This Yuletide past, a tall Englishman, visiting the former colonies, was wandering in New Orleans through the French Quarter. It was mid-morning and he was in search of a small pick-me-up. With ne’er a Starbucks in sight, he stumbled upon a small hotel bar.
Entering the gloomy interior, he spied two people already in residence. The barmaid, whose back was turned as she towel-dried a collection of glassware, and a pirate downing a mug of grog.
Seating himself on a stool next to the pirate, the Englishman surveyed him. Stocky individual, perhaps 30 years of age, looking like he’d been up swabbing the decks all night. Full pirate garb, puffed sleeves, striped breeches, blue bandana, tall black boots, gold hoop earrings, enormous belt buckle, his belt displaying his arms of cutlass and dagger.
For the Englishman, this was a new experience. He had never before encountered a real-life pirate, particularly at 10:30 on a sunny morning in the year 2011. I wonder, he thought to himself, what does one say to such a fellow.
“I say,” he began, “are you in for some swashbuckling today?”
The pirate turned to him, a hard glint of steel in his eye, and responded. “Swashbucklin’ just be another word for a pirate, ye know.”
“Ah, not true,” the Englishman exclaimed, for he took pride in his language and knew an error when he saw one. “Swashbuckling is a verb, and could never be substituted for the words a pirate which are exclusively an indefinite article followed by a noun.”
He had thrown down the gauntlet and would not be challenged to a linguistic feud by a trifling buccaneer, cutlass or no cutlass at his belt. For he, the Englishman, knew the very definition of swashbuckling, that it meant engaging in daring and romantic adventures with ostentatious flamboyance, and this pirate had the look about him that suggested he had never done anything of the kind.
“Yarr,” retorted the pirate, “I’d not be fully graspin’ o’ the origins of swashbucklin’, but I know it’s somethin’ that pirates do.”
Aha, the Englishman thought, an etymological confusion. He could set this blaggard straight and explain the sixteenth century roots of the word, but there was something spiteful and foul in the pirate’s expression. And the fact that the rogue was reaching for his dagger did not make him any further at ease.
“Ah yes, quite so,” the Englishman searched for the right words. “Well, this has been lovely, but I must be getting on. Tally ho!”