Origin of the Pirate "Argh"

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by madanthonywayne, Jun 30, 2011.

  1. madanthonywayne Morning in America Registered Senior Member

    My 11 year old son asked me about the origin of the famous pirate phrase, "argh". I'm not sure. I've seen some reference to it originating in an old movie. Anyone know the real story?
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  3. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member

    As I understand it, the movie thing is correct.

    There was a particular actor who played Blackbeard in one of the early pirate movies, who basically defined the "standard" way pirates are portrayed.

    Sorry, but I can't remember the name of the actor or the movie...
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  5. Pandaemoni Valued Senior Member

    The word "argh" has uses unrelated to pirates, so has a traceable etymology i that regard, but as an interjection showing fear or frustration (it and its variant "arg").

    Whether that played any role in the development of the word in the pirate context I can't find.

    Unfortunately for the historicty of National Talk Like a Pirate Day, this is a tough problem, in part because I can think of many ways spell that particular sentence filler:



    The word "yar" even has some nautical roots (the Dictionary of English Nautical Language lists it and its variant "yare" as being pronounced "yahr" as a boat that is easy to handle. Another source notes "yar" as Gaelic for "ready."

    Using google n-grams, you can see "argh" appearing in books as early as the late 18th century, but likely in the OED "expression of fear" sense. "Yar" goes back even further.

    A Glossary of North Country Words, in Use: With Their Etymology (1829), lists "Arr" as a mark or scar made by a wound, and lists "Harr" (under "Hare" and derived from the older Saxon "Har") meaning a mist or fog.

    I can find assertions online that it "probably" was associated with pirates in movies, but no evidence of it.
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  7. Cifo Day destroys the night, Registered Senior Member


    Argh! Be it Wallace Beery maybe?

    Perhaps "argh" is a vocal corruption of "aye".
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2011
  8. phlogistician Banned Banned

    Linguistic background
    Actor Robert Newton, who specialized in portraying pirates, especially Long John Silver in the 1950 Disney film Treasure Island, and in the 1954 Australian film Long John Silver, and as the title character in the 1952 film Blackbeard, the Pirate,[7] is described as the "patron saint" of Talk Like A Pirate Day.[1] Newton was born in Dorset and educated in Cornwall, and it was his native West Country dialect, which he used in his portrayal of Long John Silver and Blackbeard, that some contend is the origin of the standard "pirate accent".[8]
    The archetypal pirate grunt "Arrr!" (alternatively "Rrrr!" or "Yarrr!") first appeared in fiction as early as 1934 in the film Treasure Island starring Lionel Barrymore,[9] and was used by a character in the 1940 novel Adam Penfeather, Buccaneer by Jeffrey Farnol.[9] However it was popularized and widely remembered with Robert Newton's usage in the classic 1950 Disney film Treasure Island. It has been speculated that the rolling "rrr" has been associated with pirates because of the location of major ports in the West Country of England, drawing labor from the surrounding countryside, West Country speech in general, and Cornish speech in particular, may have been a major influence on a generalized British nautical speech.[10][11] This can be seen in the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Pirates of Penzance, which is set in Cornwall; although the play did not (originally) use the phrase "arrr", the pirates used words with a lot of rrr's such as "Hurrah" and "pour the pirate sherry".[12]

  9. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

    I have read some old books, written in the 1800's and I remember some slang terms being used in them to convey what the pirates were saying when they spoke. I forget which books I read with that in them but I know that their out there if perhaps someone else here can remember in what books I'm trying to remember I'd appreciate it. It might have been Samuel Clemens in one of his tales.:shrug:
  10. Pandaemoni Valued Senior Member

    There are a few good old standards canting/slang dictionaries. The oldest I've seen is Richard Head's (forgive the title...I didn't name it):

    "The canting academy, or, The devils cabinet opened wherein is shewn the mysterious and villanous practices of that wicked crew, commonly known by the names of hectors, trapanners, gilts, &c. : to which is added a compleat canting-dictionary, both of old words, and such as are now most in use : with several new catches and songs, compos'd by the choisest wits of the age (London: Printed by F. Leach for Mat. Drew, 1673).

    Another one (easily accessible online) was William Grose's 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. I checked both before my post though and didn't see anything that looked likely to be related to Argh. It does include things like "Walk the Plank," "Hand" and "Jack Tar," "Lubber" and "Roger" (from which we still have "Jolly Roger").
  11. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member


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    But I remember reading some fictionalized books that were written which contained different forms of speech that pirates were saying back in the days of yor.
  12. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Pirates didn't do a lot of writing. What we know of them is almost all hearsay. While their primary homeland may have been Cornwall and the West of England, they were recruited from everywhere, including non-anglophone countries. So it's very likely that on any given pirate ship there was a variety of dialects. Interjections like "argh" and slang words may have varied greatly from one ship to another. People who transcribed these sounds did the best they could, so their transcriptions would have been filtered through their own dialects.
  13. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

    I guess I wasn't clear again. I was thinking of authors who wrote tales about pirates and the like back then , in the 1800's like Mark Twain as I already mentioned.
  14. keith1 Guest

    Seafaring (Greek, Norse, other) superstition-slang instead of outright cursing.
    "eye-goo" (Korean pronounced)
    argos (Greek "land")
    Ogham (Celtic gods)
  15. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    And I identified the sources available for them to work from.
  16. justvisiting Registered Member

    New here, stumbled onto this page while browsing the net.
    the Arrgh, comes from the British West Country dialects, in places like Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, etc. Historically, many of the men in this region took to seafaring, even from Elizabethan days, when British ships began to prey upon Spanish plate fleets as buccaneers and privateers.
  17. chimpkin C'mon, get happy! Registered Senior Member

    Thanks, matey.
  18. nietzschefan Thread Killer Valued Senior Member

    I love this Pommie/Irish expression "Oiii" how'd that come about?
  19. leopold Valued Senior Member

    the answer is obvious, argh comes from the word argonauts.
    the modern day argh is a tribute to jason and the brave souls of his crew.
    -sourced from whatsamatta university.
  20. justvisiting Registered Member

    Although similar sounding to oi - which in other cultures means oops - or oy vay, meaning alas, - or oiyoiyoi, which can mean either big oops or woe is me what do I do now? - it is actually derived from the word hey - as in hey you, boy! Oi! did you see that?

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