Monday, June 10, 2013

A little colorful language: Weddings and Marriage

by Maria Grace 

Since June is the month for weddings, I thought it might be interesting to share a little Regency color with some slang expressions related to marriage, weddings, husbands and wives.

The Wedding

LEAPING OVER THE SWORD. An ancient ceremonial said to constitute a military marriage. A sword being laid down on the ground, the parties to be married joined hands, when the corporal or serjeant of the, company repeated these words: Leap rogue, and jump whore, And then you are married for evermore. Whereupon the happy couple jumped hand in hand over the sword, the drum beating a ruffle; and the parties were ever after considered as man and wife.


MARRIAGE MUSIC. The squalling and crying of children.
NOOZED. Married, hanged.
SMITHFIELD BARGAIN. A bargain whereby the purchaser is taken in. This is likewise frequently used to express matches or marriages contracted solely on the score of interest, on one or both sides, where the fair sex are bought and sold like cattle in Smithfield.
SPLICED. Married: an allusion to joining two ropes ends by splicing.
TO RIDE IN ANY ONE'S OLD BOOTS; to marry or keep his cast-off mistress.


CAT'S FOOT. To live under the cat's foot; to be under the dominion of a wife henpecked.
CURTAIN LECTURE. A woman who scolds her husband when in bed, is said to read him a curtain lecture.
DEVIL'S DAUGHTER. It is said of one who has a termagant for his wife, that he has married the Devil's daughter, and lives with the old folks.
DISTRACTED DIVISION. Husband and wife fighting.
DIVIDE. To divide the house with one's wife; to give her the outside, and to keep all the inside to one's self, i.e. to turn her into the street.
FREEHOLDER. He whose wife accompanies him to the alehouse.
FRIGATE: the latter a sea phrase, originally applied to a ship, the captain of which had his wife on board, supposed to command him.
THE GREY MARE IS THE BETTER HORSE; said of a woman who governs her husband.
HAND BASKET PORTION. A woman whose husband receives frequent presents from her father, or family, is said to have a hand-basket portion.
HEN HOUSE. A house where the woman rules;
HENPECKED. A husband governed by his wife, is said to be henpecked.
HONEST WOMAN. To marry a woman with whom one has cohabitated as a mistress, is termed, making an honest woman of her.
TO JOIN GIBLETS; said of a man and woman who cohabit as husband and wife, without being married; also to copulate.
LEFT-HANDED WIFE. A concubine; an allusion to an ancient German custom, according to which, when a man married his concubine, or a woman greatly his inferior, he gave her his left hand.
PETTICOAT HOLD. One who has an estate during his wife's life, called the apron-string hold.
QUEEN STREET. A man governed by his wife, is said to live in Queen street, or at the sign of the Queen's Head.
RIB. A wife. A crooked rib, a unfaithful wife.
SHE HOUSE. A house where the wife rules, or, as the term is, wears the breeches.
TENANT AT WILL. One whose wife usually fetches him from the alehouse.
TENANT FOR LIFE. A married man; i.e. possessed of a woman for life.
WHITE SERGEANT. A man fetched from the tavern or ale-house by his wife, is said to be arrested by the white sergeant.
WHITHER-GO-YE. A wife, wives being sometimes apt to question their husbands whither they are going.
WIFE IN WATER COLOURS. A mistress, or concubine; water colours being, like their engagements, easily effaced, or dissolved.

CUCKOLD. The husband of an unfaithful wife
COLT'S TOOTH. An old fellow who marries or keeps a young girl, is said to have a colt's tooth in his head.
HE IS GONE TO VISIT HIS UNCLE; saying of one who leaves his wife soon after marriage.
HE HAS  MADE A NAPKIN OF HIS DISHCLOUT; a saying of one who has married his cook maid.
HORN MAD. A person extremely jealous of his wife, is said to be horn mad.
OX HOUSE. He must go through the ox house to bed; a saying of an old fellow who marries a young girl.
SHE COMBED HIS HEAD WITH A JOINT STOOL; she threw a stool at him.
TO COMB ONE'S HEAD; to clapperclaw, or scold any one: a woman who lectures her husband, is said to comb his head.

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

Maria Grace is the author of Darcy's Decision,  The Future Mrs. Darcy and All the Appearance of GoodnessClick 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, follow on Twitter or email her.


  1. That was fascinating!! All these years, and I never knew I was a lawful blanket!

    Thanks for a really interesting and entertaining read, Maria Grace.

  2. I have recently downloaded the Grose book from Project Gutenberg

  3. I enjoyed reading that most was funny. Thats for brighting my day

  4. Wonderful post, Maria! I'm saving it! Thanks so much for doing this.

  5. Very curious as to how some of these terms originated. I cannot guess why "ox house" means what it does. Will we see some of these unusual terms in one of your future stories? XD

    Thanks for the post!


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