Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Loud "Huzzah" to Captain Frances Grose

From My Reference Shelves . . .

. . . comes an interesting little book ~~

1811 Dictionary of The Vulgar Tongue
with a Foreword by Robert Cromie

If you read literature written in the 1700s to early 1800s, or historical fiction that has been set during this time period, you are probably familiar with many of the colorful expressions used then, the "cant" and slang of the day. Or if you are a writer of historical fiction set during the Georgian or Regency periods of England, you may have an author's interest in the expressions in use during that time. I have such an interest, and that is how I came upon this little gem of a book.

My copy is a 1971 edition and is unabridged from the original 1811 edition with a foreword by Robert Cromie of the Chicago Tribune. The inside title page announces rather grandly, "1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. A Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit, and Pickpocket Eloquence."

The original "Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue" was put together by Frances Grose, an 18th century antiquarian, back in 1785, and was titled "A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue." And, by the way, the word "vulgar", as it is used here, is in its original definition of meaning "commonplace, ordinary" or in "common or ordinary usage." Yes, some of the expressions and words in this dictionary were meant to be crude when they were used, but most are simply the slang of the day.

The foreword by Cromie is as much fun to read as the dictionary itself. The blurb on the back of the book describes it as "An entertaining insight into the slang, wit and humor of late 18th and early 19th century England, when a 'Flaybottomist' was a school teacher, a 'Carrion Hunter' an undertaker, and a 'Buttock Broker' a matchmaker. Many words had different meanings then -- 'High Living' meant 'to lodge in a garret or cockloft,' a 'Faggot' was a stand-in soldier and, with special apologies to today's feminists, 'To Lib' meant 'to lie together.' And, believe it or not, a 'Pig' was a policeman."

I wanted to pick out a few good ones to write about here, but it is just so hard to pick only a few. And actually I believe it would be better if I wrote about actual words or expressions culled from this book in my "usage" blog, I Stand Corrected, don't you think? So I'm going to mirror this entry over there or at least link to it, and I know this book will provide much good fodder for posts at that blog.

If you should ever have the opportunity to read this book, or any of the editions of this book, do so. As Cromie says, ". . . it is great fun to read through, or browse in, this gathering of words . . . . They will delight and instruct you, shock and intrigue you, titillate and anger you, but they will never bore you."


Beth said...

Sounds like a lot of fun! Off to ISC!

Yasmin said...

I see the Faggots well in the UK Faggot are a traditional dish from the Midlands, which is a mixture of Heart Liver Belly Pork Bacon, flavoured with herbs and are a kind of meatball.


DB said...

Great fun indeed. I'm reminded that in my acting days I frequently had to uncover the real meanings of words used by classical playwrights. "Utis" for example which appears only once in all of Shaekspear's plays. A "faggot" also refers to a stick of wood and thus for the bassoon, the musical intsrument that looks like a stick . DB Cassie) said...

I think that would be fun to see how people spoke when provoked years ago.