Tuesday, June 15, 2021

19th Century Slang Terms PLUS Book Giveaway!

Today's post is written by guest blogger and my awesome critique partner, Kathleen L. Maher. Be sure to leave a comment after you read this fun post to be entered in her giveaway.

Historical fiction writers try to create an authentic experience in establishing a diverse array of setting details. Accuracy in wardrobe, current events, period trends, hairstyles, architecture… all of these are important. What could be more compelling than hearing the way people spoke, especially in the authentic slang of the age?

Here is a list of random and expressive words and phrases from the 1800’s.

Mouth:  “sauce box”, “bone box”, “clap trap”,” gob”, or “quail pipe” referring to ladies’ voices, bagpipe, a talkative man, conversely to” shut pan” is to close one’s mouth, be quiet

A Gossip or talkative woman was called a “church bell

foreman of the jury”—one who monopolizes a conversation,

“jaw-me-down” a very talkative fellow

Muffin wallopers is a similar term for women who meet over tea to gossip and discuss scandals, thus tea would be called “chatter broth” or “prattle broth” or even “scandal broth

To fight:  to “shake a flannin”,or “fit” (short for fought) or “row someone up Salt River

to “whip one's weight in wild cats” meant to defeat a powerful opponent

Similarly, “chalk” meant to strike one’s face, and a sockdologer was a powerful punch or blow

Skilamalink” meant something amiss, shady, 

To cheat:  hornswoggle, honey fuggle

I snore”, “I swan”, or “I Swow”: socially acceptable alternatives to the expression "I swear," which was considered impolite

When a woman turns down a man’s proposal, she is said to “give him the mitten

Questionable food: “bow wow mutton”, or “bags o’mystery”, may cause one to “cast up one’s accounts”

To be given “the dog’s portion” meant given little to eat, likewise a little of something was “a lick and a smell”

And The Cold Cook was no cook at all, but the undertaker

The Eternity box-was your coffin , for when you’re “under hatches” or “cold as a wagon tire

To steal—condiddle, the thief—conveyancer

Clergyman- held a “Finger post” And a Man of the cloth worked a “Glue-pot” in the “Gospel Shop” (church)

A “Spoil pudding” was a preacher who went on too long, presumably delaying a “Sabbaday”, or “Sabberday” meal

To take a “smile” was to take a drink

Drunk: groggified, or “glorious” spectacularly drunk, “half seas over”-half drunk, “Swallow a hare” exceedingly drunk, “corned” “pickled

To be sent on a fool’s errand was to be “Sent for a horse’s ladder

Blue stocking—an educated woman(derogatory) Thornback—an old maid

Slow—a snail’s gallop

To absquatulate—to run off in a hurry, to “pull foot,” skedaddle, vamoose.

Perhaps some of these words and phrases sound familiar to you. Or maybe there are others you could add. What is a word or expression that you have found amusing or original, maybe passed down in your family? 

CONTEST: Please share below for a chance to win a Kindle copy of my new release, No Man’s Daughter, set in 1866 Shenandoah Valley.

A man with something to prove and a lady with something to hide clash over hotly contested property and an arranged marriage proving anything but convenient. Will her claim on the land prove harder to drive out than her claim on his heart?

Benjamin Sharpe sets out after the war to acquire the neighboring farm and finds a beautiful and stubborn squatter has taken residence. A half-wild orphan girl, Willa gives him a piece of her mind with a piece of lead aimed at his boots. Bossed around his entire life by his brothers, Ben isn’t about to take it from any girl. But will his ambitions go so far as to force a waif from her home? As Willa’s resourceful defense of the property frustrates his plans, admiration plucks at his heartstrings. Ben must find a compromise while saving face with his family. But the chit has no intention of playing nice or seeking truce. In Bridgewater, Virginia, the war is still on!

About the author:
“Stories where every underdog has his day."
Kathleen L. Maher's first crush was Peter Rabbit, and she's loved conflicted heroes ever since. She has two novellas in BARBOUR BOOKS' collections: Victorian Christmas Brides and Lessons on Love. Winner ACFW Genesis Award. Author of Sons of the Shenandoah Series: The Abolitionist's Daughter, The Chaplain's Daughter, and No Man’s Daughter. “The Meddlesome Maverick” will release in the Scrivenings Press’s collection Cowboy Cousins in Spring 2022. Kathleen and her husband live in an old farmhouse in upstate New York with their children and a small zoo.


