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Slang From The Victorian Era Was Even More Absurd Than We Knew.

May 24, 2021

Image: Victorian era painting The Bayswater Omnibus, George William Joy,1895 -
There's nothing like the slang of today to make you feel really, really out of touch. "Glow-up." "No cap." "On fleek." Sure, it's only natural for older generations to fall out of style with the latest terms, but at least we have our own tried-and-true slang to fall back on... right? Believe it or not, old-timey slang is even more ridiculous than what we have today. after hearing these Victorian terms, figuring out what "it's lit" means will be the least of your worries says this article from
1. Don't Sell Me a Dog
One thing that's never good in excess is lying, which is why Victorians were fond of the saying, "don't sell me a dog." Many people who sold dogs back in those days often tried to pass off mutts as purebreds, so this phrase came to mean "don't lie to me."
2. Chuckaboo
While "chuckaboo" might sound like the name of an imaginary creature you made up when you were eight, Victorians actually used the word quite often. "Chuckaboo" was what they called their closest friends, or, in our terms, their BFFs.
3. Got the Morbs
When life hits you hard, someone from the Victorian Era might tell you you've "got the morbs." This rather clever phrase from 1880 means to experience some momentary melancholy.
4. Shake a Flannin
Hopefully you've managed to sober up, because one your friends is now about to "shake a flannin" with a stranger. This is the Victorian way of saying they're going to fight.
5. Sauce-Box
Sober up by putting some hearty food into your "sauce-box." If you can't figure that one out, you're probably still way too "arf'arf'an'arf" and should keep eating.
6. Butter Upon Bacon
To Victorians, bacon and butter were considered luxuries on their own — put them together, however, and that was a bit too much. So if something was a little too extravagant, they'd say it was "butter upon bacon."
7. Doing the Bear
Nothing beats true friendship, and the best way to show love to a buddy is by "doing the bear". Wrap your arms around them and give them a big bear hug.
8. Whooperups
Karaoke nights are known for attracting some not-so-great singers, but instead of hurling your drink at them, just call them "whooperups." The term roughly translates to "inferior, noisy singers."
9. Umble-Cum-Stumble
Now, on the flip side, if you wanted to say you "completely understand" in Victorian slang, all you have to say is "umble-cum-stumble." It'll likely sound like you have too much food in your mouth, but maybe someone else will "umble-cum-stumble."
10. Batty-Fang
Some of the silliest-sounding Victorian slang words actually have pretty intelligent origins. Batty-fang, for example, is a Low London phrase that basically means "to beat someone up," possibly derived from the French battre a fin.
11. Smothering a Parrot
Fret not, animal lovers; the saying "smothering a parrot" doesn't mean what you think. The alcohol absinthe was once also known as "parrot" due to its green color, so, in short, the phrase means to drink some absinthe.
12. Arf'arf'an'arf
"Smother the parrot" one too many times with your favorite "chuckaboos" and one of you might end up a little "arf'arf'an'arf." No, we don't mean they'll drop on all fours and start barking like a dog. This phrase means to be terribly drunk. Then again, the barking may come along with that.
13. Bricky
When trouble's a-brewin', there are those who chose to run, and those who chose to be "bricky." If you're the "brave and fearless" type, then this word is perfect for you.
14. Bang Up to the Elephant
Back in Victorian England, you might describe something as "bang up to the elephant." This bizarre phrase has a rather simple meaning: "perfect, complete, and unapproachable."
15. Fifteen Puzzle
If some of this slang has you confused, no sweat: there's even a term for "complete and absolute confusion." Next time you're caught in a pickle and left scratching your head, you can say you're feeling like a "fifteen puzzle."
16. Collie Shangles
While this saying unfortunately spawned from the act of dog fighting, "collie shangles" was actually coined by Queen Victoria herself. The phrase basically means to have a quarrel or fight with someone.
17. Daddles
As silly as "daddles" may sound, it's literally just another word for your hands. So if anyone ever tells you "nice daddles," just remember: they're only being slightly less creepy than they come off.
18. Damfino
A portmanteau of "damned if I know," "damfino" was probably uttered by this young gentleman when his wife asked where he parked their other wagon. "Did you leave it by the streetlamp, Bartholomew?" "Daminfo, Catherine!"
19. Gigglemug
If "chuckaboo" still has you grinning from ear to ear, someone from the Victorian era might call that a "gigglemug." The phrase refers to a "habitually smiling face."
20. Suggestionize
Not all Victorian slang is completely ridiculous — in fact, some of it is even used by business professionals today. Lawyers, for example, use the word "suggestionize," which means "to prompt."
