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Title: Slang and cant in Jerome K. Jerome's works

A study

Author: Olof E. Bosson

Release date: July 30, 2023 [eBook #71307]

Language: English

Original publication: United Kingdom: W. Heffer & Sons, Ltd, 1911

Credits: Charlene Taylor and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at (This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive/American Libraries.)








LUND 1911




Preface 5
Bibliography: Chronological list of Jerome K. Jerome’s Works 8
Introduction 9
A Grammatical Survey 17
I. Phonetic Notes 19
II. Accidence 22
III. Syntax 26
Slang 31
Slang > Colloquial English 37
Vulgarism or Cant 45
Vulgarism > Colloquial English 67
Index 79




The object of this essay is to examine vulgarism and slang in the works of Jerome K. Jerome (b. 1859).

Jerome gives us very good specimens of the ordinary language of the Victorian era. His style is not surprisingly original, but he shows a remarkable talent in rendering with perfect accuracy the characteristic talk of different classes of society. The persons he introduces to us need only utter a few words, before we are able to form a conception of their social position, their degree of culture, etc.; very often we get in this manner a clue also to their character. The author has led an exceptionally varied life—in his early years he was at different times a clerk, a teacher, an actor, a journalist. He had, accordingly, frequent opportunities of communicating with individuals of different social position and different culture, and of studying their language. He does not aim at grammatical peculiarities, elaborate phrases, or rare expressions; his language is the average language of his own time, acutely observed and faithfully rendered. Giving us thus a true and varied image of the talk of different[6] classes and trades, his writings are specially suited to form the material for a study of slang and cant.

Concerning a subject so changeable as cant and slang, it is evidently of importance to know the acceptation of every expression at every period of the development of the language. As a matter of course, therefore, I have tried to discover, in the language of our author, the exact shade of sense of the different slang and cant-expressions, especially in cases where it does not coincide with the common usage, or where it concerns rare expressions.

In order to contribute to the knowledge of the prevalence of the cant and slang-expressions, I have tried to indicate the social position, the sex, the degree of culture, etc., of the persons speaking; and, as far as possible, I have ascertained the history and etymology of my expressions, though, in this respect, my efforts have often been without success.

A rather difficult point has been the classification of the expressions. The question whether a term may be regarded as vulgar or slang, or merely colloquial, is, in many cases, very debateable, as the opinions even of qualified judges concerning this matter are often divergent. In such cases, I have endeavoured to find a medium, founding my statements on the authority of cultivated Englishmen.

A number of original cant and slang-expressions have, to a certain degree, penetrated into the colloquial speech of the cultivated, holding thus an intermediate[7] position between cant or slang on one side, and colloquial language on the other: these terms have been treated as special groups vulgar > colloquial and slang > colloquial.

I take the opportunity to express my sincere thanks to the University-Lecturer, Mr. Charles Scott Fearenside, whose valuable assistance has been of great use to me throughout the course of my researches.

I also beg to express my gratitude to Mr. Sidney Charleston, University-Lecturer in Upsala, and to Mrs. Gertrude Fahlström, née Pickering.

Lund, October 6th, 1910.

Olof Bosson.



In the following list of Jerome’s books, T. E. means «Tauchnitz Edition», E. L. «The English Library».

Year of
1885. On The Stage And Off (Field & T.)
1886. Idle Thoughts Of An Idle Fellow (Field & T.)
1889. Stage Land (Chatto & Windus.)
1889. Three Men In A Boat (E. L.)
1890. Told After Supper (Field & T.)
1891. Diary Of A Pilgrimage (T. E.)
1893. John Ingerfield (McLure.)
1893. Novel Notes (T. E.)
1897. Sketches In Lavender, Blue And Green (T. E.)
1897. Humours Of Cycling (Chatto.)
1898. Second Thoughts Of An Idle Fellow (Hurst.)
1900. Three Men On The Bummel (T. E.)
1902. Paul Kelver. I, II. (T. E.)
1903. Tea Table Talk And The Observations Of Henry (T. E.) [here cited as T. T. T.]
1904. Tommy And Co. (T. E.)
1905. Idle Ideas In 1905 (Hurst.)
1907. The Passing Of The Third Floor Back (T. E.)
1908. The Angel And The Author (Hurst & Co.)
1909. They And I (T. E.)


Miss Hobbs (Messrs. Samuel French, Ltd.)
Woodbarrow Farm (» » » »)
Prude’s Progress (French’s Acting Ed.)
Barbara (» »)
Sunset (» »)
Fennel (» »)



During the last years, a conspicuous interest—not only on the part of philologists—has been devoted to that strange outgrowth of language which prospers and develops, unrestricted by all literary traditions, in the easy, natural talk of uncultivated people and of certain groups and trades. This special language is, indeed, of real interest, and its study is of importance, not only as a matter of curiosity.

The philologist has here ample scope for observations of different kinds.

In the language of the uneducated ‘vulgus’, he will often meet with the first traces of an evolution which the literary and cultivated language will have to pass through in the future; on the other hand, he will recognize old forms and obsolete constructions which have passed out of use in the language of the cultivated. Concerning the development of the sense of words, as well as phonetic development, he will be able to make observations of great interest.

In this special language literature has at its disposal an ever-flowing source of renewal.

It is supplied with an abundance of picturesque, amusing, and characteristic words, of surprising and original[10] expressions, of terms constituting a spontaneous and striking manifestation of the speaker’s thought at a certain moment. Every individual being allowed to speak his own natural language, character-drawing gains in veracity, literary description in freshness and variety.

In one of Jerome’s books (Paul Kelver, Vol. II. p. 208. l. 14), we come across the following little dialogue:

»The wonderful songs that nobody ever sings, the wonderful pictures that nobody ever paints, and all the rest of it. It’s Tommy rot

»I wish you wouldn’t use slang

»Well, you know what I mean. What is the proper word? Give it me.»

»I suppose you mean ‘cant’», I suggested. »No, I don’t. Cant is something that you don’t believe in yourself. It’s ‘Tommy rot’; there isn’t any other word.»

The young lady who makes the above remark is quite right. There are many words in the English language that say about the same, but there is not a single word in the ‘normal’, literary language, that tells us exactly what she wants to get said; not another word forming a concise expression of her thought, and giving us at the same time a clue to her character.

Quite naturally, modern literature has made ample use of this »vulgar» language, and, at the same time, the philologists have striven to investigate its resources. Thus, France possesses about half a dozen Dictionnaires d’Argot, and the English-speaking world has at its disposal about the same number of modern Slang and Cant Dictionaries. Linguistic studies and essays treating this subject are as yet rather few, but no doubt they will appear in greater number in the future.


No other literature has been influenced by this language to such an extent as the English. In Great Britain, there have been no Academy, no »salons littéraires», fettering and regulating the literary language. Being allowed to develop itself in perfect liberty, it has gathered its method of expression from different ranges of language and society. Ever since the days of Shakespeare, English authors have made ample use of the easy every-day language of the lower classes; and, from the beginning of the 15th century, a rich, independent literature of slang and vulgar tongue has been developing[1]. Modern English realists have attained a real virtuosity in rendering with almost photographic, or rather phonographic, accuracy the talk of different classes and individuals. It may be truly said that it is impossible to acquire a thorough knowledge of English without being familiar with slang and vulgarism. Whoever is uninitiated into this special language will be at a loss to understand many of the masterpieces of English literature. Nay, without any knowledge of it, he will scarcely be able even to understand an English paper.

»If you will allow me the use of slang» is a phrase often heard in English conversation; but in reality a considerable number of original slang and cant expressions are used without any special permission—often without the speaker’s knowing it. There is—as in all languages, and in English much more than in any other—a constant flow from »low class» into »high[12] class» language. A word or an expression, having been long in use exclusively among the working classes, or in the easy talk of certain trades, gradually penetrates into the colloquial speech of the cultivated—sometimes with a slight change of the sense—and suddenly appears one day in refined literary language. In actual English, there are many such expressions, originating partly from cant, partly from slang[2].

Now, what is slang, and what is cant?

When the average Englishman employs the word »slang», he usually means all that he does not regard as »correct» English, all that sounds to his ears more or less vulgar. In reality, a certain confusion seems to have been long prevailing in English conception and English literature concerning »flash» and »cant» (vulgarism) on one side, and »slang» on the other[3].

By slang, I mean the easy, natural, semi-technical language of special classes of society.

In English, as well as in most other languages, there are a great many terms and expressions which are chiefly used in certain trades and professions, and which are often unintelligible to outsiders. Such terms, for instance,[13] are pater, mater (father, mother), to be plucked or ploughed (to be rejected in an examination), tuck (sweetstuff), swot (study hard), slack (the contrary of the last-named), coach (private tutor), etc., all in common use among schoolboys. Many of them, such as chum, chummy, cheek, jaw (chatter), spoon (make love), bunk (run away, escape), etc., have exceeded their original sphere and encroached upon common, colloquial language. Among the most important categories of slang, the following may be mentioned: student-, schoolboy-, military-, commercial- and sporting-slang. The political world, Parliament, the printing-offices, the stage, nay, even the Church, give their tributes to the vocabulary of slang. The slang-terms are mostly common to all individuals of the same class, but occasionally they differ. Thus, two universities, or even two neighbouring schools, sometimes use different semi-technical terms to express the same idea.

