20 Victorian Terms That Seem Oddly Modern

Jarvis Cocker, untroubled by daddles (Pic: AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Jarvis Cocker, untroubled by daddles (Pic: AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

One of the most common gripes of the internet era is that language is becoming debased by neologisms and they’re forcing people to abandon the ability to spell with frightening speed. Then there’s the OMG and LOL of Textspeak and all of those strange new punctuation ideas (*shudders*), all of which bring out the apocalyptic doom-monger with a particular affection for hell and handbaskets.

If that is you, I bring a message of hope and good cheer: it’s always been like this. Language is always in flux, and new words arrive and are cast aside all the time. 15 years ago, the word modem appeared to be here to stay. When was the last time you used that in polite conversation? Exactly.

With that in mind, we present this list of common Victorian neologisms that have long since fallen out of use, and which would cause mass spluttering and casting of eyes heavenwards should they have been re-introduced by hipsters or businessfolk within the last year.

A simple contraction of “damned if I know” that Twitter users would find entirely suitable.

A way of getting people to do what you want using the power of suggestion, leaning over people’s workstations and criticizing their efforts. It’s a legal term, so it will have been used in court and no one will have been allowed to make faces about it.

To have an air of podsnappery is to observe things that you plainly feel are frustrating or morally suspect, but to rise above them in a noticeable fashion, as if you’re simply too good to get involved.

Simply means smart or presentable. So you’d complain if your jacket came back from the dry-cleaners and wasn’t “afternoonified enough” to wear.

Without fear. Developed into ’20s slang as a term of appreciation. “Thanks awfully, ” said Julian, “you’re an absolute brick.”

A verb that means to damage something until it is unusable, to smash it to death. Thought to be derived from the French battre a fin.

Butter upon bacon
Means the same as over-egging the pudding, as an statement of excess. “You’re releasing a double album with a free EP only six months after your last album came out? Isn’t that butter upon bacon?”

A weak drink. Seasoned whisky drinkers would refer to champagne as cat-lap, but then champagne drinkers would do the same to tea and coffee. No one called water cat-lap because Victorian water (particularly in London) was strong enough to kill.

Bang Up To The Elephant
Means the same as finished, immaculate, perfect. 

A knees-up for sailors. Carnival, basically.

A term of endearment for a beloved friend. Someone you wuv.

Cop a mouse
To get a black eye. Cop means receive, and a mouse is about the right size and color to represent bruising.

Other people’s gushing fandoms, worthy of very little but a raised eyebrow and a light sneer: “Taylor Swift’s new song has created waves of enthuzimuzzy from teenage girls the world over.”

Not related to moobs, sadly. Daddles are dull hands. Jarvis Cocker does not have daddles.

A policeman.

People who can’t sing, and prove this at some volume (while filming a concert on a tablet computer in your face).

A face with an easy, constant smile.

Got the morbs
Feeling a bit down in the dumps. Stricken with melancholy. A touch of the Eeyores.

Getting up to noisy nonsense in the streets.

Make a stuffed bird laugh
Something that is preposterous and contemptible, “The end of Man of Steel was enough to make a stuffed bird laugh.”

Source: Passing English Of The Victorian Era by J. Redding Ware

See more: 
45 Everyday Phrases Coined By Shakespeare
Six Innocent Phrases and Their Morally Suspect Origins
Fraser’s Phrases: Five British Sayings to Live By
Five Tiny U.S. Phrases With Opposite Meanings In The U.K.

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser is a British writer, broadcaster and the the author of the book Stuff Brits Like. He is Anglophenia's resident Brit blogger, having written BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog, the Top of the Pops website, and for NME, the Guardian and elsewhere. Favorite topics include slang, Doctor Who and cramming as much music into Anglophenia as he can manage. He invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic
View all posts by Fraser McAlpine.