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.
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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