A Glossary of Slang

Courtesy of The Institute of Edwardian Studies, Askew’s Glossary of Victorian Colonial Terminology, Vita Sackville-West’s The Edwardians and Ronald Pearsall’s Edwardian Life and Leisure.

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

A
ague – Any fever, such as malaria, that recurs at regular intervals (from Medieval Latin febris acuta, literally, sharp fever)

ammunitions – Boots (later usage)

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B
baize – a coarse, woolen material resembling felt

balmy on the crumpet – crazy, insane

barnbrack (barmbrack) – a spice cake-like bread usually made with currants

beef, beer, and lust – What British civilians thought British soldiers were too full of.

beer, bum, and bacca – Pleasures of the sailor’s life, circa 1870, “bacca” being tobacco.

blackavised – dark faced, to have a dark complexion, swarthy

black death – The plague. A virulent contagious bacteria often found in rats. Humans can get the disease from fleas.

black water fever – A type of African malaria that causes anemia and brown or black urine due to the destruction of red blood cells.

blimey – From Gorblimey!, meaning “God blind me”

blottesque – blotted or blotchy

blotto – drunk

blue devils – to feel sad or depressed, to be in low spirits. e.g., I had the blue devils after losing the game.

blue jacket – British sailor

BOR – British Other Ranks, non-officers

box coat – a large, loose-fitting overcoat worn by coachmen

brew – Tea

brevet – A temporary higher rank, for example, a captain being a brevet colonel. It was not unusual for British colonial officers on loan to another regiment to be temporarily classed as a higher rank in that regiment but to paid for the lesser rank of their actual regiment. (Old French, diminutive of brief letter)
brick – good sort, good sport

brolly – Umbrella, circa 1873

broomsquire – a professional broom maker

buck – a dandy, a smartly dressed or handsome individual

buffer – old man, old codger

bunk – to tell someone angrily to go away–scram!; to dash or sprint away (“done the bunk”–to escape, run out on [something/one])

bun strangler – Non-drinker

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C
cabinet particulier – a private room, usually associated with a restaurant and having a sofa or hidden bed, set aside for trysts by lovers and those having extra-marital affairs

Cardigan – an artilleryman from the Cardigan regiment of the Royal Garrison Artillery reserves

caravan – Travelers on a journey through hostile regions (Italian caravana, from Persian karwan).

carry the banner – tramp

catarrh – An inflammation of the nose and air passages that produces drainage (from Greek katarrhein to flow down).

char – Tea. (Hindustani char)

charpoy – A bed, frame strung with tapes or light rope (Hindustani carpai)

cheeking – taunting or jeering at

cheese it – stop!, stop it!, look out!

chit – derogatory term for a small or frail woman

cicerone – a sightseeing guide

cinematrograph – Early motion pictures c. 1900. Also known as viagraph or bioscope.

chee-chee – Half-caste, mixed race of British and Indian. Also the sing-song accent of same, from the early influence of Welsh missionaries.

cheroot – Cigar (from Tamil, curuttu, roll. [About 1679])

cholera belt – A body wrapping of flannel worn to supposedly prevent cholera. Used in India until about 1920.

chota peg – Small drink, a gin and tonic

chota wallah – Little guy

class regiment Indian Army regiment whose members were all recruited from one ethnic group such as Sikhs, Gurkhas, etc.

clemming – consumptive, emaciated; necessitous, in want, pinched; in shoemaking, the binding together of soles

clergyman’s daughter – slang for a prostitute or woman with loose morals

clobber – Uniform, clothing

cockchafer – the beetle Melolontha melolontha

college – Prison (as in, “I’ve been to college.”)

contango – A technical term from the British Stock Exchange referring to the postponing of a transfer of stock. More colloquially, it refers to the last day to negotiate a financial arrangement before accounts are settled. In slang, it refers to the day of reckoning or the last judgement.

Corner – to corner the market on something, to gain a monopoly

cozy corner – an arrangement of built-in seats situated in a room’s corner or next to a fireplace

consumption – Pulmonary tuberculosis or any other wasting-away disease that “consumed” its victims.

crammer – a person who helps students cram (intensively study) for examinations

crack up – talk up, praise, laud

Crikey – an exclamation equivalent to Oh My! or Well Then!

croaker – A dying person, a corpse, or someone who has given up; doomsayer, complainer

cropper (come a cropper) – a hard fall (esp. from a horse); usually used in “come a cropper,” meaning to come to ruin or to fail miserably

crossing – a fight, especially a clandestine prize fight

cushy – Easy (Hindi khush pleasant, from Persian khush [1915]

cut it or cutting it – escape, take off, take a vacation

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D
daisy-roots – Boots

dead-and-alive – dead quiet, dull, sleepy

deevie – divine

dekko – To take a look (Hindi, deckna, to look)

dhobi wallah – Indian who did the washing

dhoolie wallah – Indian dhoolie carrier

D. O. – British District Officer

doggo – To lie doggo, to hide. Probably from “dog” [1893]

dog cart – a two-wheeled vehicle of often simple design and decoration drawn by a smallish horse or a pony

donkey walloper – Infantry disparaging term for cavalry

doss – a bed or to sleep. Also see on the doss.

