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A writer's and word lover's categorized guide to street slang from the 1600s to the 1800s.
A writer's and word lover's categorized guide to street slang from the 1600s to the 1800s.
A writer's and word lover's categorized guide to street slang from the 1600s to the 1800s.
58 backers pledged $2,194 to help bring this project to life.

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A New Look at Old Words

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This is not a book of the namby-pamby, hoity-toity words one would expect to hear in the London drawing-rooms of the 1600s through 1800s. This is the street slang, the flash patter of seamen, street-sellers, Gypsies and thieves. As Carl Sandburg once said, "Slang is a language that rolls up its sleeves, spits on its hands and goes to work."

A few of my favorite words to give you the flavor:

DIMBER DAMBER: very pretty; a clever rogue who excels his fellows; chief of a gang. Old cant in the latter sense. ─English Rogue.

KILKENNY CAT: a popular simile for a voracious or desperate animal or person, from the story of the two cats in that county, who are said to have fought and bitten each other until a small portion of the tail of one of them alone remained.

LITTLE SNAKES-MAN: a little thief, who is generally passed through a small aperture to open any door to let in the rest of the gang.

SUCK THE MONKEY: to rob a cask of liquor by inserting a straw through a gimlet hole, and sucking a portion of the contents.

KISS-ME-QUICK: the name given to the very small bonnets worn by females since 1850.

BY THE HOLY POKER AND THE TUMBLING TOM!: an Irish oath.

While this book started out as a convenience to improve my work as a writer, it turned into a labor of love. Over the course of organizing this book I’ve come to adore these words. Some are lyrical, a few are frightening, many are funny, and all of them give us a glimpse into life – both the good aspects and the bad – in the 1600 and 1800s. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

A look inside my hardworking "proof" copy.
A look inside my hardworking "proof" copy.

A few boring but pertinent details...
Paperback 6 X 9 inches
515 pages
Published by Urban Realms
Organized and Illustrated by me, Catherine Thrush

When I first came across a book entitled The Dictionary of Nautical, University, Gypsy and Other Vulgar Tongues: A Guide to Language on the 18th and 19th Century Streets of London, I thought to myself, Oh my God! This is exactly what I need!

At the time, I was writing my first historical fiction novel set in the early 1700s and I was looking for colorful and authentic language to salt the dialog of my pirate crew.

The book was perfect. Not only was it about history, it was history. The book was a reprint originally written in 1860 by John Camden Hotten called A Dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant and Vulgar Words. I ordered it on the spot and waited impatiently for it to arrive. When the book finally appeared, I read the introduction and the entire -A- section with excited interest.

However, when I sat down to write with the book next to me, a problem arose. To use a dictionary, one must know the word one wants to look up. I knew the definition, not the word. For example, I wanted a colorful name for a black eye. The only way to find what I wanted would be to read the entire book. And believe me, writing a novel takes long enough without having to reread an entire dictionary to find a slang term every few pages.

Undaunted, I embarked upon a nine month project to categorize all the words so I could find just the right one quickly and easily when I needed it. That was a number of years ago. Recently it occurred to me that this might be a useful resource for other writers and fun for any lexicographers, linguists, or lovers of old words. So after some more work, ta da, here it is.

The organization process was subjective to say the least. I had to make a lot of decisions on what should be included and where. I aimed for being inclusive rather than exclusive, in the hopes of making finding the perfect word as easy and as natural as possible. I also wanted to avoid being stuffy or formal, while still being informative and useful. I think the original coiners of these words would appreciate that. These words are a lark, I hope I've made learning about them fun as well.