  1. What a fun post, thank you! I'd heard of hornswoggle, I swan, pickled and a snail's gallop. With some of these words and phrases, you wonder how they ever started to become commonplace...absquatulate? And actually I can't imagine all of these words used in a novel and me being able to understand what on earth the author is talking about!! Hopefully a glossary would be added. LOL!

    1. Hi Connie it’s so nice to visit with you on the blog again. I tried to leave a comment earlier but my Google browser does not like to connect my comments. I think your idea of a glossary is very clever. I might just have to do that on my next book. Good luck in the drawing

  2. This is a fun reading! I haven't heard many of the sayings, but here in the SW Missouri Ozarks the hillbillies have their own way of saying things. "Plumb" is the most-often used word and as a youngster I picked it up readily. It is used as an example: "That's just plumb crazy!" Ha! I live in the corner of Missouri that's closest to Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, so the language can be quite interesting! What a great post!

    1. Hi Karen, thanks for your fun comments. I believe the Ozark folk and the Appalachian folk share a lot of common expressions and their love for colorful expressions. I reckon I use plumb in at least one dialogue exchange. :-) Good luck in the drawing.

  3. I haven’t heard most of these and they really don’t make a lot of sense to me …lol. I suppose it was common place in those days, so learning these slang terms would be like the ‘you betcha ‘ we learned while living in MN. 😊

    1. That’s funny Betti. Some of them oddly makes sense to me. Maybe I’ve been in the heads of these characters too many years lol thanks for coming by and your faithful support.

  4. I enjoy learning about words, so reading this article was the cat's meow. Growing up in the Deepest South,I heard many euphemisms, similies, and sayings, especially from the older generations. I myself use "such a mess" and "bless your heart" in their ambiguity. Either can be an endearment or an insult, depending on the deliverer's intent and to whom she directs them.

    A bit risqué, but imagery so funny to me as a child, is the phrase "boxed in like a turtle's pecker". My WW2 veteran great-uncle used this colorful phrase to to describe a difficult situation. I imagine it perfectly described being pinned down in Bastogne, or other hardships during the Battle of the Bulge, in humorously distracting imagery.

    These "manly" phrases are funny, too:https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/manly-slang-from-the-19th-century/.

  5. I love these! Thanks for the post, Kathleen.

    1. Hi Terrie. Thank you for reading and leaving a comment. I admit I had fun finding these and using a couple in my new release. Good luck in the drawing.

  6. What a fun post that was funny as to what some of the meanings meant. "I'll give you something to cry about soon" or "bless your heart" is quotes I heard growing up. Thank you for the post, Kathleen and the giveaway. Blessings.

    1. Hi Marilyn. My mother used that old chestnut I’ll give you something to cry about and I usually deserved it LOL thanks for sharing the fun memories and for coming by. Good luck in the drawing!

  7. I grew up down the road from my German great-grandmother (such a blessing!) I regularly use the term mishmash, which my husband (Welsh ancestory) had never heard until he met me. :-) Apparently it is a phrase of German origin.

    1. Hi Lisa, I would love to have been a fly on the wall for your conversations with your German great grandmother! I’ll bet she was an amazing lady. My main character Willa is a German immigrant in my new story. Hope you get a chance to read and let me know what you think. I hope she would be great grandma approved :-) good luck in the drawing

  8. Hi Missfrancigirl. You made me laugh out loud. Your uncle must’ve been an amazing guy. God bless him for his service in the battle of the bulge. And yes, I love the bravado of using these humorous expressions to cover great gallantry and drama. Well said. Good luck in the drawing and it was nice to “meet” you

  9. Kathleen, this was a great post that I'm saving for reference. One you haven't included is when someone's mad and says something "burned my biscuit". Thanks for sharing.

    1. Oh that’s a great one Carolyn. I’ve used that a time or two myself. A cowboy might even say that chaps my backside lol Thanks for sharing and good luck in the drawing

  10. I have drawn a winner. Congratulations to Marilyn R. Your name was drawn via random.org to win a digital copy for your Kindle of my latest release No Man’s Daughter.

    Thank you to everyone for participating. And special thanks to DebbieLynne and the ladies of HHH for allowing me to be a guest.