Aft – towards the stern or back of a ship.
Ahoy – a nautical term to hail another ship. Also used by sailors to greet each other.
Aloft - above, as in the crow's nest or rigging.
Aloof – sailing as far into the wind as possible, or to stay to windward of another ship.
Armada - a small Spanish naval fleet.
Armadilla – Spanish term for "Armada."
Arquebus – an old matchlock musket. Predecessor of a flintlock musket.
Arr! – pirate expression of anger or discontentment.
Asiento – monopoly of slave trade granted by the Spanish to other European nations after the mid 1600s.
Astrolabe – an early navigational device used to measure the meridian altitude of the sun or stars.
Avast – nautical term for “stop,” “cease,” and “halt.”
Averia – tax imposed by Spain on merchandise shipped between Spain and her colonies. This tax was to fund defenses against pirate attacks.
Bagnio – jail in north Africa where Christians were held until they could be ransomed.
Ballast – rocks or other heavy things placed in the bottom of a ship to keep the ship upright.
Belay – to secure and hold a rope on a belaying pin. Often used to say “cancel,” or “enough.” Examples: “Belay that order.” “Belay, you swab!”
Beribboned queue – ponytail like hairstyle commonly worn by pirates.
Bilge – lowest inside part of a ship’s hull. Stale water and debris would gather there. Also used by pirates to describe anything worthless or disgusting.
Binnacle – a wood box near the tiller that contained the compass, ship’s log, magnifying glasses and lamps for reading maps.
Biscocho – Spanish word for a sea biscuit.
Black flag – the Jolly Roger flag of pirates. Has a skull and crossbones or a similar design. The Jolly Roger wasn’t used until the early 1700s.
Boatswain (bo’sun) – the ship’s officer responsible for the deck crew, anchors, and rigging.
Booty – treasure captured by pirates and privateers.
Boucan – a type of barbeque made by the buccaneers on Hispaniola Island and Tortuga. The word, “buccaneer” originated from this word.
Bow – the front or prow of the ship.
Bowsprit – the diagonal to horizontal pole that juts from the bow of a ship.
Breeching - thick rope that secures the cascabel of a cannon to the ship's side to reduce the intensity of the recoil that resulted from firing the cannon.
Brigantine – a small two-masted ship widely used by pirates.
Buccaneers – Caribbean pirates who barbecued a meat dish called boucan. The French word was boucanier, which is where the word buccaneer originated.
Bumboat – a sailor’s slang term for a garbage boat, or a small peddler’s boat.
Bumboe – a type of alchoholic drink made from cane liquor and spices.
Capstan – A vertical rotating spool with holes for handles. It was used to raise the anchor.
Careen – to beach a ship and clean the barnacles from the underside and do other repairs on the hull.
Cascabel - The metal knob at the rear of a cannon where the breeching was fastened.
Castillo – a Spanish fortification in the New World.
Cat-o’nine-tails – a whip made of rope soaked in vinegar or tar. It was used for flogging as punishment on board ships. It is also known as a cat.
Cay – small Bahamian or Caribbean island.
Chain shot - Similar to split shot. Chain shot consisted of two cannonballs attached by a chain, or two hemispheres connected by a chain. It was fired from a cannon at an enemy ship's rigging and sails to disable her.
Cimarron – Spanish for “maroon,” or a runaway slave.
Commence all fire power – firing all guns at an enemy ship simultaneously, some aiming at the deck, some at the rigging, and some at the masts.
Commission – a letter issued by a government authorizing privateering against ships of other nations. Also called a letter of marque.
Copper – a member of the crew who makes wooden barrels.
Corregidor – a local Spanish colonial leader – such as a mayor.
Corsair – a term for pirates in the Mediterranean. Sometimes pirates in other localities are called corsairs. The Spanish word for corsair is “corsario.”
Corvus – a plank with a large metal spike that was used for boarding a captured ship.
Crow - a crowbar-like iron tip of a handspike. It had two claws. The modern-day crowbar evolved from this tool.
Crow's nest - a platform built high in the mast where the man on lookout could stand.
Crusher – an officer on a Royal Navy ship who functioned as a policeman.
