The Looby with a Malmsey Nose

Salisbury Meadows by Constable, in Wiltshire, home of the “moon rakers” according to Grose’s dictionary.

Snippets 195.  Francis Grose (1731-1791) was a noted antiquarian who wrote a series of books about medieval antiquities. Financial difficulties inspired him to branch out into other areas of writing, and in 1785 his A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue was published. Slang was a good choice of topic, as it would be entertaining and have a wide appeal. However, it stands as a useful record of the language in the 18th Century beyond the formal language studied by lexicographers. Previously we looked at some selected terms from letters A to K, so let’s continue with some examples beginning with L and M, chosen (in the spirit of the original publication) for entertainment value as much as anything.

Lazybones: an instrument like a pair of tongs, for old or very fat people to take any thing from the ground without stooping.

Leaky: apt to blab; one who cannot keep a secret is said to be leaky.

Lightning: gin. A flash of lightning; a glass of gin.

Light Troops: lice: the light troops are in full march; the lice are crawling about.

Limbs: Duke of limbs; a tall awkward fellow.

Linen armourers: tailors.

Listener: the ear.

Little breeches: a familiar appellation used to a little boy.

Little clergyman: a young chimney sweeper.

Little snakesman: a little boy who gets into a house through the sink-hole, and then opens the door for his accomplices; he is so called from writhing and twisting like a snake, in order to work himself through the narrow passage.

Loaf: to be in bad loaf; to be in a disagreeable situation, or in trouble.

Locksmith’s daughter: a key.

Lollipops: sweet lozenges purchased by children.

Loo: for the good of the loo; for the benefit of the company or community.

Looby: an awkward, ignorant fellow.

Louse-land: Scotland.

Low tide or low water: when there is no money in the pocket.

Malmsey Nose: a red pimpled snout, rich in carbuncles and rubies.

Marriage music: the squalling and crying of children.

To Milk the Pigeon: to endeavour at impossibilities.

Moon Rakers: Wiltshire men, because it is said that some men of that county, seeing the reflection of the moon in a pond, endeavoured to pull it out with a rake.

Muckworm: a miser.

Mundungus: bad or rank tobacco.

Interesting, isn’t it, that “lollipop” was once considered a slang word!

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About Roger Pocock

Author of Co-writer on Editor of
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