Expand Your Regency Vocabulary

I was taking care of some final copy editing on my upcoming novella Duchess of Light (excerpt) in the anthology Dukes of Disguise featuring Grace Burrowes, Emily Greenwood, and yours truly. (Look links!  Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, Barnes and Noble) Anyhoo, I ran a search on Google Books for a Regency slang term and stumbled upon The Works of Frances Rabelais. Translated from the French with Explanatory Notes.  

Huh. What?

According to Wikipedia, Francois Rabelais was (and I have to quote because I can’t improve upon the Wikipedia description) “a major French Renaissance writer, physician, Renaissance humanist, monk and Greek scholar. He has historically been regarded as a writer of fantasy, satire, the grotesque, bawdy jokes and songs.”

The 1807 English translation of his essay “Of The Disposition of the People This Year” is a riot. I giggled again as I combed the text this morning. I don’t know what a third of the Regency slang terms in this piece actually mean, but they read so hysterically. I’ve cut out the parts of the text that pertained to the French Renaissance culture but kept the English slang terms. Happy Friday!

The Man

‘Tis the oddest whimsy in the world, to fancy there are stars for kings, popes, and great dons, any more than for poor and needy… Therefore, resting fully satisfied that the stars care not a fart more for kings than for beggars, not a jot more for your rich topping fellows, than for the most sorry, mangy, lousy rascal; I’ll e’en leave other addle-pate fortune-tellers to speak of the great folk, and I will only talk of the little ones.

And in the first place, of those who are subject to Saturn; as for example, such as lack the ready, jealous or horn-mad, self-tormenting prigs, dreaming fops, crabbed eves-droppers, raving, doating churls, hatchers and brooders of mischief, suspicious distrustful slouches… close fisted gripping misers, usurers and pawnbrokers, pinch-crusts, hold-fats, michers and penny-fathers, redeemers of dipt, mortgaged, and bleeding copyholds and messuages, fleecers of sheered asses, shoemakers and translators, tanners, bricklayers, bell founders, compounders of loans, patchers, clowters, and botchers of old trumpery stuff, and all moping melancholic folks and will think more than once how they may get good store of the king’s pictures into their clutches; in the mean time they’ll hardly throw shoulders of mutton out the windows, and will often scratch their working noodles where they do not itch.

As for those who are under Jupiter, as canting vermin, bigots, pardon-pedlars, voluminous abbreviators, scribblers of breves,… pope’s bullmakers, dataries, pettifoggers, capuchins, monks, hermits, hypocrites, cushion-thumping mountebanks, spiritual comedians, forms of holiness, pater-noster faces, wheadling gabblers, wry-necked scoundrels, spoilers of paper … public register’s clerks, clergy-taylors, wafer-makers, rosary-makers, engrossers of deeds, notaries, grave-bubbles, protocoles, prompters to speakers, and deceitful makers of promises, shall fare according as they have money…

Those who are under Mars, as hangmen, cutthroats, dead-doing fellows, free-booters, hedgebirds, footpads and highwaymen, catch-poles, bum-bailiffs, beadles and watchmen, reformadoes, tooth-drawers and corn-cutters, pintle-smiths, shavers, and frig-beards, butchers, coiners, paltry quacks, and …  renegadoes, apostates and marranized miscreants, incendiaries or boutefeus, chimney sweepers, boorish cluster-fists, charcoal-men, alchemists, merchants of eel-skins and egg-shells, gridiron and rattle-makers, cooks, paltry pedlars, thrashmongers and spangle-makers, bracelet-makers, lantern-makers and tinkers, this year will do fine things; but some of them will be somewhat subject to be rib-roasted, and have a St. Andrew’s cross scored over their jobbernols at unawares …

Those who belong; to Sol, as topers, quaffers, whipcans, tosspots, whittled, mellow, cupshotten swillers,… with crimson snouts of their own dying; fat, pursy gorbellies, brewers of wine and of beer, bottlers of hay, porters, mowers, menders of tiled, slated, and thatched houses, burthen-bearers, packers, shepherds, ox-keepers, and cowherds, swine-herds, and hog-drivers, fowlers and bird-catchers, gardeners, barn-keepers, hedgers, common mumpers and vagabonds, day-labourers, scowerers of greasy thrum caps, stuffers, and bum-basters of pack saddles, rag-merchants, idle lusks, slothful idlebies, and drowsy loiterers, smell-feasts, and snap-gobbets, gentlemen generally wearing shirts with neck-bands, or heartily desiring to wear such; all these will be hale and sharp set, and not troubled with the gout at the grinders, or a stoppage at the gullet, when at a feast on free cost.

