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Category Archives: Victorian Slang
clawhammer–a man’s dress coat. Really. It seems that Nathaniel Hawthorne used it first and it was a nautical term. It was used from 1863 through the end of the century, but it doesn’t appear to be used much after that. I’ve been watching the first few seasons of Downton Abbey (which is the Edwardian period, but the grandmother is from the Victorian period, and the Earl and Lady Grantham to some extent) and couldn’t figure out which coat to which this was referring. So I googled and found out it was evening dress, a cutaway/ tails coat, based upon this wonderful, free book, Historic Dress in America 1800-1870. No worries, not stealing from anybody. Apparently it’s free because it’s 100 years past the 1910 copyright date. The reference to clawhammer is on page 423.
So there you go, slang and a cool book to look at!
claret–blood, especially in boxing. This is a term that for some reason I generally associate with the Regency era in England. However, it appears to have been used quite a bit in the U.S., from 1831 on. Also, claret jug, which is the bleeding nose, first mentioned in 1859, but I expect it was used earlier.
clamshell–the mouth or lips. Example: “Shut your clamshell and let me talk!” People also would shorten it to clam (1825), but clamshell seems to have been more widely used. From 1832 on. According to Bartlett’s Americanisms it was most common in Connecticut and Rhode Island.
Also, happy as a clam–extremely joyful, sitting pretty. My mother used to say this a lot, so I assumed it was pretty much a 20th century thing. Apparently I am wrong. It goes back to 1834.
chuck: food, grub, provisions. Originated probably in the West. 1850, used often throughout the century. According to one reference from Wild Indians ” chuck” it was a universal Indian term for all of the plains tribes. “The boys finished the work for the day, and gathered around the campfire to eat their chuck.”
chuck, as a verb: 1808, throughout the century. to throw, pitch.
Interestingly, the term “chow” which I’d have thought was an American Western Victorian term, is nautical in origin, and used mostly in the 20th century. I admit that I may have inadvertently used the wrong term in my Westerns. Man, there is so much to learn!
Chowder-head, 1818, New England, mostly mid-century–a fool. This seems to be a strictly northeastern term, but I still hear it today, from my New England born-and-raised husband.
choker: 1) a cravat. 1848. “He dressed in his finest clothes for dinner, including a white choker around his neck.” 2) a tight, high collar, 1869. 3) a clergyman (who often wore collars of this kind). 1886