loreology: jolly roger

If you’ve got a memory like an elephant, the old saying goes, then your noggin’s in good shape. Mine, when challenged under the gun, tends to shoot blanks. I’m a research kind of guy, not a living, breathing almanac.


Each week “Loreology” will unravel the mysteries behind something in gaming that I may have known once and completely forgot, or something that I should probably know and cram up into my nearly full brain cavity.



This Week: the most feared pirate flag in history, or is it?


Jolly Roger: the infamous skull and crossbones symbol on the flags of pirate ships throughout the ages. Its true origin is lost to the dark fathoms of the sea, though there are many possibilities: the emblem of a famous 18th century pirate, long since forgotten, but adopted by generations and generations of pirates to follow; the corruption of a foreign tongue, such as the words “joli rouge,” or “pretty red” in French, playing off red battle flags; or my personal favorite, the smiley “jolly” skull face paired with “Old Roger,” a common nickname for the Devil himself back when pirates owned the Caribbean.


The Jolly Roger may hold many secrets, but its purpose was clear: intimidate the enemy, and to do it in gritty, seditious style. Sailors would break out in a sweat just seeing the white skull on black looming off their stern.


But it wasn’t always the Jolly Roger that brought fear to the ships of the civilized world. Pirate vessels would often carry a trunk full of flags, and fly the appropriate colors to sneak up on an unsuspecting target. Once in cannon range, the pirate ship would actually fly the Jolly Roger as a chance to surrender. If the targeted ship continued to flee, the pirate ship would pull down Jolly Roger and fly a red flag, which meant bloodshed and no mercy.


Why my fascination with pirate threads this week? I’ve been logging a ton of miles in the Caribbean seas of 1720. Pirates of the Burning Sea is a fine addition to the realm of MMOs (massively multiplayer online games), and I’ve chosen the Pirate career to terrorize my neighbors. In keeping with history (and parody), I’ve dubbed my ship the “Folly Roger.” Not because I think it’s folly for any ship to try and take me down. Nope, it’s more to poke fun at my own ability to lose treasure maps but always find my way to the bottom of Davy Jones’ Locker.


1 Response to “loreology: jolly roger”

  1. May 1, 2008 at 8:10 am

    Oh man, you’re dragging the inner pirate-geek out of me. I’ve resisted PotBS because I can’t handle two MMOs at a time (LotRO has me locked up) but I’m a card-carrying pirate-obsessive. And the flags…oh, the flags. The various symbols and messages each of them conveyed. It was like IM for wooden ships, but instead of 1337 speak it was all “blood,” “no more time,” “I’ll send you to the devil,” and various ways of saying “you will most likely die if you don’t do what I say right now…matey.” I can’t coordinate pants and shirts, but canvas flags from the 1700’s? I’m all over it.

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