By cant or vulgarism (low-slang) I mean the easy, natural language of the uneducated people.

Originally, cant signified the secret language, used by the vagrant classes, the »Canting Crew»—gipsies, thieves, beggars, highwaymen, etc. But, in the course of time, the word has become a general, half-contemptuous name for the special phraseology and vocabulary of the lower classes. Cant is the native tongue of Seven Dials and Whitechapel, of Wapping and St. Giles, of Clare Market and East India Docks, generally speaking, of the suburbs and slums of English towns—of all places where »the Rough», the uncultivated individual of the lower classes, has his whereabouts. The labourer generally intermingles his talk more or less with cant. It is the jargon of the Street Arabs (the London[14] street-boys), the Costers, the Bookmakers, the Hooligans (the »Apaches» of London), the Cheap Jacks, the Newspaper Boys, the Shoeblack Brigade, etc., etc. The colloquial language of the cultivated is mixed up with cant-expressions, the amount depending on the individual’s social position, his sex, his age, etc. Even literary language now and then borrows a term or a phrase from cant. Words such as cad, pal, rum, row, cove, etc., are nowadays understood in refined society, and are generally used in colloquial language.

The centre and starting-point of cant has always been London—»Rom Vile», the marvellous city—and the vagrant people, assembled thither from all parts of the Empire and of the world, have joined in creating its vocabulary.

Its cosmopolitan character makes it a very difficult task to search into its etymological sources, all the more so, as the words and phrases have regularly become more or less altered on their being transplanted into English soil. The cleverest etymologists are here often non-plussed, and, in most cases, we must content ourselves with conjectures. Quite naturally, the main part of its vocabulary consists of Anglo-Saxon words, usually badly maimed. The mysterious Gipsy language, Romany, as yet but imperfectly investigated, has furnished a considerable number of old cant-terms. Such words are, for instance, pal, row, cove, rum or rom, shindy, all original cant-terms, but now partly colloquial[4]. In French originate, e. g.,[15] the old cant-word vile (town), cropoh (= crapaud, nick-name for a Frenchman), savey (to know), bean (a generic term for money; bien), quandary (qu’en dirai-je? embarrassment), dace or duce (deux: a twopenny-piece); in German: frow (Frau), kinchen (Kindchen), nix (nichts), gilt (old cant for money), finuf (a five-pound-note: fünf); in Italian: case (house); nantee (niente: nothing), letty (letto: bedstead), bene (as in bene darkmans: good night!); in Dutch: booze (buysen: to drink), bloke (blok?: man); in Latin: max (maximum?: gin), panum or panam (old cant for bread), nincom or ninny (non compos mentis: simpleton), quid (sovereign); in Hebrew: shickster (girl; Hebr. chackets?), schofel (name for a hansom-cab), etc.[5].

Especially during the last decades, America has strongly influenced the development of the English language. Americanisms are to be found in great number both in colloquial English, and also in slang and cant.

The grammar, as well as the phonology, of cant differs in many respects from that of the literary language.

Analogy plays an important rôle, and the anomalisms and divergencies are often of the same nature as those found in the language of children. The inflection is, accordingly, very much simplified, but, on the other hand, vulgar language has preserved several old forms which do not exist in the speech of the cultivated.

The best way to study Cant and Slang is, of course, to listen to the speaking individual himself. But, for several[16] reasons, this must, as a rule, be left to natural-born Englishmen. Another way is to study literature, especially the English and American humorists.

Whoever has tried to make himself at home in this special branch of English literature has undoubtedly had some reason to complain of the insufficiency of the philological aids within his reach. He will often search in vain for the information he wants in the most detailed grammars; the dictionaries of slang and cant may stand him in good stead, but they are all insufficient, and they do not always agree with one another; in particular, their classification is very inconsistent and often erroneous. On the whole, it may be truly stated that this important part of the English language is, as yet, but imperfectly investigated.





I. A Few Phonetic Notes.

As regards phonetics, Jerome’s language shows us the usual characteristic alterations and abbreviations of vulgar speech.

The uncultivated individual instantly and invariably unmasks himself by dropping his »h’s», however he may struggle to avoid it. On the other hand, an h not existing in ordinary pronunciation, is sometimes heard before a vowel, especially in pathetic speech.

Heven money on the Purple Hemperor! (Three Men On The Bummel, 74. 10.)

The lean girl said she had »erd on me». The fat girl remarked genteelly that she too had »heard hof me». with emphasis upon the »hof». (P. Kelver II. 68. 6.)

A man’s wife orter be to ’im a gawdess, a hangel, a — —. (Novel Notes 212. 31.)

Mar is quite hanxious to see you. (P. Kelver II. 64. 30.)

Thank you, I don’t heat cocoanuts that have been shied at by anybody. (P. Kelver II. 64. 16.)

Another characteristic of non-culture, often ridiculed in comic papers, is the pronunciation of u:


dooty instead of duty. (Novel Notes 52. 10.)
amatoor » » amateur. (Tea Table Talk 163. 9.)
dook » » duke. (» » »136. 18.)
menoo » » menu. (» » »126. 12.)
soot » » suit. (Tommy and Co. 38. 26.)
literatoor » » literature. (T. T. T. 158. 22.)

An r, consisting of a scarcely perceptible vibration of the tip of the tongue (named vanish-r by Ellis), is often heard in words and combinations where it does not exist in ordinary pronunciation. In some cases, it seems to be used to avoid a hiatus, in others, it is evidently the effect of an exaggerated palatal pronunciation of the vowel.

droaring-room: drawing-room (P. Kelver II. 65. 30.)
oughter ave: ought to have (Sketches 195. 12.)
arter: after (Novel Notes 205. 7.)
arf: half (» » 204. 4.)
arst: asked (» » 212. 6.)
follered: followed (» » 213. 5.)
carn’t: can’t (» » 204. 3.)

A long vowel is often abbreviated: weskit for ‘waistcoat’, gal, gel for ‘girl’, dunno for ‘don’t know’, agin for ‘again’, etc.; while, on the other hand, a short vowel (esp. o) is sometimes lengthened: dawg for ‘dog’, gawd for ‘god’ (Novel Notes 212).

(The same pron. of short o exists in the Essex dialect.)

In vulgar London speech, w is sometimes heard instead of v. Jerome’s language offers, however, but one sample: wiolets (T. T. T. 137. 5.)


(The pronunciation of w as v, Veller for Weller, etc. is said to be extinct in modern vulgar English.)

The g in words ending with -ing, esp. the present participle, is mostly mute in vulgar pronunciation.

bloomin’ (Novel Notes 203. 9).
mornin’ (» » 204. 20).
sendin’ } (P. Kelver 65. 19).
thinkin’ }
cracklin’ (» » II. 71. 4).
sellin’ (» » II. 58. 9).

This pronunciation of the participle is, however, rather an archaism. Sendin’. etc., is the ancient, dialectic pronunciation, and is not exclusively characteristic of vulgar language. Our author tells us that it has been—and is perhaps at present—the fashion among certain circles of the capital: «He suppressed a yawn, and replied, ‘Mornin’ dropping the g. The custom was just coming into fashion; he was always correct». (Sketches 51. 9.)

Blasé Billy.

Other anomalisms are: sich for such, hisself for himself, forarther for further (T. T. T. 247. 12), allus for always, mar for mother (P. Kelver II. 64. 30), oss for horse (Sketches 195. 20).


II. Accidence.

Anomalisms in the Conjugation of the Verbs.

The effect of analogy is obvious in the following examples.

I suggests (T. T. T. 159).
I answers (» 170).
They sits (» 125).
I comes (» 126).
You comes (» 125).
I says (» 133).
I asks (» 143).
I likes (Sketches 194).
I thinks (» 201).
I does (Sketches 194).
She don’t (» 194).
’E don’t (» 199).
Things as gets lost (T. T. T. 195).
They wasn’t (» 136).
There’s no wages (» 228).
It don’t (» 251).
One don’t (» 218).
It aren’t (Novel Notes 163).


I see = I saw (T. T. T. 197).
» » (Three Men In A Boat 81).

(The common anomalous form I seed is not to be found in Jerome.)

I give = I gave (Sketches 201).
I gived = » (Novel Notes 155).
I win = I won (Tommy And Co. 99).
I comed = I came (Woodb. Farm 56).


Perfect Participle.

Took = taken (T. T. T. 197 + 201 + 140).
writ = written (» 158).

Present Participle.

The Present Participles preceded by a pleonastic -a are very numerous.

a-coming (T. T. T. 133).
a-pecking (» 141).
a-siffing (» »).
a-going (Sketches 196).
a-collecting (» 200).
a-blowing (Three Men On The Bummel 18).
Etc., etc.

To Be.

It wur instead of it was is dialectic or vulgar. The samples I have found in Jerome (Three Men in a Boat 221, Woodb. Farm 8 + 10 + 56) are obviously all dialectic.

The uncommon form warn’t instead of wasn’t occurs in Woodb. Farm (p. 8, 1), but is evidently also dialectic.

