Monday, November 14, 2011

So Much To Say

by Tess St. John

While doing research for my first historical romance, I wanted to use words and phrases from the Regency period. I was astounded at how the sayings I found revealed so much about what was happening in England at that time. The social classes were distinctly defined and for the rich, excesses awaited at every corner. And for the poor, there wasn’t much hope.

I couldn’t believe how many sayings there were for being drunk.

A trifle disguised – slightly drunk
Ape drunk – very drunk
Be with malt above water – be drunk
Bosky – drunk
Dipping rather deep – drinking quite heavily
Drunk as a wheelbarrow – very drunk
Eaten Hull cheese – drunk
Elbow-crooker - drinker
Foxed – drunk
Half-sprung - tipsy
Jug-Bitten – drunk
Making indentures – drinking
On the cut – On a drinking binge
Properly shot in the neck – drunk
Tap-hackled – drunk
Top-heavy – drunk

Even gin had many delineations. Blue ruin, Flash of lightning, Old Tom, and Stark Naked (did they mean you’d be stark naked after you drank the gin?)

I couldn't believe all the different terms used for money, or lack thereof.

Bleed very freely – gives money
Blunt – money
Cleaned out – has no money
Cucumberish – to have no money
Damned low water with me – have no money, be in debt
Dibs not in tune – to be in a poor financial state
Drawing the bustie too freely – spending too much money
Dun territory – debt
Fairly flush in the pockets – quite rich
Find oneself on the rocks – to have no money, be in debt
Find self at a stand – have no money
Fly a kite – raise money
Full of juice – very rich
Gingerbread – money
Hang on someone’s sleeve – to be supported financially
Haven’t a sixpence to scratch with – have no money
In quite deep – in debt
Never a feather to fly with – to have no money
Pockets to let – has no money
Rolled-up – to have no money
Run quite off one’s legs – have no money
Swimming in lard – very rich
Try to break someone’s shins – borrow money
Well-inlaid – rich
Windmill dwindled to a nutshell – to lose one’s money

If you’ll notice, there are a ton more words for lack of money than abundance…very telling.

And last, but not least, are the terms for women. And what a glimpse this gives us for what was going on at the time.

Barque of frailty – woman of easy virtue
Bird of Paradise – woman of easy virtue
Bit of muslin – woman of easy virtue
Bluestocking – academic female
Convenients – women of easy virtue
Cythereans – mistresses
Haymarket ware – low class prostitutes
Incognitas – higher class prostitutes
Lady-bird – woman of easy virtue
Light o’ love – mistress
Light-skirts – women of easy virtue
Paphians – women of easy virtue
Peculiar – woman of easy virtue
Prime articles – women of easy virtue
Started in the petticoat line – associating with women of easy virtue
Tempting armful – attractive female
Trollops – women of easy virtue
Wanton – woman of easy virtue

I’m not sure about you, but to me, there are a lot of words and phrases for women of easy virtue!

I want to finish with just a couple that made me laugh out loud!

Civil whiskers – polite small talk
Cut up my peace – disturb me (I think I’m going to start using this one)
Fit of the blue-devils – depressed
In the suds – to be in trouble (I love this one…can’t you just see someone surrounded by suds and sinking into them)
Not a mean bit yet – still attractive (I totally don’t get this one, but love it)
Not give a tinker’s damn – not care (I used this one in my book Second Chances)
Pudding house – stomach (I have to wonder if this was only for women)
Riveted – married
Screw – not a very good horse (btw, there were a bunch of phrases about horses)
Shine everyone else down – be the most attractive
Tie one’s garter in public - do something extremely shocking (Oh my)

Do you know any others?

You can find these and many more saying at

Thanks for stopping by!

To learn more about Tess St. John and her books please visit


  1. Thanks to Tess St. John, author of the Regency Romance era "Chances" series, for sharing these great Regency Romance era terms. You might also find my Regency Era Thieves and Sporting Slang dictionary over at an interesting resource, as well.

  2. Thanks, Tess! Loved your article! Regency slang is so much fun.

  3. Thanks for putting your website up there too, Teresa!! Great stuff!

  4. Thanks, Lauren, I think so too! Love finding those gems to filter through my writing!

  5. I agree. I love Regency terms. GH had a young boy referring to his pudding-box.

    I recently had reason to use:

    roll of soft: money in bills.
    flimseys: same as above
    fart catcher: a footman who follows is mistress
    black box: lawyer
    and all honey moon: kissing as well as a couple of the ones you mentioned.

  6. I love looking through these lists and finding new phrases to add to my writing.

  7. Hi tess,

    Today, I just used 'in the suds' in a chapter of one of my stories. Nice to see you have that down and I'm not wrong! Great post.

  8. These are great, Tess! Thanks for sharing. I'll be laughing over some of them all day! :)"Not give a tinker’s damn" too funny!

  9. LMAO!! These are great Tessy and I might have to steal a few of these myself. Lol. Wow, it does tell a lot about the times. I wonder what the comparison would be to present day and even more recent history?

    Amazing there's a list. How fun and entertaining!

  10. Ella...I love the ones you've posted, I'm going to add them to my list!!!

  11. Thanks, Ashlyn...can't wait for your first book to come out!!!!

  12. Ohhh, Kathleen, can't wait to see why you used do have a way of putting your characters in the suds often!

  13. Thanks, Melissa!!! That should be our motto for this Monday!

  14. Steal away, Karen!!!! Thanks for stopping by!

  15. Great list! There are some on here I wasn't aware of. :-) I'm going to print this out and bookmark Teresa's link. Great resources!

    Thanks, Tess!

  16. Thanks for stopping by, Jenn!!!!

  17. I love Regency Cant and found Georgette Heyer the queen of using it in just the right amounts. I always laughed at the phrases for saying someone was crazy like 'all about in the head', 'rats in the garret', 'dicked in the nob', or 'a place at Bedlam'.

    Thanks for sharing!

  18. A whole new vocabulary! Thanks, Tess..:)

  19. Oh 'rats in the garret'. I did use 'dicked in the nob' on my first you know I love that one!

  20. William, I'm sure you can use one or two in those thrillers of yours!!! LOL.

  21. Wonderful terms! I've always been interested in the authentic ones one can't use because they sound too modern, like "Down in the dumps," in the 18th century play "The Politician Outwitted." (Do you produce the play as is or do you cut that line?)

  22. Really enjoyed reading all the phrases along with the link to others. English is such a colorful and creative language.

  23. Great list of phrases. I have a couple of books of historical slang, and certainly sex, booze and money seem to be the biggest sections.

    A handful of these have still been in use recently, if not now - "cleaned out" (especially if you've lost your money gambling), "bluestocking" (old-fashioned, but sometimes used), "not give a tinker's damn". And the "blue devils" is the origin of "having the blues".

  24. Very interesting, Katherine.

  25. Thanks, Robin...yes, very colorful!

  26. Nyki...thanks so much for stopping by!

  27. What a fun blog!! I was laughing at some of them. And I laughed at Ella's as well. lol


  28. Glad you got a laugh, Marie!!! Thanks for stopping by!

  29. I thoroughly enjoyed this, Tess. Sorry I was so late to mention it. I have it bookmarked, though!

  30. LOVED this, Tess! Shared on FB too, hope you don't mind. I studied SocioLinguistics in college, and love all this slang usage.


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