Select words from “Passing English of the Victorian Era” by J. Redding Ware. London: George Routledge & Sons, Limited.
About and about. Society, 1890 on. Mere chatter, the conversation of fools who talk for sheer talking’s sake. “A more about and about man never could suggest murder.”
Adam and Eve's togs. People’s. Nakedness.
Afternoon calls. Soc., 19th century. Referring to exclusive society who adhere to 15-min. formal visits. “What I saw of her was always at afternoon calls.”
Albertine. Soc., 1860-80. An adroit, calculating, business-like mistress, used in England only by persons of high rank.
All his buttons on. Common life, 1880 on. Sharp, alive, active, not to be deceived. “He is eighty-three years of age but has all his buttons on.”
All very fine and large. London, 1886. Satirical applause. “The attendance at the Alexandra Place was all very fine and large indeed.”
Altogethery. Soc. Drunk.
Apostle of culture. Soc., 1880. An individual who sets up as a perfect judge of taste. “Our self-elected apostle of culture has insisted that such and such colour is not the fashion.”
Ardent. Soc., 1870. Short for ardent spirits. “We were all such in good humour that a number swallowed a little too much of the ardent.”
Aristocratic veins. Theatrical. Blue lines of colour frescoed on the temples or the backs of hands, supposed to be a mark of high, noble birth. “Pass me the smal, girl. I want to put in my veins.”
Auctioneer. People’s. The fist. “Milo the boxer favoured using the auctioneer on Mr. Sayers.”
Away. London thieves’ etiquette. In prison. “My Johnny’s away, bless his heart.”
B.P. Theatrical. British public. “Wilfred--I am sorry to touch any of your lines but the sensitivities of the B.P. must be considered, you know.”
Bad cess to ye. Irish. Ill luck. “Bad cess to you, wherever you go!”
Bad hat. Middle class, 19th cent. A queer chum, dissatisfactory messmate, disreputable person. “What a shocking bad hat!”
Balaclava. 1856-60. A full beard.
Balley, to. Comm. life, Lond. To be off. “I thought it was time to leave so I balleyed.”
Banyan day. Mid. class. No meat, only “bread and cheese and kisses” through twenty four hours. “He’s quite full of himself to go about the town at banyan day, when there isn’t enough cold meat to go around.”
Barber's cat. People’s. A skinny man.
Barney. L. class. A quarrel, row, generally of innocuous character. “Then Selby gets out his knife, swipes at Ross, and the barney’s all over.”
Batty-fang. Low, Lond. To thrash thoroughly.
Beano. People’s. Great rejoicing. “I met some pals and away we went for a beano by the sea.”
Bedder. Oxford. Bedroom.
Been and gone and done it. People’s. Way of saying that the speaker has got married, gone is pronounced gorne. “Marius and Florence St. John have been and gone and done it at last.”
Belt. Anglo-american. To assault. “There comes that mad woman; belt her.”
Benjamin. Maritime, 19th cent. A sailor’s blue jacket. Became general use for a black or dark blue garment made long and fitting to the figure.
Bible class, been to a. Printer’s satire. A gentleman with two black eyes, got in a fight.
Billygoat in Stays. Navy, 1870-85. A term of contempt.
Binned. Lond., 1883. Hanged.
Bit o’ pooh. Workmen’s. Flattery, generally said of courtship, obtained very oddly.
Bits of Grey. Soc., 1880. Elderly victims of both sexes present at balls and marriages to give an air of staid dignity to the chief performers. “No party for me without my bits of grey. They give tone to the whole thing.”
Black Eye. American, political and social. A reverse, especially political. “A black eye for Platt. An Albany jury finally decided that his residence was not in fact in New York.”
Blarney. Irish. Flattery.
Blighter. Theat., 1898. An actor of evil omen. “Jones is a splendid actor, but he’s been in so many failed productions tha he’s considered a blighter. No one will engage him.”
Bloods. Navy. Sailor boys’ title for penny dreadfuls.
Blow. People’s. To boast. “All he asks is a free glass, and he won’t go away and blow how poor the whisky is.”
Blue-jacket. People’s, 19th cent. A sailor.
Blue Roses. Literary. Unattainable. “He was eternally allured by the blue roses of unattainable success.”
Bluff. Californian, 1849 on. To humbug, hector, bully. “I bluffed him for an hour but he wouldn’t have at it for not no price.”
Bobtail. People’s. Name given in the early 19th century to the dandies who wore pointed tailcoats, which must have been very striking.
Bone idle. Scottish. Could not be more so. “I have gone bone idle these four weeks and more, and have been well done to every way.”
Bonse. School. Head. “Look out or I’ll fetch you whack across the bonse.”
Bo-peep. Nursery. Exclamation of fun. “There devil plays at bo-peep, puts out his horns, etc.”
Boss Time. Anglo-amer. Great pleasure, a supreme holiday. “Eve had a boss time last winter hunting deer.”
Bounced. Amer., 1880. Ignominiously ejected. “He felt greatly injured from being bounced from a club.”
