Tuesday, June 16, 2009

No Slang Like Old Slang, Part 2

Since it’s nearly (or already) the end of the school year, I thought it was about time for another little quiz here on Nineteenteen. So sharpen your pencils (or your quill pens!) and get ready to tell me which of the following words, expressions, or exclamations were commonly used in the 19th century, and which are more modern (post 1900). Answers will be listed in the comments section. Cheaters who peek first will have their hands slapped with a ruler and be forced to copy the sentence "I will not cheat at quizzes on Nineteenteen" fifty times on the finest foolscap with peacock-blue ink.

Are you ready?

1. Mad as a wet hen (very angry): Cynthia was as mad as a wet hen when Augustus accidentally spilled his tea down her back.

2. Birthday suit (naked): Our youngest brother William was sent down from Cambridge for punting down the Cam at noon on Sunday wearing only his birthday suit.

3. Dimwit (foolish or stupid person): Gerald is not known for his perspicacity, but how could he have been such a dimwit as to bring Jane a posy of dandelions?

4. Mind your Ps and Qs (be careful or well-behaved): Grandmama exhorted Augustus to mind his Ps and Qs when the Duchess of Hitherfore came to lunch.

5. Oh, brother! (exclamation indicating exasperation): Oh, brother! Purple satin turbans are all the rage at Almack's this season.

6. Swept off one’s feet (be infatuated): Alice was quite swept off her feet by Sir Vincent, but we were all appalled by his bald spot and flannel waistcoat.

7. Hang out (to spend a lot of time somewhere): Henry is hanging out far too frequently at the Opera House; the reason why is a dancer named Agnes Nottle with legs up to her neck.

8. Munch (to eat or chew): Don’t wear a hat with feathers if you go driving with Alfred; one of his matched bays like to munch them.

9. On the go (in constant motion, busy): Louisa is so on the go for the first few weeks of the season that she’ll surely waltz her way into a decline.

10. In a tizzy (state of agitation): Don’t tell Eliza that Lord Arbuthnot came to speak to Papa today or she’ll be in a tizzy for the next week wondering if he'll propose.

And be sure to stop by next Tuesday, when I'll be posting another Mystery Object and giving someone a chance to win a signed ARC of Betraying Season!


Marissa Doyle said...

1. Mad as a wet hen: No—-dates to 1918, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED)
2. Birthday suit: yes! Recorded in the Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, published in 1811
3. Dimwit: No--dates to the 1922 OED, and listed as an Americanism
4. Mind your Ps and Qs: Yes! Dates at least to 1821
5. Oh brother: Yes! Dates to 1824
6. Swept off one’s feet: No—-dates to 1913, according to the OED
7. Hang out: Yes! 1811
8. Munch: Yes! Dates to at least 1829
9. On the go: Yes! 1843
10. In a tizzy: No—-1935 Americanism

QNPoohBear said...

I love old slang! It sounds so much better than modern slang. Georgette Heyer's novels are full of amusing Regency era slang.

Marissa Doyle said...

*worships Georgette Heyer*

But she's tricky...a lot of her "slang" is undocumented from period sources and may be made up. That's why it's not safe to use her as a source of Regency period slang when writing a Regency set novel. "Making a cake of oneself" is perhaps the most famous of her undocumented Heyerisms...I believe she may have found it in a piece of private correspondence.

Ello said...

1, 2, 3, 6 and 10

OH man, I only got 1 right!!!!

QNPoohBear said...

One of our local libraries has a dictionary of historic slang. I'll have to go take a look again and see what I can find.

Marissa Doyle said...

Ooh, which one, QNPoohBear? I've got Eric Partridge's HUGE dictionary of slang and the 1811 "Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue" and Melissa Lynn Jones's "Thesaurus of Regency Slang and Idiomatic Phrases", and would love to find more!

Ms. I said...

I used "mad as a wet hen" the other day. I'm so old fashioned! :)

QNPoohBear said...

According to my reference professor, slang dictionaries include

Partridge. The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English.

Wentworth and Flexner. Dictionary of American Slang.

Chapman. Dictionary of American Slang.

Lightner, Jonathan E. Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang.

Chapman. Thesaurus of American Slang.

The library catalog also lists more American slang dictionaries

Wentworth, Harold, 1904-
New York, Thomas Y. Crowell, 1944. American dialect dictionary.

Could be useful for those of us who are interested in writing about American History.

Adam said...

With so much of the slang pre-dating so many years, it makes me wonder how some of them originated, especially the birthday suit one!