Letter #19: Victorian Phrases
Because why not?
Thanks to Pinterest, I fell down a rabbit hole of slang and phrases from the Victorian era. (And other eras, but more on that in a later letter!)
The following post served as the inspiration for this letter:
Photo credit: unknown and nineprotons, posted to Pinterest by Nick Shook
Upon further investigation, I discovered many of these phrases come from the 1909 Passing English of the Victorian Era, a Dictionary of Heterodox English, Slang and Phrase.
For those of you who are curious, the Victorian era ran from roughly “1820 and 1914, corresponding roughly but not exactly to the period of Queen Victoria’s reign (1837–1901)” (Steinbach). However, Google Arts & Culture states that Queen Victoria’s death in 1901 marks the Victorian era’s end.
To clarify: This period is not to be confused with the Edwardian, Georgian, or Regency era dates. The Edwardian era dates from 1901 to 1910, from King Edward the VIII’s reign following Queen Victoria’s death, though these dates sometimes extend to include the start of the First World War.
The Georgian period was from 1714 to 1837, named for the fact that the British rulers of this period were all named George (George I, George II, George III). The Regency era ran from 1810 (or 1811) to 1820, named for the decade when George IV, the Prince of Wales, became Regent (Koch, The Regency Town House).
From my research, the Georgian and Edwardian eras are closely linked and often overlap, as a lot of time periods seem to. It’s like time periods don’t actually line up in neat little boxes in history textbooks or something! *gasp*
Anyway, that’s some trivia fun facts for you. And here’s the trivia I was actually trying to get to today!
A brief run of my favorite Victorian slang:
“got the morbs” (or, a brief period of sadness/melancholy)
“well, that’s shot the bale” (or, completely missed the mark)
“butter on bacon” (or, excessively overdone)
“gigglemug” (or a smiling face)
“Can’t you feel the shrimp? (or, the smell the sea)
“dig me out” (or, to call for me/make a social call/get me out of the house to stop me from lazing around)
“listening to oneself” (or, thinking)
“parts his hair with a towel” (or, bald)
“Rational costume” (or, according to the Passing English of the Victorian Era: “‘Trousers for women. Early in the 1850s these appendages were called ‘Bloomers’ from an American lady of that name. A generation passed, when they loomed up again as divided skirts and ‘Bectives’ (probably from Lady Bective having approved the fashion). Next, about 1890, they took over the name for young boys’ knee-trousers, and were called ‘knickerbockers.’ Next, in 1895, the female trouser was known as rational costume’”)
A Related(ish) Link
And, in case you were looking for some other good ol’ Victorian info, here’s a clip about women’s fencing during this time period. I really appreciated the outfit that Kaz Rowe, the video’s creator, made and is wearing in the clip. The outfit became an informal standard for women fencers in this time, due to its popularity. It was apparently so iconic that it which was referenced all the way up until the 1940s!
Credit: Kat Rowe on YouTube
I just found Rowe’s channel today and have watched a number of videos. They’re all very well researched, along with being beautifully costumed, filmed, and delivered. If you’re interested in some pretty niche historical topics, I’d check their channel out!
Just a quick list of some fun word history today. Hope you enjoyed!
Let me know in the comments of any other other eras to look for specific phrasing or words!
Hope you’re having a day as lovely as you are!
Until next time, happy reading!
Arguello, Toby. “The Georgian Era Marked a Century of Immense Change in Britain.” The Archive, Open Road Media, 30 Mar. 2021, https://explorethearchive.com/georgian-era.
“Edwardian Era - Google Arts & Culture.” Google, Google, https://artsandculture.google.com/entity/edwardian-era/m0phwt?hl=en.
Koch, Bea. Mad & Bad: Real Heroines of the Regency. Hachette Book Group, Inc. 2020.
“The Regency Period.” The Regency Town House, The Regency Town House, http://www.rth.org.uk/regency-period.
“‘Smothering a Parrot’ and 51 Other Fun Victorian Slang Terms.” Victoriana Magazine, Victoriana Magazine, 24 Sept. 2014, http://www.victoriana.com/victorian-slang/.
Steinbach, Susie. "Victorian era". Encyclopedia Britannica, 12 Mar. 2021, https://www.britannica.com/event/Victorian-era. Accessed 13 May 2022.
Ware, J. Redding. “A Dictionary of Victorian Slang (1909).” The Public Domain Review, The Public Domain Review, 29 Jan. 2013, https://publicdomainreview.org/collection/a-dictionary-of-victorian-slang-1909.
Quote of the Week:
The following lines come from the preface to the 1909 Dictionary of Victorian Slang mentioned above.
“Be it repeated ─not an hour passes without the discovery of a new word or phrase ─as the hours have always been ─as the hours will always be. Nor is it too ambitious to suggest that passing language has something to do with the daily history of the nation. Be this all as it may be ─here is a phrase book offered to, it may be hoped, many readers, the chief hope of the author, in relation with this work, being that he may be found amusing, if neither erudite nor useful.”
-J. Redding Ware
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