56 Delightful Victorian Slang Terms You Should Be Using

Victorian Conversation

We don’t know how these phrases ever fell out of fashion, but we propose bringing them back.

In 1909, writing under the pseudonym James Redding Ware, British writer Andrew Forrester published Passing English of the Victorian era, a dictionary of heterodox English, slang and phrase. “Thousands of words and phrases in existence in 1870 have drifted away, or changed their forms, or been absorbed, while as many have been added or are being added,” he writes in the book’s introduction. “‘Passing English’ ripples from countless sources, forming a river of new language which has its tide and its ebb, while its current brings down new ideas and carries away those that have dribbled out of fashion.” Forrester chronicles many hilarious and delightful words in Passing English; we don’t know how these phrases ever fell out of fashion, but we propose bringing them back.

1. AFTERNOONIFIED

A society word meaning “smart.” Forrester demonstrates the usage: “The goods are not ‘afternoonified’ enough for me.”

2. ARFARFAN’ARF

A figure of speech used to describe drunken men. “He’s very arf’arf’an’arf,” Forrester writes, “meaning he has had many ‘arfs,’” or half-pints of booze.

3. BACK SLANG IT

Thieves used this term to indicate that they wanted “to go out the back way.”

4. BAGS O’ MYSTERY

An 1850 term for sausages, “because no man but the maker knows what is in them. … The ‘bag’ refers to the gut which contained the chopped meat.”

5. BANG UP TO THE ELEPHANT

This phrase originated in London in 1882, and means “perfect, complete, unapproachable.”

6. BATTY-FANG

Low London phrase meaning “to thrash thoroughly,” possibly from the French battre a fin.

7. BENJO

Nineteenth century sailor slang for “A riotous holiday, a noisy day in the streets.”

8. BOW WOW MUTTON

A naval term referring to meat so bad “it might be dog flesh.”

9. BRICKY

Brave or fearless. “Adroit after the manner of a brick,” Forrester writes, “said even of the other sex, ‘What a bricky girl she is.’”

10. BUBBLE AROUND

A verbal attack, generally made via the press. Forrester cites The Golden Butterfly: “I will back a first-class British subject for bubbling around against all humanity.”

11. BUTTER UPON BACON

Extravagance. Too much extravagance. “Are you going to put lace over the feather, isn’t that rather butter upon bacon?”

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