Riding Saint George: Regency Sex Terms You Won’t Find in Austen

I’m a big fan of profanity. Some people aren’t crazy about, but I fucking love it. I was one of those kids that makes other people’s parents uncomfortable; at age nine I had a vocabulary that wouldn’t have been too far out of place in the navy. It’s not that I had bad parents; my parents are great, they just had their priorities straight. Swearing was not at the top of their list of concerns, and they didn’t confuse it with lack of intelligence or disrespect. Profanity can’t be reduced to abuse or threatening language; it can also be used effectively for levity or, if you’re a writer, to inject some authenticity into your work (but we’ll get to that).

It’s important to know how to swear properly. Nothing’s going to make you sound more awkward than dropping an f-bomb in an unnatural place. Likewise, all Americans should know how to say ‘twat’ properly (rhymes with cat. Trust me). Unfortunately, American profanity is relatively limited when compared to the colorful vocabulary of the British.

As much as I’d like to use names like knob jockey or twat waffle in my books (I’m not being funny, I would LOVE to), these terms of endearment* are relatively new. Swearing, however, is not. It’s nice to imagine that people of bygone eras engaged in squeaky clean cap-doffing a la Mary Poppins and didn’t feel the need to use rude language (much less engage in rude activity), but that’s just not the case.

You want proof? Let’s look at Captain Francis Grose’s 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

While many of the words in here are not what we might consider profanity** and the phrases are largely bonkers, this book is a fantastic reference for any fan of history. 135 pages of cant and “vulgar language” cover everything from terms for flattery to fornication and include sixty-one words for prostitute.***

One common issue romance writers have in particular is finding historically appropriate euphemisms related to sex. If you’re writing a Regency or Georgian romance and you’re puzzling over another way to say throbbing member, the dictionary has you covered. Let’s take a look at some period terms for naughty bits.

Penis

Arbor Vitae
Gaying Instrument
Horn Colic (“temporary priapism”)
Lobcock (“a large, relaxed penis or a dull inanimate fellow”)
Matrimonial Peace-maker
Piss-proud (“a false erection”)
Plug Tail
Prick
Roger
Pego
Silent Flute
Sugar Stick
Tackle (also a mistress)
Thomas
Tool
Whore Pipe

Vagina

Bite
Carvel’s Ring (“The private parts of a woman. Ham Carvel, a jealous old doctor, being in bed with his wife, dreamed that the Devil gave him a ring, which, so long as he had it on his finger, would prevent his being made a cuckold: waking he found he had his finger the Lord knows where.”)
Cauliflower
Cock Alley (or Lane)
Commodity
Crinkum Crankum
Cunt
Dumb Glutton
Dunnock
Eve’s Custom-House
Fruitful Vine
Madge
Man Trap
Money
Monosyllable
Mother of All Saints
Mother of All Souls
Mother of St. Patrick
Muff
Notch
Quim
Rum Goods (“a maidenhead, being a commodity never entered”)
Tu Quoque
Tuzzy-muzzy
Venerable Monosyllable
Ware
Water-mill

Breasts

Apple Dumplin Shop
Cat Heads
Dairy
Diddeys
Dugs
Kettledrums
Cupid’s Kettledrums
Chest and Bedding (sea term)

Testicles

Nutmegs
Ballocks
Bawbels
Trinkets
Cods
Gingambobs
Thingamabobs
Tallywags
Tarrywags
Twiddle-diddles
Wiffles (“a relaxation of the scrotum”)
Whirlygigs

raphael_-_saint_george_fighting_the_dragon
St. George. Raphael, 1504

Sex

Basket Making
Beast With Two Backs (to make the, from Shakespeare)
to Blow the Grounsils (“to lie with a woman on the floor”)
to Dock
Dog’s Rig (“to copulate until you are tired, then turn tail to it”)
a Flyer (with clothes on)
to Give a Girl a Green Gown (sex in the grass)
to Grind
Hump (at this point an unfashionable term)
to Lay Cane Upon Abel (sex between men)
to Jock
Jockum Cloy
to Keep it Up (“to prolong a debauch, a metaphor drawn from the game of shuttle cock”)
to Knock
to Mow
to Occupy
Prigging
to Relish
Riding St. George (“the woman uppermost in the amorous congress, that is, the dragon upon St. George. This is said to be the way to get a bishop.”)
to Roger
Rutting
to Screw
Shag
State (“to lie in state; to be in bed with three harlots”)
Strapping
Stroke (“to take a stroke”)
to Strum
to Swive
Tiffing
to Tup
Two Handed Put
to Wap