Here are the main topics or chapters:

IN MY HUMBLE OPINION (COMPLIMENTS AND INSULTS)
OH, THE HUMANITY
(PEOPLE, BODIES, AND MINDS)
WHAT’S MY LINE?
(WORK AND PROFESSIONS )
GUILTY AS CHARGED (CRIME AND PUNISHMENT)
HOME IS WHERE THE HEARTH IS (HOUSEHOLD ITEMS)
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION (um, LOCATION)
MOVE ALONG, FOLKS
(TRANSPORTATION)
JUST FOR THE FUN OF IT
(ENTERTAINMENT)
AU NATURALE
(THE NATURAL WORLD)
YOU DON’T SAY
(COMMUNICATION)
DO OR DO NOT. THERE IS NO TRY.
(HUMAN ACTIVITIES)
APPENDIX

Or course, being an artist and a writer, I couldn't help but add an illustration and a few of my own observations about the words per chapter.

One of my illustrations.
One of my illustrations.

Each chapter has sub-chapters within sub-chapters.Under OH, THE HUMANITY for instance you find:

  • PEOPLE
  • BODILY FUNCTION
  • BODY PARTS
  • ILLNESS, DEATH, & REMEDIES
  • EMOTIONAL STATES
  • FINANCIAL STATES
  • MARITAL STATES
  • MENTAL STATES
  • PHYSICAL STATES

 And many of those categories have subcategories. EMOTIONAL STATES, for instance includes:

  • Cocky
  • Cross or Bad Tempered
  • Fearful
  • Grumpy
  • Happy or Jolly
  • Passionate or Brave
  • Touchy or Inquisitive
  • Other Emotional States

Now if I'm working on a novel and want a term for someone in a bad temper I can look under OH, THE HUMANITY/ EMOTIONAL STATES/ Cross or Bad Tempered  - where I'd find these options:

BAD: “to go to the Bad,” to deteriorate in character, be ruined. Virgil has an exactly similar phrase, in pejus ruere.

GAMMY: bad, unfavourable, poor tempered. Those householders who are known enemies to the street folk and tramps, are pronounced by them to be Gammy. Gammy sometimes means forged, as “Gammy moneker,” a forged signature; Gammy stuff, spurious medicine; Gammy Lowr, counterfeit coin. Hants, Gamy, dirty. The hieroglyphic used by beggars and cadgers to intimate to those of the tribe coming after that things are not very favourable, is known as □, or Gammy.

HUFF: to vex, or offend; a poor temper.

NASTY: ill tempered, cross grained.

PUCKER or PUCKER UP: to get in a poor temper.

RUSTY: cross, ill-tempered, morose, one who cannot go through life like a person of easy and polished manners.

SHIRTY: ill-tempered, or cross. When one person makes another in an ill humour he is said to have “got his Shirt out.”

SNAGGY: cross, crotchetty, malicious.

STREAKY: irritated, ill-tempered.

TOUCHY: peevish, irritable. Johnson terms it a low word.

WAXY: cross, ill-tempered.

So much easier than reading the entire dictionary.

Many of Mr. John Camden Hotten's spellings were different than modern norms. You'll see odd spellings like Shakespere, Hindoo, and Gipsey. I've kept his spellings throughout so those of you who are curious can see how they've changed over the years.

Since my goal was to be inclusive rather than exclusive, most words are in more than one place. The term:

CULLING or CULING: stealing from the carriages on racecourses,”

for example, is under WHAT'S MY LINE / PROFESSIONS/ Drivers and Terms,” as well as under GUILTY AS CHARGED/ CRIMINALS AND CRIMES/ Gamblers/ Horse Racing,” and under GUILTY AS CHARGED/ CRIMINALS AND CRIMES/ Thieves/ Thieving.” Culling and Culing would also be listed in the Alphabetic Index in the back.

Even some categories are in more than one place, for example, “Gamblers/ Horse Racing” is under both GUILTY AS CHARGED (CRIME AND PUNISHMENT) and JUST FOR THE FUN OF IT (ENTERTAINMENT.)

There were even a few words that I didn’t understand well enough to place – yes, even after reading the definition. So rather than stick such words nilly-willy into inappropriate categories, I have a spot for them at the end of the book in a section titled, WORDS I DON’T UNDERSTAND. I’m happy to say it’s a very small section. If anyone knows for certain what the words mean, I’d love to hear from you.

