Memes and Trademarks

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Bobbookworm offers this meme to all y’all by way of advice:

I have only one take-away. Maybe obesity has an advantage.



Pirates (not the ones from Pittsburg)

They apparently all had trademarks, but since it was “British North America” then, they couldn’t be filed with the Office of Patents and Trademarks/Department of Commerce. Today they’d be embraced by corporations, which would infuse their charitable corporations with mountains of danegeld. But I digress.

(Flag – Edward Englands († 1720))

The Jolly Roger or “the pirate flag”, often also skull flag, is the black flag of pirate ships. It is also called Black Jack, in reference to the British Union Jack. The origin of the name Jolly Roger is unknown. Some believe it is a corruption of the Indian pirate Ali Rajah, whose name was pronounced by the British Olly Roger, but it may also derive from the French joli rouge (pretty red), as the first pirates hoisted a blood-red flag as a sign that they would all kill if the crew of the booty ship did not surrender immediately. It is said that Calico Jack Rackham

(Flag – Calico Jack Rackhams (* 1682; † 1720))

used a black flag with a skull for the first time (variant with crossed cutlasses), but this is not certain. The classic motif of the Jolly Roger, a skull with two crossed bones, was first used by the Breton pirate Emanuel Wynne around 1700.

(Flag – Emanuel Wynnes (late 17th century, early 18th century))

The flag of Henry Every, who sailed for the last time in 1696, is depicted with a skull in profile, bandana and earring, over crossed bones.

( Flag – Henry Every (* 1653; † 1696))

However, neither a skull in profile nor bandana or earring can be found elsewhere on flags or other heraldic symbols of the time. And although earrings, especially made of gold, were not uncommon among sailors (the wearer hoped that he would be paid a Christian funeral from the proceeds of the earring), it was not until the late 19th century that bandana and earring became popular details of artistic pirate depictions, starting with the illustrated stories Howard Pyles (1853-1911).

On “Blackbeard” Edward Thatch’s flag is a skeleton holding an hourglass and a spear in its hands, with a bleeding heart next to it. This means that the soul now belongs to death (skeleton). The hourglass is supposed to show the victims that their time has expired. The spear promises a quick end, the bleeding heart a particularly cruel/painful death.

(Flag – Blackbeards (* 1680; † 1718) )

The skull with the crossed bones and the hourglass were – taken from older Vanitas and Memento Mori representations – widely used motifs in cemeteries. A proof can be found in the graphic cycle “The four stages of cruelty” by William Hogarth, published in 1751: On the third picture the skull motive with the crossed bones is found, which decorates a grave.

In 1724 Jolly Roger was first mentioned in Captain Charles Johnson’s biographical collection A General History of the Pyrates.

(Flag – Bartholomew Roberts (* 1682; † 1722) his first flag)

(Roberts second flag)



The blood-red flag 

There is an assumption that before the Jolly Roger a blood-red flag was used as a pirate symbol. This is supported by the fact that, until piracy arose in the 16th and 17th centuries, the red flag was considered a quarantine flag and had the meaning “Attention, we may have a disease on board that will kill anyone who approaches us”. And the pirates wanted to be deadly on approach. In addition, the quarantine flag received a swallowtail in almost every seafaring nation in the 17th century, according to the thesis, in order to rule out confusion with pirates. In any case, the British navy prohibited the flying of exclusively red flags in the Arabian Sea, ships with such flags were treated as pirates; therefore the flags of Bahrain and Qatar still have their jagged shape today. In 1694, the Admiralty had ordered British buccaneers (sailing under letters of marque) to fly the red flag. When the war against Spain ended in 1714, many of the then superfluous buccaneers went into business for themselves and hijacked British ships on their own account while retaining their red flag. According to other sources, the early pirates carried two flags, one of which they hoisted as needed: the red flag was the sign of not taking prisoners (i.e. killing them all) and the black flag of taking prisoners for ransom. Therefore, the red flag was even more feared than the normal black flag, so joli rouge was a euphemism.

23 thoughts on “Memes and Trademarks

    1. Mankind may have changed technologically and culture and custom has chanced a bit, but people are still people and pirates are the moral equals of outlaw bikers of our era. So it would make sense that they’re sort of same/same.

  1. i fly the black flag over my little place though i guess passersby think of it in the “argh, matey” comical sense but to me it means no quarter given, none asked. sadly, most don’t even know what quarter is.

  2. Thanks. I’ve seen most of those pirate flags but never the stories behind them. The biggest surprise was Ali Rajah.

    So, you’re saying Johnny Depp had nothing to do with any of them?

    1. Depp apparently just sits around all day injecting heroin and thinking about killing the President.

      1. This is one of the Left’s great disappointments – many of their angriest radicals are junkies, so they are unable to summon the energy to trigger the Revolution.


  3. Marge Gunderson: “And I guess that was your accomplice in the woodchipper, eh.”

    You reminded me a good read on the subject, “Under the Black Flag” (David Cordingly)

    1. When life closes a door in front of you, breach it and walk in like you own the place. A lot of pirates were stopped from being more by social conventions of the day and they adopted a different path to wealth and power.

  4. Saw the woodchipper yesterday and immediately text that to a friend in Tx. Immediate answer was what have you done now? She knows me well.

  5. While pirates were certainly skilled at capturing booty, killing those who opposed them in bloody and merciless ways, their drawing/sewing prowess in creating these various skull and cross bone flags was lacking; a kindergarten kid could have come up with something a little fancier. These pirates all should have studied a bit harder in their ‘aaaaaaar-t classes.’

    1. You also have to keep flag heraldry simple so as to make it legible from a distance.

      All that Victorian mishmash makes most modern heraldry unreadable.

      Simple is better.

  6. Enjoyed the Jolly Roger tutorial. When Spike’s came out with their Jack Rackham lower, I just had to have one. I suppose I’m a hopeless romantic.

  7. Then there was that oriental pirate gal who, pretty much, ran a naval empire.
    I guess it depended on how high you were aiming.

  8. Several of our extended family here have “woodchippers” big enough to stuff a Buick into. One of them even has a V6 powering it. If I sent that text to one they’d reply “Bring it up here”.

    Thanks for the background on the pirate flags. There were times when we were running tests in preparation for a launch that required us to string a pair of cables between the Command Ship and the Launch Platform while tied up at the pier. We used to hang a Jolly Roger on the cables as an “Arrrr Matey!” kind of joke, but were asked by the ship’s officers to please take it down. Several of the Marine Crew had been on ships in pirate-infested waters, and had run-ins with pirates. NOT a pleasant thing, and they were really spooked when they saw the flag. Since 75% of our team was retired or still-in-the-reserves USN, we immediately complied with their request.

    Sailors are sailors, and they respect each other’s experience.

  9. I like the SHIELD WALL header to this post, but perhaps that’s just me.

    Neat pirate ensigns.

    I always used to enjoy drinking in the Captain Kid pub in London, across from the place where he was hanged, or so the say.

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