Of the common anomalous form they’s instead of they are there is no example in Jerome.

To Have.

Have not and has not are regularly transformed into ain’t.

I ain’t got a bloomin’ sixpence on me. (Sketches 128. 12.)

’E ain’t never been his old self since then. (Sketches 201. 3.) Etc.

(Ain’t = am not, are not, is not, is colloquial.)



The abbreviated form ’em (for them, Middle-Engl. hem) is very common in Jerome, as in ordinary easy conversation among all classes.

The ordinary confusion of I and me appears in a few instances.

Just as you or me would swear at the missus. (T. T. T. 128. 17.)

In another twenty minutes me and young M. were in the carriage. (T. T. T. 195. 7.)

Me instead of myself is archaic, but occurs in vulgar language also.

It is no use fixing me down to any quiet calling. (T. T. T. 172. 12.)

Uncultivated young man.

You is very often corrupted into yer or ye.

I do the tips, yer know. (T. T. T. 131. 20.)

Any man could look at ye and hate ye. (P. Kelver 32. 11.) Etc.

Them is sometimes confused with those:

She fetched ’im round to one of them revivalist chaps. (Sketches 201. 2.)

A waiter.

I wouldn’t ’ave ’em know as ’ow I was one o’ them college blokes. (Novel Notes 203. 90.)

Uncultivated young man.

With them little hands. (Woodb. Farm 19. 20.)

A farmer.

Enclitic here (always written ’ere: this ’ere, that ’ere, etc.) is very common. Of enclitic there I have found no example in Jerome.

The assimilation of m in himself (hisself) is regular.



The vulgar tongue has a strong liking for diminutive forms ending in -y, -ey. I have found in Jerome the following instances.

matey (dim. of mate): term of address.
cockey (» » cock) » » »
sonny (» » son) » » »
baccy (dim. of tobacco > bacco).
ninny (» » nincompoop); non compos mentis = simpleton.

Cf. milky = milkman; dusty = dustman; bricky = bricklayer; posty = postman (Baumann).

Sometimes, the tendency to form words ending in -y seems to extend also to the Participle.

humpy (humped?) = dull, miserable (T. T. T. 156. 20).
dotty (dotted?) = dizzy, idiotic (Tommy And Co. 61. 28).

(Cf. dreaming > dreamy; chatting > chatty, etc.)

An instance of double-possessive appears in Sketches p. 201. 8.

They told him as ’ow it was folks’s own fault that they were poor.

(Cf. Swed. »hanses rock», etc.)


III. Syntactical Remarks.

Constructions with To be and the Present Participle are used colloquially, with the intention of vividness, in many cases where there is no particular reason to stress the fact that a thought is just a going on, a tendency especially characteristic of the Celtic-speaking Englishman. The uneducated vulgus have a strong predilection for these constructions and overdo them, as in the following examples, where there is not any reason at all for using them:

I’d ’ave ’ad to wait a long time, I’m thinking, if I ’adn’t come across this one ’ere. (T. T. T. 148. 18.)

Uncultivated Londoner.

You don’t see many fish that size about here now, I’m thinking. (Three Men In A Boat 221. 24.)

A farmer.

I am hoping it will be some sensible, pleasant woman. (Tommy And Co. 164. 12.)

A London gentleman with a strong liking for vulgarism.

Adjectives, adverbs, and other words are often accompanied by a pleonastic -like.

I stands respectful-like (T. T. T. 141. 9.)
I see him sitting up like (P. Kelver II. 236. 28.)
I was talking sarcastic-like (» 250. 14.)[27]
... he answers sulky-like (T. T. T. 157. 7.)
... says she, after considering-like (T. T. T. 127. 2.)
more cheerful-like (Sketches 201. 22.)
They met accidental-like (T. T. T. 144. 4.)
«Pity», she says, musing-like (T. T. T. 143. 3.)
Etc. Etc.

(Such-like is quite normal. In fact, when the word is not attributive, »such» would now be colloquial, e.g. »thieves and such» for »such-like», »the like».)

Adverbs are often substituted for adjectives.

It was awful gloomy before. (Three Men In A Boat 63. 30.)

Not a particular nice class as you meet there. (Tommy And Co. 17. 1.)

Uncultivated Londoner.

She’d come in regular with her young man. (T. T. T. 130. 3.)

A waiter.

I snapped him up shortish. (T. T. T. 196. 2.)

The same.

I’m fair sick of ’er. (Novel Notes 212. 12.)

Uncultivated young man.

He fair settled ’im. (Sketches 201. 2.)

Uncultivated old woman.

They met accidental-like. (T. T. T. 144. 4.)

A waiter.

This tendency extends, however, to the colloquial language of the cultivated. »Precious», for instance, is almost regularly substituted for very by many persons of some education.


(The inverse construction—adverb instead of adjective—may be heard now and then: the child looked very nicely, etc.)

Adjectives turned into a Plural Noun to express a State of Mind.

I used to get the fair dismals watching it. (T. T. T. 129. 21.)

A Waiter.

It gave me the blues for a day or two—that bit of news. (T. T. T. 146. 20.)

The same.

As stands very often for Relative Pronouns without a preceding such.

It’s the world as I’m complaining of. (T. T. T. 157. 12.)

The sort as likes it and the sort as don’t. (T. T. T. 205. 5.)

’E don’t cotton much to them as ain’t found grace. (Sketches 199. 28.) Etc. Etc.

Nearly as often, as or as how is substituted for subordinate that.

I don’t think as I can. (T. T. T. 127. 2.)

They shan’t say as I have disgraced them. (T. T. T. 145. 8.)

They told him as ’ow it was folks’s own fault that they was poor. (Sketches 201. 8.)

The papers always said as how she was charming. (T. T. T. 137. 14.)

It was evidently his turn to think as how I was mad. (T. T. T. 188. 25.)


Constructions with so ... that are contracted in the following manner.

She was that clean you might have eaten your dinner out of her hand. (T. T. T. 133. 16.)

A waiter.

I wur that taken aback I couldn’t tell ’ee what it wur. (Woodb. Farm 56. 35.)

A farmer.

Double Negative Particle is rather common—as in German and other languages also.

She don’t get no better. (Sketches 194. 10.)

’E ain’t never been his old self since then. (Sketches 201. 3.)

I ain’t no bloomin’ Smythe. (Novel Notes 203. 7.) Etc.

The ordinary confusion of on and of occurs in one instance, admirably illustrating the difficulties the uneducated meet with as often as they try to disguise the fatal dropping of the h’s:

The lean girl said she had »erd on me». The fat girl, seizing the chance afforded her, remarked genteelly that she too had »heard hof me», with emphasis upon the »hof». (P. Kelver 68. 6.)

The following sequence of words—with stress upon the pronoun—is in high favour with the uncultivated Englishman (Cf. Swed. sa han, sa jag. etc.):

»What’s the good of Africa?» replies he. (T. T. T. 159. 18.)

»Australia!» retorts he; »what would I do there?» (T. T. T. 159. 10.)


»A man like that deserves what he gets,» answers he. (T. T. T. 169. 9.)

»She was a bit of a fool herself,» adds she. (T. T. T. 258. 7.)

»There’s no wages attached», continues she. (T. T. T. 228. 14.)

»Go for a soldier», says I. (T. T. T. 160. 12.)






»Avast!» (Stage-Land 82. 8.)

A sailor.

Sailor slang = Hold! Stop!

The term is much used by landlubbers who desire to get local colour cheap.


»Perhaps you’d get through your Little-go in the course of the next few years.» (They And I. 7. 21.)

Conversation between a young lady and her brother, who is a student.

At Cambridge, Little-go is the common name for the public examination which candidates for an »ordinary degree» have to pass in the second year of residence.

Cf. Great-go: the final examination for the B. A.


»I had been ‘nursing’ her, as we say in the political world, for years.» (The Prude’s Progress 67. 20.)

A young author.

Political slang: used of a candidate for Parliament who seeks to ingratiate himself with the electors by paying them attentions and giving them things they like with a view to securing their votes when the election takes place.[34] Here used of trying to prepare a young lady’s mind to accept a proposal of marriage when the moment comes to make it.

pater, mater

»I say to myself I’ll do a thing, but the mater talks and talks, and——.» (Sketches 41. 12.)

A young gentleman.

»I promised the Mater I would, and I did.» (Sketches 80. 30.)

The same.

»The Mater gave me half-a-crown a week for pocket-money.» (Sketches 81. 9.)

The same.

»The pater came to the conclusion that it was time he laid down a dog.» (Novel Notes 48. 18.)

The same.

The commonest familiar names for the parents on the lips of the average public schoolboy.


«You have been ploughed then?» (Prude’s Progress).

Schoolboy slang for to be rejected in an examination.

Cf. the synonymous to be plucked and to be spun.


»Against one such [a portraiture to the living original], evidently an attempt to help Dick see himself in his true colours, I find this marginal note in pencil: ‘Better not’. Might make him ratty.» (They And I. 258. 1.)

A schoolgirl.


The expression is, I think, schoolboy slang for waxy, annoyed.

