Open main menu

Wiktionary β

shiver my timbers




A French Ship and Barbary Pirates (c. 1615) by Aert Anthoniszoon, from the collection of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich in London, England, UK

A reference to a wooden ship being pounded heavily in stormy seas to the extent that its timbers shake, causing awe and fear to the sailors on board.



shiver my timbers

  1. A mild oath expressing surprise, disbelief or annoyance. It is stereotypically regarded as being uttered by pirates.
    • 1794, James Roberts, Rule Britannia! A Loyal Sketch, in Two Acts, as Performed with Universal Applause at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London: Printed for Hookham and Carpenter, Old and New Bond-street, OCLC 228762542, Act II, scene i, page 26:
      I was informed I ſhould meet my dear Anna ſomewhere in theſe woods: I have been ſteering all points of the compaſs, but in vain. However, after having given chaſe to an enemy, ſhall I tamely haul my wind when my miſtreſs is in view? No;—ſhiver my timbers if I do. The man who meanly deſerts his King or his miſtreſs, deſerves to be ſhot for a traitor to both!
    • 1799, [Edward Dubois], chapter XII, in A Piece of Family Biography. In Three Volumes, volume II, London: Printed for J[ohn] Bell, no. 148, Oxford-Street, opposite New Bond-Street, OCLC 753432205, page 216:
      I weighed anchor inſtantly, and bore up right a-head to Dynevawr-houſe as faſt as my wooden leg would carry me. [] Shiver my timbers! what do you think I found 'em at? Split my wind if there was not a gang, with Mrs. Martha at the head, working away at the temple which was built for us to take our grog in.
    • 1881–1882, Robert Louis Stevenson, “At the Sign of the ‘Spy-Glass’”, in Treasure Island, London; Paris; New York, N.Y.: Cassell & Company, Limited, published 1883, OCLC 702939134, page 66:
      "The score!" he burst out. "Three goes o' rum! Why, shiver my timbers, if I hadn't forgotten my score!" And, falling on a bench, he laughed until the tears ran down his cheeks.
    • 2005, Daisy Jordan, chapter 19, in Wild about Harry, London: Bantam Books, →ISBN, page 263:
      When I wake up the next morning there's a seagull on my windowsill. [] They're such big birds, seagulls, so loud and cocksure and arrogant. If they could speak they would all sound like sailors. All avast! and ahoy there! and shiver me timbers! and they'd smoke reedy pipes and down flagons of foamy ale.

Alternative formsEdit


Further readingEdit