Tag Archives: Francis Grose

Vulgarity N through Z

…continued from yesterday

The following words and phrases have been picked from the second half of A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, published in 1787, for your amusement and use.

Nicknackatory:  a toy shop

Nick ninny:  a simpleton

Old Roger:  the devil

Oliver’s skull:  a chamber pot

Peppered:  infected with the venereal disease

Queer rooster:  an informer who pretends to be sleeping, and thereby overhears the conversation of thieves in night cellars

Rabbit catcher:  a midwife

Roast meat clothes:  Sunday clothes

Scotch fiddle:  the itch (Scrubado has the same definition)

Slush bucket:  one who eats much greasy food

Smicket:  a woman’s smock or shift

Stallion:  a man kept by an old lady for secret services

Stewed Quaker:  burned rum with a piece of butter, an American remedy for a cold

Timber toe:  a man with a wooden leg

Uphills:  false dice that run high

Wife in water colours:  a mistress or concubine

There you have it. Thirty-three words and phrases from the days S’s looked like F’s.

Now go out there and confuse your friends and colleagues with your new vulgar tongue.

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Vulgarity A through M

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

Flesh-broker:  matchmaker

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

Kickerpoo:  dead

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…

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