Turn of the (19th) Century Drinking Slang

It’s safe to assume that I, a blogger who writes about the culture of drinking, clearly take pleasure from two activities: writing and drinking. Just as I like to discover new whiskies, beers, and even on occasion, an interesting bottle of wine, I also enjoy expanding my vocabulary by reading and writing on topics of interest.

What better than combining these two interests: expanding my universe of drinking terms and phrases. I recently discovered a hilariously interesting new resource to better color my drinking language, the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, described by one writer as “one delightful little source for such fun with archaisms…more or less the Urban Dictionary of turn-of-the-19 th-century-England.” The dictionary, posted in its entirety on Project Gutenberg, is nothing short of informative. For your consideration:

Saying “I’m going to drink” is fine, but how fun does that sound? Not very! Next time, trying substituting:

- To fire a slug (to drink a dram)

- To sluice your gob (to take a hearty drink)

- To swill (to drink greedily)

- Bung in your eye (to Drink a dram; strictly speaking, to drink till one’s eye is bunged up or closed.)

Calling your friend a “drunk” is certainly effective, but not very poetic. Instead call him an Ensign bearer, Piss maker, Surveyor of the Highways, Swill Tub, or Toss Pot. Or in a severe case, call him the “Admiral of the Narrow Seas (one who from drunkenness vomits into the lap of the person sitting opposite to him).”

On that topic, using that ugly word “vomit” is indeed unfortunate. Instead, you might say:

- Accounts (to cast up one’s accounts)

- To cascade

- To cat, or to shoot the cat

- To flay, or to flea

- Sh-t-ing through the teeth [Here, the dictionary gives a helpful, albeit prudishly spelled example:] Hark ye, friend, have you got a padlock on your ar-e, that you sh-te through your teeth?

Of course, using simple words like “beer,” or “shot” marks you as an ordinary, run-of-the-mill drinker; identify yourself instead as an expert with the following: Beer is known as bene bowse, bub, hum cap, lush, oil of barley, barley broth, Sir John Barleycorn, stingo, or taplash. Furthermore, gin (the dictionary’s British, remember) can be referred to as blue ruin, diddle, drain, frog’s wine, heart’s ease, jackey, lady dancer’s wife, lightning, max, rag water, sky blue, strip me naked, tape, or white ribbin.

While the aforementioned is educational and entertaining, you may ask: Hip Flask, why would I ever wish to intersperse truly old-school British slang into my drinking lexicon? Excellent question, I’d reply; however, I’ll allow the dictionary’s Preface to best answer your query: “To sport an Upper Benjamin, and to swear with a good grace, are qualifications easily attainable by their cockney imitators; but without the aid of our additional definitions, neither the cits of Fish-street, nor the boors of Brentford would be able to attain the language of whippism.”

If that doesn’t answer your question, keep drinking until it does. It will eventually.

Published in: on April 9, 2012 at 9:52 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 Comments

  1. I especially like “to fire a slug”
    “to swill” which I think isn’t that uncommon as far as verbiage goes even today, and “Admiral of the narrow seas”.

  2. Well done THF! Gonna have to explore this further.

    Here’s mud in your eye!


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