(Cf. Swed. «gnafven».)


»They’re all of ’em in the parlour, the whole blooming shoot.» (P. Kelver II. 66. 2.)

Uneducated young man.

Carters’ slang for mob, medley, rabble, miscellaneous horde. The exact meaning is probably: the whole mass of them as «shot» in one indiscriminate «shoot» from a tipping-cart or waggon into a place marked «Rubbish may be shot here» (afstjälpningsplats).

(Cf. Swed.: «hela skoffan».)

slack, swot

»To ‘slack’ in this term, with the full determination of ‘swotting’ in the next.» (Tommy And Co. 94. 14.)

The author.

To sweat or swot is schoolboy slang for drudge, study hard. To slack means the contrary.

The term «swot» originated at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, in the broad Scotch pronunciation of Dr. Wallace, one of the Professors, of the word sweat.

Cf. »He used to despise a swot, as we used to call a lad with a taste for literature». (Percy White: Mr. Bailey-Martin. I.) »That’s the worst of clever little swots» (Rudyard Kipling, Stalky & Co.)


»You have been ploughed then?»

»Oh, come, you mustn’t despair. You’ve only[36] been »spun», as you fellows call it, for a few months.» (The Prude’s Progr. 52. 15. 35.)

To be spun: to be rejected in an examination = to be plucked and to be ploughed.

Baumann and Farmer-Henley call it military slang (Royal Military Academy), but here it occurs during a conversation between two medical students and their civil friends.


»His ‘swag’ generally consists of an overcoat and a pair of boots.» (Novel Notes 176. 15.)

The author.

»A policeman found them afterwards, sitting on a doorstep, the ‘swag’ behind them in a carpet bag.» (Sketches 147. 22.)

A gentleman.

Thieves’ slang for booty, stolen things; not used outside thieves’ language—except, of course, as a conscious quotation.






»Man works, as he thinks, for beer and baccy.» (T. T. T. 59. 20.)

A »minor poet.» Conversation between ladies and gentlemen.

»You had to walk ten miles to get your baccy.» (Three Men In A Boat 8. 8.)

»He sent them out to buy his baccy,» (Novel Notes 80. 16.)

A young gentleman.

Baccy is a vulgar form of tobacco, more vulgar than bacco. The formation of the word, with a gradual weakening of the last, unaccented syllable, is characteristic of vulgar language: baccoᵘ > baccŏ (or backer) > baccy.


»I call the whole thing bally foolishness.» (Three Men In A Boat 14. 7.)

A comparatively recent coinage, it is said, of The Sporting Times from the Irish bally-hooly.

The word is used in the same manner as blooming and bloody, i. e. as a meaningless intensive expression. Bloody is an adj. used on every possible occasion by Eng. workmen, but without meaning. Schoolboys and grown-up persons of the better classes use bally.


chip in

»She took ‘the liberty of chipping in’, to use her own expression.» (They And I. 226. 6.)

An actress.

= of joining in the conversation.

To chip in is sport-slang (Cards) for »to put a chip (or counter) in the pool»; hence, by extension, to make a contribution to, or take part in, anything—e. g. a conversation or an enterprise.


»The shy, backward boy I had coached and bullied.» (Sketches 83. 10.)

A cultivated man.

»For a fortnight past the O’Kelly had been coaching me.» (P. Kelver II. 80. 7.)

The same.

= to prepare for an examination.

Also: to train in physical acquirements, e. g. in (= tutor or traince in Standard English) cricket or rowing.

A coach: a person who trains another (but more disparaging); analogous terms are crammer, feeder, grinder.

The word is originally schoolboy and academical slang, but now in general use among all classes.


»’Ow could ’e get a crib? no character, no references.» (P. Kelver II. 56. 12.)

A young clerk.

= situation, place.

Originally commercial slang, like berth in the same sense.



»He will only let us have them (the rooms) on the understanding that we ‘do for’ ourselves.» (P. Kelver II. 110. 26.)

A gentleman.

= to attend on (as landladies on lodgers). Probably servants’ slang.


»Go to hell with your snivelling jaw.» (Novel Notes 179. 10.)

A convict.

Schoolboy slang for lengthy talk—esp. in the nature of a reproof.

Cf. None of your jaw, you swab! (Smollett, Roderick Random.) Shut up your jaw! = Hold your tongue!


»He killed three of them before Harris could land him with the frying-pan.» (Three Men In A Boat 46. 22.)

»By-the-by, he landed you pretty heavily, didn’t he?» (The Prude’s Progress. 16. 20.)

A gentleman.

To land, boxers’ slang = to hit, to beat.


»One day he fell in love; or to put it in the words of Teddy Tidmarsh, who brought the news to us, ‘got mashed on Gerty Lowell’.» (Sketches 55. 28.)

»It’s like ’aving an Alcock’s porous plaster mashed on yer.» (Novel Notes 212. 15.)

Uncultivated young man.


To be mashed on and to be spoony on are rather common expressions for to be in love with. (Cf. to be nuts on.)

According to Leland, the term mashed originates from the Gipsy-word mash = masher-ava: allure; according to others, it is a variation of smash[6]. (Smite, smitten is used in the same sense.)

In the eighties, it came to England from America, where it was used especially among actors.

Cf. mash: sweetheart. to mash, to be on the mash: to flirt. masher: (1) a species of Don Juan, esp. among choristers and actresses; (2) a dandy and, as adj., smart.

The term is, I suppose, originally actors’ slang.


»You make her marry the Prince; and be slippy about it.» (They And I. 75. 14.)

A schoolboy.

Schoolboy slang for be quick:

(Cf. expressions as »the ship slipped through the water».)

spoon, spoony

»spooning smutty-faced servant-gals across area railings.» (T. T. T. 157. 3.)

Uneducated young man.


»Spoony couples.» (T. T. T. 129. 24.)

A waiter.

To spoon, originally student-slang = flirt, make love. Spoony = enamoured.

(A spoon, originally = a simpleton, esp. an absurd whole-hearted lover.)


»I often feel sorry for you, having nobody but grown-up people to talk to.»—

»They do get a bit stodgy after a certain age,» agreed the Babe. (Tommy And Co. 164. 16.)

A young gentleman.

Stodgy, probably schoolboy slang, is something heavy, unappetizing, or difficult to digest, lying heavily on the stomach, literally or figuratively: e. g. ill-cooked potatoes, a man whose conversation is all facts and no wit, etc.

Cf. stodge: food, a heavy meal. stodger: a glutton.


»Waste not your substance upon tops and marbles, nor yet upon tuck (Do ye still call it »tuck»?).» (P. Kelver I. 111. 6.)

The author.

Schoolboy slang for pastry, sweetstuff, and the like.

Cf. tuck-shop = a pastrycook’s.

The term is also used as a generic for edibles and appetite.


»Too terribly true. She’d twig it.» (They And I. 258. 4.)

A schoolgirl.


»It being a foggy night, nobody twigged me.» (Tommy And Co. 42. 21.)

A London brat.

Schoolboy slang for notice.

Cf. »Glad you are not twigged, gen’lemen.» (F. W. Farrar, Eric or Little By Little. III.)

Twiggez-vous? = Do you see?





buck up

»What he wants is bucking up; somebody to say to him, ‘Bravo! why, this is splendid’.» (They And I. 239. 3.)

The author.

To buck up is schoolboy slang (Winchester College) for to be glad, pleased, to cheer up.

The usual expression is: Oh, buck up!—a phrase which at Westminster School would have a different meaning, namely exert yourself; at Uppingham, to be bucked is to be tired. (Farmer & Henley.)


»Don’t see anything for it, but for him to do a bunk.»—»Not a bad idea that, only where’s ’e to bunk to?» (P. Kelver II. 56. 8.)

A young clerk.

To bunk, probably originally schoolboy slang, means to escape, run away, take to flight (because of ‘funk’, or to avoid punishment).

To do a bunk: colloquial use of do with a verb stem used as a noun = achieve, perform, the action denoted by the verb. Cf. to do a drink.



»This bloke I have fallen on looks a bit sick.» (P. Kelver II. 237. 2.)

A plumber.

»I wouldn’t have them know as ’ow I was one of them college blokes.» (Novel Notes 203. 23.)

Uneducated young Londoner.

Bloke (or bloak) is London-cant for man, fellow. (Possibly, the word is derived from the Dutch blok, Germ. Block, though, if this is the case, it is difficult to account for the long vowel.)


»Not a blooming shadow, assured me J.,» so far as she’s concerned. (P. Kelver II. 53. 16.)

A young City clerk.

»I will drift into being a blooming milkman.» (T. T. T. 157. 2.)

Uneducated Londoner.

»I ain’t got a blooming sixpence on me.» (Sketches 128. 11.)

The same.

»Underneath my sneering phiz I’m a blooming ’Arry.» (Novel Notes 204. 10.)

The same.

»D’ye think I am a bloomin’ kid?» (Tommy And Co. 16. 20.)

The same.

»She gives me the blooming ’ump.» (Novel Notes 202. 25.)

A workman.


»I ain’t no blooming Smythe.» (Novel Notes 203. 8.)

The same.

