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Just because it’s Friday and old words are amazing, here’s a list of delightful slang terms that are around 200 years old. Some of them describe acts people simply don’t perform any more, or suggest manners and etiquette that no longer apply, while some are all too familiar and could have been coined last week.
Let’s start with a dubious practise:
It’s an act of pure criminal nastiness to throw snuff or pepper into someone’s face, with the sole intention of making off with their valuables. It’s an act of linguistic genius to refer to this practise as sneeze-lurking.
And speaking of sneezing, y’know how Dickensian pickpockets chased silk handkerchiefs? This practise was called wipe-hauling, and it was performed by snotters.
Because it’s part of a secretive, flirtatious dance, language is never ever going to run out of euphemisms for the act of making love. Houghmagandie (or hogmagandy) is an unromantic, but still fully engaged Scots and Northern Irish term for that very thing.
And if you think that sounds brutal, at least it’s not the similarly-meant cully-shangy. Not to be confused with collie-shangle, which was used by Queen Victoria herself, and means a loud argument or ruckus.
Draw the long bow
Someone fond of spinning a wild yarn, full of extravagant detail but short on facts, could be accused of drawing the long bow. It derives from the over-egged stories told about Norman archers.
In fact, the popular myth that the English insolently flick the v-sign with their fingers because longbowmen used to have those digits cut off if they were caught by the enemy is a perfect example of a story told by someone drawing the long bow.
Tea. It’s the perfect drink for a good gossip.
A personal favorite, this one. A footman or valet would be used to walking a couple of steps behind their master or mistress. You can fill in the visual images yourself.
An old man with a taste for younger pleasures, and a Chaucerian term that could describe a good many of the more mature leading men in Hollywood, right Mr. Clooney?
Lay down the knife and fork
A slightly flippant term describing death. It’s better than “gone to the great [your workplace] in the sky” at any rate.
Gentleman of Four Outs
Not a baseball term, but one describing an obnoxious fellow who has an inflated sense of his own worth. Should he venture the opinion that he is a gentleman, the reply would be that he is a gentleman of four outs: “without wit, without money, without credit and without manners.”
This is an elaboration on the previous term gentleman of three outs (money, wit or mourners) and the subsequent gentleman of five outs (money, clothes, out at heel, out a toes, out of credit).
Off your chump
If you’re off your chump, or someone is described as off their chumpy, it means you or they are crazy. It’s the old equivalent to wackadoodle and the good news is, it still has some currency in parts of the U.K.
There are few things more tiresome than a bumptious young man who believes himself to be a part of the adult world, and carries himself with a swagger and a lofty air he believes to be his right, having observed it in older men looking down at him. His pockets may still be filled with the the detritus of his youth (or gullyfluff), but he believes he has a right to act as men do, despite not being entirely sure what that may be. That guy is a hobbledehoy. The term more recently came to be used to describe a general buffoon, but a really awkward one. And you can see why, given its original context.
See more posts by Fraser McAlpine
Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.
He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.
Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic