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September 19th Is International Talk Like Robert Newton Day

By Edited Jun 4, 2015 2 2

You probably haven't heard of International Talk Like Robert Newton Day. You may have heard of it under its' actual name, International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

The Origins of International Talk Like A Pirate Day

According to the founders, John Baur (Ol' Chumbucket) and Mark Summers (Cap'n Slappy), from Albany, Oregon in the USA, International Talk Like A Pirate Day was started on June 6th 1995 during a game of racquetball. The two started shouting encouragement in "pirate speak" to each other through the game. After the game, they decided that a new holiday, Talk Like A Pirate Day, was needed.[1]

Why September 19th?

First a date was needed that wasn't already taken up by something. June 6th is the anniversary of D-Day, and everything else they could immediately think of was occupied by something else important. Finally September 19th was settled on, the birthday of Summers' ex-wife.

Going Viral

Jolly Roger
Nothing much happened for seven years after that. The two usually forgot about the holiday, only being reminded by their friend Brian Rhodes, until in 2002 John Baur came across the email address of Dave Barry, a US author and syndicated columnist and the winner of a Pulitzer Prize. A email was sent describing the holiday and offering Barry the chance to be the spokesman, and Barry replied, asking if the pair had done anything about promoting it. The answer boiled down to "Not much" as they didn't have the pull of Barry. They were surprised when a local newspaper feature editor who Baur knew rang them up in early September of that year to ask them if the Dave Barry column she was editing was actually about them. The article had been written and published.[2]

Since then, the holiday has snowballed, becoming "International" when Baur and Summers were interviewed by a Sydney, Australia radio station. Dave Barry apparently originally thought that it might be big, possibly at least 20 minutes. It has since been far more successful than anyone would have realistically thought. The world wide web has undoubtedly helped there. International Talk Like A Pirate Day is also an official holiday for members of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

How Do You Talk Like A Pirate?

In order to talk like a pirate, you are supposed to use pirate lingo when talking to others. This includes using terms such as "Ahoy" for "Hello" as well as the old standby and favourite of "Arrr!" There are a number of actual nautical terms that can be used in speech also.

There is a full explanation of How to Talk Like a Pirate (in several languages) on The Original Talk Like a Pirate Day Site, as well as links to other online pirate-speak resources.[3]

So Who Is Robert Newton?

Robert Newton
Well, what he wasn't was a pirate. Robert Newton (1905-1956) was born in Shaftesbury in Dorset, in the West Country of Britain (an area approximately encompassing Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset and the City and County of Bristol), and he was a stage and film actor who appeared in quite a few films from the late 1930s until his death from a heart attack brought on by alcoholism in 1956, as well as some earlier.

And What Connection Does He Have To Pirates?

Newton's most famous performance was that of the pirate Long John Silver in the 1950 Disney film adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novel, Treasure Island. He reprised the role in the 1954 sequel, Long John Silver and in a television series called The Adventures of Long John Silver. He also played the role of the English pirate and privateer Edward "Blackbeard" Teach in the film Blackbeard, the Pirate.

Long John Silver
His portrayal of the vocal mannerisms of the pirate Long John Silver, and of Blackbeard, was so distinctive and created such a lasting impression that said portrayal is now associated with all pirates and set the standard for the screen portrayal of pirates. Since  Newton's performances, pirates in films are almost always depicted in the same way. Long John Silver in Stephenson's novel did not speak in the manner he was depicted in the film, although the book was responsible for pirates being associated with peg (wooden) legs, parrots and treasure maps.

The distinctive "pirate" accent Newton created was an exaggeration of the West Country accent of his birth. Blackbeard, for example, was likely born in Bristol, also considered to be in the West Country, so adding a West Country accent wasn't too great a stretch. Although Newton was not the first to use the typical pirate "Arrr!", that being done by Lionel Barrymore (the great-uncle of Drew) in the 1934 film adaptation of Treasure Island, it was Newton who made it so popular and widely known.

Many British ports were located in the West Country, where the rolling "rrr" in "Arrr!" is not uncommon in the local dialects, so there may even be some accuracy in having pirates rolling their r's.

Although others before and since have contributed to the current perception of pirates, it is Robert Newton's Long John Silver that created the biggest impression. Robert Newton is now considered to be the patron saint of International Talk Like A Pirate Day.


Aug 7, 2012 1:10pm
Fantastic bit. Loved it.
Aug 8, 2012 3:24am
Thanks, glad you liked it.
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  1. "How it all started ...." The Original Talk Like A Pirate Day Site. 07/08/2012 <Web >
  2. Dave Barry "Arrrrr! Talk like a pirate -- or prepare to be boarded." The Miami Herald. 08/09/2002. 07/08/2012 <Web >
  3. "Why talk like a pirate - and how." The Original Talk Like A Pirate Day Site. 08/08/2012 <Web >

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