Portraits of London's 19th century poor


What is a “mackarel”? Google and Wikipedia aren’t helping me.

Probably a variant spelling of “mackerel”, a kind of fish. According to the OED the word can also mean “one who ministers to sexual debauchery; a bawd, pimp, procurer or procuress”. So the person in the picture is either a fishmonger or a pimp.

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Judging by the wicker basket on his/her head, I’m going to guess they’re a minister of sexual debauchery.

“MACKEREL. A bawd: from the French maquerel. Mackerel−
backed; long−backed.”

The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue is actually really entertaining in it’s own right, in addition to being an invaluable companion to the above books:

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