Arse

Blind Cheeks
Blind Cupid
Bum
Bumfiddle
Ars Musica
Cheeks
Double Jugg (a man’s arse)
Pratts
Round Mouth
Wind-mill

Masturbation

To Box the Jesuit and Get Cockroaches (a sea term)
Toss Off

Condoms

Mrs. Phillip’s Ware
Armor
Machines

Venereal Disease

Blue Boar (“a venereal bubo”)
Bube (see above)
Burnt
Clap
Clapham House
Covent Garden Ague
Crinkums
Drury Lane Ague
Dumb Watch
Fire Ship (“a wench with venereal disease”)
Flap Dragon (clap or pox)
French disease
Frenchified (to be infected with venereal disease)
Job’s Dock (“laid up in Job’s Dock, after the ward for venereal patients in St. Bartholomew’s hospital”)
Peppered
Pill or Peele Garlick (“someone whose skin or hair had fallen off from venereal disease”)
Pissing Pins and Needles
Poulain (French, a bubo)
Scalder
Shanker
Venus’ Curse

hogarth2bstocking
A Harlot’s Progress, detail. Hogarth

Prostitute

Petticoat Pensioner (a man, “one kept by a woman for secret services”)
One of Us
One of My Cousins
Barber’s Chair
Bat
Blowen
Bunter
Buttock
Buttock and Twang
Buttock and File (a prostitute who is also a pickpocket)
Case Vrow
Cat
Cattle
Convenient (usually a mistress or concubine)
Covent Garden Nun
Covey (plural prostitutes, a covey of harlots)
Crack
Curtezan
Dirty Puzzle (a loose woman)
Drury Lane Vestal
Easy Virtue
Family of Love (plural prostitutes or a religious sect)
Fancy Man (kept by a lady for secret services)
Fen
Hedge Whore (one who works outdoors)
Impure
Laced Mutton
Left-Handed Wife
Madam (also used for bawd)
Madam Ran
Merry Arse Christian
Miss
Miss Laycock
Mob
Mab
Moll
Peculiar
Proud Ledger
Punk
Trull
Quean
Queer Mort (“a strumpet with venereal disease”)
Receiver General
Rep
Room (“she lets out her front room”)
Short-Heeled Wench (“a girl apt to fall on her back”)
Squirrel
Stallion (a man kept by lady)
Star Gazer (see hedge whore)
Strumpet
Tail
Thorough Good-Natured Wench (“one who being asked to sit, will lie down”)
Three-Penny Upright (one who works standing up)
Town (a woman of)
Trumpery
Madam Van
Unfortunate Women (a termed by other “polite” women)
Wasp (“an infected prostitute, who like a wasp carries a sting in her tail.”)
Wife in Water Colors (a mistress or concubine)
Woman of Town
Woman of Pleasure

Brothel****

Academy
Pushing School
Bordello
Buttocking Shop
Cab
Cavaulting School
Corinth (likewise Corinthians are people who frequent brothels)
Nanny House
Nugging House
Nunnery
School of Venus
Seraglio
Smuggling Ken
Snoozing Ken
Vaulting School

A few extra terms, just for fun:

Duck Fucker (“man who has care of poultry on a ship”)
Kiss Mine Arse (“An offer, as Fielding observes, very frequently made, but never, as he could learn, literally accepted.”)
Queer As Dick’s Hatband (“out of order, without knowing one’s disease”)
Smack (to kiss)
Urinal of the Planets (Ireland, due to its frequent rain*****)

Notes

*I’m totally shitting you, these are not terms of endearment. Don’t call your gran a twat waffle!
**Words we would consider profanity or at least rude such as fuck, arse, piss, whore, cock, etc are used by the author in definitions but he takes for granted the reader is familiar with these and he does not define them.
***It’s interesting to note that prostitutes are referred to affectionately and none of the terms used for them are really insults. The author’s contempt is reserved for celibate women, who are called Ape Leaders (an old maid; their punishment after death, for neglecting increase and multiply, will be, it is said, leading apes into hell) and may suffer from Green Sickness (the disease of maids occasioned by celibacy). Equally, “whore” is not presented as an especially strong insult. Bitch is far worse. He says this is “the worst appellation that can be given to an English woman.”
****Notice how many of these are related to schools. Likewise, “college” was used to refer to prison, college being a natural progression from a school or academy.
*****This book has an incredible number of derisory terms for the Irish…and Welsh, Scottish, Jewish, mixed-race, religious, and people from Boston.

A Field Guide to Historical Poisons

 

The Long Way Home takes place in the court of Louis XIV during the Affair of the Poisons. During this period, many people from all walks of life were employing poison to dispatch with rivals and even family members to improve their fortunes or standing in court. As you can imagine, poison plays a large part in the plot of The Long Way Home. Here are three that are featured in the book along with symptoms so you’ll be first to know if your enemies have dosed your wine.