Cut and run – to cut the anchor loose when leaving in a hurry.
Culverin - a small swivel cannon that was loaded with rocks, broken glass, and other things that could be used for projectiles. They were shot at the deck of the enemy ship to disable the crew.
Davy Jones – the name of a mythical spirit who looks after dead sailors and pirates.
Dead marine – an empty rum bottle.
Derrotero – Spanish for “waggoner” or a sea chart.
Dinghy – small ship’s boat with two oars.
Dolphin striker – a support beam that juts down from the center of the bowsprit.
Doubloon – a Spanish gold coin. This word is derived from the word “double,” as the coins were normally issued in 1, 2, 4, and 8 escudo denominations. Usually the 8 escudo coins were called doubloons.
Ducat – a type of Spanish gold coin.
Fake - a rope used to secure a cannon.
Filibuster – French for “buccaneer.”
First among equals – a pirate captain who received his usual two shares of a captured prize (normally each regular crewmember received only one share).
Flip – an eggnog-like alcoholic drink made from cane liquor, beer, and sugar. It was served warm.
Flogging – whipping with a cat o’nine tails on a ship as a form of punishment.
Fluyt – a trim and economical Dutch trading ship that was developed in the 1590s and used commonly in Baltic trade.
Fo’c’s’le hands – the lower class crewmembers of a ship. Fo’c’s’le is a shorter version of “forecastle.”
Fore – towards the bow, or front of a ship.
Forecastle – the front area of a ship; on many earlier ships, there was a structure there above deck.
Foremast – The front mast of a ship.
From the sea – a password used between two pirate ships that meet.
Galabraza – a fast Spanish warship developed in the late 1500s.
Galleon – large 1500s ocean-going ship perfected by the Spanish.
Galley – the place on a ship where the cook prepared food. Also a slender ship with oars and a sail, used in the Mediterranean in battles.
Gibbet – hanging platform to display dead bodies of executed pirates.
Grape shot - numerous small balls fired from a cannon. It was fired at the deck of an enemy ship to disable the ship's crew.
Grappling hook – a hook with several prongs and a rope. Used to snag a ship to be boarded and pull it closer.
Grog – rum diluted with water.
Grog shop – a tavern or inn that served alcoholic drinks.
Guerrilla – Spanish word for small scale battles, hostage taking and robberies.
Gunwale – waist high ribbed railings on the sides of ships.
Hands – the crewmembers of a ship.
Handspike - a wood bar that was used like a lever while aiming a cannon.
Hanging powder magazine – a platform that hangs from the ceiling, and holds the gunpowder kegs up to keep them off the floor and dry.
Hemp collar – hangman’s noose.
Hogshead – large fifty-five gallon wooden barrel.
Jack Dusty – nickname for a Royal Navy man who records the rationing of rum on a ship.
Jack Nancyface – a cook’s mate on a Royal Navy ship.
Jaunty – a master at arms who supervised punishments on a ship. It also means to walk with a nonchalant swagger.
Jolly Roger – pirate black flag with a skull and crossbones or a variation of the design. The classic Jolly Roger wasn’t used much until the early 1700s. Usually pirates would fly the same flag as the ship they hoped to prey on, and then hoist the battle flag when they got close enough to attack.
Junk – a Chinese type of sailing ship. Also old salty meat that tasted badly.
Larboard - the port side of a ship (the left side when facing the bow).
Lateen – a triangular sail attached to a slanted yardarm, usually on the mizzenmast.
"Land – ho!" – the call of sailors that announces the sighting of land.
Leeward – the opposite direction from where the wind is coming from.
Leeward bow – the side of the ship’s bow opposite from where the wind is coming from.
Let the cat out of the bag – removing the cat (whip) out of its bag prior to flogging. Also means revealing something secret.
Letter of marque – a commission issued by a government to a ship authorizing it to be a privateer and attack ships of other nations.
Lintstock - an aproximately 3-foot staff with a split end that the match was held in when igniting the priming of a cannon.
Mainmast – the middle and/or tallest mast on a ship.
Man-of –war – a heavily armed warship.
