Manly Slang from the 19th Century

by Brett & Kate McKay on March 10, 2010 · 57 comments

in Blog

While writing our first book, The Art of Manliness: Classic Skills and Manners for the Modern Man, we decided to throw a few old-time 19th century slang words into the text just for fun. While scouring old dictionaries for some words that would fit in the book, we came across many others that were beyond awesome but didn’t make the cut. Here’s a glossary of our favorite manly slang that was tossed about on the streets and saloons back in the day. These colorful words and phrases probably won’t ever come back into popular parlance, but they’re a real hoot to read through.

The Art of Manliness Dictionary of Manly 19th Century Vernacular

Admiral of the Red: A person whose very red face evinces a fondness for strong potations.

All-overish: Neither sick nor well; the premonitory symptoms of illness. Also the feeling which comes over a man at a critical moment, say just when he is about to “pop the question.” Sometimes this is called, “feeling all-over alike, and touching nowhere.”

Anointing: A good beating. A case for the application of salve.

Barking-Iron, or Barker: A pistol. Term used by footpads and thieves generally.

Bellows: The lungs. Bellowser, a blow in the ” wind,” or pit of the stomach, taking one’s breath away.

Bellows to Mend: A person out of breath; especially a pugilist is said to be “bellows to mend” when winded.

Blind Monkeys: An imaginary collection at the Zoological Gardens, which are supposed to receive care and attention from persons fitted by nature for such office and for little else. An idle and useless person is often told that he is only fit to lead the Blind Monkeys to evacuate. Another form this elegant conversation takes, is for one man to tell another that he knows of a suitable situation for him. “How much a week? and what to do?” are natural questions, and then comes the scathing and sarcastic reply, “Five bob a week at the doctor’s— you’re to stand behind the door and make the patients sick. They won’t want no physic when they sees your mug.”

Blinker: A blackened eye. Also a hard blow in the eye.

Bone Box. The mouth. Shut your bone box; shut your mouth.

Bully Trap. A brave man with a mild or effeminate appearance, by whom the bullies are frequently taken in.

Bunch Of Fives. The fist. Pugilistic.

Cat-heads. A woman’s breasts. Sea phrase.

Cold Coffee. Misfortune ; sometimes varied to COLD Gruel. An unpleasant return for a proffered kindness is sometimes called COLD Coffee.—Sea.

Colt’s Tooth. Elderly persons of juvenile tastes are said to have a Colt’s Tooth, i.e., a desire to shed their teeth once more, to live life over again.

Crab. To prevent the perfection or execution of any intended matter of business, by saying any thing offensive or unpleasant, is called crabbing it, or throwing a crab; to crab a person, is to use such offensive language or behaviour as will highly displease, or put him in an ill humour.

Cupboard Love. Pretended love to the cook, or any other person, for the sake of a meal. My guts cry cupboard; i.e. I am hungry.

Cut. To renounce acquaintance with any one is to cut him. There are several species of the CUT. Such as the cut direct, the cut indirect, the cut sublime, the cut infernal, etc. The cut direct is to start across the street, at the approach of the obnoxious person, in order to avoid him. The cut indirect is to look another way, and pass without appearing to observe him. The cut sublime is to admire the top of King’s College Chapel, or the beauty of the passing clouds, till he is cut of sight. The cut infernal is to analyze the arrangement of your shoe-strings, for the same purpose.

Dash-fire. Vigor, manliness.

Draw the Long Bow. To tell extravagant stories, to exaggerate overmuch; same as “throw the hatchet.” From the extremely wonderful stories which used to be told of the Norman archers, and more subsequently of Indians’ skill with the tomahawk.

Drumsticks. Legs. Drumstick cases-pants

Earth Bath. A grave.

Eternity Box. A coffin.

Fart Catcher. A valet or footman, from his walking behind his master or mistress.

Firing A Gun. Introducing a story by head and shoulders. A man, wanting to tell a particular story, said to the company, “Hark; did you not hear a gun?—but now we are talking of a gun, I will tell you the story of one.”

Fimble-Famble. A lame, prevaricating excuse.

Fizzing. First-rate, very good, excellent; synonymous with “stunning.”

Flag of Distress. Any overt sign of poverty; the end of a person’s shirt when it protrudes through his trousers.

Floorer. A blow sufficiently strong to knock a man down, or bring him to the floor. Often used in reference to sudden and unpleasant news.

Flying Mess. “To be in Flying Mess ” is a soldier’s phrase for being hungry and having to mess where he can.

Follow-me-lads. Curls hanging over a lady’s shoulder.

Gentleman of Four Outs. When a vulgar, blustering fellow asserts that he is a gentleman, the retort generally is, ” Yes, a Gentleman Of Four Outs”—that is, without wit, without money, without credit, and without manners.

