Tag Archives: Cornish

Why Do Pirates Say “Aargh”?

As everyone knows, all pirates say “Aargh.” I think I have figured out why.

[Of course, “all pirates” means “all stereotypical pirates of our collective imagination,” not real, live, actual, historical pirates—although maybe they said “Aargh” too.]

Cornish: More Than Pasties*

*In case you’ve never had the pleasure, Cornish pasties are turnovers, usually stuffed with a yummy meat/potato/onion mixture.

Here’s my theory: Pirates say “Aargh” because they’re Cornish.

Allow me to explain.

As anyone familiar with British comic stereotypes (which I’m thinking would probably include a lot of British people, and maybe some Canadians) can attest, the Southwest of England, encompassing the counties of Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall, is the home of the classic country bumpkin, succinctly described by Elizabeth Bartsch-Parker and her co-authors in the Lonely Planet British Phrasebook as follows:

 A rosy-cheeked simpleton dressed in a smock, chewing a straw, and hefting an earthenware crock of cider on his shoulder, occasionally saying, ‘Oo aar, oi loikes zoider, oi does,’ in a satisfied manner and spending the entire day leaning against a five-bar gate admiring the pastoral scene.

Compare the “aar” in the phrase “Oo aar” used by the stereotypical British yokel with the interjection (often spelled “aargh” but sometimes “aar”) employed by the stereotypical pirate. It is pronounced exactly the same way. It is, clearly, the same expression.

British Bumpkins and Bold Buccaneers: The Missing Link

So how did the “aargh” of a Cornish farmer become the “aargh” of a pirate? Or put another way, what is the connection between Cornwall and piracy?

Well, as any (non-Cornish) inhabitant of the British Isles will no doubt be happy to inform you, Cornwall is the traditional home of British smuggling (apologies to all honest, law-abiding Cornish folk, none of whose ancestors would ever have done such a thing). There seems to be some historical basis for this stereotype (trust me, I’ve seen Poldark—and I’ve even read the novels—so I absolutely know what I’m talking about).

What is undisputed fact is that the Cornish coast is blessed with many harbors, inlets, and coves, perfect for putting in a boat on a dark night. It is conveniently close to France, source of lovely, expensive things (like brandy and lace) popular with cheapskate rich people desirous of avoiding import taxes, and it is most inconveniently far from London, source of revenue agents and law enforcement.

Put that all together, and you have a smuggler’s paradise. Oo aar, indeed.

Of course, smuggling does have some disadvantages compared to piracy, like having to pay your suppliers, needing to store and transport goods to reach inland markets, and the increased vulnerability to arrest offered by a static, land-based enterprise.

Small wonder, then, if some ambitious members of the Cornish smuggling trade decided to streamline and upgrade operations, as it were, by turning pirate. And brought their aarghs on board with them when they set sail under the Jolly Roger.

In Conclusion**

Cornish people say “Aargh”

Pirates say “Aargh”


Pirates are Cornish

**This is syllogistic logic, as in the famous example:

Socrates is mortal

All men are mortal


All men are Socrates

Or something like that.