American Slang From The Early 19th Century

By Matt Bramowicz on April 17th, 2012

It’s interesting how every generation that comes along inevitably needs to add their own ingredients to the language stew, so to speak.  While I was growing up, the ubiquitous ‘cool’ was popular, but we also had words like ‘stellar’, ‘boney’, ‘lifted’, ‘thick’, and ‘haggard’; the meanings of which seemed to only be known by those in a certain age-bracket.

This, of course, is nothing new.  Generations after generations have been creating their own slang words that fade in and out of popularity, some quicker than others.  My parents’ had ‘daddy-o’, ‘big tickle’, ‘square’, etc. I guess it is just a generation’s way of carving out their own niche in history, as nothing is more relative to a culture than the way people communicate with each another.

Recently I came across a website with some words from the generation 200 years back.  It’s an interesting peak into a culture that is far removed from today’s, and yet, inherently exactly the same.

Here are just some of the ones I came across, one for each letter of the alphabet:

1. ACE OF SPADES. A widow.
2. BARBER’S CHAIR. She is as common as a barber’s chair, in which a whole parish sit to be trimmed; said of a prostitute. (It’s interesting how so many words refer to prostitutes, ie. Cat, Covey, Covent, Garden Nun, Drury Lane Vestal, Wagtail, etc.)
3. COT, or QUOT. A man who meddles with women’s household business, particularly in the kitchen. The punishment commonly inflicted on a quot, is pinning a greasy dishclout to the skirts of his coat.
4. DANCERS. Stairs.
5. EXECUTION DAY. Washing day.
6. FIRE A SLUG. To drink a dram.
7. GRINAGOG, THE CAT’S UNCLE. A foolish grinning fellow, one who grins without reason.
8. HANS IN KELDER. Jack in the cellar, i.e. the child in the womb: a health frequently drank to breeding women or their husbands.
9. INKLE WEAVERS. Supposed to be a very brotherly set of people; ‘as great as two inkle weavers’ being a proverbial saying.
10. JERRY SNEAK. A henpecked husband: from a celebrated character in one of Mr. Foote’s plays, representing a man governed by his wife.
11. KEEP IT UP. To prolong a debauch. We kept it up finely last night; metaphor drawn from the game of shuttle-cock.
12. LIGHT HOUSE. A man with a red fiery nose.
13. MARRIAGE MUSIC. The squalling and crying of children.
14. NORTHUMBERLAND. Lord Northumberland’s arms; a black eye: so called in the last century.
15. OX HOUSE. He must go through the ox house to bed; a saying of an old fellow who marries a young girl.
16. PARK PAILING. Teeth.
17. QUIZ. A strange-looking fellow, an odd dog. OXFORD.
18. RABBIT CATCHER. A midwife.
19. SCOTCH WARMING PAN. A wench; also a fart.
20. THATCH-GALLOWS. A rogue, or man of bad character.
21. UNRIGGED. Undressed, or stripped. Unrig the drab.
22. VICE ADMIRAL OF THE NARROW SEAS. A drunken man that urinates under the table into his companions’ shoes.
23. WHAPPER. A large man or woman.
24. XANTIPPE. The name of Socrates’s wife: now used to signify a shrew or scolding wife.
25. YOUNG ONE. A familiar expression of contempt for another’s ignorance, as “ah! I see you’re a young one.” How d’ye do, young one?
26. ZAD. Crooked like the letter Z. He is a mere zad, or perhaps zed; a description of a very crooked or deformed person.

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