Since the words are the stars here, our rewards are all about them.

The main attraction, the book itself, will be ready to ship by the time the kickstarter finishes! The paperback comes in at a thundering 515 pages. Once it's published it will retail for $23.00 but our backers are so first-class, letter A, No. 1 that we'll give you the book at the $20.00 reward level.

The e-version will take a little longer but we do plan on shipping early next year. Get the e-book in Mobi (kindle) or E-Pub format for the $12.00 level.

Slang Poetry might be more appropriate, though it doesn't have quite the same ring. I've taken an assortment of words from the book and turned them into refrigerator poetry.

Give your modern ice-box that old-timey feel and let your imagination run wild.The set includes nearly 400 words, two blanks so you can add your own words, and just to make these each exclusive, each set will have two unique words not found in any other set. Did I mention that I'm making these myself? Yup, hand-crafted by yours truly.

That's our fridge, plum full of one set of Pirate Poetry
That's our fridge, plum full of one set of Pirate Poetry
Okay, I'm not much of a poet. :-) I'm sure you'd do much better.
Okay, I'm not much of a poet. :-) I'm sure you'd do much better.
I couldn't have said it better.
I couldn't have said it better.

Have you ever played Fictionary? The rules are simple, one player reads a word from the dictionary and the other players make up their own definitions. Then the players vote on which is true. Points are awarded to those who guess right. The game is a lark, but just imagine how much more fun with Gipsy and Pirate slang words! What definition would you make up for Smuggings? Would you guess the correct answer is:

SMUGGINGS: snatching, or purloining, —shouted out by boys, when snatching the tops, or small play property, of other lads, and then running off at full speed.

Slictionary
Slictionary

Along with the book we'll include six pencils and erasers, six note pads for writing answers, a dry erase score board and the rules of play. Just add a few slang loving friends and you'll have everything you need to laugh your dumpling depot off.

These words are so splendiferous they deserve to be up on your wall! The words are printed on parchment, antiqued, then decoupaged onto stained wood plaques that are approximately 8.5 by 11.5 inches. Once again, I'm the dabster creating these rewards.

Options:

WOBBLESHOP: where beer is sold without a license.
WOBBLESHOP: where beer is sold without a license.

Are you working on a manuscript that could use a little of that slang magic? Tired of searching for just the right words? At the $500 reward level I'll do the search for you, my "tip-top" backers! I'll go over your manuscript (up to 300 pages) with a "catch em alive" also known as a fine tooth comb, and make suggestions for slang words that will make your character's dialog sing. I'm happy to consult by e-mail, over the phone or in person, however you'd like to do it. I'll also include a signed print copy of A New Look at Old Words and your name listed in the back of the book by way of a big ol' thank you.

Who doesn't like choosing their own rewards? If you'd rather go à la carte well, be my guest. Choose the basic reward level that you'd like so that shipping is included, then add the appropriate amount for additional rewards. Just drop me a note telling me what you'd like to add and I'll keep track of your special request in "First-class, letter A, No. 1 Request” file.

Digital e-book of A New Look at Old Words    $12.00

Pirate Patter Magnetic Poetry     $15.00

A print copy of A New Look at Old Words    $20.00

Wall Words Plaque   $30.00

A print book and Slictionary game   $38.00
(For just the game, $18.00)

 First, we need a golopshus (splendid, delicious, luscious) book - which includes work on the cover, a little help with editing, and things like buying an ISBN number.

After that, the money will go toward our first printing; a hundred books to send out to various organizations and individuals to promote this book and make it a success! Plus, all those splendiferous rewards, of course.

             ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Special thanks to Gourd Music for use of the song for our video.
Good Evening, My Friends / Mount Lebanon March by William Coulter and Barry Phillips

Risks and challenges

The risks are minimal. The book is nearly complete and we plan to publish through CreateSpace, a reliable division of Amazon. I suppose I could be captured by pirates, burked by a black-guard, or frummagemmed by a rough, but otherwise, I'll deliver in a timely manner.

