Some time back, while researching for a blog post, I became aware of a book that I later ordered but didn’t read until now. I might have mentioned it. It’s called A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Francis Grose.
The book itself was published for the first time in 1787, and there is text within that is much older.
One reason I didn’t read this book in earnest until now is that the print quality is so poor that it’s hard on the eye. But the content is so intriguing that I decided to adjust my glasses and give it some focus.
I’m glad I did.
It was written to compile, according to the preface, “the vulgar allusions and cant expressions that so frequently occur in our conversation and periodical publications…” The entries are also described as “Pedlar’s French” and “burlesque phrases.” Well, I wasn’t around in the 18th century, but I can’t imagine some phrases ever appearing in common language or publications. I can tell you a good number of the so-called “quaint allusions” used in that period are as shockingly vulgar as anything one would hear or read today. If you want to read these, you are going to have to purchase the book. But be aware–there obviously was limitless tolerance for certain varieties of ethnic and gender slurs 223 years ago.
It also struck me how many terms that I thought were fairly modern were common so long ago. I’d be too embarrassed to cite examples.
The dictionary entries aren’t all dirty; some truly are quaint.
So I thought I’d share a few with you. Wouldn’t it be fun to drop one or two into ordinary conversation at work today and see what kind of reaction you get?
Today I’ll be giving the highlights from the first half of the alphabet. If you like them, join me tomorrow for the second half.
Brisket beater: a Roman Catholic
Clicker: one who proportions out the different shares of the booty among thieves
Cock-a-whoop: elevated, in high spirits, transported with joy
Dot and go one: to waddle, generally applied to persons who have one leg shorter than the other
Frosty face: one pitted with the smallpox
Gollumpus: a large, clumsy fellow
Hang an arse: to hang back or hesitate
Hop the twig: to run away
Huckle my butt: a hot drink made with beer, egg and brandy (Five dollars to the first person I hear order that at Applebee’s)
Humdurgeon: an imaginary illness
Irish legs: thick legs. It is said of the Irish women that they have a dispensation from the Pope to wear the thick end of their legs downwards.
Join giblets: said of a man and woman who cohabitate
Leaky: about to blab, as one who cannot keep a secret
Liquor one’s boots: drink before a journey
Moon-eyed hen: a squinting wench
To be continued…