Nineteenth Century Slang



One of the most entertaining aspects of historical research is exploring slang. Incorporating it into dialogue is a skill – there’s a temptation to over-use all the wonderful words you’ve discovered and, before you know it, your text reads like an archaic secret code. Then there’s also the challenge of making sure the meaning is apparent to the contemporary reader. But it’s also very satisfying to find just how many expressions are still current.

Here (courtesy of Marc McCutcheon’s Everyday Life in the 1800s) are a few of my favourites; some made it into Whorticulture (my historical novel about prostitution in antebellum America), some didn’t:

cut shines: play practical jokes or tricks

full chisel: at full speed

a huckleberry above a persimmon: a cut above

ornery: mean

not by a jugful: not at all

some pumpkins: great

suspicioned it: suspected

tuckered out: exhausted

wake snakes: to raise a ruckus


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