Looking Glass Language

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Archive for the tag “Dictionary”

Wordy Wednesday: slang (check out the Gizoogle gangsta slang)

A dog's portion

A dog’s portion

The word ‘slang’ first showed up in English in the middle of the 18th century, when it was defined as ‘low and vulgar words used only by people of disreputable character’. The vulgar words it describes have doubtless been around since the advent of language itself. Slang is often vivid and evocative, and can offer a tantalising glimpse into the mores and lifestyles of long-dead societies. And some of it, particularly a few of the examples of 18th Century slang I’ve shown below, I’d love to resurrect.

In the 1700s, if someone offered you a dog’s portion, the best you could hope for was a lick and a smell, whereas with a bog orange you’d at least be getting food, even if it was only a potato… Those who got very drunk (as they might well do on such meagre rations) might be berated for being drunk as Davy’s sow, and if they then vomited, were likely to be ridiculed for casting up their accounts.

A bog orange

A bog orange

If a friend suggested you hang an arse and cast an eye over an apple dumpling shop, you’d unfortunately be no nearer getting fed than you would with a dog’s portion: the suggestion would instead be for you to hold back and admire a woman’s ample bosom. And if, instead of doing so, you called him bacon-fed or a beef-head he’d probably give you a thump, because you clearly considered him either fat and greasy, or an idiot.

An erection was known as a horn or the horn, for obvious reasons, and any man having the horn (James Joyce used the term in Ulysses) was called horny, a slang word which still denotes somebody lecherous or sexually excited, though, despite its penile genesis, it is now used for both men and women.

(Many of the above definitions came from the highly entertaining Dictionary of Old Slang, which is well worth a gander…)  Read more…

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