A Dictionary Full of Victorian Slang

By August 30, 2016Language

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.

Alexandra Limp

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

Lackadaisical, unattractive.

Eat Vinegar with a Fork

Have an acid sharpness in conversation; quickwitted.

Evening Wheezes

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.

Half-Hour Gentleman

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.

Nanty Narking

Having a hoot; something that is great fun.


Effeminately affected, not masculine.

Orf Chump

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.

Problem Novel

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.

Salvation Jugginses

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.

Wooden Spoon

A thick head, an idiot; some one who displays astounding stupidity.

Yaller Bellies

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.

I spent a fascinating hour or so perusing the pages of this wonderful snippet of historical language use and if you want to have a look through the pages for yourself you can do so here.

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  • Margie says:

    A ‘Bit o’Raspberry’ may have more to do with Cockney rhyming slang than jam; ‘tart’, most likely. To blow a raspberry (raspberry tart) has a different connotation entirely!
    Here in Australia sausages are still referred to as mystery bags!

  • claire says:

    Gave me a few giggles. Especially recognising a few or similar phrases.

  • Jennifer says:

    I am going to have to remember “dying duck in a thunderstorm.” Such brilliant history in these old books.

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