A Dangling Fortune

Why did pirates wear earrings?

Well, there are a quite a few theories, but also some hard facts.

This’d be a fact: was you a sailor up until around the year 1800, you would get yourself an earring to signify to them what saw you that you had survived a shipwreck. A sailor with two earrings, one in each ear, why, that fellow had survived two shipwrecks. Three earrings, three shipwrecks, and so on.

I read a theory that pirates also wore earrings as a way to show their wealth. The danglies alongside their head would tell you at a glance whether this is a successful brigand, or simply a wannabe.

While there is a little merit to this theory – who doesn’t want to advertise their success? – it runs into a bit of a problem when you think who pirates were.

And by, who pirates were, I mean who pirates ARE, because there are a great many seafaring pirates out there today. Those guys with Uzis and motorboats that attack oil tankers and freighters in the waters off Indonesia – thugs with machine guns and grenades – are every bit as much a pirate as Long John Silver and Captain Jack Sparrow.

If one of these modern day pirates were caught, say, by the Somalian Navy, they’d be hanged on the spot, and the world would cheer to be rid of the nasty fellow. As a consequence, modern day pirates keep a low profile, for fear of getting caught.

The pirates of the Caribbean were no different. Vicious, rapacious murderers, they had nothing in their minds beyond what was in it for them.  Although they had some degree of brotherhood between themselves, they were viewed as a plague, and their hangings were accompanied by cheers from those that witnessed it.

So, would a pirate walk about, surrounded by thieves and cutthroats, wearing a fortune dangling from his ears?  One has to wonder…

Another theory says that a pirate wore his fortune on his ears that he might get a decent burial. I be dead, says I, but use me earrings to afford me a grave, would ye?

As above, surrounded by thieves and cutthroats, one simply must wonder.

– Hey, mate,Bob just died. And he’s got a fortune in diamonds hanging from his ear.

-Don’t take them earrings, Jake. Bob wants us to use them to pay for his funeral.

-Bob’s dead, mate – he don’t need no funeral. Shove him over the side – but gimme them earrings, first.

Why did pirates wear earrings? Well, was they a sailor, it showed how many shipwrecks they survived. And, some chaps just liked the look of ’em. That’d be the true of it!


Pirates and Yoda: an Unlikely Connection

“Judge me by my size, do you?” – Yoda

“Judge me by me size, do ye?” – Red Suarez, fictional pirate.

Eerie, isn’t it? Try this one:

“The future I cannot see” – Yoda

“The future I cannot see” – Cap’t Jack Sparrow.

Call me crazy, but I’m seeing a definite link between the syntactically challenged English Yoda speaks and the educationally challenged middle English spoken by fictional pirates. A link, a connection, a commonality.

Try it. Take any Yoda line, swap out the word “you” with the word “ye”, and say it like Long John Silver.

“Truly wonderful the mind of a child is.”

Creepy, am I right?

So? What give?  I’ve come up with three theories:

First theory: Yoda and pirates come from the same stock. One day those ghost hunting guys who keeps discovering Chupacabra tracks for cable television are going to uncover the remains of a Yoda-like creature that crash-landed in the Caribbean some 500 years ago. “Help me, you must,” cried the sole survivor. This theory is not very likely.

Second theory: convoluted sentence structure is a byproduct of being strong with The Force. Yoda is certainly robust in that respect. And it’s not a long stretch to imagine pirates as being strong in the Dark Side. Still, Darth Vader didn’t talk like a pirate, and Kylo Ren uses pretty good grammar. Even Luke Skywalker, about whom Darth Vader said “The Force is strong in this one” – even he got subjects and verbs in the right order. Another not very likely theory.

Third theory: Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote the screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back, needed to give Yoda a quirky-yet-charming mannerism that would make him sound both familiar and alien. Clever choice, this dialect was. This would be the most likely theory.

Now, as I know you know, not all pirates talked like Yoda. Pirates mostly spoke in the dialect of their native lands – during the Golden Age of Piracy, this would have been England. And, since the greatest percentage of pirates were not men of culture and learning, they tended to use the rougher language of the streets – stab me in me vitals if that don’t be true!

If you read Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson, you’ll get a great pirate caricature in Long John Silver. But read The Black Swan, by  Rafael Sabatini, and you’ll find a great mix of swashbuckling pirate and gentlemen of fortune that, while quite romantic, was probably equally accurate.

