Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The slang of 200 years ago

A few posts ago we commented on new terms that have been added to the Oxford English Dictionary. Another item in our library is this London published dictionary of "the vulgar tongue" from 1811 - over 1,000 terms of what we would call slang and it contains much to interest language historians. Needless to say, entries relating to criminal and carnal activities feature heavily, but there are others that give quite an insight into daily life in those times, and some help to explain the origin of terms used today such as Welsh rarebit.

Relatively few of the expressions have survived into the modern period meaning essentially what they did then (although many people in Europe will find the description of Gypsies ["A set of vagrants, who, to the great disgrace of our police, are suffered to wander about the country..." - the entry continues for 2 pages] still very contemporary).

Other terms have survived with a slightly altered form, for example, Chips - "A nickname for a carpenter" - has become Chippie. One can imagine a few of the terms returning to common use if they were used by enough people, such as Smear Gelt - "a bribe" (Geld pronounced Gelt is German for money).

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