Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811)

A few selections from the

1811 Dictionary Of The Vulgar Tongue:
A dictionary of buckish slang, university wit, and pickpocket eloquence.
Unabridged from the original 1811 edition with a foreword by Robert Cromie
Compiled originally by Captain Grose.
And now considerably altered and enlarged, with the modern
changes and improvements, by a member of the whip club.

Source: http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/5402. I am pleased to see that this is one of the most-downloaded texts from Project Gutenberg -- one of their top 100 from yesterday. (I also just have to mention this version of Beethoven's fifth from Project Gutenberg, which is played by Geof Pawlicki on (I believe) the electronic synthesizer.)

First, quote from the preface:

..we claim not merely the praise of gratifying curiosity, or affording assistance to the ambitious; we are very sure that the moral influence of the Lexicon Balatronicum will be more certain and extensive than that of any methodist sermon that has ever been delivered within the bills of mortality. We need not descant on the dangerous impressions that are made on the female mind, by the remarks that fall incidentally from the lips of the brothers or servants of a family; and we have before observed, that improper topics can with our assistance be discussed, even before the ladies, without raising a blush on the cheek of modesty. It is impossible that a female should understand the meaning of TWIDDLE DIDDLES, or rise from table at the mention of BUCKINGER'S BOOT. Besides, Pope assures us, that "VICE TO BE HATED NEEDS BUT TO BE SEEN;" in this volume it cannot be denied, that she is seen very plainly; and a love of virtue is, therefore, the necessary result of perusing it.
And now, a few selections from the dictionary... Only A - D thus far, but I find these quite amusing, so perhaps I'll post more later.


ACT OF PARLIAMENT. A military term for small beer, five pints of which, by an act of parliament, a landlord was formerly obliged to give to each soldier gratis.

ADMIRAL OF THE NARROW SEAS. One who from drunkenness vomits into the lap of the person sitting opposite to him. SEA PHRASE.

ANKLE. A girl who is got with child, is said to have sprained her ankle.

BABES IN THE WOOD. Criminals in the stocks, or pillory.


BED-MAKER. Women employed at Cambridge to attend on the Students, sweep his room, &c. They will put their hands to any thing, and are generally blest with a pretty family of daughters: who unmake the beds, as fast as they are made by their mothers.

BET. A wager.--TO BET. To lay a wager. (What's interesting about this is that it's listed among such unfamiliar slang. There are a number of these, unsurprisingly; but this is one that struck me. -- SF)

BITCH. A she dog, or doggess; the most offensive appellation that can be given to an English woman, even more provoking than that of whore, as may he gathered from the regular Billinsgate or St. Giles's answer--"I may be a whore, but can't be a bitch."

BORE. A tedious, troublesome man or woman, one who bores the ears of his hearers with an uninteresting tale; a term much in fashion about the years 1780 and 1781.

BOW-WOW. The childish name for a dog; also a jeering appellation for a man born at Boston in America.

BULL. A blunder; from one Obadiah Bull, a blundering lawyer of London, who lived in the reign of Henery VII. by a bull is now always meant a blunder made by an Irishman. [...]

CATERPILLAR. A nick name for a soldier. In the year 1745, a soldier quartered at a house near Derby, was desired by his landlord to call upon him, whenever he came that way; for, added he, soldiers are the pillars of the nation. The rebellion being finished, it happened the same regiment was quartered in Derbyshire, when the soldier resolved to accept of his landlord's invitation, and accordingly obtained leave to go to him: but, on his arrival, he was greatly surprised to find a very cold reception; whereupon expostulating with his landlord, he reminded him of his invitation, and the circumstance of his having said, soldiers were the pillars of the nation. If I did, answered the host, I meant CATERpiliars.

COMING! SO IS CHRISTMAS. Said of a person who has long been called, and at length answers, Coming!

COMMODITY. A woman's commodity; the private parts of a modest woman, and the public parts of a prostitute.

CORPORATION. A large belly. He has a glorious corporation; he has a very prominent belly.

TO CUT. (Cambridge.) To renounce acquaintance with any one is to CUT him. There are several species of the CUT. Such as the cut direct, the cut indirect, the cut sublime, the cut infernal, &c. The cut direct, is to start across the street, at the approach of the obnoxious person in order to avoid him. The cut indirect, is to look another way, and pass without appearing to observe him. The cut sublime, is to admire the top of King's College Chapel, or the beauty of the passing clouds, till he is out of sight. The cut infernal, is to analyze the arrangement of your shoe-strings, for the same purpose.

DAMNED SOUL. A clerk in a counting house, whose sole business it is to clear or swear off merchandise at the custom-house; and who, it is said, guards against the crime of perjury, by taking a previous oath, never to swear truly on those occasions.

DEVILISH. Very: an epithet which in the English vulgar language is made to agree with every quality or thing; as, devilish bad, devilish good; devilish sick, devilish well; devilish sweet, devilish sour; devilish hot, devilish cold, &c. &c.

DEWITTED. Torn to pieces by a mob, as that great statesman John de Wit was in Holland, anno 1672.

DIVIDE. To divide the house with one's wife; to give her the outside, and to keep all the inside to one's self, i.e. to turn her into the street.

DOVE-TAIL. A species of regular answer, which fits into the subject, like the contrivance whence it takes its name: Ex. Who owns this? The dovetail is, Not you by your asking.

DIE HARD, or GAME. To die hard, is to shew no signs of fear or contrition at the gallows; not to whiddle or squeak. This advice is frequently given to felons going to suffer the law, by their old comrades, anxious for the honour of the gang.

No comments: