Monday, March 19, 2012

Don't Shoot the Cat!

Thought for the day: A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged, it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content, according to the circumstances and the time in which it is used.  [Oliver Wendell Holmes]

Okay, so English may not be the gentlest, kindest kid on the block. It steals from other languages, and protects Arbitrary Rules by stabbing Logic right through the heart.

Difficult to learn, perhaps, but oh so easy to love.

So shoot me. I like words.

Language is the dress of thoughts.  [Samuel Johnson]

Which is why I'm so psyched about Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. 

Here's an original

No,  I wasn't looking for new ways to be vulgar. Granted, the preface DOES allow that the book can teach men to talk bawdy before their papas without fear of detection, and abuse their less spirited companions, but that certainly wasn't the reason I ordered it. No. Of course not. It was done purely in the name of intellectual research. How about you? Curious about some of the words in this dictionary?

Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words, best of all. [Winston Churchill]

Well, Winnie, these words are definitely old:
  • abbess:  mistress of a brothel
  • ace of spades:  a widow
  • all-a-mort:  to be struck dumb
  • babes in the wood:  criminals in stocks or pillory (Interesting how the meaning of this expression has changed, isn't it?)
  • blind cupid:  backside
  • bob tail:  a lewd woman or impotent man
  • bread and butter fashion:  one atop the other, as in John and his maid were found lying bread and butter fashion.
  • cat: common prostitute 
  • cold pig:  a punishment for sluggards who lie in bed too long. The bedclothes are pulled off, and cold water is thrown on them.
  • dugs:  a woman's breasts
  • elbow shaker:  a dice player
  • flash the hash:  vomit
  • glazier:  someone who breaks windows to steal goods for sale (Another one whose meaning has morphed.)
  • gospel shop:  church
  • hempen widow:  one whose husband was hanged
  • oven:  great mouth
  • rum doxy:  fine wench
  • shoot the cat:  vomit from too much liquor
  • snoozing ken:  brothel
  • strip me naked:  gin
  • twiddle diddles:  testicles
  • twiddle poop:  effeminate-looking man
Euphemisms are unpleasant truths wearing diplomatic cologne.  [Quentin Crisp]

That's just a sampling of some of the euphemisms and cool expressions in this dictionary. What's really cool is this book, which was a big hit when written by Francis Grose in 1811, is once again available.  Whether you're like me, and just get a kick out of exploring the changes in our language, or if you're writing a book that takes place in that time period,  it's a terrific reference book. (And I got my e-version through Amazon for FREE!) 

I personally believe we developed language because of our deep inner need to complain. [Jane Wagner]

                                                            Nah, no complaints here.

                                    Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.


  1. Should I say that I'm rendered speechless or all-a-mort?
    As an infamous word-robber, I'm admittedly fascinated.

  2. Hi Susan .. this is a new one on me - I hadn't heard of Francis Grose .. so great - and I look forward to a few more posts in due course on coarse language that isn't ...

    Great fun to read .. enjoy your hunt through the digital pages! Cheers Hilary

  3. My major in college was Linguistics [and no, you can't tell by reading my blog and my comments :P] so this book is right up my alley.

    I love the study of words, languages and their origins.

    Thanks for the recommendation.

    I just now got the last pic. I didn't realize that was Kelsey on the left until I reread the caption. Funny.

  4. And I think twiddle diddles is my new favorite term. :wink:

  5. I may have to acquire this one. I do often write in the nineteenth century time period, and I have a few references for language use -- but not one that's specifically for vulgar language! :D

  6. So now I know where cat house comes from. But I have no ideas where it went.

  7. Hempen widow has a pleasant ring to it. Even yesterday I found Arthur Conan-Doyle using the word 'hung' instead of the correct 'hanged'. Whatever next!

  8. A "hempen widow". Wow. It just speaks volumes. Interesting the terms that have changed in meaning over the years.

  9. Ha! What a great book. I'm totally stealing the term bread and butter for my novel. Fun.

  10. Well I'd like to speak out in defense of cats. They are most certainly NOT common! and what's all this about Ken snoozing on the job?

    Fabulous book. Might see if the free download is still available. (What does Amazon get out of free downloads?)

  11. Twiddle diddles? ROF,L! Okay, I officially love that dictionary.

  12. So now I have an idea of what your book will be about - strip me naked and twiddle diddles.

  13. Oh, this is a great book find! Hope it's available in book form. Thanks, Susan!

  14. Jon- I find it absolutely fascinating, too. Take all the words you want ... they're free!

    Hilary- If I come across some really good words, I'll be sure to share them in a later post.

