Kate Allan

The online diary of Kate Allan, author

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1811

Online is the Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (Or A Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit, And Pickpocket Eloquence). Published in 1811, it looks a great resource BUT be warned that there' s a history of this type of publication, from Robert Greene's 1592 pamphlets which claimed to reveal the life and cant of rogues in the lower orders - the so-called 'connie-catchers' (con merchants).

The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue is of course supposed to be a humorous pastiche (Read the preface and consider that kind of thing is still being published today e.g. Chav! A User's Guide to Britain's New Ruling Class.)

However, much of the slang it contains is genuine. Cross-reference to be sure. And ignore any entries marked 'cant'. They've been lifted from previous work of this type, originally dating back to Robert Greene.

Here are some phrases in the dictionary which are genuine Regency slang and I rather like:

to kick up a dust - make a disturbance
to cut - renounce acquaintance
Dutch comfort - cold comfort
fobbed off - decieved with false pretences
Hackney writer - one who writes for attornies or booksellers
nettled - provoked, out of temper
nicknacks - baubles, or curiosities
kettle of fish - when a person has perplexed his affairs
footpads - foot robbers
in pickle - in a salivation
pig - a police officer
quack - a pretender to skill in physic
a quid - a guinea
ramshackled - out of repair
Welch rabbit - bread and cheese toasted
wild-goose chase - a tedious uncertain pursuit
Hobson's choice - that or none


  • At 10:41 am, Anonymous Pamela Cleaver said…

    Kate, nearly all those you mention are in common use today.


  • At 1:59 pm, Blogger Tess said…

    Kate - that's so interesting! I'd no idea the DotVT had earlier origins. How does one know which terms are accurate and which aren't. Wait, I know - check in another source *g*.

  • At 2:39 pm, Blogger Kate Allan said…

    Pam - yes, they are. Probably why I find it interesting. I shall have to make sure Welch rabbit gets into the new wip somehow. lol

    Tess - good sources for quick cross-checking are Jane Austen texts online, Byron's letters online, and the Old Bailey Online.

  • At 10:02 pm, Anonymous Kate Hardy said…

    Course, there were other people who plagiarised Robert Greene (who hails from my home city). For example, the 'noble Shakerags' (vbg)...

    Byron's letters are online? Oh, no. How could you tell me such a thing when I have three screaming deadlines? =:-0

  • At 8:03 pm, Blogger Tess said…

    Kate - Cool, thanks for the tips :-)


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