How to curse like Jack Nasty Face
One of the great joys of writing historical fiction is learning the language of the time. And the sweary stuff in particular.
I’m writing about early 19th century characters, so my go-to is a cracking wee book called A classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, by one Francis Grose. As Wikipedia puts it,
Though intended to amuse, they give an unusually vivid picture of the speech of the day which would not normally find inclusion in standard dictionaries, and contained, in all, about 9,000 terms which more scholarly works of the time habitually overlooked.
I’d love to know just how Mister Grose managed to compile this dictionary. No doubt he spent lots of time in taverns and houses of ill-repute (or pushing schools, as they were called. Or fencing schools, or nanny-houses, or vaulting-houses, or abbeys. You see? So much color! So much fun!).
But onto the insults. People really knew how to slag each other off in those days. They used a lot of the terms that we use today – bastard was a favorite. And there was much use made of genitalia. But a lot of the slurs might leave us scratching or heads…
An Athanasian wench – a forward girl
A Ralph Spooner – A fool
A rum cully – a dupe
A Tyburn blossom – A young criminal, destined for the gallows
A dromedary – a heavy, oafish man
A gundiguts – a fat man
A swill tub – a drunkard
A foreman of the jury – a man who likes the sound of his own voice
Jack Nasty Face – a common sailor
A lolpoop – a lazy, idle drone
A gilflurt – a proud, vain woman
A mongrel – a sponger
A duke of limbs – A tall, awkward fellow
And my personal favorite….
A gentleman of three outs – that is, without money, without wit and without manners.
Still looking for the perfect place to fit that one!