Merriment & Misery

black jack

A drink container made of leather.

black spot

A black smudge on a piece of paper used by pirates as a threat. A black spot is often accompanied by a written message specifying the threat. Most often a black spot represents a death threat.

bumbo (or bumboo)

A popular pirate drink made from rum, water, sugar and nutmeg or cinnamon.

Bumboo recipe

bung hole

A dispensing hole in a wooden barrel typically sealed with a cork

cackle fruit

Hen’s eggs.

clap of thunder

A strong, alcoholic drink.

Clap of Thunder recipe (coming soon)

draught (also draft)

  1. The amount taken in by a single act of drinking.
  2. The drawing of a liquid, as from a cask or keg.


A disease that can be the result of lead poisoning, causinga buildup of uric acid, most commonly in the toes, and especially the big toe. The main symptom is inflammation of joint tissue leading to sore, swollen skin. The effected areas can become so tender that the slightest touch to them causes extreme pain. Pirates sometimes drank from pewter mugs (see tankard) which often contained lead.

grog blossom

A redness on the nose or face of persons who drink ardent spirits to excess.

The Golden Age of Piracy

A period from the 1650s to the 1730s considered the height of pirate culture. During this time there was a substantial rise in the number of pirates due to an increase of valuable goods being shipped to Europe. Pirates’ opportunities increased with triangular trade from Europe to Africa, Africa to the Caribbean, and the Caribbean to Europe.


An alcoholic liquor, especially rum, diluted with water. Admiral Vernon is said to have been the first to dilute the rum of sailors (about 1745.)

See also spirits

hang the jib

To pout or frown.

hempen halter

The hangman’s noose.

hardtack (also sea biscuit)

A hard biscuit or bread made from flour and water baked into a moisture-free rock to prevent spoilage; a pirate ships staple. Hardtack has to be broken into small pieces or soaked in water before eaten.


  1. A large cask used mainly for the shipment of wines and spirits.
  2. A unit of measurement equal to approximately one hundred gallons.


A piece of soft sandstone used for scouring the wooden decks of a ship. Smaller holystones were called "prayer books" and larger ones "Bibles" and it may have originated because the task was historically done down on ones knees, just as in prayer. In the height of its practice, a captain in the Royal Navy might call for the decks to be holystoned daily, which could take up to four grueling hours.

We are to holystone the decks from 4 o'clock in the morning until 8.

If a man should rest he is kicked in the face and bleeds on the stone, and afterwards made to wash the stone from the blood and then reported to the captain and flogged for no provocation.

—From a petition of the crew, HMS Eurydice, 24 April 1796[4]


To cheat.


To punish someone by dragging them under a ship, across the keel where barnacles would build up, until near-death or death. Both pirates and the Royal Navy were fond of this practice.

loaded to the gunwales

To be quite drunk.


To abandon a person on a deserted coast or island with little in the way of supplies. It is a fairly common punishment for violation of a pirate ship's articles, or offending her crew because the victims death cannot be directly connected to his former brethren.

See also marooned.

measured fer yer chains

To be outfitted for a gibbet cage.


To rise against authority, especially the captain of a ship.

Nelson’s folly



A small cup or drink.


A colorful talking bird traded around the world during the Golden Age of Piracy. Contrary to subsequent fictional depictions, there are no accounts of pirates keeping parrots, though the trade value of an exotic bird made parrots prized cargo.


To rob of goods by force, especially in time of war; plunder.

rope's end

Another term for being flogged.


An intoxicating beverage, specifically an alcoholic liquor distilled from fermented molasses or sugar cane.

See also Nelson's folly

run a rig

To play a trick.


  1. A disease caused by deficiency of vitamin C often affecting sailors.
  2. Mean and contemptible; a derogatory adjective suitable for use in a loud voice, as in "Ye scurvy dogs!"


A salad usually consisting of chopped meat, anchovies, eggs, and onions, often arranged in rows on lettuce and served with vinegar and oil.

Salmagundi recipe (coming soon)


An alcoholic beverage, especially distilled liquor.

splice the mainbrace

To have a drink or perhaps several drinks.


Somewhat intoxicated; tipsy.


A cylindrical, single-handled drinking mug, usually made of pewter. During the 18th century, pewter often contained traces of lead, causing lead poisoning or gout.

See also gout and King’s Shilling

walk the plank

Perhaps more famous than historically practiced, walking the plank is the act of being forced off a ship by pirates as punishment or torture. The victim, usually blindfolded or with bound hands or both, is forced to walk along a plank laid over the ship's side and fall into the water below. The concept first appeared in nineteenth century fiction, long after the great days of piracy. History suggests that this might have happened once that can be vaguely documented, but it is etched in the image of the pirates for its dastardly content.