So I’ve mentioned before that there are lots of great historical ebooks out there, and since I had a plane journey coming up, I packed mine full of stuff. My favourite so far has been Francis Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, your one-stop guide to what the criminal classes were saying in 1811. There are several interesting things about it. First, of course, are the hilarious slang terms themselves:
AMUSERS. Rogues who carried snuff or dust in their pockets, which they threw into the eyes of any person they intended to rob; and running away, their accomplices (pretending to assist and pity the half-blinded person) took that opportunity of plundering him.
ANABAPTIST. A pickpocket caught in the fact, and punished with the discipline of the pump or horse-pond.
ANCHOR. Bring your a-se to an anchor, i.e. sit down. To let go an anchor to the windward of the law; to keep within the letter of the law. SEA WIT.
ANGLERS. Pilferers, or petty thieves, who, with a stick having a hook at the end, steal goods out of shop-windows, grates, &c.; also those who draw in or entice unwary persons to prick at the belt, or such like devices.
ANGLING FOR FARTHINGS. Begging out of a prison window with a cap, or box, let down at the end of a long string.
ANKLE. A girl who is got with child, is said to have sprained her ankle.
The second thing that strikes me is the number of terms for genitals — but more than that, the fact that the authors simply refer to the female genitalia as “the monosyllable” or, memorably, “a woman’s commodity.”
The third thing is the number of expressions that are listed here as slang that are now perfectly commonplace: “against the grain,” “bum” in the sense of the backside, “bet” for a wager, “rigmarole” and more.
So check it out. It’s absolutely fascinating. You can find another 18th-century slang dictionary here: The Slang Dictionary.