Those whom Venus is said to rule, as punks, jilts, flirts, queans, morts, doxies, strumpets, buttocks, blowings, tits, pure ones, concubines, convenients, cracks, drabs, trulls, light-skirts, wrigglers, misses, cats, rigs, tried virgins, bonarobas, barbers-chairs, hedge-whores, wagtails, cockatrices, whipsters, twiggers, harlots, kept.wenches, kind-hearted things, ladies of pleasure, by what titles or names soever dignified or distinguished; bawds, pimps, panders, procurers, and mutton-brokers; wenchers, leachers, shakers, smockers, cousins, cullies, stallions and bellibumpers: ganymedes, bardachoes, hufflers, Ingles, fricatrices, he-whores, and sodomites; swaggering huff-snuffs, bouncing bullies, braggadocio’s, tory-rory rakes and tantivy-boys; peppered, clapped, and poxed dabblers; shankereil, cauliflowered, carbuncled martyrs and confessors of Venus; rovers, ruffian-rogues, and hedge-creepers, female chamberlains… laundress, sempstress, hostes, &c. &… mantua-maker, bed-maker, bar-keeper, fruiterer, &c. all these will be famous this year. But when the sun enters Cancer, and other signs, let them beware of the criukams and its attendants; as shankers, claps, virulent gonorrhoeas, cordees, buboes, or running-nags, pock-royals, botches, wens, or condyloms, tetters, scabs, nodes, glands, tumours, carnosities, &c…

As for those who come under Mercury, as sharpers, rooks, cozeners, setters, as sherks, cheats, pickpockets, divers, buttocking foils, thieves, millers, night-walkers, masters of arts, decretists, picklocks, deer-stealers, hedge rhymers, composers of serious doggrel metre, Merry-andrews, Jack-puddings, turnblers, masters in the art of hocus pocus, legerdemain, and powder of prelinpinpin; such as break Priscian’s head, quibblers and punsters, stationers, papermakers, card-makers, and pirates, will strive to appear more merry than they will often be: sometimes they will laugh without any cause, and will be pretty apt to be blown up…

Those who belong to madam Luna, as hawkers of almanacks and pamphlets, huntsmen, ostrich-catchers, falconers, couriers, salt-carriers, lunatics, maggotty fools, crack-brained coxcombs, addle-pated frantic wights, giddy, whimsical foplings, exchange brokers, post-boys, foot-boys, tennis court keepers’ boys, glass mongers, light-horse, watermen, mariners, messengers, rakers and gleaners, will not long stay in a place this year. However, so many swagbellies and puff-bags will hardly go to St. Hiacco…

5 Replies to “Expand Your Regency Vocabulary”

  1. wonderful! Some of the terms are a little archaic [I thought quean as a term for a prostitute had gone out by Shakespeare, but apparently not]. Interesting to see ‘clowters’ used for second-hand clothes dealers, a term remaining today in the phrase ‘ne’er cast a clout ’til May be out’. I find it unclear whether ‘botchers’ are, as they often are today, people who mend in a rough and ready way without employing proper methods, or if it was at the time a term for menders generally. I suspect the latter, but with the implication of short cuts as the term ‘tinker’ isn’t used. Which surprises me, as ‘tinker’ was a word used synonymously with ‘gypsy’ in the assizes. The terms for poxed are also pretty imaginative, shankereil coming, I presume from the chancre that forms spelled phonetically? and that cauliflowered refers to that too [before the term ‘cauliflower ear’]. I’m not sure when white cauliflowers came in so it may have referred to a purple colour too. Some lovely words, thank you for sharing

  2. Thank you for your help! I thought Quean was misspelled by the ocr. I had never seen it before. Thanks for explaining it.

  3. Quean is a Saxon word Cwen and led also to the word ‘Queen’. Originally it meant just a person of the female persuasion. From around the 11th century the spelling ‘quean’ came in to refer to a woman of negotiable affection, who would also have been ‘gay’, a Saxon word with a double meaning from the first, the other being nifty between the sheets [not that sheets were in general use]. How language changes! Quean in the same context was certainly in use in Chaucer’s time and the same root also gave us ‘queynte’ meaning the female organs, which has gone back to being spelled with a ‘c’ at the beginning, was merely descriptive up to at least Chaucer’s time but by Shakespeare had become the dirtiest word in the English language such that he could play for cheap laughs with lines like ‘speakest thou of country matters?’ and by mentioning coneys [the name then for rabbits, rabbit meaning only baby bunnies] which had the same meaning then as the double meaning of pussies now.
    Sorry, rambled a bit there. I’ll probably come back to this from time to time to see if I can track down the origins of some of the more obscure ones.

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