    Skippy- Linguistics must've been a really interesting course of study. And I'm with you: twiddle diddles is a great term worth remembering.

    Dianne- I think it'd be a great reference book for you.

    Mr. C- Yeah, it's easy enough to see where the term cat house came from, but I get a little confused over shooting the cat. Different connotation altogether. And as for where the house in question went? Simple. Nevada. (Only the sillies call it mustang, or chicken, or bunny house.)

    Cro- Yeah, hempen widow is another good descriptive term, isn't it? Thankfully, it's a term we don't need to use much these days.

    Delores- It really is interesting to track the changes in word meanings. (Have you listened to some of the words teenagers use these days???)

    L.G.- Super. I'll be on the look-out for the term when your book comes out.

    Rosalind- I agree. Nothing at all common about our kitties, either. As for the free downloads, it's a sales ploy. The free period exposes books to a wider audience, and even after a cost returns, sales remain high for a while. It's an interesting phenomenon.

    Linda- Yeah, that dictionary does sound right up your alley. Some totally cool phrases in there. (I wonder if we could get away with using some of 'em in a game of scrabble?)

    Arleen- Nah, sorry to disappoint. No strip me naked at all. Just a bit of beer. And as for twiddle diddles? Nope, none of them either, darn it. (I LOVE the term!)

  15. Laura- Yes, ma'am, I do believe it is. I may have to break down and order one of the printed versions as well. It'd be a pain in the blind cupid to scroll through the e-version to look up a specific word.

  16. so glad I was born here and didn't have to learn English - - I would totally have flunked out.

  17. I was laughing so hard while reading this post. Oh my gosh. That dictionary is a must-have for every writer. Hilarious!

  18. Judy- Me, too, but it would've been totally neat to grow up in a multi-lingual home.

    Emily- Glad you liked it. And I agree; lots of writers could benefit from that dictionary.

  19. My johns always lie bread and butter fashion with me. Oops! I think I gave away my profession.


  20. Sounds like an old version of a book I've got (somewhere) called The Dictionary of Australian Slang. Lots of fine terms there, I can tell you!

    One of the delights of English, IMHO, is its cobbled-together and arbitrary nature. Makes for all sorts of interesting juxtapositions and associations that you just wouldn't get in a logical language.

  21. We are so lucky getting to play with English!

  22. Another fantastic find! Oh how I wish I knew some of these words years ago, so we could speak in code when our kids were little! I also love your Jane Wagner quote! Thank goodness my family doesn't know what a cold pig is or I'd be in big trouble on the weekends! Julie

  23. Janie- I reckon some people have to do the bread and butter thing to earn their bread and butter.

    Botanist- Exactly! And the illogical nature is precisely what makes it such deliciously fertile ground for puns and innuendos.

    Al- You betcha.

    Julie- I know what you mean. Some friends of ours tried so hard to cut down on using naughty words around their children, they were always saying "peanut butter." This book could've provided them with some more "satisfying" alternatives.

  24. Its fun to look at words and see what they mean. Twiddle Poop? Who knew?

  25. Stephen- I'm glad you like words, too. And twiddle poop is certainly a colorful one.

  26. I love searching through old books. And twiddle diddles? We need to bring that back.

  27. For a word geek me like me, this post was pure pleasure - I'm tweeting it!

    Wonderful quotes (well, except for that last one; I love language too much to think it came about as a need to complain!)

    That vulgar language book is wonderful! The creativity of 1811, love it.

  28. Tina- Sure, let's bring it back, one utterance at a time. I'll start here, and you can start in Florida. We should sweep the nation in no time.

    Margo- I'm glad you liked it. Matter, of fact, you sound as excited as I was when I was looking through it. Maybe you oughta get your very own copy, huh? And thanks for tweeting the post. Much obliged.

  29. Aha, euphemisms, I was under the impression that 'Humpty Dumpty' was a euphemism for a 'one-night stand', which, of course, is a euphemism for....
    And spelling? Never, ever one to complain, however, do y'all reckon we could get Americans to start spelling English in proper English as in English, English....
    I know you can send me a check, oops 'cheque' for such an awesome comment from shy, humble and unassuming me....
    And speaking of Jerry Springer, we have sent you over, Jeremy Kyle, enjoy

  30. Gary- HA! I think Humpty Dumpty could be an euphemism for whatever you want it to be. That's one of the fun things about the English language. And I suppose we Americans do put our own spin on the language, don't we? Especially the young people, who when they say something is "really bad" actually mean it's good.