I’m going to just lay it out there – I did not expect to like this book. Why not? Because I’m biased. I think Jack Sparrow has become the lazy man’s jolly roger – a way to ride Disney’s coat tails to try and siphon off a little of their merchandising power. So combine this book’s Jack Sparrow lookalike on the cover with the fact that lexicons of nautical terms already exist (very few of which make for an interesting read) and you can see why I assumed it might be garbage.
And so it was to my happy surprise that How to Speak Pirate: A Treasure Chest of Seafaring Slang turned out to be not merely decent, but actually quite brilliant in its own right. The secret? As is so often the case it’s the ever elusive thing I like to call “good writing.” You’d be amazed at the difference it can make.
Geordie Telfer offers us multiple chapters on how to speak pirate in different situations – work, romantic, dining, etc. Notice that these are lessons in how to “speak pirate,” and not “how to speak like an authentic 18th Century sea maurauder from Sussex.” To the contrary, this book rejoices in its use of Hollywood slang, fictional pirate talk, and even things simply made up by the author that do indeed “sound piratey” to the modern ear. This is the first step in making this a fun and interesting read. The second step is the humor. Rather than trusting the odd subject matter to be entertainment in and of itself, Telfer offers a healthy dose of wit throughout. But what’s more, he’s also well aware that speaking pirate is a generally a geeky thing to do, and makes good use of this fact to good-natured comedic effect.
The third step in making How to Speak Pirate such a worthy read is truly the genius stroke – Telfer not only preaches the subject, but he practices. In the practical lessons, pirate speak is used selectively as part of the common dialogue, and in the lexicon segment many definitions themselves involve pirate speak. This makes for an entry level “full emmersion” experience. I’m told that full emmersion is the best way to learn a foreign language, and it would seem equally so when speaking pirate.
While there are multiple books on talking like a pirate available, for me only one has truly and properly tackled the subject, that being The Pirate Primer by George Choundas (ironically, The Pirate Guys’ books, being founders of Talk Like a Pirate Day, don’t make the cut as they focus far more on living like a pirate than simply talking like one.) But where Choundas’ work is a scholarly wonder, Telfer’s is an entertaining one. But despite their differences in approach to this worthy subject, both deserve to be placed side-by-side each other on the shelf of anyone who truly wishes to learn to talk the talk.
Note: I’ve decided to close comments from this review. Aside from “How to Speak Pirate”, Geordie Telfer, has also written a book called “Real Canadian Pirates.” It appears that there is some amount of controversy regarding his conclusions in that previous book, and readers have seen fit to begin debating these issues in the comments of this review. The only problem is, this isn’t a review of “Real Canadian Pirates”, and I consider it unfair to Mr. Telfer to expect him to defend a work entirely unrelated to the subject at hand. Additionally, I don’t believe that any questions regarding Mr. Telfer’s competence as a historical scholar have any bearing on a review of “How to Speak Pirate”, which is far more based on humor and pop-culture.