Go By The Ground. A little short person, man or woman.

Gullyfluff. The waste—coagulated dust, crumbs, and hair—which accumulates imperceptibly in the pockets of schoolboys.

Gunpowder. An old woman.

Half-mourning. To have a black eye from a blow. As distinguished from ” whole-mourning,” two black eyes.

Heavy Wet. Malt liquor—because the more a man drinks of it, the heavier and more stupid he becomes.

Hobbadehoy. A youth who has ceased to regard himself as a boy, and is not yet regarded as a man.

Hogmagundy. The process by which the population is increased.

Holy Water. He loves him as the Devil likes holy water; i.e. hates him mortally.

Honor Bright. An asseveration which means literally, “by my honour, which is bright and unsullied.” It is often still further curtailed to “honor!” only.

How’s Your Poor Feet! An idiotic street cry with no meaning, much in vogue a few years back.

Hugger-mugger. Underhand, sneaking. Also, “in a state of Hugger- Mugger” means to be muddled.

Job’s Turkey. “As poor as Job’s Turkey,” as thin and as badly fed as that ill-conditioned and imaginary bird.

Keep a Pig. An Oxford University phrase, which means to have a lodger. A man whose rooms contain two bedchambers has sometimes, when his college is full, to allow the use of one of them to a Freshman, who is called under these circumstances a PIG. The original occupier is then said to Keep A Pig.

Ladder. “Can’t see a hole in a Ladder,” said of any one who is intoxicated. It was once said that a man was never properly drunk until he could not lie down without holding, could not see a hole through a Ladder, or went to the pump to light his pipe.

Lay down the knife and fork. To die. Compare Pegging-out, Hopping The Twig, and similar flippancies.

Monkey with a Long Tail. A mortgage.

Month of Sundays. An indefinite period, a long time.

Muckender. A pocket handkerchief, snottinger.

Nose-ender. A straight blow delivered full on the nasal promontory.

Nose in the Manger. To put one’s nose in the manger, to sit down to eat. To “put on the nose-bag” is to eat hurriedly, or to eat while continuing at work.

O’clock. “Like One O’clock,” a favorite comparison with the lower orders, implying briskness; otherwise “like winkin’.” “To know what’s O’clock” is to be wide-awake, sharp, and experienced.

Off One’s Chump. To be crazy is to be Off One’s Chump ; this is varied by the word CHUMPY. A mild kind of lunatic is also said to be “off his head,” which means of course exactly the same as the first phrase.

Off the Horn. A term used in reference to very hard steak, which is fancifully said to be Off The Horn.

Out of Print. Slang made use of by booksellers. In speaking of any person that is dead, they observe, ‘”he is out of print.”

Perpendicular. A lunch taken standing-up at a tavern bar. It is usual to call it lunch, often as the Perpendicular may take the place of dinner.

Pocket. To put up with. A man who does not resent an affront is said to Pocket it.

Pot-hunter. A man who gives his time up to rowing or punting, or any sort of match in order to win the “pewters” which are given as prizes. The term is now much used in aquatic and athletic circles; and is applied, in a derogatory sense, to men of good quality who enter themselves in small races they are almost sure to win, and thus deprive the juniors of small trophies which should be above the attention of champions, though valuable to beginners. Also an unwelcome guest, who manages to be just in time for dinner.

Rain Napper. Umbrella.

Rib. A wife.

Rumbumptious. Haughty, pugilistic.

Rusty Guts. A blunt, rough, old fellow

Saucebox. A pert young person, in low life also signifies the mouth.

Saw Your Timber. “Be off!” equivalent to “cut your stick.” Occasionally varied, with mock refinement, to “amputate your mahogany.”

Scandal-water. Tea; from old maids’ tea-parties being generally a focus for scandal.

Shake the Elbow. To shake the elbow, a roundabout expression for dice-playing. To “crook the Elbow” is an Americanism for ” to drink.”

Sit-upons. Trousers.

Smeller. The nose; “a blow on the Smeller” is often to be found in pugilistic records.

Sneeze-lurker. A thief who throws snuff in a person’s face, and then robs him.

Sneezer. A pocket handkerchief.

Snooze-case. Pillow case.

Snotter, or Wipe-hauler. A pickpocket whose chief fancy is for gentlemen’s pocket-handkerchiefs.

Sober-water. A jocular allusion to the uses of soda-water.

Tail Down. “To get the Tail Down,” generally means to lose courage. When a professional at any game loses heart in a match he is said to get his Tail Down. ” His Tail was quite DOWN, and it was all over.” The origin is obvious.

Tune the Old Cow Died of. An epithet for any ill-played or discordant piece of music.