Not the First
Queen Victoria can't take all the credit for these nonsensical slang words. A good hundred years before her reign introduced "daddles" and "doing the bear," people were saying all kinds of crazy things that'd sound absolutely ridiculous today.
1. Dicked in the Nob
Translation: Crazy. "He's dicked in the nob!" Nobody’s sure where the word "dicked" comes from here. Back then, it apparently didn’t mean what you think it means. "Nob," on the other hand, simply meant "head." No innuendoes here, folks. Move along.
2. Shipwrecked
Translation: Drunk. "I was shipwrecked last night, blokes!" Back in the 1700s, what was getting wrecked the most? Ships, of course. This one’s kind of cute, no? We can’t stop picturing a tipsy sailor.
3. Wake Snakes
Translation: To provoke intensely. "Don't go waking snakes at your ex's wedding, Alex." There's a mix of witchery and/or biblical references in there. Either way, we definitely won't be waking snakes anytime soon.
4. Silent Flute
Translation: Male genitalia. "Never play the silent flute in public." Grow up, weirdos. There are enough euphemisms for the you-know-what to write a whole encyclopedia. This one is much better than some others that come to mind.
5. Oil of Gladness
Translation: A beating. "He's gonna get the ol' oil of gladness, that's for sure." This one's pretty ironic. Jesus was "anointed" by God's oil of gladness, which, if you're familiar with Jesus' story, didn't turn out all that great for him.
6. Owl in an Ivy Bush
Translation: Someone drunk/with messy hair. "I found Carl in the yard this morning, looking like an owl in an ivy bush." Again, we are graced with a term from A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. English pubs used to hang ivy over their doors — apparently attracting messy-haired drunkards.
7. Piss Prophet
Translation: A doctor who diagnoses with pee. "I'm gonna have to see a piss prophet for this burning sensation." Back in the day, "urologists," better known as piss prophets, used urine to diagnose just about everything. At least, that's what we hope they were doing with it.
8. Whipt Syllabub
Translation: Meaningless conversation. "This reality show is a bunch of whipt syllabub... but I can't stop watching!" A "whipt syllabub" was a popular drink that was sweet, not very strong, and a little thick — just like some people's conversations.
9. Arsey Varsey
Translation: To literally fall head over heels. "Check out this YouTube video of this guy going arsey varsey!" This one just feels so appropriate. "Arse" refers to your bottom, so "arsy varsey" literally means to fall "ass up." Gotta love it.
10. Bottle-Headed
Translation: Humorless or dim. "That bottle-headed fool doesn't realize we're laughing at his jokes." Since wine bottles are generally smaller up top, this seems like a very appropriate way to describe someone who isn't too bright. Great... now we're craving cabernet.
11. Gollumpus
Translation: A big, clumsy guy. "Thank goodness Santa isn't a big ol' gollumpus or he'd fall down chimneys all the time!" The word "gollumpus" comes from a 1785 book titled A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, packed with enough fun words to make your great-great grandmother blush.
12. Bone Box
Translation: Mouth. "Shut your bone box before I shut it for you." This is another fun term included in the updated version of A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. The first edition referred to the mouth as a "hatchway." We prefer "bone box."
13. Skilamalink
Translation: Shady. "This Uber driver's rating is only 3 stars. Pretty skilamalink if you ask me." In Victorian London, this term was used to describe gang meet-ups and sketchy "business" meetings. If you can pronounce it, you're free to use it.
14. Bags O' Mystery
Translation: Sausages. "The best bags o' mystery are in Central Park." What's in a sausage? No one knows. It's quite literally a bag of mysteries. Well, some of us know what's inside, which is why some of us won't go near 'em.
15. Screw Jaws
Translation: A mouthy person. "That screw jawed Facebook commenter was a troll." Here's another sample from A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. The person mouthing off is implied to have a screw loose in their jaw, hence all the nonsense flying out.
16. Irish Apricots
Translation: Potatoes. "I could go for a baked Irish apricot right about now." This was a term used to poke fun at Irish ships that were full of potatoes. What's wrong with potatoes? We like potatoes!
17. Fly Rink
Translation: A bald head. "Check out the fly rink on that guy!" Picture a fly wearing ice skates on all six of its legs. Now picture it skating around on a bald guy's head. There you have it; fly rink. Makes perfect sense to us!
18. Afternoonified
Translation: Smart and fashionable. "You look positively afternoonified in that Armani dress, Madam!" Oddly, this has nothing to do with the time of day. Upperclass rich folks would use this term to describe things (and people) they considered high-society. Snooty much?
