You think of Victorian London, and you think of Cockney rhyming slang. Think of Victorian music-hall and you think of Cockney rhyming slang. Come to that, think of the 1964 film Mary Poppins, and you think of Cockney rhyming slang suffering the indignity of being spoken very badly by actor Dick Van Dyke. Yet the slang commonly spoken in 19th century London, and throughout England, was far more extensive and more colourful than just that spoken and heard within the sound of the bells of St Mary-le-Bow in Cheapside.
Today we should like, for your edification and enjoyment, to share a few interesting words and phrases with you.
Do a Dutch
To remove one’s furnishings from a property and leave the premises without paying the due rent.
Flirting, behaving in a coquettish manner towards the opposite sex.
An 18th century tavern term that means “getting drunk”.
Jammiest bits of jam
“Absolutely perfect young females,” circa 1883.
A house where men of a certain disposition would finish their night of drunken debauchery.
Someone who brings his own provisions on excursions (generally to a beach resort) and doesn’t contribute at all to the resort he’s visiting.
An affected manner of walking seen in many women for several years and attributed to the then Princess of Wales who had had some trouble with a knee.
Getting rowdy in the streets.
Killing the Canary
Shirking work. Probably from miner’s safety canaries going uncared for whilst workers remained at home.
An 1875 term for a polished bald head.
And “my old Dutch”? from Wikipedia:
The song’s title refers to an 1880s colloquialism for a partner or friend. The phrase has a number of etymologies; two Cockney rhyming slang explanations identify the phrase as coming from “dutch plate” (“mate”) or “Duchess of Fife” (“wife”). Chevalier, however, claimed that his wife’s face reminded him of the clock face of a Dutch clock.
Whatever … just enjoy:
Badcock, J. (writing under the pseudonym of ‘Jon Bee’) (1823). Slang: A Dictionary of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, the pit, of Bob-ton, and the Varieties of Life. London: T. Hughes.
Leslie, James. (1806). Dictionary of the Synonymous Words and Technical Terms in the English Language. Edinburgh: John Moir.
Forrester, Andrew. (writing under the pseudonym of James Redding Ware) (1909). Passing English of the Victorian Era: A Dictionary of Heterodox English, Slang, and Phrase. London: George Routledge & Sons Ltd.
Selected further reading
‘”Smothering a Parrot”, and 51 Other Fun Victorian Slang Terms’, Victoriana Magazine
’21 Victorian Slang Terms It’s High Time We Revived’
Erin McCarthy, ’56 Delightful Victorian Slang Terms You Should Be Using’, MentalFloss
Luke Lewis, ’14 Victorian Insults To Unleash In Casual Conversation’, BuzzFeed
Paul Anthony Jones, ’42 Old English Insults’, MentalFloss
… or you might like to try the Victorian Slang app for iPhone: