Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Further Selections from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

Picking up more or less where I left off last time, here are some further selections from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. Notes in parentheses and italics are mine.


DUKE OF LIMBS. A tall, awkward, ill-made fellow.

DUMB-FOUNDED. Silenced, also soundly beaten.


ELBOW GREASE. Labour. Elbow grease will make an oak table shine.
(Also included with definitions essentially identical to the modern meaning: elbow-room; eves dropper; eye sore; fat headed; to feather one's nest; feint; to fence (in the sense of to sell stolen goods); fidgets; flabby; freshman; gang; gift of gab (as gift of the gab); gingerly; and many others. In some cases, it feels surprising that the slang goes back so far; in some, that it was listed as simply slang (and not regular English) then.)

ELF. A fairy or hobgoblin, a little man or woman.

EMPEROR. Drunk as an emperor, i.e. ten times as drunk as a lord.

FAGGOT. A man hired at a muster to appear as a soldier.

FALLEN AWAY FROM A HORSE LOAD TO A CART LOAD. A saying on one grown fat.

FAM LAY. Going into a goldsmith's shop, under pretence of buying a wedding ring, and palming one or two, by daubing the hand with some viscous matter.

FAULKNER. A tumbler, juggler, or shewer of tricks; perhaps because they lure the people, as a faulconer does his hawks. CANT.

FICE, or FOYSE. A small windy escape backwards, more obvious to the nose than ears; frequently by old ladies charged on their lap-dogs. See FIZZLE.

FINGER POST. A parson: so called, because he points out a way to others which he never goes himself. Like the finger post, he points out a way he has never been, and probably will never go, i.e. the way to heaven.

FIRING A GUN. Introducing a story by head and shoulders. A man wanting to tell a particular story, said to the company, Hark! did you not hear a gun?--but now we are talking of a gun, I will tell you the story of one.

FLABAGASTED. Confounded. (Note it's not "flabbergasted".)

FLY-BY-NIGHT. You old fly-by-night; an ancient term of reproach to an old woman, signifying that she was a witch, and alluding to the nocturnal excursions attributed to witches, who were supposed to fly abroad to their meetings, mounted on brooms.

FORTUNE TELLER, or CUNNING MAN. A judge, who tells every prisoner his fortune, lot or doom. To go before the fortune teller, lambskin men, or conjuror; to be tried at an assize. See LAMBSKIN MEN.

FRUITFUL VINE. A woman's private parts, i.e. that has FLOWERS every month, and bears fruit in nine months.

GAG. An instrument used chiefly by housebreakers and thieves, for propping open the mouth of a person robbed, thereby to prevent his calling out for assistance.

GALIMAUFREY. A hodgepodge made up of the remnants and scraps of the larder.

GAMON AND PATTER. Common place talk of any profession; as the gamon and patter of a horse-dealer, sailor, &c.

GARRET ELECTION. A ludicrous ceremony, practised every new parliament: it consists of a mock election of two members to represent the borough of Garret (a few straggling cottages near Wandsworth in Surry); the qualification of a voter is, having enjoyed a woman in the open air within that district: the candidates are commonly fellows of low humour, who dress themselves up in a ridiculous manner. As this brings a prodigious concourse of people to Wandsworth, the publicans of that place jointly contribute to the expence, which is sometimes considerable.

GENTLEMAN OF THREE OUTS. That is, without money, without wit, and without manners: some add another out, i.e. without credit.

To GIGGLE. To suppress a laugh. Gigglers; wanton women.

GODFATHER. He who pays the reckoning, or answers for the rest of thecompany: as, Will you stand godfather, and we will take care of the brat; i.e. repay you another time. Jurymen are also called godfathers, because they name the crime the prisoner before them has been guilty of, whether felony, petit larceny, &c.

GOOD MAN. A word of various imports, according to the place where it is spoken: in the city it means a rich man; at Hockley in the Hole, or St. Giles's, an expert boxer; at a bagnio in Covent Garden, a vigorous fornicator; at an alehouse or tavern, one who loves his pot or bottle; and sometimes, though but rarely, a virtuous man

GORMAGON. A monster with six eyes, three mouths, four arms, eight legs, live on one side and three on the other, three arses, two tarses, and a *** upon its back; a man on horseback, with a woman behind him.

TO GOUGE. To squeeze out a man's eye with the thumb: a cruel practice used by the Bostonians in America.

GRANNY. An abbreviation of grandmother; also the name of an idiot, famous for licking, her eye, who died Nov. 14, 1719. Go teach your granny to suck eggs; said to such as would instruct any one in a matter he knows better than themselves.

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