In family history we often look at the world through the lenses of church pastors and their clerks. That is because they left behind the records we study. We seldom consider the viewpoint of the many un-churched or moderately churched common folks. This segment of society would have been the working class rather than the educated at the top of society. The common folk seldom left behind the records in which they were mentioned.
In 1811, Francis Grose compiled a Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue: www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/5402/pg5402.html It was British Isles slang drawn from words and terms common in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. He also drew from the Dictionary of Thieving Slang (1736) by Nathan Bailey (called the Canting Dictionary), and popular literature from the period. In ways, he probably never realized, looking back at this work, he actually gave the common folk a voice. However, from a genealogical perspective, works such as this are meaningless unless you know the specific word in question. However, if a work such as this can be compiled by subject, then you have a valuable research tool into the mind and times of your ancestors.
In this case, I have sorted out religious and church associated words to create a mini-slang dictionary which I have dubbed “The Un-Churched Dictionary of the Churched.” Some of the terms and concepts you will find crass and offensive by our standards. However, judge the slang within a historical context. In this case the common language reflects a time period which was full of religious strife, prejudice, and massive social injustices throughout the British Isles. The common views on religion cannot be separated out from the geography and culture of 1811.
Some of the terms you will find are straight religious. Some of the meanings are meant to be derogatory, while others are just a description as to how the common folk saw things. While there’s probably a slant towards Anglicanism, do not think that tradition gets off the hook with the common people. The Anabaptists, Anglicans, “Dissenters,” Jews, Methodists, Quakers and Roman Catholics all have terms referring back to them. Some are mild, and others are just – well, vulgar. Sometimes terms were borrowed from church culture and given a new meaning. At other times, slang words were invented to denote a church practice. It’s a fascinating piece of history. In my compilation, I have taken some liberties to make some definitions understandable for modern readers.
Adam’s Ale: Water.
Amen Curler: A parish clerk.
Aminadab: A jeering name for a Quaker.
Anabaptist: A pickpocket caught in the fact and punished with the discipline of the pump or horse pond.
Apostles: To maneuver the apostles would mean to “Rob from Peter to pay Paul;” or borrow money from one man to pay another.
Autem: A church.
Autem Cackletub: A conventicle or meetinghouse for dissenters.
Antem Dippers: Anabaptists.
Antem Quavers: Quakers.
Autem Quaver Tub: A Quakers’ meetinghouse.
Badge Coves: Parish pensioner.
Baptized/Christened: Rum, brandy or any other spirits what have been lowered with water.
Bible: A boatswain’s great axe. It is a sea term.
Bible Oath: Among the common people, it was supposed to be more binding than an oath taken on the New Testament only. The logic being the entire Bible was a bigger book.
Bishop: A mixture of wine and water, into which is put a roasted orange.
Black Spy: The Devil.
To Box the Jesuit and Get Cock Roaches: A sea term for masturbation.
Breast Fleet: A Roman Catholic. The term comes from the custom of beating their breasts in the confession of their sins. See Brisket Beater and Craw Thumper.
Breeches Bible: An edition of the Bible printed in 1598, wherein it is said that Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together and made themselves breeches.
Brisket Beater: A Roman Catholic. Also see Breast Fleet and Craw Thumper.
Canticle: A parish clerk.
Canting: Preaching with a whining, affected tone.
Christening: Erasing the name of the true marker form a stolen watch and engraving a fictitious one in its place.
Christian: A tradesman who has faith and will give credit.
Christian Poney: A chairman.
Chuck Farthing: A parish clerk.
Church Work: Said of any work that advances slowly.
Churchyard Cough: A cough that is likely to terminate in death.
Corinthians: Frequenters of brothels. Also an impudent brazen faced man.
Craw Thumpers: Roman Catholics, so called because of the custom of beating their breasts during the confession of sins. Also see Brisket Beaters and Breast Fleet.
Devil: 1) A printer’s errand boy. 2) The gizzard of a turkey or fowl, scored, peppered, salted and broiled. This definition comes from being hot in the mouth.
Devil’s Books: Cards.
Devil Catcher/Driver: A parson. See Snub Devil.
Devil Drawer: A miserable painter.
Devil’s Guts: A surveyor’s chain.
Devilish: An epithet where one is made to agree with every quality of thing.
Dingey Christian: A mulatto.
Finger Post: A parson so called because he points out a way to others which he never goes himself. Like the finger post, he points out a way he has never been, and probably will never go, i.e. the way to heaven.
Gluepot: A parson, from joining men and women together in matrimony.
Gospel Shop: A church
Hell: A taylor’s repository for his stolen goods.
Hell-Born Babe: A lewd graceless youth, one naturally of a wicked disposition.
Hell Cat: A furious scolding woman.
Hell Hound: A wicked abandoned fellow.
Holy Water: Holy water in the Roman Catholic tradition had the virtue to chase away the Devil and his imps. So if someone loves someone likes the Devil loves holy water, it means that person is hated mortally.
Hums: Persons at church; a congregation.
Hum Box: A pulpit.
Tomorrow I conclude with Part 2 of my 1811 “Un-Churched Dictionary of the Churched.”