I love how language is always in a state of flux, constantly changing and evolving with words coming into and falling out of fashion. From the recent ‘don’t be jel be reem’ that is now so last year to the current fashion of having one’s eyebrows ‘on fleek’ the English language is a rich stew of words taken from and adapted from languages around the world or simply made up and popularised through social media.
Slang, colloquialisms and insults are excellent examples of how language evolves, for instance someone who was called ‘wicked’ in the 1700s could have expected to be burned at the stake, whilst in the 1990s they’d have been lauded and respected for being the very same thing. A recently released into the public domain book called Passing English of the Victorian era, a dictionary of heterodox English, slang and phrase which was compiled and written by James Redding Ware ( the pseudonym of Andrew Forrester) has some wonderful examples of Victorian slang and here we have shared a few of a favourites from this Dictionary of Victorian Slang.
An affected manner of walking seen in many women for several years and attributed to the then Princess of Wales who had had some trouble with a knee.
A small (often dismal) Public Park adapted from an old graveyard, with the gravestones removed and replaced to stand, sentry style around the circumference.
Bags o’ Mystery
Sausages; simply because nobody but their maker ever knew what on earth it was that was inside them..
To thrash thoroughly; though no one knows why.
Bit o’ Raspberry
An attractive girl, originally a raspberry jam as this was considered the most flavoursome of preserves, so the prettiest of the girls were a bit o’ raspberry.
A perplexing and puzzling question, probably a made up word as it conveys puzzlement in its pronunciation.
Arguments; brought into being by Queen Victoria and said to be a Scots word to describe fights among dogs.
Cut a Finger
To cause a disagreeable odour.
Dance Upon Nothing
To be hanged, taken from the convulsions of the condemned prior to the long drop method of execution.
Do a Dutch
To remove one’s furnishings from a property and leave the premises without paying the due rent.
Dying Duck in a Thunderstorm
Eat Vinegar with a Fork
Have an acid sharpness in conversation; quickwitted.
News, usually false news spread in the evening halfpenny papers in order to sell them.
Flag of Distress
A young lad’s shirt as seen through the opening of his trousers.
A perpetually happy face.
Got the Morbs
A temporary melancholy.
Grinning at the Daisy Roots
Dead, literally grinning up at the roots of the flowers that cover the coffin of the deceased.
A man whose apparent good breeding is only superficial.
An illegitimate child.
Jinks the Barber
An informant, suggested because barbers are such gossips.
Killing the Canary
Shirking work. Probably from miner’s safety canaries going uncared for whilst workers remained at home.
Flirting, behaving in a coquettish manner towards the opposite sex.
Lotties and Totties
Ladies at large; out on the town.
Street Rowdyism. Riotousness.
Married to Brown Bess
To serve as a soldier with Brown Bess being a musket.
An emphatic term for scolding of the feminine variety. Usually a husband lamenting being nagged at by his lady wife.
Having a hoot; something that is great fun.
Effeminately affected, not masculine.
To be off one’s food, Orf being derived from off and appropriated from stablemen who would use the term in reference to their horses.
Servants’ talk; gossiping from below stairs.
A book that tended to focus upon women, their aspirations and the wrongs done unto them.
Quite a Dizzy
A very clever gentleman; Dizzy taken from Disraeli.
A woman who uses a pistol with a great degree of surety.
A young child beggar, being compared to a starving robin.
An aversion to the more violent members of the Salvation Army (there were violent members).
That’s the Ticket
The proper thing to do, ticket being a distortion of etiquette.
The feminine decolletage area or bust.
Up the Pole
Drunk, completely inebriated; derived from an inebriated person’s need to cling to anything to remain upright.
What ho! She Bumps!
An exclamation usually loud and usually in reference to any display of feminine vigour.
A thick head, an idiot; some one who displays astounding stupidity.
A person from Lincolnshire; called so because of the large number of geese from that area and the colour of the goose’s belly feathers being yellow.