Ah slang words. The gift that keeps on giving. In previous posts I’ve tackled the fun that is 2017 Slang and I’ve written A General Slang Dictionary for Writers but those were modern. The real gold mine, the crazy sounding words, the font that spews forth pure imagination, is in older variations on the English language.
How old? 150 years or so. Yes, there is lots of slang from much closer generations than that, but I’m writing books set between 1876 and 1880-ish and that’s the era that I research for euphemisms (and LOTS of other useless trivia, like when the first window screens were invented or The Question of Potties. The question is, did they even have potties then? Answer-yes.)
It reassures me, for some strange reason, to find that slang from any and every era focuses on the same basic things (1-the opposite sex, 2-insults, and 3-things to do for fun). Human nature hasn’t changed that much.
I’d like to share some of what I’ve found because it brightens your day to read it and hey, if you write a book set in the era yourself you can use some of it. Resources are listed at the bottom for you as well.
Noun/adjective. A man whose penis does not work, with the unspoken addition that it’s probably from age. Therefore, it just flaps around and is useless.
Harsh! It sounds stupid to my 21st century ears but at the time it was a really rude thing to call someone. Apparently the word could also refer to rubbish, or a woman’s lady bits during the same time, making it a multipurpose piece of vulgarity.
Noun/adjective. A very bad performer who makes noise instead of sweet music. Refers to a singer, rather than someone playing an instrument.
I’m going to guess the “whoop” part of the word refers to the noise the terrible singer is making. Think of the worst karaoke performance you’ve ever seen, and that person would be a whooperup.
3. Jammiest bits of jam
Adjective, descriptive phrase. Females that are perfection/beautiful/desirable. Pretty specific to 1883 and doesn’t seem to be used anywhere else.
It seems like “a Jammy bit” would be a logical extension of the phrase, but I can’t remember where I’ve read that. Maybe in a Terry Pratchett book?
Noun. Another word for the mouth.
It seems like this one should carry the overtone that you’re a smartass, i.e. saucy comebacks are coming out of your mouth, but I could be wrong.
Noun. Another way to refer to Alcohol-specifically neat Rum or Whiskey.
I fail to see how alcohol is anti fog making, but maybe in moderation? I’d love to see someone who’d just had copious amounts of an anti-fogmatic try to say the word. Comedy gold.
6. Don’t know beans/Don’t care beans
A way to express that you don’t know anything about it, or don’t care about it at all. Emphatic modifier.
7. Catawamptiously chewed up
Completely defeated. Not just beaten, but thoroughly beat down.
Probably derived from the word “catawampus/cattywampus” which means off-center/ out of alignment. Either one would be super fun to work into a book somehow. #goals
To cheat or otherwise deceive someone. You would say, “he sold me what looked like a good horse but he honeyfuggled me.”
Again, if I ever get a legitimate excuse to use this one it’s going in, no matter what.
9. Wake Snakes
To make a lot of noise, cause a ruckus.
Just guessing that this refers to being so rowdy that even snakes sleeping underground would be woken up by your noise. Plus it sounds clever and rhymes.
A way of saying ‘cursed’, with overtones that the person you’re referring to is mean, contemptible, worth being cursed.
Example; ‘he was a cussed fool’, ‘she flat out refused to go out of pure cussedness’, ‘this is the cussedest place I’ve ever been to’.
Noun. Another word for pants or trousers.
Apparently even mentioning pants was considered rude (because it might remind people there was a penis inside them?) so people said inexpressibles or unmentionables instead. Also the word to refer to underwear, which almost certainly had a penis inside them. Seems confusing to me but people succeeded in getting dressed every day so, OK.
Synonym for a kiss-ass, a sycophant, a toady, a boot-licker, or a suck-up.
There are so many different words for this, it’s obviously been around since there were people. Personally I would like to see this one brought back into common use.
Bonus words: Foozler means a fool or a bungler. Mumbling Cove means a shabby person or, oddly, is specific to meaning a terrible landlord.
Sources for this post:
A Nineteenth Century Slang Dictionary Compiled by Craig Hadley from period sources.
Thrillist.com article from 30 October, 2015, Brutal Insults from the 1800s That Demand a Comeback.
Mentalfloss.com article (6 Nov. 2013) based on the Andrew Forrester book Passing English of the Victorian Era. It’s British specific, and lots of fun.