The term "Jolly Roger"
came into common use in the early 1700s. Pirates would
hoist their version of the Jolly Roger as a way to announce
to other ships that surrender was expected. Most merchant
ships, upon seeing the Jolly Roger, did just that. The
skull-and-bones was an old symbol of death, and not peculiar
to piracy. It was used as a cap-badge by several European
armies as early as the sixteenth century.
The Jolly Roger, Old Roger,
or just plain Skull and Crossbones is the definitive symbol
of the pirate. Although no one knows for certain, it is
believed that the name derives from joli rouge, which
means "Pretty Red" in French. This was taken
to describe the blood red flags flown by particularly
harsh pirates. No matter where the name came from, the
essential use of this banner was to strike fear into the
hearts of the crew under pirate attack. While pirates
often flew "false colors" of any given country,
inevitably they used "truer" colors to communicate
and threaten potential victims.