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 email@example.com. 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.