Common Pirate Phrases

Ever wondered what words or phrases pirates used? Here are some of the most common Pirate phrases or slang words used during the height of piracy.

Ahoy – This term was used as an exclamation to hail a ship or a person, or to attract attention. Avast! – Avast was a command that meant to stop or desist, and is derived from the Italian word “basta” which means stop.

Aye (or ay) – Aye was the standard way to say Yes for pirates.

Becalmed – Becalmed was the circumstance that occured when a sailing vessel could not move due to a lack of wind.  

Belay – Belay mean to secure a rop by winding on a pin or cleat, most often used as a urgent command  

Bilged on her anchor – This unfortunate stated happened when a ship was pierced inadvertently by its own anchor.

Blimey! – A common exclamation of surprise, blimey is the shortened version of “God blind me!”, which is still very common in England today.

Blow the man down – Beware if you hear this term as it means to kill someone. Yikes!

Crack Jenny’s teacup – A naughtier turn, Crack Jenny’s teacup was used if one was known to have spent night in a house of ill repute, also known as a brothel.

Crimp – Crimp meant to obtain pirates by trickery or coercion.

Dance the hempen jig – Another treacherous term, dance the hempen jig meant to be hanged.  

Davy Jone’s Locker – This term arose on the belief that Davy Jones was to blame for the sinking of any ship that went down, and was a fictional place at the bottom of the ocean that meant death was certain.

Dead men tell no tales – Another standard pirate motto which meant leave no survivors behind.  

Deadlights – Strong shutters were fastened over a ship’s porthole or cabin window in bad weather.

Fire in the hole – A common warning for sailors and pirates alike, this warning was issued before a cannon is fired.

Give no quarter – Give no quarter meant to refuse to spare the lives of opponents. Pirates raised a red flag to threaten and advise that no quarter will be given.

Haul wind – This simply meant to direct a ship into the wind.

Heave down – Another common sailing term used by sailors and pirates alike, this meant to turn a vessel on its side for cleaning.

Ho – A well known pirate word, this was Used to express surprise or joy, or to attract attention in particular that was just noticed, or to urge onward.

Marooned – To be stranded, particularly when on a desert isle.

No prey, no pay – this was a common pirate law that meant no wages would be earned, but that loot would be shared equally between pirate crew members

Parley (sometimes incorrectly “parlay”) – A discussion between two opposing sides having a dispute, and when they attempted a truce they were said to parley, taken from the french word  parler which means “to speak.”

Piracy – Robbery committed at sea was simply known as piracy.

Sail ho! – An exclamation that meant another ship is in view as the sail is the first part of a ship visible over the horizon.

Scupper that! – An expression of anger that meant “Throw that overboard!”

Sea legs – The ability to find one’s balance amongst the constant rocking and motion of a ship, especially difficult in rough seas. Early in a voyage a pirate was said to be lacking his “sea legs” if he had balance troubles. After reaching land, a pirate or sailor would often have trouble regaining his “land legs” and would swagger on land.

Shiver me timbers! A well known pirate expression of surprise or strong emotion. Derived from incidences of stormy weather and rough seas when the support timbers of a ship would shake or “shiver” which startled the crew.  

Show a leg! A funny phrase used when you wanted to wake a sleeping pirate.

Sink me! An expression of surprise that pirates used to exaggerate or emphasize an opinion.  


Now you know some of the most common pirate phrases.