1811 – Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue – Letters A & B

On April 1, 2013 by Tim Newman

Captain Francis Grose

The Dictionary Of The Vulgar Tongue was written in 1811 by Captain Francis Grose. He endeavored to capture all of the common expressions of the day, used by the lower echelons of society. Vulgar in this sense means ‘common’ so they aren’t all super rude (although some are a bit racey), they’re just slang terms of the day and some of them are frikkin’ brilliant and should be exhumed to live and breathe again. I have taken it upon myself to read the whole book and put up my favourite entries. So here’s the A’s.

ADDLE PLOT: A spoil-sport, a mar-all.” – this could easily slip back in to usage. I quite like ‘mar-all’ too.

“ADMIRAL OF THE NARROW SEAS: One who from drunkenness vomits into the lap of the person sitting opposite to him. SEA PHRASE.” – that’s not going to get used quite as often but it is still worth keeping mind.

“ALL-A-MORT: Struck dumb, confounded. What, sweet one, all-a-mort? SHAKESPEARE.”

“ALTITUDES: The man is in his altitudes, i.e. he is drunk.”

“ARBOR VITAE: A man’s penis.” – Branch of life…… clever

“ATHANASIAN WENCH, or QUICUNQUE VULT: A forward girl, ready to oblige every man that shall ask her.”I don’t fully understand that one, but apparently The Athanasian Creed, or Quicunque Vult was the first Christian statement of belief where each part of the trinity was declared equal in power.

“BACK GAMMON PLAYER: A sodomite.” – simple but effective!

“BAG OF NAILS: He squints like a bag of nails; i. e. his eyes are directed as many ways as the points of a bag of nails. The old BAG OF NAILS at Pimlico; originally the BACCHANALS.”

“BANGING: Great; a fine banging boy.” – I was surprised that this was an old term, I thought that that use of ‘banging’ had entered our vernacular during the advent of the house DJ. i.e. a banging tune. I was wrong wasn’t it.

“BARBER’S CHAIR: She is as common as a barber’s chair, in which a whole parish sit to be trimmed; said of a prostitute.”

“BARKING IRONS: Pistols, from their explosion resembling the bow-wow or barking of a dog. IRISH.”

“BARN: A parson’s barn; never so full but there is still room, for more. Bit by a barn mouse, tipsey, probably from an allusion to barley.” – I think I might start saying that about my drunken friends… “oops, looks like he’s been bitten by the barn mouse!” Yeah that works.

“BATTLE-ROYAL: A battle or bout at cudgels or fisty-cuffs, wherein more than two persons are engaged: perhaps from its resemblance, in that particular, to more serious engagements fought to settle royal disputes.” – that’s another phrase I thought was more modern

“BAWBELS, or BAWBLES: Trinkets; a man’s testicles.”

“BEARD SPLITTER: A man much given to wenching.” – I’d never seen wenching written as a verb before.

“BEAU TRAP: A loose stone in a pavement, under which water lodges, and on being trod upon, squirts it up, to the great damage of white stockings; also a sharper neatly dressed, lying in wait for raw country squires, or ignorant fops.” – It still happens today.

“BEDIZENED: Dressed out, over-dressed, or awkwardly ornamented.” – I reckon it’s the olden day equivalent of bling.

“BETWATTLED: Surprised, confounded, out of one’s senses; also bewrayed.” – in case you were wondering, ‘bewrayed’ is an old term for betrayed apparently.

“BITCH BOOBY: A country wench. Military term.”

“BITER: A wench whose c**t is ready to bite her a*se; a lascivious, rampant wench.”

“BOB STAY: A rope which holds the bowsprit to the stem or cutwater. Figuratively, the frenum of a man’s yard.” – modern day banjo string I guess?

“TO BOX THE JESUIT, AND GET COCK ROACHES: A sea term for masturbation; a crime, it is said, much practised by the reverend fathers of that society.”

“BUCKINGER’S BOOT. The monosyllable. Matthew Buckinger was born without hands and legs; notwithstanding which he drew coats of arms very neatly, and could write the Lord’s Prayer within the compass of a shilling; he was married to a tall handsome woman, and traversed the country, shewing himself for money.” – This one is interesting, Matthias (or Matthew) Buckinger was a disabled chap with fins for hands as mentioned, but managed to be an awesome drawer and make quite a bit of cash by travelling around and showing off. The Buckinger’s boot thing comes from the fact that his manhood was his only ‘limb’. He had four wives and fourteen children from eight women. He was also rumoured to have had as many as seventy mistresses. Here’s a self portrait, quite incredible, the next picture shows the detail of the Lord’s prayer written in his hair. Amazing:

Matthew Buchinger

Matthew Buchinger - self portrait detail

“BUFFLE-HEADED: Confused, stupid.”

“BUM FODDER: Soft paper for the necessary house or torchecul.” – The ‘necessary house’ being the toilet of course. Torchecul is another old word for bog roll which seems a bit grand of a term for bum fodder.

“BUSHEL BUBBY: A full breasted woman.”

“BUTCHER’S DOG: To be like a butcher’s dog, i.e. lie by the beef without touching it; a simile often applicable to married men.”

“BUTTERED BUN: One lying with a woman that has just lain with another man, is said to have a buttered bun.”

“BUTTON: A bad shilling, among coiners. His arse makes buttons; he is ready to bewray himself through fear.”

So next time one of your mates looks worried, tell him his arse is making buttons and that he is going to need some bum fodder. That should get him all betwattled. Stay tuned for the C section next time yeah…..

If you enjoyed those turns of phrase you can continue your historical meanderings with the next installments:









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