How To Insult People Like an Eighteenth Century Ruffian

Hello once again dear readers!

What have I got in store for you today I hear you cry! Why, insults of course! I should probably elaborate on that point. This post is going to show you a couple of ways to make your insults authentic but still have some punch behind them. So as a bit of a warning this post has some language that’s a bit colourful.

One of the things that I think can be difficult for writers of science fiction, fantasy or anyone writing a setting that’s not the real world is the inclusion of the little details that really bring the setting to life. It’s things like cuss words, oaths muttered under your breath, or sayings uttered in confusion. These things are by no means mandatory, but they can really change your setting and characters from good to excellent.

Francis Grose, the man himself.

So I thought it would be a nice idea to take a look at some authentic slang and insults from way back when; specifically from around the 1800s. The book I’m going to be referring to is (the title as it was on the first edition that I found) Captain Francis Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue: The Scoundrel’s Dictionary. It is essentially a dictionary of phrases, words and nicknames that were used by ‘thieves, house-breakers, street robbers and pickpockets about town’. You can find varying editions that have dates ranging from the late 1700s to the early 1800s and it’s definitely worth a look to really see how these slang terms have changed and which ones have stuck with us.

So I’ve written down a list of 15 definitions that are amongst my favourites, but this is by no means all that the dictionary has to offer. I always find it interesting, amusing or downright strange (and not always in equal measures) to give the dictionary a quick peruse. For some of the examples I’ve written a quick piece to show how you might like to use it, or at least how I might use them. So take a look at these and see if you would like to use them or even take them as inspiration for grumbles, nicknames or even a way to give one of your characters a quirky turn of phrase:

ARSY YARSEY

To fall arsy varsey, i.e. head over heels.

BABES IN THE WOOD

Criminals in the stocks, or pillory.

Earl chuckled darkly as he played with the rotten fruits in his hands, ready to throw them at the criminals in the stocks. He nudged the man standing next to him and said, “They’re strung up like babes in the wood.”

 

BAG OF NAILS

He squints like a bag of nails; i. e. his eyes are directed as many ways as the points of a bag of nails.

BARKING IRONS 

Pistols, from their explosion resembling the bow-wow or barking of a dog.

FUSTY LUGGS 

A beastly, sluttish woman.

HENPECKED 

A husband governed by his wife, is said to be henpecked.

MOON-EYED HEN 

A squinting wench.

    The plate whistled past Gerald’s ear and he ducked back behind the door frame. He heard his wife scream in frustration and rage. With a laugh that was equal parts relief and mockery he shouted around the corner. “You’ll never hit me, you moon-eyed hen!”

NICK NINNY 

 A simpleton.

PAD

  The highway, or a robber thereon; also a bed. Footpads; foot robbers. To go out upon the pad; to go out  in order to commit a robbery.

PAD BORROWERS 

 Horse stealers.

PANNY

A house. To do a panny: to rob a house.

PISS MAKER

A great drinker, one much given to liquor.

    The constable wrinkled his nose and frowned as the man stumbled passed him. With a shake of his head he made to follow the man and guide him gently away from the canal he was dangerously close to. “Typical,” he muttered to himself. “I always get the piss makers, never anything interesting.”

ROYSTER 

A rude boisterous fellow; also a hound that opens on a false scent.

SHERIFF’S BRACELETS 

 Handcuffs.

THREE-PENNY UPRIGHT

 A retailer of love, who, for the sum mentioned, dispenses her favours standing against a wall.

So there you have it, a few things to mix up your insults and give your writing a bit of authentic spice! There’s a whole host of other terms that you can find in the Classical Dictionary and I’ll probably end up showing you some more of my favourites later! I love to flick through it and get a chuckle on every page, so I’ll want to share that joy.

I should also give a quick warning if you do end up using some of these phrases. Do take a couple of minutes to do a quick bit of research on the your chosen phrase. Some of the phrases have stuck and evolved so just in case it’s a phrase you’re not familiar with it would be best to do a quick internet search. For example, ‘a story about a cock and a bull’ is now better known by ‘a cock and bull story’. It’s usually only a small change, sometimes only a slightly different spelling, but it can be those kinds of small details that make a reader trip up as they’re reading.

For the prospect of further research into the wonderfully colourful topic, Francis Grose also penned another book along the same lines called: A Provincial Glossary; With a Collection of Local Proverbs, and Popular Superstitions. So there’s plenty of words and phrases from the eighteenth century that you won’t be able to find in a dictionary!

 

That about wraps it up for another post! I hope that you’ve enjoyed this post (I know I certainly did) and that it helps you to create a really authentic world.

So until next wordsmiths, good hunting!

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