pilot v pirate

r0_86_1689_1036_w1200_h678_fmaxphoto: Mudgee Guardian

Earlier this week, the Australian rock singer/songwriter Jon English died following post-operative complications. He was a versatile performer, probably best known as Judas in the original Australian production of Jesus Christ Superstar, as a former convict in Australia’s early colonial period in the mini-series Against the wind, and as the Pirate King in The pirates of Penzance (above).

I will leave it to bigger fans to write extended tributes, but it leads me into discussing a factlet about Pirates which I stumbled across while aimlessly browsing the internet last week. The back-story, as explained by the hero Frederic’s  former nurserymaid now a kind of piratical maid-of-all-work Ruth, is that his father wanted to apprentice him as a (maritime) pilot, but she had (‘through being hard of hearing’) taken him to a pirate. The factlet was that at no point does Gilbert rhyme pilot and pirate.

That may or may be true in the whole work, but is certainly true in Ruth’s song When Frederic was a little lad. Gilbert rhymes pilot with my lot, high lot, vile lot* and shy lot and pirate with gyrate. Both pilot and pirate are naturally pronounced with a reduced second syllable: /paɪlət/ and /paɪrət/. In order for the rhymes to work, the singer must sing full vowels in each: /paɪlɒt/ and /paɪreɪt/.

* I had always thought that the ‘vile lot’ Ruth refers to was the pirate crew, which she later calls a ‘shy lot’. It’s not – the ‘vile lot’ is the pirate’s ‘lot in life’.


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