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Victorian Slang of the Week–clawhammer

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┬áthis 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!

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