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“It is much more important to know what sort of a patient has a disease than what sort of a disease a patient has.” - Sir William Osler

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    Wednesday, November 06, 2002

    I have to confess. I have a secret crush on Robert Newton - a not-so-well-known British actor who starred in various films from the 1930's through the 1950's. He had a respectable stage and TV career as well; his film roles include Inspector Fixx in "Around the World in 80 Days," a co-starring role with Burt Lancaster in "Kiss the Blood Off My Hands" (ugh), one or two Hitchcock films, and a ne'er-do-well who goes good in "The Beachcomber" - but his best-known role was as Long John Silver in Disney's 1950's version of "Treasure Island." He hammed the hell out of Long John, but he did such a good job that viewers for decades have associated him with piratespeak. Every "arr, matey" you hear originates with his performance.

    Why do I bring this up? Because Robert Newton recently impacted my job. No, really. I ran across a column by Dave Barry promoting National Talk Like a Pirate Day and got carried away.

    Ask the average person to talk like a pirate and what will you hear? What do you hear in movies and on TV?

    "Belay that, ye scurvy swab!"
    "Avast there, ye landlubber!"
    "The whiiiite whale!" (No... wait... that was another movie...)
    I even heard this line delivered by Anne Heche in "Six Nights, Seven Days": "Pirates? As in 'Arrr'?"

    At any rate, Dave Barry did a marvelous job of painting the attractions of using piratespeak on the job. I quote:

    BOB: Avast, me beauty.

    MARY: Avast, Bob. Is that a yardarm in your doubloons, or are you just glad to see me?

    BOB: You are giving me the desire to haul some keel.

    MARY: Arrrrr.

    I immediately vowed to institute Talk Like a Pirate Day at my office. I recruited a willing crew after I sent some emails around and did my best Long John Silver imitation for the staff. Once they'd heard me describe a recalcitrant patient as "a scurvy landlubber," I found lots of willing participants. Even our dermatologist got into it; it's been nearly two months since Talk Like A Pirate Day and she still sends me emails addressed to "Matey." It was quite therapeutic to spew some nautical expletives at the HMO's and still say nothing that was obscene.

    So here's to you, Robert Newton! Your legacy lives on. Arrr!



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