Monday, 28 February 2011

Cock-maggot in a sink hole: the wonderful slang of the 19th century


My best purchase of the year so far, without a shadow of a doubt, has to Eric Partridge's A Dictionary of Historical Slang, published in its abridged form in 1972. I love the English language. I love the richness of slang and the sharp-edged wit with which it evolves. A Dictionary of Historical Slang is an absolute treasure trove of colourful common and uncommon phrases used before 1914. For a girl who grew up feasting on Georgette Heyer's regency cant, the prospect of having nearly 50,000 entries to delve into is mind-bogglingly delightful.


So my bedtime reading at the moment consists of delicious linguistic nuggets, which explode in my brain with the colourful splendour of a roman candle.


At the moment I'm on the C's and I'm utterly entranced by the many and varied uses of the word cock (some innocent, some less so). For the benefit of any who might be interested, I offer a few examples:


I live at the sign of the cock's tooth and headache: a late 18th century/ early 19th response to an impertinent enquiry as to where one livesTo cock up one's toes: to die (early 19th century)That cock won't fight!: That won't do! That's a feeble story (1820s)Cock-bawd: a man keeping a brothel (1680 – 1830)Cock-and-pinch: beaver hat (1820-1830)Cock-a-wax: a cobbler(1800-1850)Cock-alley/ cock-inn / cock-shire: vagina (18th – 20th century)Cock the eye: to wink or leer (c. 1750 – c. 1800)And my favourite of all (from a slightly later period):Like a cock-maggot in a sinkhole: very annoyed or peevish ( - 1887)Highly recommended to spice up your vocabulary!

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