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Victorian slang of the week


71T4RQXEDML._SL500_AA240_[1]Several years back my husband found me a book called the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Volume 1, letters A-G, by J.E. Lighter.  It’s huge, full of all sorts of wonderful words, and is one of my most prized of all my research books.  I’ve been asked by a few people how I made some of my character’s speech sound authentically Victorian.  I’ve blogged about this now and again, mentioning combing through Victorian novels and finding words and phrases.  This, book, though is the backbone of much of my phrasing.  I’d happily advise any one who wants to write in this period to buy this book and the followup, if money is allows (they aren’t cheap or weren’t when I bought them). 

For everyone else who is only interested in the era, but not in the nitty gritty language, I’ve decided to start a “slang word of the week” post for every monday.  I’m culling only words that are from the 19th century and have several references attached to them.  For every word or phrase Lighter cites date and the publications in which the words appear.  It’s assumed that the slang itself did not hit written word until it had been used quite often in spoken language, perhaps as much as 5-10 years. Whether or not an author wants to use that word in earlier or later years is up to how he interprets it.

I’ll cite the word/phrase, the meaning, write a sentence if I don’t think it’s clear (and only if I can come up with a sentence that makes it clear).  I’m going to try not to copy verbatim, but at times it is difficult not to.  To be clear–all the words are from this book.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t other bits of Victorian American slang or phrases, just that it isn’t in this book, or I chose not to include it for whatever reason (often to avoid vulgarity).  Anyone who is interested is certainly welcome to email me with questions about certain words or information about the books at  I’ll get back as quickly as time allows.

Quick note–the first book is 1001 pages long.  52 chosen words (for each week) didn’t get me past the b’s.  It’ll take a LONG time to get to the end of the two books.  Unfortunately, the third book, P-Z was never published that I could find (although I’ve signed up at Amazon for an email alert if it does become available).  So it’ll take a little less time!

 Absquatulate –to run, flee, run away, abscond–first appeared 1830, used througout the period.  “Your horse has absquatulated”.  There are a number of other words associated with it, like absquatulation, 1847, absquatulator, 1842, absquatulize.


  1. Dee, I loved the dialogue in both Wicked Woman and The Wild One.

    Did you actually use that word in either of them. It looks like quite a mouthful!

  2. Denise Eagan says:

    Thanks, Susan! No, I didn’t. It feels more Western to me. I have a couple westerns under the bed so to speak, so I might at some point try it out in them. I have tried to pronounce this word, but I get tongue-tied! Still, someone did, because it was used an awful lot.

  3. suzilove says:

    I love that word and will certianly be trying to use it somewhere. Although, no one will know what it means. But that’s half the fun, isn’t it?

  4. Denise Eagan says:

    I agree Suzi! I love using Victorian phrasing. And I think readers do too as well. I suspect is one of the many things readers like about Georgette Heyer’s regencies.

  5. Helaina Hinson says:

    One thing that HASN’T changed all that much is cursing. Dr. Thomas Lowry’s “Sex in the Civil War” and “Sexual Misconduct in the Civil War” both have chapters on period cursing….. and I was surprised to see what was NOT modern. Delicacy, of course, prevents listing any of it here, but some things have always been Fed up and such……

    His works are worth reading. They’re taken from letters, diaries, military records, and newspaper reports. There are chapters on everything from prostitution, birth control, rape (taken largely from court-martial records), to period porn.

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