Sources:

Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1823.

The Slang Dictionary, 1874.

Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present.

Dictionary of Americanisms, 1877.

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tyler Logan March 10, 2010 at 3:37 am

lol nice post – a few made me smile. Now I might just take my bunch of fives for a ride with some cat heads. Hopefully she won’t be gunpowder or a rib. :)

2 Shaun March 10, 2010 at 5:49 am

I may be off my chump, but I noticed that you said “our first book”…does this mean that you and the Rib are preparing another fizzing book?

3 David March 10, 2010 at 7:26 am

Some are still in use, in Australia at least! Month of Sundays is still something I say. A couple of others still in my vocabulary.

Sling your hook = roughly ‘Cut your timber’ and refers to the hook the dockworkers used to load bales onto ships. To ‘sling your hook’, then, was to get about your business.

Like an old mole at a Christening / Slow as a wet week = Someone (or something, but usually of a person) who is inordinately dithery or slow in getting something done.

4 Jason March 10, 2010 at 7:48 am

I like the “blind monkeys” one. I’ll use that.
Thanks!!

5 DJ Wetzel March 10, 2010 at 7:56 am

Awesome post. Gullyfluff was my favorite!

6 Ilya March 10, 2010 at 9:51 am

great post, i’ll start using them regularly!

another great one is ‘bracket’, which is an english expression for the throat or jaw. i.e. a sturdy punch up the bracket..

7 Nick March 10, 2010 at 10:05 am

I find the “eternity box” to be humorous

8 OkieRover March 10, 2010 at 10:52 am

I forwarded this to all my reenacting friends. We reenact (living history) many periods in the 18th century.

9 Brucifer March 10, 2010 at 11:29 am

Sink me chaps, that was a bully post!

10 Tanner@ Art of Citizenship March 10, 2010 at 12:19 pm

This was great. I’m going to have to forward it to the rib.

11 Zachariah March 10, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Great idea!
Reminds me of the movie Tombstone!
“I’m your huckleberry…”

12 Brett McKay March 10, 2010 at 1:14 pm

@Shaun-

A new book is in the planning stages currently. Although even if it never comes to fruition, our first book will always be our first…and last! :)

13 Albert March 10, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Hey Brett. I just started reading your articles yesterday, starting with “how to ask a girl out”, and I really enjoyed it; it’s refreshing, eye-opening, and something guys just have to learn.

I was hoping for some advice from both you and Kate. I’m in college and there is a girl I would love to get to know better, don’t know her romantic situation, and we have no common activities or classes together save for the fact that she lives in the same building on the other side. We had one small chat before and I was thinking of just dropping by to her side and talking to her again. What do you both think? How should I start the conversation? I assume no pretense like “I was just walking by and blah”

A pleasure reading your articles.

14 Living with Balls March 10, 2010 at 6:08 pm

Cat-heads! haha I’ve never used that one before

15 John Lewandowski March 10, 2010 at 6:31 pm

Dear Art Of Manliness,
Many guys or so-called “men” NEED to see this site and read ALL the sections and buy the books offered!!! If I could have one man come back from the dead and be a “Lazarus-Man,” it would be John Wayne!! We definately need him!! I am SICK AND DOG-TIRED of the whiners, cry-babies, softies, pussycats, dorks, cowards, and jack-asses with no class or guts!!!!! What ever happened to great men like Socrates, Thomas jefferson, George Washington, George Mason, Clark Gable, Albert Einstein, Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower, John Adams, Martin Luther King Jr., Elijah McCoy, and Johnny Cash??? You know, gentlemen, scholars, hard workers, go-getters, providers, leaders, and ones who have the guts to right wrongs!!!
It is such a relief and a ray of hope to see a wes-site like this and see that there are still men alive today who “walk, talk, and act like they got a pair!” I and EXTREMELY proud to be the son of a would-be Korean War Vet, the nephew of four World War 2 Vets, and the grandson of two World War 1 Vets!!!! I was reared by God-fearing, hard working men and women of character and I’m proud!!!! Let’s NOT let character and chivalry die!!!!

16 Playstead March 10, 2010 at 6:34 pm

Not as cool as the Sinatra slang, but still some pretty good ones. I’ll see if I can squeeze “gunpowder” by my wife.

17 Nadia March 10, 2010 at 9:00 pm

Hey Playstead,

You try out the “gunpowder” one on the Rib and you may come a cropper.
http://www.wisegeek.com/what-are-the-origins-of-come-a-cropper.htm
; )

18 Johnny the Freemason March 10, 2010 at 10:39 pm

Yet another good showing, Mr. McKay!!!!

19 Johnny the Freemason March 10, 2010 at 10:41 pm

….er, and of course Mrs. M as well!