19. Rantum Scantum
Translation: Having sexual intercourse. "Hey! No rantum scantum in there, you two!" This one's pretty similar to the term "hanky panky." But for some reason, "rantum scantum" sounds a lot more graphic to us.
Fast Forward
Even slang terms from 200 years later look like gibberish to modern English speakers. The 1950s were the postwar boom that gave rise to fast cars, rock and roll, mass consumerism, and some really bizarre phrases.
"Wig chop"
Every pompadour needs a touch-up now and then. Elvis and other greasers went to their local barbers for a regular wig chop, or haircut. Obviously, the "wig" part is just a joke, though Elvis (a natural blond) did dye his hair!
"Come on snake, let's rattle"
Mia Wallace and Vincent Vega would've approved of this slang. The reptilian idiom is an invitation to dance, perhaps to Chuck Berry's "You Never Can Tell."
"Backseat bingo"
A favorite activity of sweethearts at the drive-in theater, this is slang for making out. Unlike actual bingo, your chances of winning this game are decently high — plus it's actually fun most of the time.
"Give me a bell"
Decades ago, phones couldn't take photos or play Candy Crush. All you could do was call friends and hope they'd pick up. This request meant that you wanted someone to call you, as folks used to actually look forward to a ringing phone.
"Bird dog"
Luckily, this term doesn't refer to some mad science experiment gone awry. A bird dog, like a bloodhound following a trail, is a shifty guy who tries to steal someone else's date.
Contrary to the Cold War tensions of the era, 1950s folk described incredibly popular things as "radioactive." This probably made sense because nuclear technology was relatively new at the time, although now nobody would want to get close to radioactive food or clothes.
"Later, gator"
Often followed by, "After a while, crocodile," it's just a cool way to say goodbye. Bill Haley and His Comets even managed to score a hit song in 1955 called "See You Later, Alligator."
"Ankle biter"
It's not just Charlie from the famous YouTube video that has a biting problem. Apparently '50s tots were constantly sinking their teeth into their parents' legs, because adults coined "ankle biter" to refer to any young child.
"Made in the shade"
A nice shadow is more than just a way to avoid sunburn at the beach. This idiom describes an ideal situation where nothing is wrong or something that is a total success.
You can add this suffix to any adjective to describe a place, real or imaginary. Coolsville is where all the hip daddy-os hang out. Squaresville is full of nerds. And Nashville, well, that's actually just the name of a city in Tennessee.
"Cruising for a bruising"
Tough guys like James Dean dropped this catchy line to let other fellas know that they were seconds away from instigating a fight. Violence is never the answer, but at least these toughs had a passion for rhymes.
"Pile up z's"
Frank Sinatra would've done this after a long night of performing and partying with the Rat Pack out in Vegas. It just means going to sleep — with or without the most famous set of blue eyes in the world.
"Razz my berries"
How did people in the 1950s feel about fruit? Well, if something got your proverbial berries razzed, then you felt excited or impressed. There's no evidence of anyone's berries ever being cranned or blued, however.
"Meanwhile, back at the ranch..."
At the end of a long digression, people used this phrase to get a conversation back on track. The phrase is a reference to western dramas, which were everywhere in the 1950s, and was meant to curtail blabbermouths, who are still everywhere.
"Go for pinks"
Hear those motors rumbling in the distance? That sound usually follows this phrase, which is a challenge to drag race. The winner would get the pink slip to the loser's car, giving him ownership.
"Bash my ears"
Ralph Kramden probably wasn't hip enough to know the slang of his time, but the main character of The Honeymooners certainly knew what it was like to get your ears bashed, or to get talked at too much.
"Knuckle sandwich"
If you're familiar with this dish, then you know you won't find it on an actual menu. A knuckle sandwich is nothing but a punch delivered straight to the mouth. Worst of all, it doesn't come with fries.
"Earth pads"
You might be thinking this term has something to do with the space race, but you can get those images of rockets and satellites out of your head. Earth pads the strips of rubber keeping your feet off the dirt, otherwise known as shoes.
"Agitate the gravel"
This saying isn't literal, so no need to start a brawl with your driveway. It's roughly equivalent to "let's go," but with lots of extra syllables. Perfect for when you're at a boring place, but aren't in a hurry.
Every greaser knew daddy-o referred to a man, usually a cool one. And while Americans won't find a self-described daddy-o outside of a vintage diner, there is one place in the world where plenty of people still hold on to that label.

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