A Dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant, and Vulgar Words (1860)

Originally published at: A Dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant, and Vulgar Words (1860) | Boing Boing


Booze and the blowens cop the lot

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Not forgetting the classic, Geddouda’mipub.


homer simpson ugh GIF


I’m surprised to learn that the word “slang” is that old.


The etymologist Suzie Dent is worth reading and listening to.

This old 163-year-old book is brilliant and challenges one’s imagination:

Sleek and fat rascals, with not much inclination towards honesty, fatten, or rather fasten, like body insects, upon other rascals, who would be equally sleek and fat but for their vagabond dependents. Luckily for respectable persons, however, vagabonds, both at home and abroad, show certain outward peculiarities which distinguish them from the great mass of lawful people off whom they feed and fatten. Personal observation, and a little research into books, enable me to mark these external traits.

funny how we can read 19th-century books and it’s basically the same language we have now — but go back another 200 years and it looks like this

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Let me transcribe that and update the spelling:

To the Reader.
Such as by their place and calling (but especially Preachers) as have occasion to speak publicly before the ignorant people, are to be admonished, that they never affect any strange inkhorn terms, but labour to speak so as is commonly reeived, and so as the most ignorant may well understand them: neither seeking to be over fine or curious, nor yet living over careless, using their speech as most men do, and ordering their wits as the fewest have done. Some men seek so far for outlandish English, that they forget altogether their mother’s language, so that is some of their mothers were alive they were not able to tell or understand what they say, and yet these find English Clerks will say they speak in their mother tongue, but on might well charge them for countersaying the King’s English. Also, some far-journeyed gentlemen, at their return home, like […

It’s not Wordsworth or Austen, but allowing for things like the Subjunctive case and terms which have become obsolete in the meantime, it’s not that bad.

If I was to update the language slightly as well as the spelling, I’d turn it to something like

People who, by their occupation or calling (especially preachers), have reason to speak publicly in front of uneducated people, should be admonished never to affect strange academic terms, but make an effort to speak as is commonly understood, and so that the most ignorant can understand them well: neither being overly precise, nor too careless; using their speech as most people do and ordering their thoughts as very few do. Some people go out of their way to use outlandish English, so that they seem to forget their mother’s language, so much so that their mothers, if alive, would not understand what they’re saying; and yet these fine English writers will say they’re speaking their mother tongue, but you could charge them with contradicting the King’s English. Also, some well-travelled gentlemen, at their return home, like […

And now compare with English of another 200 years before that

… Certaynly it is harde to playse euery man bycause of dyuersite & chaũge of langage. For in these dayes euery man that is in ony reputacyon in his coũtre. wyll vtter his cõmynycacyon and maters in suche maners & termes that fewe men shall vnderstonde theym And som honest and grete clerkes haue ben wyth me and desired me to wryte the moste curyous termes that I coude fynde And thus bytwene playn rude & curyous I stande abasshed. but in my Iudgemente the comyn termes that be dayli vsed ben lyghter to be vnderstonde than the olde and aũcyent englysshe And for as moche as this present booke is not for a rude vplondyssh man to laboure therin ne rede it but onely for a clerke & a noble gentylman that feleth and vnderstondeth in faytes of armes in loue & in noble chyualrye Therfor in a meane bytwene bothe I haue reduced & translated this sayd booke in to our englysshe not ouer rude ne curyous but in suche termes as shall be vnderstanden by goddys grace accordynge to my copye.

Which, with updated spelling, is

… Certainly it is hard to please every man because of diversity and change of language. For in these days every man that is in any reputation in his country will utter his communication and matters in such manners and terms that few men shall understand them. And some honest and great clerks have been with me and desired me to write the most curious terms that I could find. And thus between plain crude and curious I stand abashed, but in my judgement the common terms that be daily used be lighter to be understood than the old and ancient English. And for as much as this present book is not for a crude uplandish man to labour therein nor read it, but only for a clerk and a noble gentleman that feels and understands in feats of arms in love and in noble chivalry, therefore in a mean between both I have reduced and translated this said book into our English not overly crude nor curious, but in such terms as shall be understood by God’s grace according to my copy.

Not too hard for something written in 1490, eh?


Maybe it’s because of dyslexia management, but that is entirely readable to me.

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