20 IrishTony March 11, 2010 at 4:17 am

My rib says Cupboard love all the time to my boy.
I always thought it was something peculiar to her family.

Bunch of fives was something we all said in junior school.
Along with the ubiquitous “Knuckle sandwich”

21 Magnus March 11, 2010 at 3:23 pm

I’ll have to share these with the honyoks I teach as we are learning about the Gilded Age and Progressive Era next week. Bully!

22 Finnian March 12, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Did Tyler Logan say he was going to punch a woman in the breasts? And that he hopes the woman won’t be an old lady or his wife?

23 Thad March 13, 2010 at 8:55 pm

Crab is still used regularly at Oxford. To “Catch a Crab” while rowing is to mess-up on your stroke (generally referring to not catching enough or catching too much water on the stroke).

24 Mike Lash March 17, 2010 at 11:46 am

I always loved the word “bounder” which as close as I can tell is the Male eqivilant to a male “slut”

Great work.

Mike

25 tw March 17, 2010 at 3:07 pm

if you made these into a ‘phrase of the day’ type calendar, i would buy at least one.

26 SuzyQ March 18, 2010 at 2:55 am

Oh, many thanks! That made for an amusing read. Even better, I recognized some of these words from reading P.G. Wodehouse. Most of which I managed to guess at from the context, but it was fun to verify, and learn a bunch of new ones!

27 Alex March 18, 2010 at 3:39 am

These aren’t all archaic– my New Englander mother-in-law frequently chides her dogs for “cupboard love.”

28 Michael Collins March 20, 2010 at 12:20 am

This and the language of Frank Sinatra make up my new vernacular.

29 April Brooks March 20, 2010 at 2:34 pm

I love the old slang posts! I’m still waiting for a slang of the old west post!

30 Ken Craigside March 24, 2010 at 9:38 am

Cat-heads are funny but appropriate synonyms for breasts, being those two heavy posts that thrust out on either side of a sailing ship’s bow for hoisting the anchors.
Their tips are often decorated with plates carved as gilded rosettes. Does that make them nautical pasties?

31 El Gaupo March 31, 2010 at 11:51 pm

There’s a few on the list that I’ve actually heard being used in their original context but it was by older people…great list though!

32 Cecil Metcalf Jr. November 19, 2012 at 8:04 am

Persons that move slow…….. Slow as cold molasses running down hill.

33 bob December 16, 2012 at 7:10 pm

i like the cat-heads one hahahahahahahahahahahaha sea phrase

34 Lee Egbert September 4, 2013 at 9:23 am

Ever since I’ve read your article one “Dictionary of Manly 19th Century Vernacular” I’ve been inspired. The term Dash-fire. Took me epsicially and I’ve since started a bitters line using the term. I would really love to locate my own opy of the book with the term if you have the info or just a scan of the cover, publisher page, and the page with the definition. I would be happy to send some bitters along to sweeten the deal…

35 Michael March 11, 2014 at 2:25 am

Tombstone. My all time fav. But, is it huckleberry, which meant something like “I’m your man,” or was it hucklebearer, because a huckle, is the handle on a casket, and those who carried a casket were hucklebearers? I’ve concluded it’s both depending on the scene. In the first scene Holiday tells Ringo “I’m your huckleberry” meaning “I’m your man (who wants to play for blood).” In the second scene, Holiday tells Ringo “I’m your huckelbearer” meaning “I’m the guy who is going to bury (kill) you.” When I watch those scenes in that light, it all makes perfect sense. Watch Ringo’s expression change, it’s priceless.

36 Michael March 11, 2014 at 2:29 am

P.S. I know that’s not what the script says, but when I watch the scenes, I swear I hear a difference. The mystery is part of the fun.

37 Steve March 11, 2014 at 9:30 am

Any of the Patrick O’Brien seafaring novels are saturated with period Brit and naval slang from the early 1800s.

38 Kathleen March 12, 2014 at 3:06 am

My grandmother, whose family came from England, who was born in America had a saying, “Ypu better watch yourself Lady Jane!”….I knew it meant I needed to behave myself…I was acting like I knew what I was doing …but I was wrong in acting like I knew everything and didn’t need to listen to the adults…..I finally realized one day while watching the movie, “Lady Jane Grey” where that saying came from long ago…..adults had been saying that to saucy, strong willed girls for centuries….Lady Jane Grey thought she could become queen (more like her father thought she could be) and she had a great fall and eventually get head chopped off….she was queen for around 21 days….funny how a saying that my grandmother, my mother and I used( I am a teacher and used it for years to students, they would ask me what it meant and I didn’t know until I saw that movie!) Amazing the history of words and their usage!

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