Maroon – the practice of abandoning a crewmember or prisoner on a deserted island as a form of punishment.
Maroons – runaway slaves who formed settlements in isolated areas.
Mast – a pole that supports the yardarms and sails.
Master gunner - the crewmember who was in charge with the maintenance of weapons and training the gun crew. His responsibilities also included making sure there was enough ammunition and mustering the the gun crew for action.
Match – chemically treated rope designed to burn slowly but constantly. Used to touch off cannons.
Matelotage – buccaneer homosexual “marriage” for legal and possibly sexual reasons.
Merchantman – cargo ship that transports trade goods
Mizzenmast – the mast closest to the stern of the ship. Usually the shortest mast on the ship.
Mortar – short but wide cannon that fired balls that contained powder and had fuses. The fuse was lit, and the mortar was fired. The ball would explode on impact.
Musket – flintlock gun that replaced the arquebus and was the predecessor of the rifle.
No quarter – no mercy given to captives. A red flag was a sign of no quarter.
Oak barrel - a barrel of sand used for holding burning matches for being placed in a lintstock to fire a cannon.
Old Roger – a flag with old death symbols from medieval England. The flag was named after the devil.
On the account – a code word that meant a person was a pirate.
Outliers – late 1600s English term for pirates or buccaneers.
Palenque – a Spanish word for defense structures and for maroon settlements.
Passbox - a bucket of black powder with a leather covering to prevent accidental igniting.
Patax – a small dispatch yacht that accompanied galleons and frigates. The Spanish word was “patache.”
Pechelingue – Spanish for Dutch privateers and pirates.
Pick - a metal spike used for cleaning soot out of the touchhole of a cannon. Also known as a priming iron.
Pickle – rubbing salt and vinegar into the raw back of a man who was flogged or whipped.
Piece of eight – a Spanish 8 reales silver coin. The Spanish translation is “peso de ocho,” which is where the “peso” originated.
Piragua – a crude dugout canoe propelled by paddles. Similar to a galley.
Pirates - sea renegades loyal to no nation. They preyed on any ship or town that had gold, silver, or anything else the pirates needed or wanted.
Poleaxe – an axe with a spike opposite to the blade, used for sticking into the side of a tall ship and forming a makeshift ladder for boarding.
Pooped – the accidental washing (from a tall wave) of a man standing on the stern deck (called the poop).
Port – the left side of a ship when facing the bow. This term originated from the ancient ships with steering oars that were on the right side, so only the left side (at that time) could be against the dock. Another word for the port side is "larboard."
Powder chests – wooden triangular structures filled with gunpowder and debris for shrapnel. It was set off to clear the deck of a ship to be boarded by pirates.
Powder ladle - a cylinder-shaped measuring scoop to measure the powder charge of a cannon. Usually the charge equalled a third the weight of the cannonball.
Presidio – a Spanish fortification.
Priming - the small charge of powder on a cannon, flintlock gun, or arquebus. The priming was ignited and it set off the main charge of powder through the touchhole, thus firing the gun.
Priming iron - a metal spike used for cleaning soot out of the touchhole of a cannon. Also called a pick.
Privateer – a ship that practices piracy against ships and settlements of a different nation. Privateers are commissioned by the nation they serve.
Prize – a ship captured by pirates or privateers.
Quarter – mercy granted towards survivors of a captured ship.
Quartermaster – a crewmember elected by the crew, being equal to the captain and first mate.
Quoin - a wedge used to secure the vertical angle of a cannon.
Rammer - a large thick wooden ramrod for a cannon.
Ramrod - a rod that was used for packing the ball, wadding, and powder in a muzzleloader musket or pistol.
Rancherias – a Spanish word for pearl fisheries.
Red flag – a flag hoisted by pirates in battle announcing no quarter.
Reef – shallow banks of sand or coral, usually unmarked on old maps.
Regua – a Spanish mule train that transported silver, gold, and slaves across Panama.
Rescate – contraband bartering – ransoming of Christian prisoners by Berber corsairs.
Rum rat – a sailor who is an alcoholic.
Sack – to loot a town and rape its inhabitants. Also an English word for dry Canarian and Spanish white wine.
