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Dictionary in the Vulgar Tongue


It’s probably been more or less proven by now that I spend my days a) finding weird stuff in the past, b) getting angry at the past, and 3) teaching my students about weird stuff or evil people in the past. And that’s more or less true, along with writing about weird stuff and evil people in the past. The advantage of having this blog platform is that now I can force more people to listen to me go on like Texas about this stuff.

And this leads me to tonight’s joy, Francis Grose’s 1811 Dictionary in the Vulgar Tongue, produced by those saints at the Gutenberg Project who should all make $250,000 a year but probably make more like $2500. This is amazing. A few of these very English entries for your nightly pleasure. Actually, let’s go for an even 10.

1. “ADMIRAL OF THE NARROW SEAS. One who from drunkenness vomits into the lap of the person sitting opposite to him. SEA PHRASE.”

2. “HORSE’S MEAL. A meal without drinking.” Is this like vegetarianism or something?

3. “GAP STOPPER. A whoremaster.”

4. “HUCKLE MY BUFF. Beer, egg, and brandy, made hot.”

5. “IRISH LEGS. Thick legs, jocularly styled the Irish arms. It is said of the Irish women, that they have a dispensation from the pope to wear the thick end of their legs downwards.” There are a good number of anti-Irish bits in this.

6. “MACCARONI. An Italian paste made of flour and eggs. Also a fop: which name arose from a club, called the Maccaroni Club, instituted by some of the most dressy travelled gentlemen about town, who led the fashions; whence a man foppishly dressed, was supposed a member of that club, and by contraction styled a Maccaroni.”

7. “LOUSE LAND. Scotland.”

8. “TOKEN. The plague: also the venereal disease. She tipped him the token; she gave him a clap or pox.”

9. “MELTING MOMENTS. A fat man and woman in the amorous congress.”

10. And last, but most definitely not least: “GAYING INSTRUMENT. The penis.”

This may actually be the greatest book ever published.

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  • I remember running into the Gutenberg Project like FOREVER AGO and forgot about them until you posted this tonight.

  • commie atheist

    “GAYING INSTRUMENT. The penis.”

    Thi explains everything. We are all Gay Americans now.

    • Don’t tell Santorum.

      • NBarnes

        The news might whip him into a… never mind. I just can’t anymore.

    • Honorable.Bob

      QUEER BITCH. An odd, out-of-the-way fellow.

      Relevant today as ever…

  • S. Tarzan

    Is that why Yankee Doodle Dandy “stuck a feather in his cap/And called it macaroni”?

    • Inconstant Reade

      Yes. The song’s all about this Yankee hick who thinks he’s so cool but everyone’s laughing at him behind his back.

      • Hey, he’s still handy with the girls…

        • Ian

          Two and two can go to bed
          two and two together.
          If there is not room enough
          lie one on top o’the other.

          Yankee doodle pick it up…

  • He Dog

    I am a…pupil monger? Cool. Now I know!

    • Honorable.Bob

      Remember that Mr. Grose was an Englisman. I’m sure the American english with it’s idioms was much, much different.

      • Malaclypse

        the American english with it’s idioms

        Someday Bob will not say anything stupid, but this is not that day.

        • DrDick


          • R Johnston



      • Furious Jorge

        Is one of those idioms not knowing when to use apostrophes?

        • John (not McCain)

          What do you expect from a mab’s son?

  • genjirama

    Grose, not Gose, methinks.

    • genjirama

      Interestingly, “Gaying Instrument” does not yet appear in the 1785 (1st) edition of this book.

  • @S. Tarzan: Yes, Americans loved mocking aristocratic European fashion — OK, well, we still do — and the Macaronis (big wigs, etc.) we’re a favorite target.

    • rea

      Although the song itself was originally a British song (circa 7 Years,, a/k/a French & Indian, War) making fun of their country cousins, the Americans

      • John

        Yeah, the point isn’t that Yankee Doodle is a preening fop. It’s that he’s a country bumpkin who thinks he’s fashionable because he sticks a feather in his hat.

        • Mike Schilling

          Better than a black eye.


    Stannis Baratheon?

    • Murc

      Bite your tongue.

      Davos Seaworth.

      • witless chum

        Whichever, just don’t put a Florent in command. Seven hells!

      • StevenAttewell

        Depends on which point in the series we’re talking about; I was referring to the young Stannis, pre Game Of Thrones. /nerd

  • McKingford

    So basically, Urbandictionary.com is a lot older than we thought…

  • wengler

    BARBER’S CHAIR. She is as common as a barber’s chair, in which a whole parish sit to be trimmed; said of a prostitute.


  • Nathan of Perth

    BURNING SHAME. A lighted candle stuck into the parts of a
    woman, certainly not intended by nature for a candlestick.

    Well that’s creative.

    • Nathan of Perth

      Goodness me, is that really the origin of “Mettle”…

      • dave

        No, it’s cant derived from its general meaning.

        Meanwhile, the entry for ‘SH-T SACK’ is particularly good value for grasping the social and theological prejudices of the sort of cully who might read this type of book.

    • chris y

      I believe there are web sites for that sort of thing nowadays.

  • Manju

    It’s that the Police have used an unreasonable power; not that the Corporation has had a “right” violated.

    According to the 4th, people have the right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.

    That means the the Govt may not conduct an unreasonable search of Soros Fund Management, Inc in order to find out if the firm is trading on inside info…since George Soros retains these rights.

    Ergo, the Govt may not restrict Citizens United or the NYTimes from running ads claiming that Hillary is a FemiNazi or Santorum is a Christo-fascist. The people within these organizations retain first ammendment rights.

    • Manju

      Oops, wrong blog. I blame Robert Byrd.

      • Bart

        Too many open tabs.

  • Rohan

    The Straight Dope website suggested that “macaroni” was a slang term for Italian finery, so “stuck a feather in his cap/ and called it maccaroni” just meant “considered it the height of fashion”.

    It’s interesting if there is a topical reference for the term, though.

  • c u n d gulag

    How about “ANKLE:”
    A girl who is got with child, is said to have sprained her ankle.

    I bet the Conservatives of that time, were against crutches and braces to help her.

    “Let that “ankle” heal on its own terms – in 9 months! Har-har!!!”

    • Auguste

      We’ve actually kept that euphemism, mutated slightly, in the form of “What, did you trip and fall?”

  • S-Curve

    So George H. W. Bush was an Admiral of the Narrow Seas with the Japanese minister? Only with Halcion instead of grog?

  • Halloween Jack

    Beer, egg, and brandy, made hot.


    • muddy

      Sounds like you will be an admiral any second now.

  • Beer, egg, and brandy, made hot.


    A drink calculated to make an Admiral of the Narrow Seas of any man.

  • Professor Fate

    I remember reading a copy of this years and years ago in our college’s english Department office.
    The one I remembered from the book was

    “FART CATCHER. A valet or footman from his walking
    behind his master or mistress.”

    which I find works well discribing say David Brooks or the other sycophnats in the national press.
    thanks for reminding me of this.

  • I wonder if Ambrose Bierce was familiar with this publication.

  • APPLE DUMPLIN SHOP. A woman’s bosom.

  • Steven desJardins

    Project Gutenberg does not produce books, they distribute books produced by others.

    A Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue was produced by Distributed Proofreaders, which is an independent organization closely affiliated with PG. Nobody at DP, not even the board members or the general manager, is paid anything other than expenses. (And most of us pay our own expenses–I’ve personally spent thousands of dollars on books which I’ve scanned for PG.)

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