Blooming (bloomin’) is a term in high favour among the ‘vulgus’.

It is a euphemism, similar to blessed, blamed, blarmed, etc., and is frequently used by the lower classes to emphasize words.

to blue

Mrs. D. »What have you done—blued the lot

Mr. D. »Belinda, your vulgar expressions pain me.» (The Prude’s Progr. 37. 2.)

To blue means here: to spend, to get rid of money quickly.

Have you blued the lot? = have you spent all the money?

Cf. to be blued = to be robbed.


»You boss-eyed old cow, you.» (Stage-Land. 58. 22.)

Uneducated young man.

Boss-eyed means squint-eyed or with one eye injured. Here it is probably the former, the expression alluding to a woman.

The term may be connected with the schoolboy slang word »boss» as in »boss a shot» = make a bad shot—in which case it would refer to imperfection of the vision, rather than to obliquity in the position of the eye.


»They turn round and bully-rag me for being argumentative.» (They And I. 164. 14.)

A cultivated man.


»It ain’t no use my taking her now, I’ll only get bullyragged for disturbing ’em.» (P. Kelver I. 242. 30.)

Old woman of the working class.

Bullyrag (or Ballyrag) = to abuse, to scold vehemently. (Swedish: skälla ut.)


»I do not blame the dog (contenting myself with merely clouting his head or throwing stones at him).» (Three Men In A Boat 162. 30.)

= to strike.

The word is originally a provincialism, but is used in vulgar language also.


»Yer won’t tell?—Say, ‘I swear’.»

»I swear-»

»Good-bye, cockey.» (P. Kelver I. 75. 30.)

Dialogue between two »street Arabs».

The term has probably nothing to do with cock-eye (squinting eye), but is a vulgar mode of address and diminutive of cock (cf. sonny, matey, slavey, chummy etc.), as in »a fine old cock», where the word indicates a certain superiority.

cop, copper

»It’s only the fools as gets copped.» (T. T. T. 162. 15.)

Uncultivated Londoner.

»I nearly got copped.» (Miss Hobbs 42. 18.)

Easy conversation between gentlemen.


»I have seen her fling her petticoats about, when the copper wasn’t by.» (T. T. T. 132. 16.)

A waiter.

= to seize, to catch.

The word is probably originally thieves’ cant, and has here the sense of arrest.

A cop or copper: a policeman.

The etymology of cop is doubtful. It has been associated with the Gipsy kap or cop = to take, with the root of the Latin cap-io, and with the Hebrew cop = a hand or palm. Farmer-Henley (Dict. of Slang and Coll. Engl.) observes that low-class Jews employ the term, and understand it to refer to the act of snatching.


»I’m not cut for a respectable cove.» (T. T. T. 161. 20.)

Uneducated young man.

»Her master seems to have been an odd sort of a cove.» (T. T. T. 172. 20.)

A waiter.

»This cove looks young.» (The Passing 12. 12.)

A constable.

Cove (also covey, cofe, cuffing, and, in the feminine, covess) is a common vulgarism for man, person. The term is no doubt derived from the old Gipsy word cova = man.

It is, I should think, not quite as vulgar as the synonymous bloke.


Neither child appeared to care a curse for anybody. (T. T. T. 182. 11.)

A waiter.


I don’t care a curse = I don’t care in the slightest degree. (Ich frage keinen Pfifferling danach; Je m’en fiche comme d’une guigne.)

The equivalent I don’t care a hang is rather colloquial.

Some euphemisms for damn, damned

»Why, bless us, where’s your eyes.» (Three Men In A Boat 171. 13.)

A lockkeeper.

»What’s the difference blessed if I can see.» (Three Men In A Boat 201. 5.)

An old woman of the lower classes.

»Though I’d been sitting in the shop the whole blessed time.» (Tommy And Co. 55. 20.)

The same.

»An afternoon! Bless the man, I want them for a month.» (The Prude’s Progress 19. 6.)

A jovial ex-actress.

»Blowed if I don’t think they’ll be a chirpier lot in t’other place.» (Sketches 201. 25.)

Uncultivated Londoner.

»Blow me if it ain’t me as ’as been cheated out of the fourpence.» (Sketches 128. 6.)

An omnibus conductor.

»Blow me tight if ’ere ain’t a gentleman been looking for Wallingford lock.» (Three Men In A Boat 115. 4.)

A provincial »Arry».

»Blimy if I don’t believe ’e’s taking ’ome ’is washing up his back.» (The Passing 10. 11.)

Uncultivated young woman.


»Oh, drat the man!» (Three Men In A Boat 233. 28.)

A young lady.

»Drat the boy!» (The Prude’s Progress 48. 4.)

An elderly lady.

»I don’t see the darned good of this part of the trick.» (Woodb. Farm 24. 30.)

Young peasant girl.

»I always see his face when I look on the darned things.» (Woodb. Farm 25. 38.)

The same.

»The blarmed tent is not up yet.» (Three Men In A Boat 19. 15.)

»That blasted dog of yours.» (Novel Notes 52. 15.)

A burglar.

»No, dash it, I can’t think of that line.» (Three Men In A Boat 92. 16.)

»Danged if I see so much fun in it.» (Woodb. Farm. 57. 40.)

Young peasant.

»The dog ought to know a durned sight more about them.» (Novel Notes 152. 26.)

A sailor.

All these expressions are, of course, vulgar, but not equally so.

Darn and, to a less extent, bless are euphemisms in common use in polite circles. Blow is a little coarser, but still usable by a lady in quite private life. Blast (Cockney brast) is a distinctly profane word, generally implying ill-temper. Drat is the usual word in the language of the domestic servant. Blime or blimey (= blind me!) as well as blarmed (probably a corruption of blamed) is[54] distinctly vulgar. Dang (esp. dang it!) is a mild form of damn; might be used even by a clergyman.

the dismals

»I used to get the fair dismals watching it.» (T. T. T. 129. 21.)

A waiter.

= to feel wretched, dejected.

The phrase is doubly vulgar: »fair» to express »complete», as in »a fair (regular) swindle», »a fair old brute», »a fair knock out» (a fair fight); »dismals»—adjective turned into a plural noun to express a state of mind.

Cf. rheumatics (rheumatism); to have (to get) the blues = to feel melancholy.


»Slices of bread and butter—»doorsteps», as we used to call them.» (T. T. T. 126. 14.)

A waiter.

»Door-steps» at two a penny.» (Sketches 55. 5.)

The author.

= a thick slice of bread and butter.


»I thought it only right to give it (the bicycle) a fair trial.»—»You gave your family a fair trial also; if you will allow me the use of slang.» (Three Men On The Bummel. 47. 10.)

A cultivated young man.

= regular, real, thorough-going.

Cf. a fair swindle, a fair old brute, a fair devil, etc.



A ’alf-brother, who’s always got to be spry with some fake about ’is lineage. (T. T. T. 138. 22.)

Uneducated Londoner.

»I ain’t the talent for the Don Juan fake.» (T. T. T. 143. 13.)

The same.

Fake (originally thieves’ cant?) is a proceeding or an affair of any kind irrespective of morals or legality. In America: a swindler. As verb: to do anything, to fabricate, cheat, steal, forge, etc.—a general verb-of-all-work. To fake up: to paint one’s face, make up a character.

The etymology is very doubtful. Some authors have associated the word with feage (whiff away), derived perhaps from the German fegen. This seems, however, to be rather a questionable construction.


»Go to your lamented master, the fizzing count.» (Woodb. Farm 55. 9.)

A young farmer.

= excellent, ripping, crack.


»I did help a chap to sell papers once: he said I was fly at it.» (Tommy And Co. 36. 22.)

A London brat of the working class.

»I don’t take ’er on while I’m myself. I’m too jolly fly.» (Novel Notes 212. 20.)

Uneducated young man.


= knowing, cute.

(Cf. Dickens, Bleak House: »Do what I want, and I will pay you well»—»I’m fly».)

In the 16th and 17th centuries it was held that familiar spirits, in the guise of flies, fleas, etc., attended on witches, who for a price professed to dispose of the Power for evil thus imparted. Thence a fly meant a familiar (spiritus familiaris). That is, I presume, the origin of the above expression.


»I’m in a blue funk that one of these days she will oversleep herself.» (They And I. 194. 6.)

A student.

= to be anxious, nervous about something.

(funk: a state of fear; generally with an intensifying word, e. g. a bloody, mortal, or blue funk.)


»Garn! They’d run out of ’eads when they was making you.» (P. Kelver I. 93. 9.)

A London gutter child.

Garn, a corruption of go on, is vulgar London language. It is used in the same way as the French Va! Allez!


A man, slouching under the trees, paused as I overtook him.

»You couldn’t oblige me with a light, could you, guv’nor?» he said. (Novel Notes 110. 16.)


Governor stands here as a vulgar mode of address, quite corresponding to the French bourgeois. In Swedish we should say simply: han or Herrn.

In the sense of father or master, employer (The governor: »gubben»), the word is now in everyday colloquial use.


»You give me my grub and a shake-down, and I’ll grumble less than’ most of ’em». (Tommy and Co. 15. 15.)

Uneducated Young man.

