Talk like a Pirate Day

February 27, 2007 | 16 comments
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September 19 is Talk like a Pirate Day. But every day is Talk like a Pirate Day for me. Arrrr!

Talk like a Pirate Day (warning: site contains pirate-themed off-color pickup lines) is a bit of Internet fun, a good excuse to say thinks like ahoy, me mateys or avast, ye scurvy rats. In my case, it’s a bit more complicated, though.

A few weeks before Christmas, I got a nasty cold. My throat was swollen and I couldn’t swallow solid food. After a few days of eating nothing but oatmeal and thin mashed potatoes, I decided I needed to see a doctor. There’s not a lot you can do for a viral infection, but he handed me a vial of something extracted from hot peppers–excuse me, a rare physick from the Spice Islands, whose secret seven dead men won’t never tell, arrrr–and told me to spray it up my nose twice a day. But the next evening I had a head-splitting earache, and when I woke in the morning I couldn’t move the right side of my face. Port I was a-steppin’ lively, but starboard was draggin’ like a sailor three days into a week of Jamaican rum.

A quick Google search revealed that I had all the classic symptoms of Bell’s Palsy, and the doctor confirmed the diagnosis. The viral infection had caused swelling in my middle ear that had damaged the facial nerve. I took cortisone for 10 days to suppress the swelling and B vitamins for three weeks after that to promote nerve growth, but there’s really not much to do but wait. In most cases, Bell’s Palsy heals on its own after several weeks or months; nerves re-grow slowly. Adrift on a desert isle, with nary a barrel of grog to pass the days, me mateys!

Since I can’t close the right side of my mouth firmly, my table manners have become decidedly piratish. I spent a few more weeks eating oatmeal and mashed potatoes, wiping the remains off my chin as often as I could, but now I can eat most things, at home if not in public. For six weeks or more I had to take eye drops, but now tears have returned to my right eye–in a volume and with an imperfect sense of timing that suggests a pirate’s emotional sensitivity. It breaks my heart to make ye walk the plank at the point of me second-best Spanish cutlass, but I be needing your share of the gold to support the widows and orphans of my last ten mates.

I am still talking like a pirate these days. Labial phonemes, sounds that involve the lips in any way, don’t sound exactly right, and the German /pf/ affricate is a disaster, dribbling out at the edges like a leaky balloon instead of exploding with a pop. Speaking oddly isn’t always a bad thing. When I was in the library reading room (where talking is strictly verboten) and needed to tell a group of three students seated behind me to take their noisy group project to a more appropriate place, I found that it made quite an impression on them that only half my face moved when I spoke. Mostly, though, not being able to speak like I want to has been irritating. Other people speak more slowly and distinctly around me, as they do when addressing foreigners and others too dull to learn the language properly. After two decades of work on improving my German, this does not make me happy. The next of ye scurvy rats to try your pseudo-caretaker speech around me ends up as bait for the scuttlefish, arrr!

At my last appointment, the old sawbones swabbed a bit o’ ether on me ear to try a bit of doctoring from Old Cathay. For the record, getting acupuncture needles jabbed into my ear hurt like h*ck, and doesn’t seem to have improved anything, but I feel a bit more the buccaneer with three small wires in my right ear.

In me piteous state, I begged the parson not to withhold his ministrations from such a scurvy wretch as I–I mean, I asked one of the local missionaries to give me a priesthood blessing, and he told me in his own way exactly what the doctor said: I will need patience with the slow progress of recovery.

Please, hold any well-wishes for people who need it, ’cause no self-respectin’ pirate needs the sympathy of landlubbers, arrrr. You are welcome, however, to Talk like a Pirate.

16 Responses to Talk like a Pirate Day

  1. Ronan on February 27, 2007 at 2:51 am

    Great stuff, Jonathan. And best wishes for your, er, palsy.

  2. Alison Moore Smith on February 27, 2007 at 4:16 am

    Taking this in with a keg o’ humor is mighty good work.

    I have a friend who suffered a severe case of bp a few years back. When I met her it was obvious. Today, you’d never know. Good luck on the recovery of your former (assumed) civil table manners.