The e-reader edition will take some time to finish, but I don't foresee any problems.

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    Heartfelt Gratitude-
    As they would say in 1860, you are "The Cheese" the thing, the very best! Thank you so much!

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    Digital Definitions-
    Along with our thanks, our "Bang up" supporters at this level will get an e-reader version of A New Look at Old Words in either Mobi or E-Pub format. Find any word you need with just a few touches of the fingertip. It doesn't get better than that.

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    Pirate Patter Magnetic Poetry-
    Besides our sincere thanks, our "Clipping" backers at this level get a hand-made set of nearly 400 words to grace their fridge (or any other metal surface). We'll include two blanks for words of your choice and two exclusive words not in any other set!

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    Printed Patter-
    This is what it's all about! Our "Fizzing" supporters at this level will receive a signed print copy of A New Look at Old Words. All 515 glorious pages of historic slang organized and illustrated by me. Plus your name will be listed in the back of the book under "Swells" -people of importance - along with our thanks.

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    Wall Words-
    Along with our gratitude, our "Crack" backers at this level will receive the word of their choice decoupaged on a wooden plaque to grace their walls with an old timey feel. All hand-done by me, of course.

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    You Can Have it Both Ways-
    Our "Crushing" backers at this level will receive both a signed print and a digital copy of A New Look at Old Words. A physical one to enjoy in the "Bog house" and a digital one to look up words at your computer. Plus your name will be listed in the back of the book under "Swells" - people of importance - along with our thanks.

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    Magnetic Attractions-
    Our "Ripping" supporters at this level will receive both a signed print copy of the book A New Look at Old Words and a set of our magnetic poetry, Pirate Patter. The poetry set includes nearly 400 words, plus two blanks and two exclusive words. Plus your name will be listed in the back of the book under "Dons" -persons of distinction - along with our thanks.

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    Slang + Dictionary = Slictionary Game -
    Our "Bene" supporters at this level will receive a signed copy of A New Look at Old Words along with 6 pencils and erasers, six note pads for writing answers, a score sheet and the rules of play. Everything you need to laugh your "dumpling depot" off. Plus your name will be listed in the back of the book under "Swells" - people of importance - along with our thanks.

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    Words Words Words-
    Face it, you are just plain "Out and out!" At this level you'll receive 2 printed and signed copies of A New Look at Old Words. One for yourself and one to share with another word lover. That's over a thousand pages of "Golopshus" slang words! Plus your name will be listed in the back of the book under "Dons" -persons of distinction - along with our thanks.

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    Words High and Low-
    Our "Ream" backers at this level will get a signed print copy of A New Look at Old Words and a wall plaque with the word of their choice hand-made by me. Plus your name will be listed in the back of the book under "Dons" -persons of distinction - along with our thanks.

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    The Four the Merrier-
    You, my friend are "Stunning Joe Banks!" At this level, receive 4 signed print copies of A New Look at Old Words as well as having your name listed in the back of the book under "Nobs" - persons of high position - along with our thanks.

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    All of the above-
    Thanks you so so much! You are the "Stilton!" At this level, backers will receive a digital copy and a signed print copy of A New Look at Old Words, plus Pirate Patter magnetic poetry, Slictionary, and Wall Words - a plaque with their choice of word on it! You'll be up to your "Scrag" in words! Plus your name will be listed in the back of the book under "Nobs" -persons of high position - along with our thanks.

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    A New Look at Your Words-
    Especially for "Splendiferous" writers! I'll look at your manuscript (up to 300 pages) and make suggestions on where you can take your prose to the "Pink" and have historical slang dripping from your characters' "Dubbers" We can speak about your manuscript on the phone, or I can make suggestions on the manuscript through e-mail. Your call. Plus I'll send you a signed copy of A New Look at Old Words as well as listing your name in the back of the book under "Top-sawyers" - master geniuses - along with our gratitude.

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