Sailing master - crewmember responsible for navigation, sails, rigging, dropping anchor, and measuring water depth.
Salamagundi – Anglo-American pirate dish. It is a pickled and spicy fish meal.
Salty dawg – an insulting name for a low-class sailor.
Scuppers – holes made at the water line of a ship for draining water after a period of rough weather.
Scurvy – disease caused from a vitamin C deficiency common on ships.
Scuttle – to make a hole below the water line of the hull of a ship with the intention of sinking the ship.
Scuttlebutt – a water cask with a square hole in the midsection to ensure that only half a barrel would be used throughout the day. The term also applies to ship’s gossip around the scuttlebutt.
Seats of easement – wooden seats, usually mounted on the beakhead on the ship’s bow. These seats functioned as toilets.
Shake the cask – taking apart a cask and storing the parts for future use.
Share out – dividing the loot from a prize captured.
Shot - a loose term for numerous types of projectiles (including cannonballs and musket balls) fired from a gun or cannon.
Shot garland - a wooden rack hung between cannons. It had hemisperical hollows that held cannonballs so loading the cannon would be more convenient.
Shot gauge - a gauge to measure the diameter of a cannon barrel. The barrels of cannons widened from wear, and the shot gauge was also used to measure cannonballs to make sure they were the correct size. The measured balls were kept in a convenient place near the cannon, such as the shot garland.
Shot plug – a conical plug to fill a cannonball hole in the side of a ship.
Situado – Spanish tax imposed to fund anti-pirate defenses in Cartagena, Florida, Havana, and Panama.
Skedaddle – sneaking away from the job at hand.
Slops – cheap and poorly made clothing sold by the ship’s purser.
Slush fund – the money from secretly selling goods. This money was used to explain shady expenses that had to be accounted for.
Son of a gun – a male child conceived on deck (presumably next to a cannon) with a prostitute during a stay at a port.
Split shot - a projectile similar to chain shot. It was composed of two hemispheres connected by two bars with loops connecting them together like a chain. Split shot was fired from a cannon into the rigging and sails of the enemy ship.
St. Elmo's Fire - an electrical phenomenon where the tops of the masts would glow with dancing light. Many believed it was a good omen, while it struck fear in others.
Starboard – right side of the ship when facing the bow.
Stern – back or rear of the ship.
Stern chaser – little cannon on the stern of a ship used for firing on pursuing ships.
Stink Pot - a hollow clay ball that was loaded with flammable substances along with rotten meat. They had a fuse that was lit, and then they were hurled from the crow's nest to the deck of the enemy ship. They produced such a bad odor that they caused nausea and confusion on the enemy ship's crew.
Stranded – run aground on a reef. Also means somehow “stuck” somewhere, by being marooned etc.
Swab – To mop the deck with a swab. Swab was also used as a name for a sailor. Example: “Avast, you swab!”
Swabbing sponge - similar to a rammer, but had a soft material that was moist. It was used to extinguish coals and sparks inside a recently-fired cannon to insure that the coals wouldn't set off the powder while reloading the cannon.
Sweet trade – the calling of a pirate.
Swivel cannon – a small cannon mounted on a rotating swivel. Also called a swivel gun.
Teredo – a tropical worm that damages the ship’s hull by eating into the wood.
“There she blows!” – the call of whalers, meaning that a whale has been sighted.
Tommy Pipes – a slang word for the boatswain.
Touchhole - a small hole in the rear part of the barrel of a gun or cannon where the priming was placed in. The priming was ignited, and set off the main charge of powder (through the touchhole) and fired the cannon or gun.
Waft – distress signal made by tying a knot in the flag and hoisting it.
Waggoner – a sea chart or map with notes for navigation.
Weather bow – The side of the ship’s bow that the wind is coming from.
Wild fire – a type of priming made with wet gunpowder.
Windward – the direction the wind is coming from.
Worm - a rod with a corkscrew-like end that was used for removing wadding from a cannon.
Yardarm – the usually horizontal, sometimes diagonal poles that support the square sails, or triangular lateen sails.
Yarn – a story or tale.
Zee-rovers – Dutch word for pirates. Translated, it means
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