You know, just in case.

 

Arsenic (also known as Inheritance Powder)

Arsenic was the most commonly used poison at this time, and was used alone or to add extra toxicity to other lethal concoctions. It was the primary ingredient in Inheritance Powder, so called because of the frequency with which it was against relatives and spouses for the sake of inheritance.

Tasteless as it was potent, arsenic usually went undetected in wine or food, although it was also added to soap and even sprinkled into flowers. It could easily kill someone quickly, but was more commonly distributed over a long period of time to make it appear that the victim was suffering from a long illness. The symptoms begin with headaches, drowsiness, and gastrointestinal problems, and as it develops, worsen into convulsions, muscle cramps, hair loss, organ failure, coma, and death.

Unusually for a poison apart from lead, arsenic has had many other common uses throughout history. It was used as a cosmetic as early as the Elizabethan period. Combined with vinegar and white chalk, it was applied to whiten the complexion as a precursor to the lead-based ceruse popular in later centuries.

Ad for Arsenic Wafers, 1896. Arsenic was a common complexion treatment until the early 20th century.

By the Victorian period, arsenic was taken as a supplement to correct the complexion from within, resulting in blueish, translucent skin. Victorian and Edwardian doctors prescribed it for asthma, typhus, malaria, period pain, syphilis, neuralgia, and as a nonspecific pick-me-up. It was also used in pigments such as Paris Green, Scheele’s Green, and London Purple, all of them extremely toxic when ingested or inhaled. A distinctive yellow-green, Scheele’s Green was a popular dye in the nineteenth century for furnishings, candles, fabric, and even children’s toys, but it gave off a toxic gas. It may have even played a part in Napoleon’s death. While it took nearly a century to discover the dangers of the pigment, it was later put to use as an insecticide.

A Glass of Wine With Caesar Borgia. John Collier, 1893. From left to right: Cesare, Lucrezia, their father, Pope Alexander VI, and a young man with an empty glass. The implication is that the man doesn’t know if it will be poisoned.

 

 

Cantharides (also known as Cantarella or Spanish Fly)

Cantarella was a poison that was rumored to have been used by the Borgias (among others). Although it appeared in literature as something that could mimic death, cantarella was probably made from arsenic, like most of the common poisons of the era, or of canthariden powder made from blister beetles, and was highly toxic. Cantharides are now more commonly known as Spanish Fly.

Although it was only rumored to have been used by the Borgias, it was definitely 8fda6-cantharidesassociated with the Medicis. Aqua Toffana, or Aquetta di Napoli, was a potent mixture of both arsenic and cantharides allegedly created by an Italian countess, Giulia Tofana (d. 1659). Colorless and odorless, it was undetectable even in water and as little as four drops could cause death within a few hours. It could also be mixed with lead or belladonna for a little extra f*** you.

In case you’re wondering how one would catch enough blister beetles to do away with one’s enemies, cantharides were surprisingly easy to come across. They were also used as an aphrodisiac. In small quantities, they engorge the genitals, so it must have seemed like a good idea at the time. In larger quantities, however, they raise blisters, cause inflammation, nervous agitation, burning of the mouth, dysphagia, nausea, hematemesis, hematuria, and dysuria.

Oh, and death.

The powder was brownish in color and smelled bad, but mostly went unnoticed with food or wine. More than one character in The Long Way Home has come in contact with it, and it even plays a part in the story.

Ad for Pennyroyal Pills, 1905.

Pennyroyal

Pennyroyal was not often used to intentionally poison anyone, but I’m including it in this guide because of its toxic effects. Usually drunk as tea, is was used as a digestive aid and to cause miscarriage. Is was also used in baths to kill fleas or to treat venomous bites.

Although this is the least toxic of the bunch, the side effects are much more worrying. Taken in any quantity, it may not only result in contraction of the uterus, but also serious damage to the liver, kidneys, and nervous system. It’s a neurotoxin that can cause auditory and visual hallucinations, delirium, unconsciousness, hearing problems, brain damage, and death.

Along with Inheritance Powder and Cantarella, Pennyroyal also appears in The Long Way Home and causes some interesting complications for a few of our characters.

*

All of these poisons were common and easily obtainable in much of Europe during the time this book takes place and as you can see, continued to be commonly used for a variety of purposes until very recently. The use of Inheritance Powder in particular is very well-documented and it played a huge part in the Affair of the Poisons as well as commanding a central position in The Long Way Home.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.