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March 2018

Lost Slang of the Ages

English slang words from various periods that no longer exist

Language evolves over time, so it’s only understandable that words come and go. Sometimes terms (like covfefe) can be birthed overnight with a single strange post from a world leader. Sometimes phrases are popularised from entertainment (as if!), or terms may be brought about by changes in technology (you can easily Google some tech-related terms). We often take these words for granted, and many slang terms have been lost to history. Today we’ll take a look at some English slang words that no longer exist.

The Shakespearean Age

As far as poets go, William Shakespeare was a real cabilero (an admirable man) of a writer. He was no bed-presser (lazy person) and certainly did not go miching (sneaking) about with his career. He was a true candle-waster (someone who works hard into the night) when crafting his intricately worded plays. 

He incorporated witty terms such as barbary cock-pigeon (a jealous man who hides his wife away), fustilarian (a pungent old lady), and facinerious (evil). An example of his witty phrasing can be seen in the quote, “thou art... an embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blood" (you're a leech that is unworthy of me) from King Lear

Some of his phrasing incorporated words familiar to us today, however done in a more stylistic manner: “I do desire we may be better strangers” is a more elegant way of telling someone to bugger off.

The 1700s

Britain in the 1700s had its fair share of street slang words. A dictionary published in 1785 entitled The Vulgar Tongue captures many of these lost gems. 

Perhaps one of the most innocuous of terms presented is Adam's ale, which simply means water, as that was likely all they had to drink in the Garden of Eden. You might jokingly call a friend bacon faced if your friend has chubby cheeks. 

Drinking too much diddle (gin) might turn you into an admiral of the narrow seas (a drunk who vomits into the lap of another). That would no doubt earn you a kick in the ol' double jugg (a man's behind). But don't sluice the gob (take a big gulp of a drink) and flash the hash (vomit) too often. They might think you a hoddy doddy (a clumsy person) or, even worse, send you straight to the eternity box (coffin).

The 1800s

The Victorian Era is often portrayed as an era of afternoonified (smart) speech, or at least as it’s portrayed by movies today. In reality, they had street slang just like any other period in history. 

Disreputable types might use phrases like back slang it (go out the back after a robbery) or batty-fang (to thoroughly beat someone up). Those who like to party might use terms like benjo (a crazy time) or mafficking (getting rowdy in the streets). 

Polite types might mind the grease (a request to pass someone on the street). The upper crust might attend a party that's butter upon bacon (exceedingly extravagant). If you were used to strong drinks, you might derisively call tea and coffee nothing but cat-lap. But whatever you do, don't confuse a meater (coward) for a mutton shunter (copper), or you might find yourself worse than poked up (embarrassed). 

What are your favorite forgone phrases and parlances? Let us know your favorite words of history on our Facebook Page, and be sure to “like” TELC English for more articles on language learning!

Picture: (c) Adobe Stock, XtravaganT

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