"A river of new language which has its tide and ebb"
December 15, 2018 3:32 PM   Subscribe

Passing English of the Victorian Era: A Dictionary of Heterodox English, Slang and Phrase is James Redding Ware's cheerful, informal, and often fascinating 1909 attempt to capture some of the then-vanishing vernacular language of the 19th century.

Via the Internet Archive: PDF, EPUB, KINDLE

Drawing on magazines, newspapers, popular novels, music hall performances, trade, professional, sporting, and theater argot, conversations in pubs, and things overheard in the street, Ware makes no pretense to of strict accuracy or comprehensiveness. Instead, he blithely overlooks the problems involved in documenting a subject as fugitive, highly local, class-specific, and ephemeral as his sources to rescue gems like these from oblivion:

-- Agreeable rattle (Society, about 1810): A chattering young man. The genus has long since disappeared.

-- Broad-gauge Lady (Railway officials', passing to Peoples'): One who makes a rather tight fit for five on a side.

-- Chain lightening (Lower class, London): Potato spirit, imported from Germany. Filthy mess - poisonous to a degree. Smuggled chiefly.

-- Groping for Jesus (Peoples', 1882): Public prayer. Derived from one of the military orders of General Booth, the creator of the Salvation Army.

-- Long-tailed bear (Peoples', historical): One of the evasions of saying 'you lie'. From the fact that bears have no tails.

-- Revolveress (Society, 1885): A woman who uses a pistol.

-- Snide-sparkler (Trade - Jewish jewelers): False diamond.

-- Throwing the hammer (Low, military): Erotic. Obtaining money under false pretenses.

-- Up the pole (Peoples', 1896 on): Drunk.

A companion volume, A Dictionary of Slang and Colloquial English (1905) is also available from the Internet Archive.

J. R. Ware (1832-1910) was a novelist, journalist, and playwright now credited, under the pen name Andrew Forrester, with creating one of the earliest female detectives in English fiction. Out of print for over a century, almost forgotten, and with only a handful of copies surviving, his novel The Female Detective (1864) was republished in 2016 as part of the British Library Crime Classics series*.

* Project Gutenberg recently made his Secret Service; or, Recollections of a City Detective (also 1864) available again as well.
posted by ryanshepard (18 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
What a spectacular collection of usernames and "Metafilter: ..." jokes--thanks!
posted by Wobbuffet at 3:43 PM on December 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

This rules, thanks for posting.
posted by saladin at 3:46 PM on December 15, 2018

If there isn’t already a series of pulp novels titled “The Revolveress,” by gum I’ll write it myself!
posted by ejs at 3:50 PM on December 15, 2018 [7 favorites]

I was familiar with agreeable rattle - I think from a Georgette Heyer. The rest I'd not heard of. Fun post, thank you!
posted by peacheater at 4:35 PM on December 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'll have to try to work this one in somewhere:
Arer (Peoples') More so. From 'are', emphatically used. 'we are, and what's more, we can't be any arer.'
posted by traveler_ at 5:50 PM on December 15, 2018 [4 favorites]

This is highly relevant to my interests - thank you for posting it!
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:16 PM on December 15, 2018

series of pulp novels titled “The Revolveress,”

Here's an opening paragraph. Might be fun to send it in to Bulwer-Lytton, if those contests are still going.

Standing in the square and feigning herself up the pole on chain lightening, the Revolveress abandoned the prattle of the agreeable rattle, and began loudly groping for Jesus with the public worshippers. Looking for the long lost pastor with the long-tailed bear, who sold her a snide sparkler and vanished in a broad-gauge lady once the Revolveress learned he was just throwing the hammer and the gem was glass.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 7:31 PM on December 15, 2018 [6 favorites]

I must have this. Also I now want to make business cards with Revolveress.
posted by corb at 8:21 PM on December 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

My Compleinte

So I open the 'book' at archive.org, right? And I decide I want to look up the term 'lap robe', which I just learned yesterday is from about 1866.

So. I'm looking at the 'A' section and I need to get to the 'L' section. So I guess, maybe page 150. Only ... there's no visible way to SKIP to page 150. Like most lovely, minimalist pages on the Web nowadays, light on navigation, big on skin.

REALLY people? After *all these years*? (Like cassette tapes, sequential access?) SO I see a search box, enter 'page 150' and ... not found. So I enter '150'. Ten seconds of twirling, page 150 (two icons?).

From there, I must flip 15 pages to get to the 'L' section and ... no 'lap robe'. Of course. Yes, mr. obvious, I could have searched for 'lap robe' ... but *the point* stands.

Of course, I could download the PDF, and -any- PDF reader will goto page 150. IF, that is, the PDF page numbering matches the BOOK's page numbering.

