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Shiver Me Timbers

pirate ship in a storm

Shiver Me Timbers Definition

Shiver me timbers. An exclamation used to express shock, surprise or annoyance. Almost always used by or in reference to maritime pirates.

Meaning

‘Timbers’ were the wooden supports that made up the frame of a pirate ship. Extremely choppy seas and high waves could shake or drop the ship so hard that it caused the timbers to ‘shiver’ or vibrate. A very scary thing for a pirate if the ship is your home and the only thing separating you from a watery grave.

Shiver could also mean splinter or ‘break apart’ as it often meant in older texts.

Shiver Me Timbers Examples

  • Argh shiver me timbers we’ve been hit! Addy tie down the main sails or the whole crew be taking a one way trip to Davy Jones’ locker!!
  • “Ye best fetch me some ale this instant ye salty dog.” “We’re out of ale captain” “Shiver me timbers!!”

Quotes

Hough-dy There Partner!

The old man flushed a shade. “Excuse me, Mr. Harry. I know you’ll do nothing out of the way. But the old hen I beg pardon”

“You mean the revered aunt, Peterson.”

“Yes, sir, the revered aunt. Well, sir, the revered aunt, dash her!”

“Yes, dash her starry toplights, Peterson; and even if need be, shiver her timbers! Go on”

The Lady and the Pirate, Emerson Hough, 1913

Emerson Hough was an American author of mostly westerns, making the novel above a bit of a stand out.

Emerson is notable for having met and become friends with Pat Garret, the outlaw who became famous for killing the infamous outlaw Billy the Kid. He later wrote Story of the Outlaw, A Study of the Western Desperado a book examining famous outlaws including Billy the Kid.

Emerson was also an avid conservationist advocating the creation of the National Park Service in 1916. He also campaigned for Theodore Roosevelt.

photo of billy the kid
Outlaw Billy the Kid

Silver Mettle

“Avast, there!” cried Silver. “Who are you, Tom Morgan? Maybe you thought you was cap’n here, perhaps. By the powers, but I’ll teach you better! Cross me, and you’ll go where many a good man’s gone before you, first and last, these thirty year back—some to the yard-arm, shiver my timbers, and some by the board, and all to feed the fishes. There’s never a man looked me between the eyes and seen a good day a’terwards, Tom Morgan, you may lay to that.”

Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson, 1883

Robert Luis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island gave birth to the character Long John Silver. John Silver with his shoulder mounted parrot Flint and his missing leg is possibly the most iconic and influential character there is in pirate pop culture.

In Treasure Island Long John befriends the main character Jim Hawkins becoming almost a father figure to him before shockingly revealing his villainous nature after leading a mutiny against their crew.

John Silver is depicted as a terribly strong and gifted fighter even with his missing limb. Also incredibly cunning and clever planning a successful mutiny and able to save up his treasure while his fellow pirates fritter it away.

Silvers popularity as a character is made obvious by his many rebirths in stories by various authors and later directors and producers. He is featured in novels written by other authors such as Porto Bello Gold and Return to Treasure Island. Movies that include The Pagemaster and Muppet Treasure Island. He even made it to theatre in SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical!

The fictional swashbuckler also inspired the character of the same name in Treasure Planet and Woody Harrelson’s character Tobias Beckett in Solo: A Star Wars Story.

one legged pirate pulling along a young man

Shiver Me Timbers Origin

Wat ‘er Man

“Well, then, why don’t you do it?”

“Because I must come to terms. You don’t think I’d help myself to a thrashing, do you?”

“I won’t thrash you, Tom. Shiver my timbers if I do.”

Jacob Faithful, Frederick Marryat, 1834

The first evidence of our phrase in print comes from the novel Jacob Faithful written by the British Royal Navy officer Frederick Marryat in 1834.

Jacob Faithful is a story about Jacob the child of a Thames river waterman/lighterman. Jacob grew up on his families lighter boat until his parents were both killed in a freak accident. Inheriting a decent sum of money Jacob still chooses to remain on the river. Later he learns trades from both a wherryman and a bargeman before eventually joining the Royal Navy. The book is an entertaining tale but also a valuable and accurate look at the bustling hub of the Thames river as it was two hundred years ago.

Waterman were people whose job was to ferry groups of people along and across the Thames river in England. Lighterman were waterman who piloted a special lighter boat that had a wide floor for people and cargo and was moved by pushing a long oar called a ‘sweep’ across the bottom.

thames river in england