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VICTORIAN SLANG

MY INSPIRATION FOR THIS is “Victorian Slang That Will Make You Scratch Your Fly Rink,” at the Word Genius website, October 11, 2021. I followed up with appropriately traditional sources,The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary and Mayhew’s London.  

Tidbits are gleaned from these three sources, plus Internet sleuthing when the spirit moved me.

Fly Rink. “This physical trait,” Word Genius notes, “continues through the decades. A ‘fly rink’ in Victorian parlance referred to a bald head. Think about it— a bald head is an open field where flies can gather (especially in the days before daily bathing was a thing).”

Gas Pipes. Word Genius observes, “Here’s a phrase that says some things don’t go out of style. ‘Gas pipes’ are just a pair of very tight pants. Anyone want a pair of Victorian skinny jeans?” For men only, of course.

Image from “Victorian Slang” at in.pinterest.com

Tot-hunting. “Victorian Slang” cites “Tot-hunting” as synonymous with prowling for women. This reminds me of Trottie True—An Edwardian Romance, one of the charming Brahms and Simon romps from a slightly later era. 

Gas pipes were evidently still in style.

Muffin-walloper.  “You probably know at least one muffin-walloper (if you’re not one yourself),” says Word Genius. “A ‘muffin-walloper’ is an unmarried woman who gathers with friends to gossip…. It literally refers to someone who ‘hits the cakes hard.’ ”

OED cites a related term: A “muffin-worry” is a 19th-century colloquialism for a tea party.

Image from Word Genius, October 11, 2021.

A latter-day equivalent is “The Ladies Who Lunch,” a song in Stephen Sondheim’s 1970 Broadway musical Company. Its cynicism is well evoked by Elaine Strich’s YouTube rendition

Got the Morbs. Word Genius observes: “This phrase appeared in the 1880s, and it means you’re down in the dumps. You’ve been having a rough week, and you’re just feeling melancholy. You’ll recover, but you might just have to be alone with your ‘morbs’ for a bit before you rejoin society.” 

The link to “morbid” is understood.

Victoriana Magazine also lists “got the morbs,” along with 51 other slang terms of the era. One of my favorites is “Smothering a Parrot.” This is “draining a glass of absinthe neat; derived from the green color of the absinthe.” 

I’m reminded of this faux-hallucinogenic liquor’s association with one of its ingredients, the wormwood plant, Astemisia absinthium. See Nickolaus Hines’ “What is Wormwood and What Does It Do to Absinthe?” Hines notes absinthe became so common in the 19th century that there was a ‘green hour’ in Paris during which people sat outdoors and sipped the drink.

Top o’ Reeb. This one comes from Mayhew’s description of the language of costermongers, London’s street venders employing handcarts. Mayhew says, “The root of the costermonger tongue, so to speak, is to give the words spelt backward, or rather pronounced rudely backward…. Slang is acquired very rapidly, and some costermongers will converse in it by the hour.” 

A top o’ reeb is nothing more complex than “a pot of beer.” “On melborp,” as a costermonger might say.  

Podsnappery. Word Genius describes podsnappery as “willful ignorance from someone who refuses to acknowledge what doesn’t align with their personal views.” 

I sense a latter-day equivalence in the term “cherry picking,” of selecting only that evidence supporting one’s preconceived opinions. 

Gee. A lot of this goes around these days, as apparently it did back in Victorian times. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021 

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