International Talk Like a Pirate Day (ITLAPD) is a parodic holiday created in 1995 by John Baur (Ol’ Chumbucket) and Mark Summers (Cap’n Slappy), of Albany, Oregon,U.S., who proclaimed 19th September each year as the day when everyone in the world should talk like a pirate. For example, an observer of this holiday would greet friends not with “Hello,” but with “Ahoy, matey!” The holiday, and its observance, springs from a romanticized view of the Golden Age of Piracy.
According to Summers, the day is the only holiday to come into being as a result of a sports injury. He has stated that during a racquetball game between Summers and Baur, one of them reacted to the pain with an outburst of “Aaarrr!”, and the idea was born. That game took place on June 6, 1995, but out of respect for the observance of D-Day, they chose Summers’ ex-wife’s birthday, as it would be easy for him to remember.
At first an inside joke between two friends, the holiday gained exposure when John Baur and Mark Summers sent a letter about their invented holiday to the American syndicated humor columnist Dave Barry in 2002. Barry liked the idea and promoted the day. Growing media coverage of the holiday after Barry’s column has ensured that this event is now celebrated internationally, and Baur and Summers now sell books and T-shirts on their website related to the theme. Part of the success for the international spread of the holiday has been attributed to non-restriction of the idea or trademarking, in effect opening the holiday for creativity and “viral” growth.
Baur and Summers found new fame in the 2006 season premiere episode of ABC’s Wife Swap, first aired September 18, 2006. They starred in the role of “a family of pirates” along with John’s wife, Tori. Baur also appeared on the June 26, 2008 episode of Jeopardy!, where he was introduced as a “writer and pirate from Albany, Oregon.”
As the association of pirates with peg legs, parrots, and treasure maps was popularized in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island (1883), the book has had a significant influence on parody pirate culture.
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, is described as the “patron saint” of Talk Like A Pirate Day. 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”.
The archetypal pirate grunt “Arrr!” (alternatively “Rrrr!” or “Yarrr!”) first appeared in the classic 1950 Disney film Treasure Island, according to research by Mark Liberman.His article cites linguistic research that may locate the roots of this phrase much earlier.
Lionel Barrymore is the first believed to have used the “arrrgh” in the first film of Treasure Island from 1934 in an iconic version of Billy Bones. Many believe Barrymore created the first archetype of pirate speak.
Predating these usages is the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Pirates of Penzance, which is set in Cornwall. 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.