Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Vulgar Tongue - a dictionary of slang by Francis Grose

by Jenna Dawlish

In 1785, Francis Grose published his dictionary of slang in Britain. It was the first of it's kind and contains a wonderful array of slang terms used back then.  It shows a colourful and expressive time, and not only gives us a snapshot of language, it also helps us see how many words are still used to this day (in the UK at least):

Words/terms like:  cat call, chubby, cockney, cow juice, cupboard love, dram, easy virtue, old fogey, hanker, peepers, paunch, riff raff, sick as a horse and slouch.

The full book is available free online here, it's outside copyright. You can also buy paperback versions.
Below are a few of the entries I liked to give you a taste but why not have a look at the full dictionary and see what you like:

ACCOUNTS: to cast up ones accounts - to vomit.

ACT OF PARLIAMENT: A military term for small beer, five pints of which, by an act of parliament, a landlord was formerly obliged to give to each soldier.

APPLE DUMPLING SHOP: A woman's bosom

BUCK FITCH: A lecherous old fellow

BUGABOO: A scare-babe, or bully-beggar

CAMBRIDGE FORTUNE: a woman without any but personal endowments

CAPTAIN QUEERNABS: a shabby, ill-dressed fellow


DOCK: to lie to a woman

DUB O' TH' HICK: A lick on the head

FAT CULL: A rich fellow


GREEN SICKNESS: The disease of maids occasioned by celibacy

JACK TAR: A sailor

MOON MEN: Gypsies

NUNNERY: A bawdy house

PEPPERED: Infected with the venereal disease

PIMP WHISKIN: A top trader in pimping

REP: A woman of reputation

SCALY FISH: A honest, rough, blunt sailor

TO TROLL: To loiter or saunter about

TURNPIKE MAN: A parson, because the clergy collect their tolls at the entrance into and exit from life.

USED UP: Killed: a military saying, originating from a message sent by the late General Guise on the expedition at Car-thagena, where he desired the commander in chief to order him some more grenadiers for those he had were all used up.



  1. Fascinating! Thanks for the link, I have wn landed th book, which I am sure will come in handy as a reference! :)

  2. How interesting! I use 'trolling around' even now...

  3. I can't believe they have a phrase for this - how often were people vomiting in each other's laps?!

    ADMIRAL OF THE NARROW SEAS. One who from drunkenness
    vomits into the lap of the person sitting opposite to
    him. SEA PHRASE.


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