doss house – a cheap lodging house. Also see on the doss.

down – to be critical

drugget – a floor covering made of a coarse fabric

dyspepsia – Indigestion (Latin, from Greek, from dys- + pepsis digestion)

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E
enteric fever – Typhoid fever

expie – expensive

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F

fallalish – pertaining to an article of clothing or piece of dress that is excessively showy or fancy (from fallal)

fast – extravagant, wild

Fieldfare – a thrush, Turdus pilaris, related to the European blackbird. In summer it has a brown breast, brown back, white underwings, and grey head. Its winter plumage is mainly grey in color.

finnan haddie – smoked haddock

Fishing Fleet – Unmarried British women sent to India each year by their parents during the cool weather to find husbands.

fittums – What a perfect fit!

fizz – champagne

flash – showy, gaudy, vulgar

fossick – To search for gold or gemstones typically by picking over abandoned workings (Australian and New Zealand)

footle – nonsense; to talk nonsense or to waste time

French – to be French is to be disingenuous or unserious

frou-frou – the rustling or swish of a dress or gown

fuddled – to become befuddled or drunk

furze – also known as gorse or whin. A shrub, Ulex europeaeus, which grows 4 feet in height and bears yellow flowers

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G

gallipot – a small, covered earthenware pot

galloper – Officer used by commanders to carry messages.

Gardner Gun (machine gun) – A one- to five-barreled machine gun used by the British Army from 1880. Operated by turning a crank which loaded and fired each barrel in sequence.

gas – boasting; idle or nonsensical talk

General Services Enlistment Act – One of the causes of the Indian Mutiny. It required Indian troops in British service to to go overseas, if required. Hindus would break caste if they did so.

gibbous – humpbacked; convex; used to describe the moon when its phase is more than half but less than full

gloaming – twilight or dusk

gradley (graidley) – thoroughly, greatly

graft – Work

grangerised – adding material (especially pictures) collected from other sources to an existing book; extra-illustrated

greenwood – a form of woodworking which uses freshly-cut wood and specializes in bending the wood into curved shapes for chairs, bows, and ornamental objects; a vivid green wood used in making ornamental objects

grig – grasshopper or cricket. Often seen in the phrase “merry as a grig,” meaning ecstatic or jumping for joy.

grippe – Influenza (from French, seizure)

god wallah – Priest or chaplain

goolie – Testicle, late 19th century (Hindi gooli, a pellet)

gorse – see furze

got the chuck – fired from a job, discharged from a position, dismissed

got the hump – put out, annoyed, irritated. e.g., He has got the hump over it.

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H

hanger – a copse or wooded area on the side of a steep hill

hap – luck; happenstance

havelock – Cloth cap cover that hung on the back to protect the neck from sunlight (named after Sir Henry Havelock)

heart-whole – not in love

heliograph – a device which sends messages (usually in morse code) by means of flashes of reflected sunlight

highball – whiskey and water (Am Eng)

hoarding – a display case or area to place advertisements or advertised products; a wooden fence or barrier

hook it – escape, run away, get away

hop the wag – play truant from school

hot or cold – Ways of attacking. By shooting (hot) or by bayonet (cold)

hoyden – a boisterous girl or young woman

hummock – a knoll, small hill, or mound of earth

hussar – a light cavalryman

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I
Ichabod – an exclamation equivalent to “By God!,” “How terrible!,” or “What a shame!” Usage is derived from the biblical name in 1 Samuel, meaning no glory or the glory is gone.

Imperial Yeomanry – British volunteer cavalry force recruited from locals for the Boer war. Little or no training, but they had much enthusiasm.

indy – indigestion

isinglass – a gelatin made from fish, usually sturgeon

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J
jackdaw – a crow

jipper – to baste; meat broth, gravy, drippings

josser – a fool, a fellow

juggins – a simpleton

jump – liveliness

jumping jesus – a zealot or fanatic

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K
Keep your hair on! – a command not to get excited, equivalent to “Keep your hat on!”

kip – place to sleep; Bed (Danish kippecheap tavern)

kipping – sleeping

knut – an idle upper-class man-about-town

kopje – Afrikaans word for a small hill, especially one with steep sides

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L
liberty-men – Sailors on shore leave.