Bracelets. Thieves’. Humorous title for handcuffs.
Breakers Ahead. Nautical. Necessary warning of coming danger. “Melita’s career started with ‘breakers ahead’ and ended with brokers on the spot.”
Brief. People’s. Letter or piece of paper with writing.
Brown. Mooney’s, Strand. Twopenny worth of whisk, evasive mode of getting a second drink.
Bubble. Soc., 17th cent. To cheat. “To bubble you out of a sum of money.”
Buck up and take a chilly. Navy. Advice to a man to pull himself together after a hard drink.
Buffy. Comm., Lond. Drunk. “He always goes to bed buffy.”
Build up. Thieves’. To array in good clothes for trade purposes. “Jenning agreed to ‘build up’ Archer with clothes that he might appear respectable.”
Bully-rag. People’s, 19th cent. To scold at length, said of a woman. “Don’t bully-rag me, woman!”
Bunk. People’s. To retreat judiciously. “I shall bunk.”
Business end of a tin tack. Amer. The point. “Persons unaware of the existence of crinoline muslin suppose that such flounces were supported by a balloon, and that the introduction of the business end of a tin tack would cause it to collapse.”
Busted. Amer., 19th cent. Bankrupt. “We’re busted miners, missus. What you give us to eat must be for charity.”
Byblow. Lower class, People’s. An illegitimate child, suggested by an aside breath.
Cake. Lond., 1882. A foolish stupid fellow, used in good society.
Call it 8 bells. Nautical. Early drink, a form of apology for drinking before high noon. “I fancy the bar is this way. Call it 8 bells.”
Candle, to. People’s, 18th cent. To investigate or examine minutely. “Picture an old-fashioned post office, with clerks ‘candling’ the letters as if they were doubtful eggs.”
Can't show yourself to. People’s, 1880. Not equal to. “The picture was good but it can’t show itself to ‘The Golden Prince’.”
Carried. Rhyming. Married, very ominous and searchingly graphic. “He was carried yesterday, poor bloke.”
Cart. People’s, 18th cent. A metaphor for the gallows. “I care not—welcome pillory or cart.”
Cast skin, to. Soc. To rejuvenate. “Why sir, you've cast your skin.”
Catch cocks, to. L. class, Military. To obtain money by false pretenses, such as inventing tales of distress. “Joe, let’s go cock-catching.”
Caulk, caulk. Naval. Go to bed and to sleep, also used for a short sleep. “I’ll caulk it out.”
Chair days. Soc. Old age. “No other man deserved easy ‘chair days’ and the natural euthanasia of old age than he.”
Chapper, to. L. class, Lond. To drink.
Cheese and Crust. L. classes. Exclamation, perversion of Jesus Christ, suggests a slight respect by its veiling of the oath.
Chic. Franco-english, 1865 on. Dash, smartness.
Chirrup, to. Music hall, 1886 on. Applaud, cheer.
Choker. People’s. A lie in its most direct form. “What a choker that was!”
Chuck his weight about, to. Milit. To demonstrate his physical magnificence, said of any soldier showing off. “So he turned up and chucked his weight about all over the blooming place, he did.”
Chuffy. People’s, rare. Surly. “Don’t be chuffy, dear.”
Churchyard cough. People’s. A fatal cold.
Claim. Ang-amer. To recognise in traveling. “Surely I claim you—we met at Suez?”
Clean tuckered out. New Eng. utterly exhausted. “He was clean tuckered out all but his eyes and his bill.”
Clobbered. N. Eng. Province. Well nourished and dressed.
Cod, to. Theatr. To flatter. “Don’t try to cod me.”
Coffee-and-B. Night tavern, 1880. Coffee and brandy. “The barmaid asked him to treat her. He inquired what she would have and she said coffee and ‘b’.”
Cold shake (of the hand). Amer. A new form of cold shoulder or dismissal. “Their star player had married a Quaker and for a month forsook the arena and gave them the ‘cold shake’.”
Collar. Lond. In work. “Joe’s in collar.”
Colt party. Anglo-amer. A soiree of all young people, no elders. “Dear Duchess, the colt party is impossible. The charm of maturity, to say nothing of age, dares everything.”
Come to grief, to. Sporting, 1880. A riding man’s term for a smash or spill, gradually accepted to depict failure. “He tried playing Hamlet, but to the surprise of his family, he came to distinct grief.”
Cop on the cross, to. Thieves’. To discover guilt by cunning. “A good way of copping him on the cross is to pretend to go off in the country for a day or two, and come down on him in the middle of the night.”
Corner boys. Dublin. Loafers who generally affect street corners. “There were a few corner boys present in the neighborhood of the prison, and there was no demonstration of any kind.”
Coster. Low life. Short for costermonger, a great being in low life, a sort of prince, who makes money but saves nothing, who is ready to fight and possesses a handsome girl.
Course-keeper. Winchester school. A bully’s bully.
Crack the bell. People’s. To produce failure by speech or action, to reveal a secret unintentionally, to muddle.
Crib. Street, 1800-40. To conquer with the fists fairly.