This is the final installment in my series of three posts looking at historical slang words! The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Francis Grose (1811) has been an endlessly entertaining historical source, a compendium of ‘vulgar’ phrases, swears, oaths, insults, drinking games and much more. If you missed the first two posts in this series, you can find them here and here.
Now I’m pulling out the best words in this unusual little dictionary from the letters R-Z. I hope that you enjoy them and let me know which is your favorite. Mine is probably ‘sea lawyer’ and ‘spoil pudding’. Happy reading!
RIGMAROLE. Roundabout, nonsensical. He told a long rigmarole story. (Good to see that this one has stuck around! Although I often hear it used more in the context of something being long and complicated, e.g. ‘signing up for that thing required filling in lots of papers, it was a huge rigamarole!’)
SAINT GEOFFREY’S DAY. Never, there being no saint of that name: tomorrow-come-never, when two Sundays come together. (See you on St Geoffrey’s Day aka NEVER!)
SANDWICH. Ham, dried tongue, or some other salted meat, cut thin and put between two slices of bread and butter: said to be a favourite morsel with the Earl of Sandwich. (I thought it was interesting that a sandwhich was a recent enough food that they felt they had to include a definition of it, plus the fact that this definition pretty much still holds!)
SEA LAWYER. A shark. (I guess back then people were already poking fun at lawyers a lot. But I mostly included this one because it makes me picture a shark in a business suit.)
TO SHOOT THE CAT. To vomit from excess of liquor; called also catting.
SLY BOOTS. A cunning fellow, under the mask of simplicity.
SPOIL PUDDING. A parson who preaches long sermons, keeping his congregation in church till the puddings are overdone. (I’ve certainly been to some lectures given by ‘spoil puddings’!)
TARRING AND FEATHERING. A punishment lately inflicted by the good people of Boston on any person convicted, or suspected, of loyalty: such delinquents being “stripped naked”, were daubed all over with tar, and afterwards put into a hogshead of feathers. (I included this one mostly because of its connection to the American Revolution. This was something that Patriot mobs did to Loyalist citizens.)
VICE ADMIRAL OF THE NARROW SEAS. A drunken man that pisses under the table into his companions’ shoes. (You will recall from my first post about this dictionary that an ‘Admiral of the Narrow Seas’ is one who throws up on someone across from him from drunkenness. So the VICE admiral is someone who pees on someone’s shoes. Both are oddly specific and I wouldn’t want to go drinking with either of these ‘admirals’, I have to say.)
WHIPT SYLLABUB. A flimsy, frothy discourse or treatise, without solidity. (This entertained me because syllabub was a popular dessert drink which involved whipped cream. So this phrase obviously alludes to that!)
WOLF IN THE STOMACH. A monstrous or canine appetite.
YANKEY, or YANKEY DOODLE. A booby, or country lout: a name given to the New England men in North America. A general appellation for an American.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more discussion of this book in a future post when I talk about the origins of the Revolutionary War-era song ‘Yankee Doodle’.
(Featured Image: ‘A Midnight Modern Conversation’ by William Hogarth c. 1730 via Wikipedia Commons)
Madeira Mondays is a series of blog posts exploring Early American history and historical fiction. I’m not a historian, but an author and poet who is endlessly fascinated by this time period. I am also currently writing/researching a novel set during the American Revolution and recently finished a Doctorate of Fine Art looking at how creative writers access America’s eighteenth-century past. Follow the blog for a new post every Monday and thanks for reading!