Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A LIttle Colorful Language--Soldiers

By Maria Grace

I am captivated by language and how it relates to a culture. With three teen aged sons living at home I get to hear a lot of the slang they encounter.  I never cease to be fascinated by the terms that come up, and how often I haven't a clue what they are referring to. Since every era has its own unique slang, I thought it would be interesting to share some Regency era slang from time to time.  Today's offering relates to soldiers.

Francis Grose, author of Dictionary of he Vulgar Tongue
Regency slang terms for soldiers:
  • Bad bargain: a worthless soldier. Usage: One of his majesty's bad bargains
  • Bloody Back: A jeering name for a soldier, for his scarlet coat.
  • Brothers of the blade: A soldier
  • Fogey or Old Fogey: A nickname for an invalid soldier.
  • Galloot: a Soldier
  • Foot wabbler: A contemptuous name for a foot soldier, commonly used by the cavalry.
  • Light bob: A soldier of the light infantry company.
  • Lobster: A nickname for a soldier, from the color of his clothes.
  • Parish soldier: A militiaman, from substitutes being frequently hired by the parish for those who do not wish to serve.
  • Rag Carrier: an ensign
  • Skulker: A soldier who by feigned sickness evades his duty; a sailor who keeps below in time of danger
  • Sons of Mars: soldiers
  • Swad or Swadkin: A soldier.
Interesting terms related to the military:  
  • Act of parliament: A military term for five pints of beer. 
    • An act of parliament had formally obliged a landlord was formerly to give to each soldier this amount free.  
  • Black Guard: A shabby, mean fellow; 
    • derived from a number of dirty, tattered roguish boys, who attended at the Horse Guards and Parade in St. James's Park, to black the boots and shoes of the soldiers, or to do any other dirty offices.    
  • Blue plumb: A bullet. 
    • Usage: Surfeited with a blue plumb—wounded with a bullet. Assortment of George R—'s blue plumbs—a volley of bullets shot from soldiers' firelocks.    
  • Brown Bess: A soldier's firelock.    
  • Camp candlestick: A bottle, or soldier's bayonet.    
  • Halbert: A weapon carried by an infantry sergeant.    
  • He carries the halbert in his face: a saying of one promoted from a sergeant to a commission officer.    
  • Lumber: Live lumber; soldiers or passengers on board a ship are so called by the sailors.    
  • Messmate: A soldier who eats at the same mess, companion or comrade.    
  • Nightingale: A soldier who sings (cries) out at the halberts. 
    • -It is a point of honour in some regiments never to cry out under the discipline of the cat of nine tails; to avoid which, they chew a bullet. 
  • Rag fair: An inspection of the linen and necessaries of a company of soldiers, commonly made by their officers on Mondays or Saturdays.    
  • Sank, Sanky, Centipees: A tailor employed by clothiers in making soldier's clothing.    
  • To be brought to the halberts: to be flogged 
    •  -soldiers of the infantry, when flogged, being commonly tied to three halberts, set up in a triangle, with a fourth fastened across them.    
  • To boil one's lobster— for a churchman to become a soldier: lobsters, which are of a bluish black, being made red by boiling.    
  • To get a halbert: to be appointed a sergeant.    
  • To hug brown Bess: to carry a firelock, or serve as a private soldier.   
  • Smart money: Money allowed to soldiers or sailors for the loss of a limb, or other hurt received in the service.   
  • Soldier's mawnd: A pretended soldier, begging with a counterfeit wound, which he claims to have received at some famous siege or battle.    
  • Tattoo: A beat of the drum, of signal for soldiers to go to their quarters and for ale to stop being served.   

Finally, in the category of not exactly slang but still pretty interesting:    
Cold burning: A punishment inflicted by private soldiers on their comrades for trifling offenses, or breach of their mess laws; it is administered in the following manner: The prisoner is set against the wall, with the arm that is to be burned tied as high above his head as possible. The executioner then ascends a stool, and having a bottle of cold water, pours it slowly down the sleeve of the delinquent, patting him, and leading the water gently down his body, till it runs out at his breeches knees: this is repeated to the other arm, if he is sentenced to be burned in both.    

Quoted from:   Grose, Captain (Francis). (2004) Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1811 ed. Ikon Classics

Maria Grace is the author of Darcy's Decision and The Future Mrs. Darcy. Click here to find her books on Amazon. For more on her writing and other Random Bits of Fascination, visit her website. You can also like her on Facebook, 
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  1. lots of interesting stuff here - thank you! Have shared and tweeted

  2. I often wondered where "blackguard" came from (pronounced "blaggerd" by the way). Thanks. And "bad bargain" is also used of cheap and useless horses.

  3. Some was familiar, but many terms were not. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Interesting post - shared!

  5. Another great post. I love my Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. Tweeted.


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