Words Every Pirate Should Know

International Talk Like A Pirate Day is celebrated on September 19. In the swashbuckling spirit, this list covers words every self-respecting pirate should know: parts of a ship, sailing jargon, terms for pirates, etc. With these words at your command, you can take the whole pirate thing way beyond "arrgh," eyepatches, and annoying birds that perch on your shoulder.

For more, check out the full article: Buccaneer, Bilge and Booty: Words Every Self-respecting Pirate Should Know

Start learning with an activity...

  • Practice

    Answer a few questions on each word. Get one wrong? We'll ask some follow-up questions. Use it to prep for your next quiz!
  • Spelling Bee

    Test your spelling acumen. See the definition, listen to the word, then try to spell it correctly. Beat your last streak, or best your overall time. Spellers of the world, untie!
  • Vocabulary Jam

    Compete head-to-head in real-time to see which team can answer the most questions correctly. Start a Jam and invite your friends and classmates to join!

Explore the Words

definitions & notes only words
  1. fathom
    a linear unit of measurement for water depth
    The film borrowed heavily from a recent American picture, “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms,” but put a distinctly Japanese spin on the allegory.Washington Post (Aug 8, 2017)
    Fathom can be both a verb and a noun. The verb is the more common in everyday usage and means "to understand", to get one’s head around. The noun is the pirate definition though, and it is a measurement of depth, roughly equivalent to 6 feet. The connection between the two definitions is that if something is a fathom in depth it is "able to be measured," the way something that is fathomable is "able to be understood."
  2. buccaneer
    someone who robs at sea or plunders the land from the sea
    Buccaneers and pirate-wannabes of all ages abound, since pirate attire is encouraged and usually available from event vendors.Seattle Times (Jul 5, 2017)
    Buccaneer is a word that is synonymous with pirate. Originally specific to pirates on the Spanish coast, it has expanded to encompass the whole group. The stability of buccaneer in our collective minds probably has a lot to do with the pirate ship in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' stadium that shoots off fake cannons every time the team scores a touchdown. Until a few years ago, their logo even included an image of a pirate with a blade in his teeth.
  3. bilge
    where the sides of the vessel curve in to form the bottom
    The vessel was leaky, so the bilges were constantly filling with a mixture of oil and seawater.Washington Times (Apr 1, 2017)
    Used to describe foulness and garbage, the bilge is technically "the lowest internal part of a ship." The sense of the word has been extended, however to all the gross stuff that collects there from small leaks and dead animals and the like. The word is historically a variant of bulge which comes from old French boulge "leather sack."
  4. careen
    pitching dangerously to one side
    Then a car roared past him, careening all over the road, in the opposite direction.Washington Post (Dec 13, 2016)
    This verb originally applied to ships and is from a French word which literally translates as "to expose a ship's keel, which means that the ship was turned on its side, a very dangerous situation for those aboard.
  5. maroon
    leave stranded or isolated with little hope of rescue
    Estimates of losses were not available, with rescuers yet to reach villages marooned by the worst floods in recent years.Reuters (Aug 14, 2017)
  6. prow
    the front part of a vessel
    Instead of a knife she used a blade that curved like the prow of a Viking ship, sailing to battle in distant seas.Interpreter of Maladies
    The word for the front part of a ship, prow, is related to the word element pro which is found in English words like proceed, which literally means "to go on, to go before."
  7. scurvy
    a condition caused by deficiency of ascorbic acid
    Scurvy, an 18th century disease caused by a lack of vitamin C, appears to have made a surprise comeback in Australia.The Guardian (Nov 28, 2016)
    This is a disease many pirates would contract because there was a lack of fresh fruit or other sources of Vitamin C. Scurvy involves swollen and bleeding gums and general weakness. From French scorbut.
  8. pirate
    someone who robs at sea or plunders the land from the sea without having a commission from any sovereign nation
    The group will wear pirate hats and shirts that say “ Pirates From De West,” and their float is designed to look like an abandoned ship.New York Times (Aug 31, 2017)
    Where does the word pirate itself come from? Latin pirata comes from Greek peirates . The Greek is literally “one who attacks,” from peiran “to attack, make a hostile attempt on.”
  9. keel
    one of the main longitudinal beams of the hull of a vessel
    But the keel remained intact, and the boat eventually righted itself, though it was flooded.Washington Times (Jul 28, 2017)
    The keel is the lowest plank of wood on a boat. It is the foundational piece, and the ship depends on it for strength and stability. The phrase "keep an even keel" comes from maintaining a level, horizontal position on a ship, and has been metaphorically extended to mean keeping a calm demeanor and not going from one extreme emotion to another.
  10. ballast
    any heavy material used to stabilize a ship or airship
    The ballast water that stabilizes marine vessels is the greatest source of harmful bacteria and invasive species in aquatic ecosystems.Nature (Nov 27, 2016)
  11. stern
    the rear part of a ship
    That stern of a Turkish gulet where 10 of us slept on cushions under the stars.The Guardian (Oct 18, 2016)
    The stern is where the steering gear of the ship is located, and the word derives from Old Norse styra, which meant "to guide." The more familiar adjective stern meaning "severe, strict or cruel" is unrelated to this term.
  12. unfurl
    unroll, unfold, or spread out
    The queen herself was seen summoning the winds, Unfurling her sails and frantically paying out the slackened ropes.Sterling Biographies®: Cleopatra: Egypt's Last and Greatest Queen
  13. booty
    goods or money obtained illegally
    He made me think of a pirate captain disposing of the booty.A Separate Peace
  14. hoist
    raise or haul up with or as if with mechanical help
    Drenched pirates shouted and hoisted and scrambled, but there was nothing to be done.Beauty Queens
  15. pillage
    steal goods; take as spoils
    “Beaten, bleeding, terrified, the men lay huddled together in the hold, while the pirates proceeded in their work of pillage and brutality.Whymper, Frederick
Created on August 26, 2017 (updated September 16, 2020)

Sign up now (it’s free!)

Whether you’re a teacher or a learner, Vocabulary.com can put you or your class on the path to systematic vocabulary improvement.