One of the commonest of the numerous vulgar paraphrases of food (Farmer-Henley’s Dict. of Slang and Coll. Engl. mentions about a score of them.)

to lam

»The Lord will help us. Hold him fast, and—Lam into him». (Novel Notes 163. 9.)

A tract-distributor.

»She lammed in tracts at him full of the most awful language». (Sketches 200. 25.)

Old woman of the working class.

Lamb (vulgarized: lam) is sometimes ironically used to indicate a rough, cruel, or merciless person, and thence specifically applied to bludgeon men at elections. To this word we must refer, I suppose, the vulgar verb to lamb or to lam = to beat, to strike frequently. (Figurally or literally.)

The sense of the two above expressions is:

(1) go at him (figurally);

(2) she aimed mental blows at him by means of tracts.


let on

»Don’t let on to any of the chaps that I am a member of that blessed waxwork show». (Novel Notes 203. 20.)

Uncultivated young man.

Let on: vulgar for confess, inform, reveal the secret.


»You must have forgot yourself, matey.» (Sketches 193. 20.)

A workman.

A vulgar diminutive form of mate.


»Do you take me for a mug?» (Tommy And Co. 46. 20.)

A London brat of the working class.

He »took to» me, he said, because I was »so jolly green»—»such a rummy little mug

A schoolboy.

»Are you the rich mug Vane’s been representing you to be?» (P. Kelver II. 224. 28.)

An actress.

»Keep your mug shut about Oxford.» (Novel Notes 203. 26.)

Uncultivated young man.

Mug in the first three quotations is a vulgarism and means simpleton, greenhorn; in the last, it is another word (thieves’ cant) for mouth or face.



»The chap who was nabbed at B. last week.» (T. T. T. 163. 7.)

A waiter.

= caught, arrested.

Originally thieves’ cant. Cf. the Swed. nappa: to grasp.


»The nobs should be made to acknowledge it»! (P. Kelver II. 259 7.)

A businessman, former Whitechapel butcher.

Nob, abbreviation of nobility, as mob of mobility, stands on the same level as toff, both of them meaning person of distinction.


»I give her the office the next time I see her.» (T. T. T. 144. 3.)

A waiter.

= the hint, the signal.

To give or tip the office: to give a hint, a private information.

To take the office is to understand and profit by the hint given.

peg out

»The little beggar, at the end of the time mentioned, ‘pegged out’, to use Jimmy’s word». (Novel Notes 85. 25.)

Young Londoner of the working class.

= to die.


Vulgar synonyms: to hop off, to hop the twig, to kick the bucket.


»Underneath my sneering phiz I’m a blooming ’Arry.» (Novel Notes 204. 4.)

Uneducated Londoner.

Phiz, probably an abbreviation of physiognomy, is a vulgarism for face, countenance.

put away

»You don’t often see anybody put it away like that girl did.» (T. T. T. 126. 9.)

An elderly waiter.

= to dispose of by eating.

Compare W. S. Gilbert, Bab Ballads:

»And when, as cads would say,
He had put it all away

Cf. stow away.

to queer a pitch

»Business is business; and I ain’t going to queer ’er pitch for ’er.» (T. T. T. 137. 7.)

Uneducated young Londoner.

To queer a pitch is to spoil a chance of business.

Pitch (vulgar) is a place of sale or entertainment. »He had fixed his pitch outside.» (T. T. T. 124. 10.) Germ. Stand, Bude.

Cf. To queer = to spoil, to outwit.

To queer the stifler: to cheat the hangman; to queer fate: to get the better of the inevitable.



»She is a bit rocky.»—

»A bit rocky?»—

»Upset, ma’am, excited.» (Miss Hobbs 4. 8.)

A servant.

In this sense the expression is vulgar, whereas, in the sense of broken (by drink, illness, poverty, etc.) or difficult, dubious, it may be considered as verging towards colloquial.

(The term is, of course, derived from the verb rock.)


He entreated me to hold »Smith», the rorty ’Arry, a secret from the acquaintance of »Smythe», the superior person. (Novel Notes 203. 26.)

Young Londoner.

The phrase means: he was an ’Arry out and out.

Rorty (or Raughty) = of the very best.

Cf. rorty-toff: an out and out swell; rorty-dasher: a fine fellow; rorty-boys: jolly chaps.

The etymology is doubtful; possibly a corruption of right > righty?


»When I comes into your shop to order refreshments, I’m boss. Savey?» (T. T. T. 126. 3.)

Uneducated Londoner.

»Me out of it—everything’s simple. Savey?» (T. T. T. 54. 13.)

The same.

»Upon my sivvy, blessed if I see ’ow to do it.» (P. Kelver II. 54. 13.)


Young London clerk.

Savey (savvy) is a common vulgarism for knowing, knowledge; as verb: to know, to understand.

Do you savey? = Do you know, do you understand? He had plenty of savey = of savoir faire, or savoir vivre.

»Upon my sivvy» stands probably for »upon my affy», a common vulgarized form of »upon my solemn affidavit» (upon my sworn testimony.)

The term is no doubt derived from some Romanic language, perhaps a corruption of the French vous savez or savez-vous.


»Well, you was a sawny-headed chunk, Josiah, you was.» (Novel Notes 36. 15.)

= a blockhead, a simpleton.

Sawny is said to be a corruption of »Sandy», the usual nickname (abbrev. of Alexander) for a Scotsman, as Taffy (Welsh pronunciation of Davy) for a Welshman, and Paddy (short for Patrick) for an Irishman.

Chunk = a shapeless mass of anything, a thick piece, a lump: of wood, bread, etc.; as applied to a person = blockhead. (Cf. chump.)


»What is up?» I says. »Got the shove?» (T. T. T. 156. 14.)

A waiter.

= to be dismissed.

Cf. to give the shove: to send packing.


shut up

»Shut up, mother,» he cried at last, quite gruffly. (Sketches 197. 11.)

A bookmaker.

= hold your tongue!

Vulgar synonyms: Shut it! Stow it!

To be shut up: to be silenced, done for.

Cf. the French: ferme la boite!


»She had a precious sight more gumption than he had ever possessed.» (T. T. T. 213. 18.)

A waiter.

»He tried to do others a precious sight sharper than himself.» (T. T. T. 220. 20.)

The same.

»The dog, who ought to know a durned sight more about them than he does— —.» (Novel Notes 152. 25.)

A sailor.

Sight is a common vulgarism for »lot», »deal.» (Precious, intensive adj. and adv., is colloquial, verging towards vulgar.)


»She sits herself again.» (T. T. T. 225. 10.)

A waiter.

The ordinary vulgar confusion of sit and seat. (This phrase should not be considered as on the same level as the following: »The moment you stand or sit him down he begins.» (T. T. T. 67. 2.) This is only an ordinary[64] graphic use of an intransitive verb in a transitive sense; colloquial perhaps, but not vulgar.)


»I trusted him, the skunk.» (Woodb. Farm 58. 20.)

Uneducated young man.

A skunk is a mean, paltry wretch (usling.) Originally the word signifies a stinkard (Mydaus meliceps).


»We’ll have a good, round, square, slap-up meal.» (Three Men In A Boat 41. 7.)

= fine, first-rate, of the best.

Synonym: bang-up.

Cf. slapping: very-big, excellent; slapper: anything exceptional.

sort of

»This seemed to sort of lighten the boat.» (Three Men In A Boat 108. 30.)

= seemed to lighten the boat, as it were.

Often spelt and pronounced »sorter.» Compare kind ofkinder»). Both especially common in American vulgar language and probably imitated from America.

to do spoons

»The girl said he’d gone to do spoons—whatever that may mean.» (Barbara 18. 25.)

A doctor.

= to make love, to flirt.

The expression may, I think, be characterised as[65] a vulgarism; while spoon, as verb, originally student slang, may be considered as slang > colloquial.


»Stow it!» he says. (T. T. T. 161. 14.)

Uneducated individual.

»Oh, stow that», she says. (T. T. T. 141. 15.)

The same.

= hold your tongue!

Cf. Shut it!

toff, toffy

»I’ve mixed a good deal with the toffs in my time.» (T. T. T. 133. 21.)

A waiter.

»a quiet, respectable toff.» (T. T. T. 138. 20.)

Uneducated young man.

»There was a party of toffs there.» (Novel Notes 213. 10.)

A London ’Arry.

»a bit of a toff in his off-hours.» (T. T. T. 211. 2.)

A waiter.

»Toffy enough she looked in her diamonds and furs.» (T. T. T. 140. 16.)

The same.

A toff = a fop, a swell. Toffy (tofficky) = dressy, showy, smart.

At Oxford noblemen students used to wear a golden tassel (a tuft) in their cap. Hence they were called »tufts»; so we get toff.


to be up a tree

»What would he do without you?»—

»Well, I’m afraid he would be a little up a tree, sir, if I may be permitted a vulgarism.» (Woodb. Farm 31. 9.)

A servant.

To be up a tree or treed means to be cornered, done for, obliged to surrender. To be up the tree is a phrase often used by City tradesmen in the sense of bankrupt.

Probably the expression derives its origin from a cant-word tree = gallows.

a wet

»’Ave a wet?» I declined the wet. (Novel Notes 205. 25.)

