March 16, 2010

Why the Jolly Roger?

ONE THING I should have learned as a newspaper columnist is never to ask your readers what you should write about. Never even hint that you don’t know what to write about, because if you do, people will send you long lists of brilliant subjects that need weeks of intensive research and fact checking. Good grief, so much work.

Well, I never was one for letting the facts spoil a good story, or for letting over-weening enthusiasm cut into the cocktail hour, so when my friend Jennifer Moran sent me a list in a recent comment to this blog, I skipped right over her first three suggestions.

(1)I know nothing about parasail spinnakers. (2) Splice revision? I can splice three-strand line but cannot be bothered with the complications of braided line. I do bowlines instead. (3) Constructing an emergency rudder. Too boring. I’m writing for people who will never build an emergency rudder in their lives. Besides, I don’t know how.

Which brings us to item No. 4: why is a pirate flag called a Jolly Roger? Now that’s more in my line, Jennifer. Thank you. The answer is easy: Nobody knows.

It seems that the Jolly Roger was intended to show that pirates attacking a merchant vessel would show no mercy, since, if they were captured, they would be hanged anyway for being pirates. There is all sorts of speculation about why the flag is called a Jolly Roger but no hard facts.

So, if you have nothing better to do with your life than worry about Jolly Rogers and where they came from (a sad state of affairs, egad — and not you, of course, Jennifer) I can do no better than refer you to a splendid series of essays and illustrations in the Wikipedia Encyclopedia.

All you have to do is click on the following line and all your questions will be answered. Mostly with other questions, but heck, it’s getting near sundowner time, so let’s not quibble, OK?

Today’s Thought
The fact that a man is a newspaper reporter is evidence of some flaw of character.
— Lyndon B. Johnson, People 2 Feb 87

Boaters’ Rules of Thumb #27
For boats under 20 feet overall, the number of adults carried should equal overall length times overall beam, in feet, divided by 15. The answer can be rounded up to the nearest whole number.
Clearly, as all boats are different, and as some people are bigger than others, this rule should be applied with a liberal dose of common sense.

Overheard at Starbucks:“You wouldn’t think it now, but Fred used to be the same age as George Clooney.”

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