  3. Ardis Parshall on February 27, 2007 at 5:19 am

    Arrrr, matey, the damage clearly isn’t more than skull-deep. This is one of your most unusual linguistics posts!

  4. Alison Moore Smith on February 27, 2007 at 5:52 am

    Ahoy! I responded smartly t’ yer post. But it be sucked down to t’ bilge.

  5. John Governale on February 27, 2007 at 6:02 am

    Thanks for bringing up TLAP day. It gives me opportunity to post about it. I entitled mine \”Avast ye, Jonathan Green.\”

    By the way, I can\’t do the German /pf/ affricate with healthy lips.

  6. Lamonte on February 27, 2007 at 8:25 am

    Jonathan – One day in the recent past my 4 year-old granddaughter was heard saying to her neighborhood friends, “Now I’ll be the captian and you’ll be me hearties.” I thought I would die laughing. Thanks for the entertainment.

  7. warno on February 27, 2007 at 11:42 am

    Wasn’t it Bell’s Palsy that led to Roseanne (Barr)’s conversion when she was a teenager in SLC? I seem to recall that she came down with it and after a few days her freaked out mom called the local ward for a priesthood blessing. Shortly after the blessing she had a “miraculous” recovery and so she and her mom joined up. Obviously, it didn’t take (the Mormonism not the palsy) and when she learned about Bell’s palsy later it confirmed her very negative view of the church.

    See, to link to another thread, keeping that People subscription up to date pays off!

  8. Jonathan Green on February 27, 2007 at 12:07 pm

    Warno, if she recovered quickly, it probably was miraculous. According to my doctor, the facial nerve in question is 25 centimeters long, and it grows back at 1 mm per day. Not all of it is necessarily damaged, of course, but recovery is not fast. I was hoping I would be able to crow about a miraculous recovery following a priesthood blessing, but that was clearly not what was intended for me. Arrrrr.

  9. warno on February 27, 2007 at 1:52 pm

    I guess from her perspective, Bell’s Palsy is temporary so she thinks that she would have gotten better at the same point with or without a blessing. Tough to prove one way or the other but perhaps best seen as an example of the hazards of relying solely upon physical miracles such as healings in the conversion process.

  10. makakona on February 27, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    lovely read!

    my husband also has bell’s palsy, the result of being dragged on his face whilst his foot was stuck in the tailgate of a moving pickup truck. don’t ride in the backs of trucks, kids! (silly idaho farmboys!)

    anyway, years later, he still has “episodes,” i guess. it’s noticable to me, but probably not anyone else. if he’s particularly tired or stressed, his mouth will droop a bit more. and he swears by the accupuncture and silly drops the japanese doctors give him to put under his tongue.

    best of luck, matey! good on you for taking it in stride.

  11. Costanza on February 27, 2007 at 11:53 pm

    Some people who suffer from Bell’s Palsy wear an eye patch over one eye to help keep it moist. Seriously. But the parrot and peg leg are optional. Arrr.

  12. Dan on February 28, 2007 at 4:05 pm

    great writing, as usual, Jonathan. All kidding aside, I hope you recover fully from Bells Palsy without much more pain and suffering.

  13. Jonathan Green on February 28, 2007 at 5:08 pm

    Right, Constanza, my wife mentioned that to me early on. My reaction at the time was pretty grumpy. Kind of pirate-like, in fact, and the thought’s been with me ever since. I should have worked it into the post somehow. Actually, I should have just gone for the eye patch. Too late now, unfortunately.

  14. Hans on March 2, 2007 at 2:05 pm

    A pirate taking an vision test: “Arrrrhhh! Aye!….” :)

  15. James M on March 7, 2007 at 9:13 am

    L. Tom Perry would approve of talk like a pirate day. Whenever he says “ward,” it sounds like a pirate saying Warrrrrhd.

  16. Scurvy Dog on August 24, 2008 at 3:18 am

    I ran across some references to this \”talk like a pirate day\” thing last year, but never really looked into it. I wonder if we could include period dress in this one as well. I\’ve always been a big fan of pirate-themed PC games and have often wanted to plunder procure some 17th or 18th century pirate garb or naval uniforms to enhance the role playing experience. If we actually wore this stuff in \”real life\”, it could be a way of drawing attention and eventually promoting our websites or related products as well.

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