And we also think of the pirate flag - the Jolly Roger, usually shown in
It's a fearsome image, dating back to the pirate days when ships plied the seas, launching battles and stealing what they wanted from passing vessels. It's interesting that pirates would advertise, allowing all to see just who was pulling up next to them mid-ocean. You see that skull and crossbones, and you know they weren't pulling up to ask if you had any Grey Poupon. It was the 18th century version of a bumper sticker we might see today on an old Ford with a shot suspension and loud exhaust, a sticker reading, "We have come for your children, and your car, and your wallet, and that bag of KFC in the back seat."
Richard Noyce is the curator of artifacts at the National Museum of the British Royal Navy, and he points out that "Pirates always attract much interest, no doubt in part due to the many Hollywood films about them. However, in reality they weren't the loveable rogues they are often portrayed as. Then, as now, pirates were seen as a threat to trade and great efforts were made to suppress their criminal activities."
Also of interest (to me, at least) is that pirates who flew that black skull-and-crossbones flag were mean enough, but if you saw a red flag flying on a pirate ship, it was time to call your travel agent and change your plans.
When pirates flew a flag with the skull on a red background, that meant they were the kind of pirates who would not only steal your entire payload, and every one of the limes you took along to prevent scurvy. Pirates flying the red flag - the Jolly Roger - were telling you there would be no survivors if you came at them, so don't.
So who was this "Roger" and why was he so jolly? There was never a Roger, no matter what anyone says. The expression "Jolly Roger" comes from the French phrase "joli rouge," which means "pretty red".
This is a real original Jolly Roger from the 18th Century that Mr Noyce has on display in his nautical museum. Where did the skull and crossbones image come from? That was the mark that a pirate captain would make in the ship's log for every person they killed.