sailors did traditionally drink at sea for a variety of reasons, and so there were frequent times a drunken sailor would be spotted on the ship. A ship’s sheets are lines (ropes) that are used to control sails in a ship, if the lines are not secured then the sail flips in the wind and loses control, much like a drunk person. You may hear it used in a sentence like, “Midshipman Morgan has their three sheets to the wind”.

Scuttlebutt- talk about a pirate

Scuttlebutt is a nautical term for a water dispenser, but is also used as a term for gossip or rumors aboard a ship. A butt is a large drinking cask that comes from the Italian word “botte”. Sailors often swap rumors and stories at these places. The scuttle comes from where a hole is scuttled into the cask. Much like what you would call a water cooler.


Fathom is another interesting term, as it may be used to express comprehension or grasp of an idea, it comes from a unit of measurement of depth equal to six feet. The unit is based on a man’s outstretched arms and the term comes from the old English “faedem” which means to embrace.

Cup of Joe

Cup of Joe is our next term. A relatively new phrase, this commonly used term has its origins in a man named Josephus Daniels. As Secretary of the Navy, he prohibited alcohol aboard naval vessels such as Grog: The Unofficial Sailor’s Drink. By doing this, Daniels caused sailors to rely more heavily on coffee consumption.

Dead in the Water

The term dead in the water refers to when there is no wind in the water which causes no means of sailing. In a time before motors, sailors relied solely on the wind in long voyages across the seas. It could lead to very precarious situations if sailors were stuck for days at a time with no means of returning to shore. The phrase can also mean when there is a plan with zero chance of success.

Hit the Head

Lastly, you may have heard a bathroom being referred to as a “head” when there are bathrooms on ships. This derives from the head rig of a ship which are the ropes that are used to climb out to the jiboom. The head rig is used by sailors to climb out and do their business aboard the ship as we don’t have any fancy “toilets” to use. That is where the term head comes from!!

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