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Colorful Victorian Slang

alex atkins bookshelf wordsWhen James Joyce began writing Ulysses in 1914, he was researching language. One of the works he consulted was J. Redding Ware’s Passing English of the Victorian Era: A Dictionary of Heterodox English, Slang, and Phrase that was published in 1909 by Routledge. A year earlier, Routledge had published a one-volume abridged edition of the seminal seven-volume Slang and Its Analogues by John Farmer and William Henley. In the introduction to a modern facsimile, John Simpson notes “[Ware’s Dictionary of Victorian Slang] is one of the most engaging and enjoyable English dictionaries you are likely to find… He includes [more than 4,000] words and phrases, and the core of his work covers vocabulary and expressions that he encountered during his life in and around the music halls, theaters and streets of London…  [This] results in a remarkable picture of how English was changing in the late nineteenth century.” Here are some interesting entries.

argol-bargol: to have a noisy quarrel

boodle: money

carriwitchet: a puzzling question

chivy duel: fight with knives

Coxey: a wild political leader

diffs: difficulties

Donnybrook: a riot

hinchinarfer: gruff-voice woman

knee-drill: hypocritical prayer

mops and brooms: drunk

plain as a pipe-stem: utterly plain

quite a dizzy: a very clever man

sham-abram: fake illness

three-quarter man: a bad employee

zeb: best

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For further reading: The Victorian Dictionary of Slang & Phrase by J. Redding Ware


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