Victorian Slang Words That Will Leave You With A Gigglemug

Thanks to Mental Floss for posting the jammiest bit of jam article about Victorian slang words that would add spice to any modern conversation.

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“In 1909, writing under the pseudonym James Redding Ware, British writer Andrew Forrester published Passing English of the Victorian era, a dictionary of heterodox English, slang and phrase. “Thousands of words and phrases in existence in 1870 have drifted away, or changed their forms, or been absorbed, while as many have been added or are being added,” he writes in the book’s introduction. “‘Passing English’ ripples from countless sources, forming a river of new language which has its tide and its ebb, while its current brings down new ideas and carries away those that have dribbled out of fashion.” Forrester chronicles many hilarious and delightful words in Passing English; we don’t know how these phrases ever fell out of fashion, but we propose bringing them back.

1. AFTERNOONIFIED

A society word meaning “smart.” Forrester demonstrates the usage: “The goods are not ‘afternoonified’ enough for me.”

2. ARFARFAN’ARF

A figure of speech used to describe drunken men. “He’s very arf’arf’an’arf,” Forrester writes, “meaning he has had many ‘arfs,’” or half-pints of booze.

3. BACK SLANG IT

Thieves used this term to indicate that they wanted “to go out the back way.”

4. BAGS O’ MYSTERY

An 1850 term for sausages, “because no man but the maker knows what is in them. … The ‘bag’ refers to the gut which contained the chopped meat.”

5. BANG UP TO THE ELEPHANT

This phrase originated in London in 1882, and means “perfect, complete, unapproachable.”

6. BATTY-FANG

Low London phrase meaning “to thrash thoroughly,” possibly from the French battre a fin.

7. BENJO

Nineteenth century sailor slang for “A riotous holiday, a noisy day in the streets.”

8. BOW WOW MUTTON

A naval term referring to meat so bad “it might be dog flesh.”

9. BRICKY

Brave or fearless. “Adroit after the manner of a brick,” Forrester writes, “said even of the other sex, ‘What a bricky girl she is.’”

10. BUBBLE AROUND

A verbal attack, generally made via the press. Forrester cites The Golden Butterfly: “I will back a first-class British subject for bubbling around against all humanity.”

11. BUTTER UPON BACON

Extravagance. Too much extravagance. “Are you going to put lace over the feather, isn’t that rather butter upon bacon?”

12. CAT-LAP

A London society term for tea and coffee “used scornfully by drinkers of beer and strong waters … in club-life is one of the more ignominious names given to champagne by men who prefer stronger liquors.”

13. CHURCH-BELL

A talkative woman.

14. CHUCKABOO

A nickname given to a close friend.

15. COLLIE SHANGLES

Quarrels. A term from Queen Victoria’s journal, More Leavespublished in 1884: “At five minutes to eleven rode off with Beatrice, good Sharp going with us, and having occasional collie shangles (a Scottish word for quarrels or rows, but taken from fights between dogs) with collies when we came near cottages.”

16. COP A MOUSE

To get a black eye. “Cop in this sense is to catch or suffer,” Forrester writers, “while the colour of the obligation at its worst suggests the colour and size of the innocent animal named.”

17. DADDLES

A delightful way to refer to your rather boring hands.

18. DAMFINO

This creative cuss is a contraction of “damned if I know.”

19. DIZZY AGE

A phrase meaning “elderly,” because it “makes the spectator giddy to think of the victim’s years.” The term is usually refers to “a maiden or other woman canvassed by other maiden ladies or others.”

20. DOING THE BEAR

“Courting that involves hugging.”

21. DON’T SELL ME A DOG

Popular until 1870, this phrase meant “Don’t lie to me!” Apparently, people who sold dogs back in the day were prone to trying to pass off mutts as purebreds.

22. DOOR-KNOCKER

A type of beard “formed by the cheeks and chin being shaved leaving a chain of hair under the chin, and upon each side of mouth forming with moustache something like a door-knocker.”

23. ENTHUZIMUZZY

“Satirical reference to enthusiasm.” Created by Braham the terror, whoever that is.

24. FIFTEEN PUZZLE

Not the game you might be familiar with, but a term meaning complete and absolute confusion.

25. FLY RINK

An 1875 term for a polished bald head.

26. GAL-SNEAKER

An 1870 term for “a man devoted to seduction.”

27. GAS-PIPES

A term for especially tight pants.

28. GIGGLEMUG

“An habitually smiling face.”

29. GOT THE MORBS

Use of this 1880 phrase indicated temporary melancholy.

30. HALF-RATS

Partially intoxicated.

31. JAMMIEST BITS OF JAM

“Absolutely perfect young females,” circa 1883.”

For 56 of the Top Victorian Slang Words, click on 56 Delightful Victorian Slang Terms You Should Be Using.


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