limber – horse-drawn, two-wheeled wagon used to transport artillery pieces; the action of transporting artillery pieces in a limber; the driver of a limber

linctus – in medicine it refers to a medicinal preparation or mixture

leash (of animals) – three or threesome

loot – Plunder (Hindi lut [c.1788])

lorgnettes – opera glasses

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M
mahout – in India, an elephant driver

malaria – A disease transmitted by mosquitoes that causes periodic severe attacks of chills and fever, thought at one time to be caused by miasma (Italian [1740], from mala aria, bad air)

man-man – a royal personage

matlow – Self-adopted name of British sailors (blue-jackets)[1880](from French matelot, sailor)

mar – a cripple

Maxim Gun – British – .303 caliber. Recoil-operated machine gun. First used in Matabele war of 1893-94. Bought and copied by almost all nations, although often under other names. The standard MG during the Great War. Named after the British (American-born) inventor, Sir Hiram Stevens Maxim.

miasma – A heavy vapor emanation or atmosphere believed to cause malaria or other diseases common in swampy areas (Greek, defilement, from miainein to pollute [1665])

miry – swampy, muddy

moithered – to be agitated, flustered, or perturbed, especially by a noisy crowd

mumchance – silent, dumbstruck

munge – to chew or chop into a mixture; to get into or cause a bad situation, to make a mess of things

murrain – A plague that infects domestic animals (from Latin mori, to die)

Mussulman – A Moslem or Muslim (Turkish müslüman, Persian musulman, modification of Arabic muslim)

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N
nap – a form of the card game whist

nappy wallach – Barber

nasty jar – a bad or sticky situation

Nebuchadnezzar phase – a drunken episode, a drinking bout. Derived from the name given the largest container of champagne–a Nebuchadnezzar–which held 20 quarts or 15 liters

nesh – frail; tender, especially as regards susceptibility to the cold

nightie – nightgown

Night-jar – a bird, Caprimulgus europaeus, with gray-brown plumage and white wings. Also known as the goatsucker.

Nordenfelt Gun – Although Nordenfelt produced other types of guns, when used in a colonial setting the term usually refers to a multi-barreled machine gun (2 to 10 barrels) operated by a lever which was moved back and forth. First used in the 1880’s.

nuclear spot – central location

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O
oast – an oven for drying hops or malt

off his chump – insane, crazy

off his onion – mad, crazy

old sweat – Veteran

on the cot – Changing one’s ways

on the doss – on the tramp, vagabondage

on the peg – Under arrest

osier – a small willow tree whose branches are often used in basket making, Salix viminalis

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P

padding the hoof – walking

paddy – Rice field (Malay padi [1623])

palanquin – in India, a sedan chair used by British colonials, especially women, of rank. It was either carried by men or set atop an elephant.

paling – a fence, specifically the upright components of a fence–especially wooden pickets

pannier – Donkey load. A large basket or container carried on the back of an animal or on the shoulders of a person (13th century, Latin, panis, bread)

pantechnicon – a furniture moving truck

peg – a soup kitchen, a place where free meals are given out

pettish – peevish

P. and O. – Peninsular and Oriental Steamship Company. The main line for British travelers to India and the East

Per mare, per terram – “By land, by sea”, motto of the Royal Marines. AKA “Poor Mary on the terrace”

pipe off – lose interest in something, especially a lover

pippin – an outstanding person; a variety of apple

pith helmet – Sun helmet made of cloth-covered cork.

piquet – A small guard post with about 12 men or less.

Pom or Pommie – Derisive Australian soldier’s term for British officers or British men in general (from pomade – hair dressing)

poodle-faker – A man who spent too much time in the society of women, engaging in such activates as tea parties, balls, etc.

pop-wallah – Non-alcohol drinker, a drinker of soda pop

pother – to bother or worry; a fuss, confusion

Pooterism – a middle-class obsession with respectability and class distinctions; social pretentiousness, pettiness. The term is derived from Charles Pooter who is the main character in The Diary of a Nobody (1892) by George and Weedon Grossmith.

pukka – Genuine, authentic, first-class (Hindi pakka cooked, ripe, solid, from Sanskrit pakva)

pukka sahib – Excellent fellow (used for Europeans only)

puggaree – Muslin cloth wrapped around a pith helmet (Hindi pagri turban)

punk – Inferior, as in “played a punk game”, “feeling punk” (ill) (1896)

punkah wallah – Indian employed to work a fan, usually by a string attached to their toe or thumb.

pusher – Girl friend

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Q
Queen’s shilling, the – Bounty paid to a new recruit for joining the army.

