1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue: A Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit and Pickpocket Eloquence

Oh, I just love everything about this book! I’m going to re-write the title here because it makes me smile to read it. Smiles are obligatory on Friday.

1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue




Buckish Slang, University Wit and Pickpocket Eloquence

The dictionary was originally compiled by a Captain Grose (surely they were having a laugh). The edition that I am reading online on the Project Guttenberg website has apparently been revised and updated by, and I quote here, a member of the Whip Club assisted by Hell-fire Dick, and James Gordon, Esqrs. of Cambridge; and William Soames Esq. of The Honourable Society of Newman’s Hotel. (Yes, they were having a laugh. I want to join the Hon. Soc. of Newman’s Hotel. It sounds wonderful).

Now, I was just going to write-up a few vulgar words and their definitions but the introduction by the lads it too wonderful not to share. It’s long, but persevere; they’re a hoot.

The merit of Captain Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue has
been long and universally acknowledged. But its circulation was
confined almost exclusively to the lower orders of society: he
was not aware, at the time of its compilation, that our young men
of fashion would at no very distant period be as distinguished
for the vulgarity of their jargon as the inhabitants of Newgate;
and he therefore conceived it superfluous to incorporate with his
work the few examples of fashionable slang that might occur to
his observation.

But our Jehus of rank have a phraseology not less peculiar to
themselves, than the disciples of Barrington: for the uninitiated
to understand their modes of expression, is as impossible as for
a Buxton to construe the Greek Testament. To sport an Upper
Benjamin, and to swear with a good grace, are qualifications
easily attainable by their cockney imitators; but without the aid
of our additional definitions, neither the cits of Fish-street,
nor the boors of Brentford would be able to attain the language
of whippism. We trust, therefore, that the whole tribe of
second-rate Bang Ups, will feel grateful for our endeavour to render
this part of the work as complete as possible. By an occasional
reference to our pages, they may be initiated into all the
peculiarities of language by which the man of spirit is
distinguished from the man of worth. They may now talk bawdy
before their papas, without the fear of detection, and abuse
their less spirited companions, who prefer a good dinner at home
to a glorious UP-SHOT in the highway, without the hazard of a

But we claim not merely the praise of gratifying curiosity, or
affording assistance to the ambitious; we are very sure that the
moral influence of the Lexicon Balatronicum will be more certain
and extensive than that of any methodist sermon that has ever
been delivered within the bills of mortality. We need not descant
on the dangerous impressions that are made on the female mind, by
the remarks that fall incidentally from the lips of the brothers
or servants of a family; and we have before observed, that
improper topics can with our assistance be discussed, even before
the ladies, without raising a blush on the cheek of modesty. It
is impossible that a female should understand the meaning of
TWIDDLE DIDDLES, or rise from table at the mention of BUCKINGER’S
BOOT. Besides, Pope assures us, that “VICE TO BE HATED NEEDS BUT
TO BE SEEN;” in this volume it cannot be denied, that she is seen
very plainly; and a love of virtue is, therefore, the necessary
result of perusing it.

And then without further ado, some of the vulgar words and their definitions.

BELL SWAGGER A noisy bullying fellow


BETWATTLED Surprised, confounded; out of one’s senses

CHRISTMAS COMPLIMENTS A cough and a snotty nose

CHUCKLE-HEADED Stupid, thick-headed

CIRCUMBENDIBUS A roundabout way or story

DILBERRY MAKER The fundament

DRAB A nasty sluttish whore

FOOTY DESPICABLE A footy fellow, a despicable fellow; from the French foutou

HIDEBOUND Stingy, hard of delivery

P.P.C. An inscription on the visiting cards of our modern
  fine gentleman, signifying that they have called POUR
  PRENDRE CONGE, i.e. ‘to take leave,’ This has of late been
  ridiculed by cards inscribed D.I.O. i.e. ‘Damme, I’m off.’

I think you get the picture. If you’re interested and have some time to spare, follow this link to read the book online or to download it.

