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.
Horn Colic (“temporary priapism”)
Lobcock (“a large, relaxed penis or a dull inanimate fellow”)
Piss-proud (“a false erection”)
Tackle (also a mistress)
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.”)
Cock Alley (or Lane)
Mother of All Saints
Mother of All Souls
Mother of St. Patrick
Rum Goods (“a maidenhead, being a commodity never entered”)
Apple Dumplin Shop
Chest and Bedding (sea term)
Wiffles (“a relaxation of the scrotum”)
St. George. Raphael, 1504
Beast With Two Backs (to make the, from Shakespeare)
to Blow the Grounsils (“to lie with a woman on the floor”)
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)
Hump (at this point an unfashionable term)
to Lay Cane Upon Abel (sex between men)
to Keep it Up (“to prolong a debauch, a metaphor drawn from the game of shuttle cock”)
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.”)
State (“to lie in state; to be in bed with three harlots”)
Stroke (“to take a stroke”)
Two Handed Put
Double Jugg (a man’s arse)
To Box the Jesuit and Get Cockroaches (a sea term)
Mrs. Phillip’s Ware
Blue Boar (“a venereal bubo”)
Bube (see above)
Covent Garden Ague
Drury Lane Ague
Fire Ship (“a wench with venereal disease”)
Flap Dragon (clap or pox)
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”)
Pill or Peele Garlick (“someone whose skin or hair had fallen off from venereal disease”)
Pissing Pins and Needles
Poulain (French, a bubo)
A Harlot’s Progress, detail. Hogarth
Petticoat Pensioner (a man, “one kept by a woman for secret services”)
One of Us
One of My Cousins
Buttock and Twang
Buttock and File (a prostitute who is also a pickpocket)
Convenient (usually a mistress or concubine)
Covent Garden Nun
Covey (plural prostitutes, a covey of harlots)
Dirty Puzzle (a loose woman)
Drury Lane Vestal
Family of Love (plural prostitutes or a religious sect)
Fancy Man (kept by a lady for secret services)
Hedge Whore (one who works outdoors)
Madam (also used for bawd)
Merry Arse Christian
Queer Mort (“a strumpet with venereal disease”)
Room (“she lets out her front room”)
Short-Heeled Wench (“a girl apt to fall on her back”)
Stallion (a man kept by lady)
Star Gazer (see hedge whore)
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)
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
Corinth (likewise Corinthians are people who frequent brothels)
School of Venus
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*****)
*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.
Reblogged this on doingsomereading and commented:
This is awesome! I definitely need to take notes and keep this. 🙂
So glad you enjoyed! Thanks so much for sharing! 🙂
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I’ve always been a great admirer of a woman with a well developed vocabulary.
Seriously how did I miss this before?
I had fun with this one. Made me think of you, of course. 😉
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I love these too. I have some really old diaries from my great-great grandmother from the mid 19th century. She wrote quite bluntly about all kinds of sexual episodes throughout her life, using a whole range of colourful slang from the era. It was quite fun when I first read them because I had no idea what most of the slang meant, so when she spoke of a man prodding her with his “hard tool” I thought she meant a hammer or screwdriver, Lol.
[…] If you are looking for slang for anatomy, sex acts or the like, check out Jessica Cale’s post: Riding Saint George: Regency Sex Terms You Won’t Find in Austen | Dirty, Sexy History […]