Next Lakeland Writer’s Meeting will be May 14, June 11, and August 20.
(Enjoy July…to plan, to dream, to write)
On May 14, we will have a special guest. Evelyn Rainey will share her journey from teacher, to published author, to literary agent and provide some interesting insight to the passion of writing. Read more about Evelyn at evelyn-rainey.com. Guests are welcome!
Check out the sidebar to the right for time and place —– >
One of the most delightful things about the English language is that it is constantly in flux, perpetually evolving. Certain words and expressions become fashionable and trendy- then are abandoned years later.
Here’s Some Fun from Victorian Sayings
Slang is an essential part of this cycle and anyone of a certain age appreciates that slang used in the U.K. these days is often completely different from our school days.
Arguably the greatest period in modern English is the Victorian one. In the mid nineteenth century, language in London was deliciously colorful and dozens of words and phrases were added to the lexicon- most of which have long been forgotten.
Of course, many of these expressions shall live on forever, as they season the works of Dickens, who had a connoisseur’s flair for capturing and utilizing words and phrases. Even hearing the name of a Dickens character generally gave vast insight to their personality. Words, after all, are exceptionally powerful tools.
Here is a list of 20 of my favorite curious words and sayings from the Victorian age:
This word perpetually makes me smile, so when I think of it, I become it. For aGigglemug is someone who is perpetually smiling and appearing contented. Admit it- you smiled as you read the word yourself.
A word that is still in modern dictionaries that means getting rowdy, loud and boisterous in the streets
3. COLLIE SHANGLES
Quarrels/minor arguments. A term from Queen Victoria’s journal, More Leaves, published in 1884: “At five minutes to eleven rode off with Beatrice, good Sharp going with us, and having occasional collie shangles (a Scottish word for quarrels or rows, but taken from fights between dogs) with collies when we came near cottages.”
4. NANTY NARKING
A public house term, popular from 1800 to 1840, that meant highly enjoyable and fun. Many terms evolved around drinking during this period.
5. RAIN NAPPER
This is an early nickname for an umbrella, invented, as we know it today, in 1869, and an item that was essential then as it is now. These days most affectionately refer to it as a ‘brolly.’
Quite a mouthful – it means secretive, shady or doubtful.
7. SMOTHERING A PARROT
Absinthe was all the rage in certain artistic circles of the day (and is making a comeback again.) It is bright green liquor renowned for its hallucinatory properties and high alcohol content. Smothering a Parrot means to drink it neat.
8. BAGS O’ MYSTERY
An 1850 term for sausages. There used to be no regulatory control over sausage production, and a vast variety of unsavory items were often added during Victorian times, left over scraps of meat and even sawdust regularly filled the linings, so this very apt phrase came into being. These days sausage contents are monitored but rusk is still routinely added as filler.
Workhouse gruel, or thin soup and sometimes called skilligolee. Not very nutritious and generally made with scraps, it was what Oliver Twist exceedingly politely requested more of.
10. BUBBLE AROUND
A verbal attack generally made via the press. A means of dishonoring somebody through lowering public opinion about them.
Daddles is a delightful way to refer to your hands or fist. Robert Louis Stevenson frequently used it.
This term describes a person with a “wilful determination to ignore the objectionable or inconvenient, at the same time assuming airs of superior virtue and noble resignation.” Dickens frequently used this now seemingly forgotten term.
13. SHAKE A FLANNIN
This is one of the many phrases for having a fist-fight. Flannel shirts were a common amongst the working class.
A polite name for a handkerchief, typically silk.
This words sounds like precisely what it is. It refers to a violent criminal who is apt to use a bludgeon as a weapon.
This was a Victorian expression for cheating at cards. Gambling was a common pastime then, as it is now.
17. CHAUNTING LAY
This was the term for groups of performers on the streets singing in the hopes of making money from passerbys.
Times were hard for many during the Victorian times. Debtor’s prisons became a huge industry, and people were imprisoned for the most modest of debts. As a result, pawnshops became extremely popular. The lower end, unlicensed of these businesses were given the name Dollyshops and were distinguished by the sign of a black doll. Lower end because they were less discerning about the items they accepted – things like very old junk and even rags.
19. FINE WIRER
Pickpocketing was rife during these times, and it still occurs in London today. In Victorian times, pickpockets were called Fine Wirer or Snatch, and a highly skilled pickpocket was referred to as a Flimp.
20. NEWGATE KNOCKERS
Facial hair was very much the rage for gentleman during Victorian times in Britain. Elaborate moustaches, beards and sideburns were all the rage. Each style had a colorful name- Newgate Knockers were heavily greased whiskers curling back to, or over, the ears. Quite the fashion statement!
So there you have a sampling of some of my favorites. Please comment sharing some of yours!
Paul Gifford is an English born full time writer who has called California home for many years. He writes under the name P.S. Gifford. He has had several dozen stories published in print and on-line magazine, been included in anthologies and has several collections of his works available at all good on-line book sellers. You can find his website here.