Wow. We sure have come a long way. And if we squint just right, we can keep fooling ourselves. *le sigh*
posted by Twang at 1:09 AM on December 16, 2018

"Up the pole" is a fascinating phrase, still used in British slang during my childhood, but with no clear derivation that I've ever seen. It can mean anything from "crazy" to "pregnant" to "drunk". The common factor seems to be that you're in a difficult position - just as you would be if stuck at the top of a real pole. A popular variant, "up the stick" is also used to mean "pregnant", and always sounds that bit harsher and more callous to me.

Scrolling through the book's PDF at random, I found these two memorable entries on page 265:

Who stole the goose? (Peoples’ – provincial). Interjection of contempt, which appears to have some hidden meaning, probably of an erotic nature.

Who took it out of you? (Street). Meaning wholly unknown to people not absolutely of lower class.

I like the "probably" in the first definition, and the fact that he jumps so quickly to the conclusion there must he something sexual going on. I'd love to know what image came into his mind when he decided that. What does the goose represent in this scenario and who's doing the stealing?

"Absolutely' in the second definition is nice too. The message here seems to be, "You may think you've met some some lower class people, but my God, you should see the scum I have to deal with doing this job!" Still, good to know we've still got some secrets from the toffs, eh readers?
posted by Paul Slade at 1:29 AM on December 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

"Up the pole" is a fascinating phrase, still used in British slang during my childhood, but with no clear derivation that I've ever seen.

I wonder if "up the junction", which is a phrase I learned from Squeeze, is a descendant?
posted by thelonius at 2:24 AM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Still, good to know we've still got some secrets from the toffs, eh readers?

I've been working on a gazetteer of old Washington, D.C. landmarks and place names, and came across this a while back:

“Ask the first policeman you meet to give you the names of the alleys and courts in his precinct and he will startle you if you happen to be of the male sex and he knows you quite well. The commonly accepted ways of several of these byways, almost in the heart of the city, would not look well in print. The average colored rounder again knows these alleys by terms that would astonish even a Fourth precinct policeman. A number of the names, however, are particularly appropriate, and others offer such a striking contrast to the character of the place or its inhabitants that they tickle the fancy of the habitues, and common usage buries the original name beyond resurrection.” [“Names Not in Directories”, Post, 9/17/1893, p. 10]

Banging my head against the shifting, occult nature of popular names and phrases probably prepared me to not be put-off by Ware's cavalier approach to this project.

I wonder if "up the junction", which is a phrase I learned from Squeeze, is a descendant?

Strikes me as maybe having been a railroading-related cross-pollination?
posted by ryanshepard at 5:25 AM on December 16, 2018

Yes, mr. obvious, I could have searched for 'lap robe' ... but *the point* stands.

You're going to have to make a better point than that.

You're trying to search for something you think might be there. That kind of metadata can only be added with extensive manual labour: proof-reading, adding bookmarks for catchwords and so on. If you'd searched for ‘lap’, however, you'd have found a couple of hits, the alphabetical entry on page 165. There's even a helpful slider that would get you to about half way. Either way, you'd find that your phrase isn't in this book.

Searching for the string ‘page 150’ isn't going to cut it either, unless the book has “Page NN” on each foot. While searching via archive.org's server is slow, searching a local downloaded PDF is even slower for me on this 4 GHz i7 machine.

The book's out of copyright, so feel free to make a more searchable/user friendly version. I've done that for a title on IA. It took me a couple of days, access to proprietary software costing hundreds of dollars and several decades of experience with typesetting and publishing systems. Until then, I'll hear no jeremiah-mongering on the subject.
posted by scruss at 7:20 AM on December 16, 2018 [4 favorites]

Wonderful resource! Its the ultimate list of band names and personal/political epithets: Athletic Drolls, Attorney-General’s Devil, Back Row Hopper, Bag ‘o Beer, Bang Through The Elephant, Candid Friend, Carriewitchet, Caucus-monger, ad infinitum. I’ll have to start using these; recipients won’t realize their head has been handed to them.
posted by cenoxo at 8:02 AM on December 16, 2018

If you like this, you may also enjoy Public School Slang (1940): a jolly decent, in fact a positively ripping collection of schoolboy words and phrases, with special entries on such topics as LAVATORIES and WOMEN.
posted by verstegan at 1:03 PM on December 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

I’ve never heard the term snide-sparkler but both snide and sparkler continue to mean the same things in London slang.
posted by little apollo at 1:26 PM on December 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

vanished in a broad-gauge lady

...and how did the broad-gauged lady in question feel about this?
posted by pompomtom at 5:06 PM on December 16, 2018

Looking forward to checking these out. I have a giant yellow reprint of "Slang and Its Analogues," which has a great deal of these great words and phrases and was published around the turn of the (20th) century. Many volumes! Hilarious to peruse — if you ever see it on a shelf, grab it.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 7:18 PM on December 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

« Older Showering Has a Dark, Violent Period in its Long...   |   Give Me Somebody to Dance With Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments