Slang in the 1850s (Snippets 42)


Tower of London engraving by William Miller, 1832

In 1859, The Vulgar Tongue was published, written by Ducange Anglicus.  This is clearly a pseudonym, but the author’s real identity is unknown.  The book is subtitled A Glossary of Slang, Cant, and Flash Words and Phrases, Used in London, from 1839 to 1859.  A lot of the entries are simply cockney rhyming slang (in fact, this book is probably the most useful source for studying the early development of this form of slang), but more interesting in my opinion is the enormous variety of slang terms that have fallen out of usage nowadays (if any of these are familiar to anyone as still being in use, please comment below!)  Here is a selection of some choice slang from the early-mid 19th Century:

“Amputate your mahogany”: be off, be gone.
“Belcher”: a silk pocket handkerchief of striped pattern.
“Black Ointment”: pieces of raw meat.
“Blow your hide out”: have a good meal.
“Blue pigeon flying”: stealing lead off the houses.
“Blunt”: money.  “Got any blunt?”
“Bonnet him”: knock his hat over his eyes.
“Boozing Ken”: drinking shop.
“Buttoner”: one who entices another to play.
“Cant of togs”: gift of clothes.
“Can’t see a hole thro’ a ladder”: being nearly drunk.
“Church a Yack”: to have the works of the watch put into another case to prevent detection.
“Croppie”: one who has had his hair cut in prison.
“Earwig”: clergyman.
“Ebony optics”: black eyes.
“First of May”: tongue.
“Giglamps”: spectacles.
“Halftusherroon”: half a crown.
“Hop the Twig”: to go away.
“Lap the gutter”: getting drunk.
“Mully-grubs”: pain in the stomach.
“Pilcher of fogles”: a stealer of pocket handkerchiefs.
“Potato-trap”: mouth.
“Sky-scraper”: tall man.
“Slippery”: soap.
“Smeller”: a blow on the nose.
“Stall your mug”: to go home, or to take shelter.
“Upper Benjamins”: Over-coats.
“Voyage of Discovery”: going out stealing.
“Wobbleshop”: where beer is sold without a licence.

Coming soon on Windows into History: a series of Christmas History articles.  There is not quite enough time before the end of this month to cover another travel journal in sufficient depth, so there will instead be a few more ‘snippet’ articles for the rest of November.  If you would like to be kept informed of new posts on Windows into History, please click the ‘follow’ button on the right of the screen.


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24 Responses to Slang in the 1850s (Snippets 42)

  1. docrichie says:

    Fascinating. Thanks for posting.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. historeon says:

    Reblogged this on Historeo and commented:
    Slang is always an entertaining branch of linguistics. I took a while figuring out where ‘amputate your mahogany’ came from but then I realised that it refers to getting up from ones chair, i.e. ‘amputate (separate) your mahogany (chair) from your personage and go away!’

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Carrie Birde says:

    I really like “hop the twig” 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. steveo says:

    Sort of a tamed urban dictionary? And yes, tamed is in the urban dictionary. Of course not used that way here.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Didn’t recognize any but thought “lap the gutter” was rather descriptive for getting drunk. It must have been really cheap booze! –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Heather says:

    I’m really looking forward to using some of these over the holidays and confusing my relatives! Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Jasne says:

    This is precious. Thank you so much for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Richard says:

    It was great having a Captain Cook at these.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. London slang helps to expend my word expression. Ii’s nice to know that there are different ways to say what we feel, want or see. Mully-grubs I like among all the slangs listed above.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. randomthoughts says:

    Reblogged this on yuareyakin and commented:
    London slangs! Express your feelings in a different.

    Liked by 1 person

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