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Ephemera: Pirate Speak
Do you recall what a big deal this was?!
A few words about voice/melody in your song/story …
Do you remember the pirate craze of the ’90s? Portland, Oregon had pirate bars and vegan pirate cafes and even a pirate strip club. Eye patches galore. And people lived a pirate lifestyle like they might’ve been Mods in the ’60s or Beats in the ’50s. And best (worst) of all was the “Argh, maties!” pirate-speak that anyone could lapse into at any time. “Shiver me timbers.” That stuff. “Me thinks this ‘uns too good to speak the pirate lingo, no? He sleeps tonight in the briney deep!” And if you didn’t wear a fake parrot on your shoulder, you just didn’t rate.12
Eventually this was all driven by Disney and Johnny Depp, but it was a great shared shtick. And hereabouts it started a decade before the Disney franchise, so it seemed more grass roots.
This is what you’re shooting for in voice. You want to model a way of speaking/narrating in fiction that people will adopt for their own shared use.
Shame of shames, at Freightliner I had a coworker who was a bit of a stick. Rick, poor Rick. So to torment Rick we’d, the rest of us, declare a “Pirate-Speak Day,” and all sling pirate talk all day and “Blow the man down” slang and sing sea chanteys until Rick looked ready to walk the plank. Then we’d sing Landlord Fill the Flowing Bowl and clink pretend tankards of ale. Rick really hated pirates.
The only thing Rick hated more was Fran Drescher. To drive Rick to the edge of sanity we’d declare a Talk Like Fran Drescher Day, when everyone at Freightliner had to talk in that wonderful, nasal Staten Island accent.3 Yes, middle-aged men who worked on trucks would talk this way—all day—just to antagonize Rick.4 It never got old.5
That’s a testimonial to the power of voice. If you can nail a specific voice and establish its rules, you’re two-thirds done with the work. A good story is like declaring the rules of a game. And everyone is looking for a new game to play.
Don’t even get me started on Fake Irish Accent Day.
Not to mention that it was racially neutral so anyone could be a pirate without dumping on some other group.
When I took Anthony Bourdain to my favorite novelty shop, he bought me a fake parrot to wear. What a strange memory.
I only say Staten Island because the dawn of my Fran awareness was the film Working Girl. FYI, David Foster Wallace crushed big on Melanie Griffith in that film.
Yeah, and it was fun. Yeah, and we were dicks, and sometimes Rick was so irked he went home sick. We chalked those days up as a great victory and did loud nasally Fran-ish cheers. Guys are bastards to other guys. And yeah, this is what I did instead of getting an MFA. Sigh.
The very definition of a hostile work environment. (But can you imagine Rick going to court and saying, “Your honor, all my co-workers talked like Fran Drescher, and laughed her laugh, just to bait me”? Such is the stuff of New York Post headlines. )