Jacey's Reviews > 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Francis Grose
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's review
Mar 11, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: non-fiction

I downloaded this for research into the period for the magic pirate novel and ended up reading if from beginning to end rather than dipping in. If you know the terms you can look up their meaning. As most dictionaries, it's in alphabetical order, however it doesn't work backwards. To someone looking back from the distance of 200 years the terms are mind-boggling and often hilarious, occasionally, jaw-droppingly literal. ('WINDWARD PASSAGE. One who uses or navigates the windward passage; a sodomite.')

It's a brilliant contemporary insight into the period being a mixture of low slang, thieves cant and 'Buckish' slang by which it seems that Regency Bucks felt they could talk about lewd subjects in front of their mothers, sisters and sweethearts without giving away their meaning. I'm pretty sure most mothers, sisters and sweethearts were wise to what was happening, of course, though they may not have followed everything, and perhaps that's just as well.

There are terms for things I never expected (or wished) to see terms for:
DILBERRIES. Small pieces of excrement adhering to the hairs near the fundament
THOROUGH COUGH. Coughing and breaking wind backwards at the same time
DUMB WATCH. A venereal bubo in the groin

And there are explanations which reveal a lot about the obscure origins of phrases still in use:
THINGUMBOB. Mr. Thingumbob; a vulgar address or nomination to any person whose name is unknown, the same as Mr. What-d'ye-cal'em. Thingumbobs; testicles.
METTLE. The semen. To fetch mettle; the act of self pollution. Mettle is also figuratively used for courage.
DAM. A small Indian coin, mentioned in the Gentoo code of laws: hence etymologists may, if they please, derive the common expression, I do not care a dam, i.e. I do not care half a farthing for it.

It's not so much that some of the terms surprise me in themselves... it's just that I'm surprised there are terms for some of the things. And some of the explanations are funnier than the terms themselves. Some are just plain euwww... and others are an education. Many are bodily functional or specifically thieves' cant. Some are still in use, though with altered or mangled meanings. All in all this excellent – if quirky – dictionary gave me some great words and phrases to use in the novel, plus some to steer well clear of. Thanks Captain Grose.
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