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Victorian Slang of the Week

chicken–I’ve talked about “chick” used to refer to people, including oneself. There is another meaning, however, that we are more closely associated with: coward. Interestingly, chicken wasn’t used that way in the 19th century.  The first reference in terms of cowardly is 1933.  I would not have thought that.   Nor did one “chicken out” until 1934.

However,  one could be 1) chicken-livered, which did mean cowardly.  The first reference on this was 1871, by Mark Twain.  There weren’t a lot of other references, however one could also be a 2) chicken-gizzard–a coward.  There’s only one reference to this, in 1851.

The only other reference I could find that came even close to cowardly was “gone chicken” or “dead chicken” (1863) but that seems to be mostly about someone being in a dismal, probably unrecoverable, situation, often in reference to oneself.  “Once Harold found out that she’d been unfaithful, she was a dead chicken.”

So. . . I could very well have incorrectly used chicken in one of my books.  Too late now, but I’ll be watching for this in the future!

Victorian Slang of the Week

chicken-fixings–1847. Little, unimportant things, often referred to belongings. “After being fired, the cow hand gathered up his chicken-fixin’s and went to town looking for the saloon.” There are three references up through 1873, so I suppose it was used occasionally. Nothing for it after the 19th century, however.

Victorian Slang of the Week–chick

chick: formerly chicken. A man. 1853, with lots of references. “This chick, here, can shoot straighter than any soldier I know.” Interestingly, the way it’s used today, in reference to a woman, didn’t come into use until the 20th century, when this manner went out of use.

Victorian Slang of the Week–cheesy

cheesy:1863–This is a term used to this day–it’s in one of my favorite country songs, although used in a different way than it was in the 19th century. 1)cheap shoddy second-rate, of inferior quality. Most of the references are from the 20th century, but there are 3 from the latter half of the 19th.

Victorian Slang of the Week–cheese

cheese–1) exactly what is needed for something. I’m going to use the actual reference given in the dictionary. It comes from The Spirit of the Times: “Talking of cheese, your present conduct isn’t altogether the Cheshire”. 2)as a verb–to cease or desist immediately, often constructed with “it” and used in reference to authority. We used this word as a kid, although for us “cheese it” often meant run for your lives!

Victorian Slang of the Week–cheek

cheek: I usually think of this as a British term, but I am wrong. It was used in the U.S as well. 1) As a verb, 1871, to address someone with insolence. 2)a verb, to cheek it out, or cheek through something–to overcome adversity with impudence or audacity. 1851, with a few references. “I didn’t have the qualifications for the job, but I cheeked it out and was hired.”

Also the subsequent “cheeky” used from 1857–audacious, impudent.

Victorian Slang of the Week–check

check: to cash in ones checks. 1) to quit, originally part of gambling language, 1863. 2) to die. 1864 There are many references to this. “Arnold had to wait until Uncle Joe cashed in his checks before he could spend his inheritance.”

Interestingly, the subsequent “to check out” was not used until the 20th century.

Victorian Slang of the Week–cheat

cheat–So this is NOT Victorian slang. Sometimes what isn’t Victorian slang is just as interesting as what is. Cheat, in the terms of being sexually unfaithful, was not used in written word until 1927. Or at least that’s what my handy-dandy slang dictionary says.

Victorian Slang of the Week–cheap John

Cheap-John: 1) 1855–A store that sells cheap wares or a place that offers cheap services.
2) 1866. Cheap wares and or of poor quality “Sam, not knowing good quality, thought he was the height of fashion in his cheap-John suit.”


Cheap Johnny: 1866–Someone who sells or deals in low quality, inexpensive goods or services

Victorian Slang of the Week–chaw

Chaw–1)a trick, 1842.  Used synonomously with gum.  “Don’t pay any attention to all the flattery, his offer is still all a chaw.”
2)a yokel, 1856
3)as a verb, to defeat or trounce, often as to chaw up and spit out.  1835 and on, with many references.  “After listening to a litany of curses from Jeremiah, Sam was fit to chaw him up and spit him out.”

Naturally, it came to be used as

4)chawed–to have been entirely defeated
5)to scold–1858. Generally chaw out. When I was growing up we used “chewed out” in the same way.


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