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R
rag – a rowdy event or celebration; a prant; the act of teasing or scolding

ragger – someone who is noisy or riotous; a conspicuous troublemaker

razzle-dazzle – a spree, to go carousing; to womanize

reach-me-down – used, as in a reach-me-down piece of clothing; equivalent to hand-me-down

repining – chagrin; regret; bitterness; yearning

rinking – roller skating

rooky – New recruit

roly-poly – a pudding made by rolling jam within a sheet of suet pastry which is then baked

R.M.L.I. – Royal Marine Light Infantry

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S
sack – cheap wine

satinette – gin

sawney – Scotsman (circa 1700 on)

scorching – speeding, racing; exceeding the speed limit in a motor car

scraper – a boot scraper

screwed – drunk, intoxicated

semi-classical – a euphemism for semi-nude, often used when describing art

settle – a bench or chair with a high back

shako – Stiff, tall military hat (French, from Hungarian csákó)

shambles – a slaughterhouse or butcher shop

shandy-gaff – a combination of ale and ginger beer

shaping – working oneself into a state of excitement over something; preparing

shrapnel – Anti-personnel shell that exploded in the air and scattered small lead balls. Also, later on, any piece of metal from any type shell. (After the inventor, Henry Shrapnel [1806])

skof – Food

sleeping sickness – A serious disease transmitted by tsetse flies, common in much of tropical Africa. Sleeping sickness saved parts of Africa from being settled by Europeans in the 19th century because it killed their cattle and horses.

slingers – Hard tack and coffee

snotty – Midshipman [Royal Navy]

spyglass – Telescope

stoppages – Money deducted from a soldier’s pay (“stopped”) as a punishment

subaltern – A junior officer in the British army, just below lieutenant.

swaddy – Soldier.

siphon – short for siphon bottle, a bottle holding aerated or soda water

skilly – a concoction of three parts oatmeal stirred into three and one-half buckets of hot water. It was a staple of the diet in workhouses.

skittle – a form of ninepins; one of the pins knocked down in the game

slavey – a maid of all work

slinging my hook – running away, escaping. Also hook it.

sluice – a wash, to bathe

snuggery – a comfortable, cozy, snug room or place

spasammy – offhand, casual, cavalier

spavined – deteriorated, in disrepair; in medicine it refers to swelling

spike – the casual ward of a workhouse

spoil-five – a card game probably of Irish origin. After an initial bet, each player is dealt five cards and seeks to win three of five tricks. The winner gets the pot. If no one wins, the game is called “spoiled” and a new initial bet is added to the existing pot before the next deal.

stash it – Royal Navy slang for “be quiet”, eqivalent to “stow it”

stashing it up – causing a commotion or tumult

sticking – hockey

stylograph – a fountain pen which has a point instead of a split nib

sub – an advance on one’s pay

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T
taken the knock – to be betrayed or jilted by a lover

teagie – tea gown

tiled – included in, covered with guilt or responsibility; in the same situation. e.g., We are all tiled in this mess.

Ticker – Soldier who owned his own personal watch (early usage)

tiffin – Lunch or snack (obsolete English tiff to eat between meals)

to fire into the brown – Originally referred to hunters firing into a covey of game birds without aiming at any particular bird, but was later used for soldiers firing into a charging mass of natives.

topee – Helmet (Hindi topi)

Tommy – Tommy Atkins. Name for the British common soldier

toerag – a bum or vagrant

tommy – food

top-hole – first class, first rate, the very best

tosh – rubbish, nonsense

trap – a two-wheeled carriage often pulled by a pony and called a “pony trap” or a “pony and trap”

trump – an outstanding person

tumbled – to get to the bottom of, discover the truth of, concluded the facts of a mystery or situtation. e.g., He tumbled to the truth of the matter.

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U
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V
vapors – A Victorian belief that emanations from bodily organs (such as the stomach) could affect the physical and mental condition of people, especially women. Vapors were often blamed for women fainting, although fashions that included binding women’s bodies so tight that they could barely breathe would seem to be a more likely cause.

VC – The Victoria Cross, the highest British medal

vedettes – Mounted sentries

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W

wad – Cake

wag his pow – to wag one’s tongue, to babble, to jabber, to rattle on

wagonette – a four-wheeled, horse-drawn carriage often having facing benches or seats in the rear

wallah – Person associated with an activity–for example, god wallah for priest

wet – Tea, as in, “have a wet”,

What priced head have you? – roughly means “How severe is your hangover?”

whin – see furze

white satin – gin

wizard – Excellent, as in “a wizard time”

wrangler – a debater; at the University of Cambridge, one of those who have attained the first grade in the second (until 1909 in the first) part of the examination for honors in mathematics. Until 1909, the student attaining the highest marks was called the senior wrangler.

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X
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Y
yarning – inextricable

yellow fever – A disease transmitted by mosquitoes that causes jaundice, among many other symptoms

yellow jack – Yellow fever

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Z
zenana – in India, the apartment set aside for women in the household

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