A young workman.

Common vulgarism for a drink.


»A day’s work, and then a pipe by your own fire-side with your slippers on. That is my swarry.» (T. T. T. 143. 16.)

A waiter.

Swarry is here probably a vulgar corruption of the French soirée.

(Cf. Dickens, Pickwick Papers, where it is still further corrupted into leg of mutton.)






»If he was to blither, it was only fair that she should bleat back.» (T. T. T. 22. 21.)

The author. Conversation between ladies and gentlemen.

»Don’t believe these blithering idiots have ever seen a girl before.» (Tommy and Co. 229. 12.)

A young journalist.

= to talk volubly and nonsensically.

The original form of the word is probably blather (Icelandic bladhra, Swed. pladdra), blether a Scottish form, while blither seems to be the modern vulgar form.

(Cf. Bletherskate: a boaster, a noisy talker.)

the blues

»It gave me the blues for a day or two—that bit of news.» (T. T. T. 146. 20.)

A waiter.

»Nobody likes a fit of the blues.» (The Idle Thoughts Of An Idle Fellow 27. 3.)

A shortened form of blue devils = despondency, depression of spirits.

Cf. the dismals.


bob, tanner, quid

»A rise of two bob a week.» (T. T. T. 156. 18.)

Uneducated young man.

»—a bob or a tanner as the case might be.» (T. T. T. 125. 2.)

A waiter.

»His tie must have cost fifty quid.» (T. T. T. 131. 21.)

The same.

Terms for, respectively, shilling, sixpence, and sovereign. The expressions are vulgar, no doubt, but in common use among all classes—among the more educated and refined only in intimate talk, of course.


»A palefaced nervous sort of chap.» (T. T. T. 130. 4.)

A waiter.

»A wonderful talent for swallowing, these newspaper chaps has, some of ’em.» (T. T. T. 135. 3.)

The same.

»The chap who was nabbed at Birmingham.» (T. T. T. 163. 6.)

Uncultivated young man.

»The chap I am telling you about.» (T. T. T. 206. 20.)

A waiter.

»One day she fetched ’im round to one of them revivalist chaps.» (Sketches 201. 2.)

Uncultivated old woman.

= fellow, man.

The term seems to originate in an obsolete word chap (abbr. of chapman: Swed. köpman) = merchant.



»His first move was to chuck his berth.» (T. T. T. 212. 9.)

A waiter.

»Why not chuck the money.» (T. T. T. 145. 10.)

The same.

»It will ‘chuck’ the whole business.» (Three Men On The Bummel 44. 11.)

= abandon, give up.

Chuck is a vivid word for throw, standing on about the same level as shy in its literal meaning, but as used here, metaphorically, it is vulgar—although used by educated people.


»’E don’t cotton much to them as ain’t found grace.» (Sketches 199. 28.)

Old woman of the working class.

= stick to them like cotton: agree with, like.


»He’s just a bit dotty, same as you or I might get with nothing to do.» (Tommy And Co. 61. 28.)

A journalist with a special liking for vulgarisms.

= feeble, dizzy, idiotic (Cf. dotty in the crumpet: weak in the head). The term is probably derived from the verb dot: dotted > dotty.

gal, gell

»A gal was at the bottom of it.» (T. T. T. 170. 14.)

An elderly waiter.


»smutty-faced servant-gals.» (T. T. T. 157. 3.)

The same.

»I’m fond enough of the gell.» (T. T. T. 137. 5.)

Uneducated Londoner.

»One of the gals was ill.» (Tommy And Co. 16. 12.)

The same.

»I tell ’im it’s a fine gell.» (Sketches 195. 11.)

The same.

The ordinary vulgar pronunciation of »girl», but not confined to »vulgus»; in fact quite the correct pronunciation in the middle classes of the mid-Victorian age.

When the author wants to indicate an affected pron. of the word, he writes »gearl».

gent, gents

»The old gent said he’d see Joe.» (T. T. T. 172. 18.)

A waiter.

»He sits down and stares at the old gent.» (T. T. T. 174. 16.)

The same.

»Commercial gents.» (T. T. T. 184. 18.)

The same.

»It was an odd question to put to a waiter, but coming from a gent there was nothing to be alarmed about.» (T. T. T. 188. 9.)

The same.

»if you don’t want to waste your time on a rabbit-skin coat and a paste ring, and give the burnt sole to the real gent.» (T. T. T. 216. 2.)

The same.

A common vulgar corruption of gentleman; esp. the old gent.


gone on

»That he was regular gone on her anyone could see with half an eye.» (T. T. T. 128. 5.)

An elderly waiter.

= in love with, fond of.

Originally vulgar, but much used with humorous intent in mid-Victorian middle-class English.

Cf. spoony on, mashed on.

Honest Injun

»Honest Injun—confound those children and their slang—I mean positively.» (They And I. 171. 18.)

The author.

The term is originally an Americanism = »Honest Indian»—a kind of mock oath, with some allusion to the supposed unusualness of honesty among the Indians.

hump, humpy

»I’ve got the hump to-night.» (P. Kelver II. 166. 27.)

A business man, former Whitechapel butcher.

»Harris said it would be humpy.» (Three Men In A Boat 8. 4.)

»He criticised it as the humpiest funeral he had ever known.» (Tommy And Co. 74. 4.)

An undertaker.

»That ain’t the sort of thing to be humpy about.» (T. T. T. 156. 20.)

A waiter.

A person, who is disagreeable or in low spirits may be presumed to go with his shoulders humped. Thence we have probably got the term humpy = despondent,[74] hurt, put out[7], or of things: dull, miserable. To get (to have) the humps is probably a later formation and means about the same: to be despondent, to feel melancholy. It is rather common now-a-days in vulgar > coll. language.


»Joe sits down and stares at the old gent, and the old gent looks him back.» (T. T. T. 174. 15.)

A waiter.

= gives him a look back.

The missis, the missus.

»Just as you or me would swear at the missus.» (T. T. T. 128. 15.)

A waiter.

»He came to be pretty friendly with my missus later on.» (T. T. T. 216. 8.)

The same.

»My missis kept up a sort of friendship with her.» (T. T. T. 221. 20.)

The same.

»My missis never see you till just this minute.» (Three Men In A Boat 81. 26.)

Uneducated countryman.


»She has come for the Missus’ night things.» (Miss Hobbs 19. 4.)

A groom.

»Missus will be out to-morrow.» (Miss Hobbs 21. 30.)

A servant girl.

The usual expression for »my wife» among the working class; also used by servants in speaking of their mistress (vocative ma’am, mum), and frequently adopted with humorous intent by the ‘better’ classes. »The missus» is especially used to imply—with serio-comic resignation that the wife usually has her own way in the end.

»The missus», »my missis» in quotations 1-4 means »my wife».


»A quite rational person: When not on the rantan.» (They And I. 258. 9.)

A schoolgirl.

On the rantan (or randan) means the same as »on the spree»—which does not directly imply tipsiness, but a degree of exhilaration practically unattainable without considerable indulgence in alcohol.

The expression is probably derived from the verb rant: to talk big, high, to boast much.

Cf. to go on the rantan: to go on a round of debauchery.


»Well, my spelling is a bit rocky.» (Tommy And Co. 45. 10.)

A London brat of the working class.

= difficult, dubious, debateable; more expressive than »shaky».


The term is originally a sort of pothouse slang: rocky = broken by drink.

same as

»They’ve got their feelings—same as I’ve got mine.» (T. T. T. 145. 7.)

A waiter.

»Husbands have their troubles same as wives.» (T. T. T. 206. 10.)

The same.

= just as, in the same way that.


»Next week we shall be stone-broke.» (Miss Hobbs 37. 22.)

Easy conversation between ladies and gentlemen. The speaker is a young man.

= penniless, hard up. Cf. stoney (the same sense).

Tommy rot

»The wonderful songs that nobody ever sings, the wonderful pictures that nobody ever paints, and all the rest of it. It’s Tommy rot!» (P. Kelver II. 208. 14.)

A young lady with a special liking for spirited expressions.

»I’ll make a journalist of you.»—

»Don’t talk rot.» (Tommy And Co. 36. 12.)

A London brat of the working class.

Rot is the most usual word at present for rubbish, nonsense; »rotten» is still more modern and ‘stylish’.

(Tommy rot: nonsense, bosh.)


toss off

»He tossed off at one gulp what remained of the stranger’s Vermouth.» (P. Kelver II. 269. 22.)

The author.

= to drink at a draught, to gulp.

tumble to

She said she could never »tumble to» the district visiting. (Novel Notes 81. 15.)

An actress.

»I reckoned it the very thing she’d tumble to.» (T. T. T. 143. 4.)

Uneducated young man.

The meaning of the above quotations is: (1) she could never get to care for the district visiting; (2) I considered it the very thing she would accept, fall in with.

Another, rather common sense of the expression is: to understand.

»I’m a copper and I know my book,
You can tumble by my saucy look.»
(I am a constable and I know the tricks,
as you can understand by my saucy look.)
(A Street Ballad. 1900.)


