Definition of privateer in English:



  • 1historical An armed ship owned and crewed by private individuals holding a government commission and authorized for use in war, especially in the capture of merchant shipping.

    ‘she was captured by a French 44-gun privateer’
    • ‘Bored with this profession, or aware that it was a declining industry, Paine left home and shipped aboard a privateer in 1756.’
    • ‘There is also reference to the Wasp, formerly the Guepe, a French privateer captured in 1801 and later under the command of Lt. Joseph Packwood in 1805.’
    • ‘The US navy also took 50 merchant ships, while privateers took a further 450.’
    • ‘Great names are associated with the privateers and the ships that sailed the waters off the south coast of Ireland including the name of the great John Paul Jones.’
    • ‘The basis for the story is that in February 1704, William Dampier, a noted British buccaneer and navigator, arrived at Juan Fernandez with two ships, both licensed privateers.’
    1. 1.1A commander or crew member of a privateer, often regarded as a pirate.
      ‘Francis Drake disliked other privateers poaching prizes he regarded as his own’
      • ‘Nearly all the slaves were brought to Bermuda from the West Indies or as slaves on ships captured by Bermuda privateers.’
      • ‘He spent two years in the post, toiling to save Louis XVI, sheltering aristocrats from the Paris mob, and working hard to protect American merchant vessels against French privateers.’
      • ‘The difference between pirates and privateers was that the pirates were simply sea robbers who captured or looted ships at sea for plunder, without authority.’
      • ‘According to the records of Lloyds, between 1775 and 1781 American privateers captured 2,600 British merchantmen.’
      • ‘However, American neutral shipping suffered grievous losses at the hands of the Royal Navy and French privateers.’
      pirate, marauder, raider, sea rover, freebooter, plunderer, cut-throat, privateer, viking, bandit, robber, desperado
      View synonyms
  • 2An advocate or exponent of private enterprise.

    ‘it may be instructive to compare the supposedly wasteful public sector with the supposedly lean privateers’
    • ‘There is a danger that London Underground or the privateers who are due to take over will go to court to try and stop the strike ballot.’
    • ‘But before politicians get too excited, it may be instructive to compare the supposedly wasteful public sector with the supposedly lean privateers.’
    • ‘The executive of the Scottish Parliament is handing another £100 million of public money over to privateers to ensure the privatisation of Glasgow's council housing goes ahead.’
    • ‘Study after study has found that there are no ‘efficiency savings’ contributed by the privateer middlemen.’
    • ‘The cronies who run these associations pretend they are progressive, when in fact they are reactionary privateers.’
  • 3Motorsports
    A competitor who races as a private individual rather than as a member of a team.

    ‘he finished top privateer in the world championships’
    • ‘Jeannette, 21, is no stranger to racing Panoz cars, having driven for Panoz Motor Sports in 2002 and for the privateer JML Team Panoz in 2003.’
    • ‘Though a privateer racing effort, Krohn-Barbour Racing will be officially affiliated with the Lamborghini factory.’
    • ‘The starting lineup for every event includes both factory and privateer racing teams competing for overall wins as well as wins in one of four classes of competition.’
    • ‘By increasing the number of cars competing on the Saturday and Sunday of an event, marshals and spectators will have the opportunity to see more of the top level World Rally Cars in action and their favourite privateer competitors.’
    • ‘The manufacturers are ready to offer low-cost engines to privateers, as more teams means increased show and therefore prosperity to all involved.’


Mid 17th century: from private, on the pattern of volunteer.