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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.
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
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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