And, middle English, which was in use at the close of the Elizabethan Era, quite at the same time as the Golden Age of Piracy, was full of fun, convoluted sentence structures. This one is my current favorite: “Avoid taverns, brothels and gambling halls should I, were I you.”

Until the link between the citizens of Dagobah and Port Royal is defined, however, around Yoda my wallet should I watch. Arrgh.

Controversy: Pirates and Eye-patches

Question: Why did pirates wear eye-patches?

Answer: Duh. Because they had lost an eye. They wore the patch to keep dirt out of the socket, a place that was difficult to take care of.

But, now there’s a shadow of controversy about this seemingly straightforward answer. If you Google the same question, you’ll find that someone is floating a different theory.

According to this new theory, pirates wore eye-patches to help them see in the dark. It sounds outlandish, but makes a degree of sense.

If you run out of the bright sunshine into a darkened room, you’re going to find it hard to see for a few seconds until your eyes adjust to the change in light. If you cover one eye, however, when you’re in the bright sunshine, that covered eye will be ready for the darker room.

Here’s the scene:

The pirate Williwaw has run alongside the merchant ship Brother Jonathon. Cannons aren’t roaring now, because Williwaw‘s men are swarming over the railings to fight Brother Jonathon’s crew. Crazy Ned Ganders, fake eye-patch in place, dashes across Jonathon‘s main deck and ducks towards the aft cabin, cutlass in one hand and pistol in the other.

“Wait,” he mutters, “it be a trifle darker here in the t’ween decks.” He carefully stuffs his pistol into his belt, and then raises his eye-patch. “There,” he sighs, “that’d be better, wood’n it? Now I can see much more efficiently. Arrgh.” He pulls out his pistol and proceeds towards the aft cabin.

Somehow, I’m just not seeing it.  A battle between ship’s crews was pitched, hot, and incredibly fast. Until the merchant crew was subdued, a pirate was under attack from every side at every second.  Managing an eye-patch seems like it would be more of a nuisance than a miracle secret weapon.

Plus, the human animal is meant to see with stereoscopic vision. A pirate with one eye covered is at a distinct disadvantage to the merchant sailor who has both.

Finally, most pirates just weren’t that clever. They were regular sailors, just folks, like you and me. Well, a little unwashed, and a whole lot more vicious.

So, the next time anyone asks you why pirates wore eye-patches, you can say this with confidence: duh, because they had lost an eye!

Now’s the Time to Read Marigold’s End


Today. Right now. This minute. Don’t delay!

Go here: Smashwords.com and download your free copy while you can still get it for free. This, my friend, is a limited time offer!

Here’s the synopsis:

Struggling to deal with the loss first of his father and then of best friend, priggish, arrogant twelve-year-old Phineas Caswell finds himself aboard a ship on the very sea that took them both away.

Phineas’ one goal in life is to become a “landed” gentleman, and to marry the exquisite Susannah Kilburn – lofty goals for a penniless twelve year old Bostonian in the year 1706. To his horror, he is taken to sea by his well-intentioned but rather daffy Uncle Neville. Phineas finds he must learn to make his way among the frightening, gruff sailors aboard the ship, must hold his own against desperate pirates, and look beyond the past to find the meanings of courage, friendship, and home.

Patrick Caswell, Phineas’ sea-captain father, has disappeared into the Caribbean, rumored to have turned pirate. The Spanish treasure ship Tres Hermanas has been taken by buccaneers. In her hold she carried a cargo that will change the map of Europe. Queen Anne of England has dispatched secret agents to recover the treasure. But what has become of the treasure? What happened to Patrick Caswell? Who are these agents? Only Red Suarez holds the key. But he’s the vicious, self-appointed pirate king of Port Royal. Leave it to Phineas to bumble his way into a stunning adventure filled with naval battles, chases, and an amazing, all encompassing hurricane.

The sailor’s life has much to teach Phineas. Although he is a reluctant student, Phineas, Taylor the cabin boy, and the French princess Louise find themselves face-to-face with cruel buccaneers, and must learn the most difficult lesson of all in adventure as vast as the sea itself.

So, don’t delay. Download your copy today! Marigold’s End, by John D Reinhart.