• Richard James

Wash Your Mouth Out!


Listening to the radio over the weekend, I heard lexicographer and television presenter Susie Dent talking about the Victorians' overly prudish attitudes and how they were often applied to language. If you're on Twitter, she's well worth a follow.


In this particular instance, she was relating how Victorians couldn't even bring themselves to use the word 'trousers' lest the mind was allowed to wonder just what what might lie within them. Instead, they used such colourful euphemisms as 'sit-upons', 'round-me-houses' and even 'inexpressibles.' The Victorians had some strange ideas when it came to the words they used, often settling for much ruder euphemisms in their place. We've already discussed, in the Bowman Of The Yard Podcast, how the first policemen were referred to as 'unboiled lobsters' and 'blue-bellies' on account of their blue uniforms. Other pieces of slang appear in my second book, The Devil In The Dock, like 'Mutton-shunters', a cruder term for the police. In this instance, the 'mutton' refers to prostitutes and the act of 'shunting' meaning to move something along. Thus we can see how one of the police's prime activities at the time was turned into an appropriate nickname. If you want to dig further, I can recommend the wonderfully-titled '1811 DICTIONARY OF THE VULGAR TONGUE: A DICTIONARY OF BUCKISH SLANG, UNIVERSITY WIT, AND PICKPOCKET ELOQUENCE', by the aptly named Francis Grose. A little early for our Victorian setting I grant you, but I know several of these amazing terms lasted well into the nineteenth century, and might well have been in usage in the era in which the Bowman books are set. Among my favourites (and cleanest) would have to be 'Admiral of the narrow seas', meaning 'one who from drunkenness vomits into the lap of the person sitting opposite to him' and 'Two thieves beating a rogue', meaning 'a man beating his hands against his sides to warm himself in cold weather'. You can view it online and find your favourites here. Lastly, I enjoyed this list of Victorian nicknames for particular jobs, and have resolved from now on to refer to myself as a 'yarn chopper' and a 'cackling cove'. If you have yet to join the investigation, Bowman's story begins with the first novel, The Head In the Ice and continues through the short stories The Smithfield Murder and The Workhouse Poisoning to the second novel, The Devil In The Dock. Two more short stories follow, The Hampstead Garrotting and The Holborn Strangler. All the short stories are free to subscribers to my newsletter. The third novel in the series, The Body In The Trees, is now available with another short story to follow!

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