Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Tuesday ten, Victorian Slang

From Random House Dictionary of American Slang, by J. E. Lighter. I have the first two editions, up to the letter O. The last one was never published, which irritates me to no end because these are really awesome books.

I'm choosing these sayings randomly, not to pun or anything. Okay, I did mean to pun. I just can't help it.

1.)bed rock, down to bed rock. Probably started as miners slang in the Rocky Mountains. First written reference (which I always assume means it was being used in speech 5-10 years earlier) is 1869. It means down to the essentials. Or, in this reference (the way I've used it in my writing) the heart of the matter--"and your poet has brought the matter down to bedrock."

2.)eat up-- to administer a decisive or ruinous defeat. From 1830 or so, and there are tons of references for this one. 1874: He seemed to determined to draw. . . .(him) into a fight and. . . ."Eat him up without salt."

3.)chain lightning--cheap potent whiskey or rum. 1837 on

4.)chalk--something that is genuine truth 1843. I've personally used this phrase a few times, just 'cuz I like it. not by a long chalk. 1841 by any mean. 1859--He can't do it by a long chalk.

5.) foofoo--a soft, weak or effeminate fellow, a sissy. from 1848 on. Seems to be originally out of mostly in New York, but I would imagine since it started in 1848, it migrated west some.

6.)Jim dandy--excellent, or an extraordinary person. also, Jim Hickey. 1887 on. Seems to have originated with baseball. "Whereas on Wednesday night they were proclaimed 'Jim Dandy' players, they were on Thursday proclaimed to be 'no good'."

7) love--fondle, caress, engage in sexual activity. I've used this a few times, because I've yet to come up with other Victorian euphemisms for sex. From 1876 (I expect it was much earlier, though).

8.)on one's own hook--on ones own initiative. 1812 on. There are quite a few references, which I think means it was pretty standard slang pretty quickly. from 1845 "She told me she was very economical. . .since she was. . .going upon her own hook. "

9.)out of sight--wonderfully good or impressive. Yeah, and you thought it was 1960's slang. Nope, originated around 1876 (remember, probably earlier in speech) and there are quite a few references after that. In Buffalo Bill "For ye see our beans an' crackers 'an our pork were outen sight."

10.)hell on wheels--most formidable, savage, aggressive. 1843 on. My reference here is from 1868--It is a most aggravated specimen of the border town of America, not inaptly called 'Hell on Wheels'


Kristin-Marie said...

I will use some of these in my upcoming anthology story!

Susan Macatee said...

Love that 19th century slang, Dee!

I love to pepper in a few phrases here and there. Problem is, I usually have to explain what it means to my editor.

Sarita Leone said...

Great list. I learned a lot, and you've reminded me of some interesting phrases. Hell on wheels...that's one of my favorites. But others I'd never heard of before. Thanks! :)

Anonymous said...

I love learning where phrases came from, the origins are alwas so funny. And usually things I wouldn't have thought of as being associated.