Friday, March 23, 2012

Victorian London slang from 1850s & 1870s

 - Words and Expressions - slang from 1850s & 1870s

SLANG WORDS AND PHRASES - A lecture recently delivered in Carlisle by the Rev. A. Munsell contained the following amusing and instructive passage:- The point to which I have next to direct attention is manliness in speech. There are many young men who seem to consider it essential to manliness that they should be masters of slang. 

The sporting world, like its brother, the swell mob, has a language of its own; but this dog-English extends far beyond the sporting world. It comes with its hordes of barbarous words, threatening the entire extinction of genuine English. Now, just listen for a moment to our fast young man, or the ape of a fast young man, who thinks that to be a man he must speak in the dark phraseology of slang. If he does anything on his own responsibility he does it on his own "hook." If he sees anything remarkably good, he calls it a "stunner," the superlative of  which is a "regular stunner." If a man is requested to pay a tavern bill he is asked if he will "stand Sam."

 If he meets a savage-looking dog he calls him an "ugly customer." If he meets an eccentric man, he calls him a "rummy old cove." A sensible man is a "chap that is up to snuff." Our young friend never scolds, but "blows up," never pays but "stumps up;" never finds it difficult to pay but is "hard up ;" never feels fatigued but is "used up." He has no hat but shelters his head beneath a "tile." He wears no neckcloth, but surrounds his throat with a "choker."

 He lives nowhere, but there is some place where he "hangs out." He never goes away or withdraws, but he "bolts" - he "slopes" - he "mizzles" - he "makes himself scarce" - he "walks his chalks" - he "makes tracks" - he "cuts his stick" - or, what is the same thing, he "cuts his lucky." The highest compliment you can pay him is to tell him that he is a "regular brick." He does not profess to be brave, but he prides himself on being "plucky." Money is a word which he has forgotten, but he talks a good deal about "tin" and "the needful," "the rhino," and the "ready." 

When a man speaks he "spouts" - when he holds his peace, he "shuts up;" when he is humiliated, he is "taken down a peg or two," and "made to sing small." Now, a good deal of this slang is harmless; many of the terms are, I think, very expressive; yet there is much in slang that is objectionable. For example, as Archdeacon Hare observes in one of his sermons, the word "governor" as applied to a father, is to be reprehended. I have hear a young man call his father the "relieving officer." Does it not betray on the part of the young men great ignorance of the paternal and filial relationships, or great contempt for them? 

Their father is to such young men merely a governor - merely the representative of authority. Innocently enough the expression is used by thousands of young men who venerate and love their parents; but only think of it, and I am sure you will admit that it is a cold, heartless word when thus aplpied, and one that ought forthwith to be abandoned.

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