Saturday, August 15, 2015

All about Jolly Roger -- he isn't just for pirates any more.

From the outset of my campaign for mayor of New Albany as an independent, I’ve been drawn to the Jolly Roger as an appropriate symbol of my intent.

Obviously, it has not been intended as a literal reference. I am neither Errol Flynn nor Johnny Depp, and am not a brigand aboard a ship on the high seas, hoisting the black flag in preparation for the attack. I've never even played a pirate at Disneyland.

By the same token, my candidacy is expressly designed to be disruptive to the same tired ways of local political thinking, as well as an assault on the status quo – not with an aim to plunder the treasury, but purge those politicians who are, and to refresh and renew municipal governance.

As such, a grinning skull and crossbones captures the spirit of my campaign perfectly, and after all, it’s my name – and there is plenty of royalty-free clip art in the public domain ripe for seizure.

The origins of the term “Jolly Roger” are unclear, although it probably comes from England, as early as the 17th century.

The origin of the “Jolly Roger” name itself is thought to stem from one of the following three things. First, that it is simply adapted from the English word “roger”, which basically just means “wandering vagabond”; indeed, another name for the Devil among the English at this time was “Old Roger” and putting a depiction of the Devil on these flags was quite common.

The English word “roger” also implies a jovial and carefree man. Interestingly, an alternative explanation of Jolly Roger is derived from the French language.

Another possibility comes from the 17th century French “jolie rouge”, which meant “pretty red” and, thus, was what the red flags were called. Accounts as early as the 18th century also have the black versions of these flags being called the “Jolly Roger”.

There is a brewery in Oregon called Rogue, which I’ve seen misspelled as Rouge on numerous occasions, and because of this fact, the “jolie rouge” theory strikes me as sensible. Finally, there is this:

Certain Asian pirates called their captains by the title “Ali Raja”, meaning “King of the Sea”. It’s possible that this term was then adapted by the English for eventual usage as the name of their pirate flags.

It’s exotic, but as the author of the preceding notes, the simplest explanation probably can be trusted most,so let's summarize: In New Albany, the Jolly Roger symbolizes a jovial independent mayoral challenger, wandering the city with black flag in hand, whose attacks on sacred political cows prompt him to be compared to the devil by entrenched interests.

I believe I will, and this sounds just about right, thank you.

For more good reading: Why Did Pirates Fly the Jolly Roger?, by Krystal D'Costa (Scientific American)

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