I have much to do today. I started my new company Tracy Loves History and as I am my only employee, the days are nights are delightfully busy. You can pop onto my Facebook page to see what I’m up to. I am making “stuff” and am quite thrilled by it all.

Some of my “stuff”

Before I hit the assembly line though, I thought I would try to tell you about my week using the above-listed slang, to contribute in a small way to making this post written by me as opposed to the lads. Hidebound muse, return to me now!

On Monday, for the first time since I was about 16, I woke up to find myself without an employer. Of course, life did not stop to allow me to mourn the loss of my job in the book trade; the children continued with their regular demands (strawberry yoghurt, “nice tea”, to pick them up off the floor where they had fallen on their dilberry-makers after a particularly rancorous dispute over the iPad). The Chinese-crested Powder Puff (that’s a dog) still contrived to annoy me in new and betwattling ways, by eating the brand-new bar of soap. My Christmas compliments are still very annoyingly slowing me down, and my chuckle-headed husband needed help finding his wallet. (He blogs too and is quite able to string a sentence together despite never knowing where his wallet is. Click on the link to read 23thorns. He is generally funny; less so when he calls me a crack addict. He does this repeatedly, the footy despicable!)

Also, the new business had got off to a roaring start. I received an order for 450 cotton book-bags. Rolling 450 cotton bags and tying them up in yellow ribbon is a long and very dull job, even though I am very pleased to do it. The big job did mean, however, that I didn’t have much time to deal with all the other things that needed my attention: my website, my accounting package, my hand sanitizer box assembly.

Now, I don’t normally think of myself as chuckle-headed but I found that the 30 minutes I set aside to learn how to be an accountant was not nearly enough. I fear I am going to have to hire a numbers guy because it’s Friday now, I still haven’t rolled all the bags, I need to generate a proper invoice on Monday, and that drab, Time, is not giving me any more than 24 hours every day. (This is weak, I know, but as a bookselling wife and mother, I don’t often meet real nasty, sluttish whores.)

And the reason for my having taken this belaboured circumbendibus is to tell you all that I quite simply don’t have the time to write an original blog post this morning. I’m going to copy something out of an old book, tag the article in books and history and get on with my day.

Is that the time already? Bene darkmans Australia. Good day South Africans. Good morning Americans. D.I.O!

19 thoughts on “1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue: A Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit and Pickpocket Eloquence

    • I know, huh! Read it online until we can rustle up a copy; every page has a laugh or two.

      Imagine the fun the esquires had editing and updating it. It makes me want to invite friends around this weekend to start a ridiculous project.

  1. I love a good bit of slang! That book sounded so good I went straight to the kindle store and bought it. (Little chance of finding that in a book shop here).

    One of my favourite books these days is the massive Dictionary of Slang by Eric Partridge. It is filled with heaps of old Aussie slang and I just love flicking through it. I find it funny that very few of its 1400 pages are free of at least one term for sex or the associated body parts!

    Bene Darkmans to you too, bluestocking 🙂

  2. I’m not sure how I stumbled upon your blog but as soon as I saw your post about this book I had to comment–I have a copy of this! I find the whole Flash lingo fascinating. I will thoroughly enjoy reading through your blog!

    • Thanks. I am so pleased you stumbled.

      There was an article on beatnik slang (taken from A Historical Dictionary of American Slang) on Mental Floss over the weekend. There were some real beauties, all of them silly and very corny. I was particularly fond of “to know your groceries” which meant to know your stuff.

    • Thank you Sire. It is terrifying and utterly delightful at the same time.

      The new Barbara Kingsolver novel opens with the sentence, “A certain feeling comes from throwing your good life away, and it is one part rapture”. So beautiful and I know exactly what she means.

  3. I will absolutely find a situation tomorrow where I can use betwattled, even if I have to engineer said situation. I cannot wait to see the betwattled looks on my coworker’s faces!

    • Betwattle is one of my favourites too. I’m also still partial to the word ‘fopdoodle’ from an earlier post about Samuel Johnson’s dictionary. Any fopdoodles in the office? They’re ripe for betwattling.

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