[1] The preface of Baumann’s Slang and Cant Vocabulary (Londonismen) gives us a good, chronologically arranged catalogue—often with specimens—of the principal representatives of this literature.

[2] Such words are: cad (formerly = a person performing menial offices, esp. omnibus conductor; now = an offensive or ill-bred person, irrespective of social position); pal; row; chum, rum (formerly = splendid, magnificent, as in Rom Vile: the splendid city, London; now = odd, queer); cheek, etc.

[3] I refer, for instance, to the catalogue of »flash», »cant», and »slang» dictionaries—from the beginning of the 15th century down to the present time—given as an introduction to Farmer-Henley’s dictionary of slang and colloquial English.

In France, there is the same confusion of argot (= slang) and langue vulgaire or triviale.

[4] The Gipsy vocabulary seems to have influenced the secret thieves’ slang, and, accordingly, vulgar language, in other countries besides England. Thus, there are in modern Stockholm-cant words such as: lattjo (pleasant), tjej (sweetheart; Gipsy: chel?), pirka (cap), etc., originating, it is said, from the Gipsy language.

[5] In the preface of his Slang and Cant Dict., H. Baumann gives us an excellent essay on Cant, its history and its sources, which I beg to recommend to anybody who is interested in the subject. The above lines on the sources and development of Cant are principally based on this essay.

[6] Cf. I say, mother, our Deb’s bin and smoshed young W.—Done what to un?—Smoshed him.—Why, I never touched him.—Yes, thee have, thee’ve smoshed un—that be the new Lunnun word; made un in love wi’ thee. (Woodb. Farm 17. 35)

[7] Cf. the synonymous huffy, grumpy. Humped > humpy; dotted > dotty, etc. are vulgar formations.

I think it ‘à propos’ to quote here the following, well-known story:

A sentimental young lady once went into a new music shop, where the young proprietor had done very little business, and asked sweetly: »Have you got the ‘Bleeding Heart’?» »No», was the answer, »but I have got ‘the bloody hump’!»





Arranged for British Publication

Lector in English at Lund University.

The academical degree of doctor brings with it so many practical advantages in Sweden that it is widely sought by the more gifted and ambitious students of Swedish Universities and University Colleges. The coveted prize is no less difficult than desirable. The essential condition for its attainment is the publication of an adequate work of original research, which shall form the coping-stone of the writer’s academical career. This original treatise cannot be undertaken until the aspirant has gone through a far more prolonged and systematic course of academical study than is required at most British Universities; while in the making, it undergoes much criticism, both formal and informal, both from the writer’s fellow-students and from the Professor with whose sanction it is essayed; and, lastly, it is subjected to a severe final examination on the day when the author publicly defends his work against the opponents chosen or approved by the appropriate Faculty of the University. Owing to the severe training and rigid scrutiny exacted, a large proportion of Swedish doctoral treatises attain a high standard of thoroughness; they are not mere scholastic exercises, testing and training the investigator for serious work in the future, but rather accumulations of valuable material, handled in a manner which is at once original, careful, systematic, illuminating and interesting.

Svea English Treatises.

Many of these dissertations, properly enough, deal with highly technical matters in a highly technical manner; and consequently most of them appeal exclusively to a limited class. In the department of Modern Languages there has been a marked preference for dealing with the dead and therefore more stable aspects of those languages; but of late years would-be doctors who have chosen a scholastic career have shown a tendency to choose modern subjects of general interest which are likely to prove directly profitable in their school-work. This tendency is aptly illustrated in two treatises included in the present Series: of which Dr. Leeb-Lundberg’s deals with one single aspect of the living author who, whatever may be his ultimate place in English Literature, stands preeminent to-day in his appeal to all classes and to all nations of the English-speaking world; while Dr. Serner’s deals with Mr. Kipling’s chief master in the art of poetry, who has also been the subject of a recent dissertation in Swedish by Dr. Svanberg.

The appended select list of recent dissertations dealing with English subjects and written in English illustrates the wide range of subjects handled in such treatises in Sweden. Should the works now issued prove acceptable to the British public, an endeavour will be made to arrange for the production in England of similar treatises bearing on English subjects in such a form that they may be likely to come within the cognizance not only of special students of Philology but of all persons interested in English Language and Literature.

Recent Swedish Treatises on English Subjects.

[In Order of Publication.]

Ekwall, Eilert. Shakespere’s Vocabulary in its Etymological Elements. Part I. [Native Scandinavian and Continental Germanic Elements]. 250 × 165 mm., pp. xx. + 99. Upsala, 1903.

Reinius, Josef. On Transferred Appellations of Human Beings, chiefly in English and German: Studies in Historical Sematology. (Göteborgs K. Vetenskaps- och Vitterhetsamhälles skrifter.) 255 × 180 mm., pp. xvi. + 296. Göteborg, 1903.

Palmgren, Carl. English Gradation-Nouns in their relation to Strong Verbs. 240 × 165 mm., pp. iv. + 92. Upsala, 1904.

Sunden, Karl. Contributions to the Study of Elliptical Words in Modern English. 250 × 165 mm., pp. iv. + 233. Upsala, 1904.

Knutson, Arthur. The Gender of Words denoting Living Beings in English and the Different Ways of Expressing Difference in Sex. 220 × 145 mm., pp. xvi. + 96. Lund, 1905.

Koch, Carl O. Contributions to an Historical Study of the Adjectives of Size in English. (Göteborgs Högskolas Årskrift.) 250 × 170 mm., pp. xii + 164. Göteborg, 1906.

Bergström, G. A. On Blendings of Synonyms or Cognate Expressions in English: a Contribution to the Study of Contamination. 240 × 165 mm., pp. xvi. + 211. Lund, 1906.

Uhrström, Wilhelm. Studies on the Language of Samuel Richardson. 225 × 145 mm., pp. vii + 180. Upsala, 1907.

Borgström, Edvard. The Proverbs of Alfred, re-edited from the Manuscripts, with an Introduction, Notes and Glossary. 240 × 165 mm., pp. xc. + 100. Lund, 1908.

Gabrielson, Arvid. Rime as a Criterion of the Pronunciation of Spenser, Pope, Byron and Swinburne. 240 × 160 mm., pp. xvi. + 211. Upsala, 1909.

Zachrisson, Robert. Anglo-Norman Influence on English Place-Names. 240 × 165 mm., pp. xv. + 169. Lund, 1909.

Messrs. W. Heffer and Sons Ltd., of Cambridge, England, having special connections in Sweden, will be pleased to procure for British purchasers copies of such of these treatises as are still in print.

Svea English Treatises.

Price (bound in cloth), 2s. 6d. net. each.

Each Work has a bibliography, list of works consulted, and (usually) an index.

W. LEEB-LUNDBERG. Word Formation in Kipling: a Stylistic-Philological Study. 210 × 130 mm., pp. viii. + 116. 1909.

Introduction: Character and Style; i., Kipling and the Short Story; ii., Development of Character; iii., General Characteristics; iv., Vocabulary.

I. Stylistic Survey: General stylistic principles; use of hyphen; mannerisms; formative principles; onomatopes.

II. Grammatical Survey: Substantives; adjectives; parasynthetics; participles; verbs; adverbs; onomatopes.

CARL EFVERGREN. Names of Places in a Transferred Sense in English: a Sematological Study. 235 × 155 mm., pp. xii + 123. 1909.

I. General Terms of Locality used in a Transferred Sense.

IIa. Names of Places in Appellative Use: Metaphor, Metonymy, Synecdoche.

b. The Place-Name first serves as an Attribute to a Noun, which afterwards drops off: Human Beings; Animals; Minerals, Salts, etc.; Trees, Plants, Wood, etc.; Fruits; Beverages; Foods; Tobaccos, Cigars, Snuffs; Medicines, Drugs, Perfumes, etc.; Colours, Varnishes, etc.; Fabrics and Materials; Articles of Dress; Earthenware and Porcelains, etc.; Steels, Weapons, Weights, Coins, etc.; Carriages, Ships, etc.; Miscellaneous; Dances and Steps; Games, etc.; Winds; Languages, etc.

Excursus: Scriptural Phrases with place-names in a transferred sense; place-names in humorous allusion; place-names in appellative use through popular etymology; place-names used as verbs.

GUSTAF L. LANNERT. An Investigation into the Language of Robinson Crusoe as compared with that of other Eighteenth-Century Works. 235 × 155 mm., pp. xxxvii. + 124. 1910.

Introduction: Earlier work on Eighteenth-Century English; general remarks in the language of Robinson Crusoe; orthography; phonological notes.

Accidence: Indefinite article; substantives; adjectives; numerals; pronouns; verbs (simple and periphrastic tenses); adjectival adverb.

GUNNAR SERNER. On the Language of Swinburne’s Lyrics and Epics. 235 × 155 mm., pp. viii. + 138. 1910.

Introduction: General characteristics of Swinburne’s language.

I. Grammar: Accidence; syntax (general and individual); sematology.

II. Vocabulary: Substantives; adjectives; verbs; present participles; past participles (genuine and non-genuine); adverbs.

W. HEFFER & SONS Ltd., 4, Petty Cury, Cambridge, England