In our modern society, we don’t think in terms of hanging as a method of execution. If fact, most of us in the modern industrialized West seldom think of execution at all. However, in the United Kingdom and Ireland of 1811, a convicted criminal’s options may have been either a sentence of time, transportation to the penal colonies or commonly the gallows. As a result, a culture developed around hanging and the gallows as an event. Even a language developed which encapsulated how the common people saw this very real aspect of their lives. Just the large number of terms associated with execution by hanging demonstrates the subject was a concern to them.
Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811)
The list below comprises terms which the common, semi-literate or illiterate people used to understand this method of execution. It is taken from the Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811). This reference tool defines words and terms which were in usage among these common people throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland. However, because this insightful period source is literally in an A to Z format, topics such as these are lost and inaccessible without already knowing the term.
Hanging and Gallows Terms in 1811
This glossary provides some insight into the common people and their thinking. It gives them a voice into their daily concerns which would be difficult to find elsewhere. I have added some clarification to some definitions to make them comprehensible to the modern family historian.
Bed: This has several meanings. The root is to be dead. It was common for those being hanged to put up a ladder “to bed” and when the ladder was taken away they were “turned off.”
Beilby’s Ball: He will dance at Beilby’s ball where the sheriff pays the music; means he will be hanged.
Climb: To ascend the gallows.
Cockles: To be hanged as in “To cry cockles.” It is thought the term comes from the noise made while strangling
Collar Day: Execution day.
Colquarron: A man’s neck. His colquarron is just about to be twisted, meaning He is just going to be hanged.
Crop: To be knocked down for a crop is to be condemned to be hanged. Cropped means hanged.
Dance Upon Nothing: To be hanged.
To Dangle: One meaning is to be hanged.
To Dawb: To bribe. The cull was scragged because he could not dawb; meaning the rogue was hanged because he could not bribe.
Deadly Nevergreen: The gallows a reference to “Deadly Nevergreen that bears fruit all the year round.” Also referred to as Three Legged Mare.
Die Hard: To die hard is to show no signs of fear or contrition at the gallows; not to whiddle or squeak. This advice is frequently given to felons going to suffer the law, by their old comrades, anxious for the honor of the gang.
Drop: An instrument for executing felons by means of a platform which drops from under them. Also termed the Last Drop or Morning Drop.
Frisk: To dance the Paddington frisk; to be hanged.
Frummagemmed: Choaked, strangled, suffocated or hanged.
[Die] Game: to suffer at the gallows without showing any signs of fear or repentance.
Gaoler’s Coach: A hurdle (portable barrier or cage) usually conveyed from the gaol (jail) to the place of execution on a hurdle or sledge (vehicle drawn by draft animals).
Hempen Fever: A man who was hanged is said to have died of a hempen fever (hemp was used to make ropes).
Hempen Widow: One whose husband was hanged.
Jack Ketch: The hangman. Also called Derrick and Ketch.
Ladder: To go up the ladder to rest is to be hanged.
Leaf: To go off with the fall of a leaf; to be hanged. Criminals in Dublin being turned off from the outside of the prison by the falling of a board, propped up, and moving on a hinge, like the leaf of a table.
Neck Verse: Formerly the persons claiming the benefit of clergy were obliged to read a verse in a Latin manuscript psalter; this saved them from the gallows. It was Psalms 51:1.
New Drop: The scaffold used for hanging criminals (at Newgate Prison), which dropping down, leaves them suspended. By this improvement, the use of a cart in the process was unnecessary.
Newman’s Lift: The gallows.
Noozed: Hanged or married.
Nubbing: Hanging. The Nibbing Cheat is the gallows. The Nubbing Cove is the hangman and the Nubbing Ken is the sessions house.
Paddington Fair Day: An execution day. To Dance the Paddington Frisk is to be hanged.
Picture Frame: The sheriff’s picture frame is the gallows or pillory (stocks).
Piss: He will piss when he can’t whistle; he will be hanged.
Pit: The pit is a hole under the gallows where poor rogues unable to pay the fees are buried.
Quinsey: Choked by a hempen quinsy means hanged.
Scapegallows: One who deserves and has narrowly escaped the gallows. See Slipgibbet.
Scragg’em Fair: A public execution.
Sheriff’s Ball: An execution. To dance at the sheriff’s ball, a loll out one’s tongue at the company is to be hanged or go to rest in a horse’s night cap, i.e. a halter.
Sheriff’s Journeyman: The hangman.
Sheriff’s Picture Frame: The gallows.
Slipgibbet: One for whom the gallows is said to grin.
Stretching: Hanging: He’ll stretch for it means he’ll hang for it.
Sus Per Coll: Hanged. Persons who have been hanged are thus entered into the jailor’s books.
To Swing: To be hanged. He will swing for it means he will be hanged for it.
Topping Cheat: The gallows.
Topping Cove: The hangman.
Trine: To hang.
Trooper: You will die the death of a trooper’s horse, which means with your shoes on. This is a jocular method of telling anyone he will be hanged.
Tucked Up: Hanged
Twisted: Executed, hanged.
Wry Mouth and a Pissen Pair of Breeches: Hanging.
Wry Neck Day: Hanging day.
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