Friday, August 4, 2017

A Bit of Olde English Slang

British writer Andrew Foster penned the book, "Passing English of the Victorian era, a dictionary of heterodox English, slang and phrase," under his pseudonym James Redding Ware.  This is just a taste of the colorful and fanciful phrases that have fallen out of use.

A society word meaning "smart.” Forrester demonstrates the usage: "The goods are not 'afternoonified' enough for me.”

A figure of speech used to describe drunken men. "He's very arf'arf'an'arf," Forrester writes, "meaning he has had many ‘arfs,'” or half-pints of booze.

Thieves used this term to indicate that they wanted "to go out the back way.”

An 1850 term for sausages, "because no man but the maker knows what is in them. ... The 'bag' refers to the gut which contained the chopped meat.”

This phrase originated in London in 1882, and means "perfect, complete, unapproachable.”

Low London phrase meaning "to thrash thoroughly,” possibly from the French battre a fin.

Nineteenth century sailor slang for "A riotous holiday, a noisy day in the streets.”

A naval term referring to meat so bad "it might be dog flesh.”

Brave or fearless. "Adroit after the manner of a brick," Forrester writes, "said even of the other sex, 'What a bricky girl she is.'”

A verbal attack, generally made via the press. Forrester cites The Golden Butterfly: "I will back a first-class British subject for bubbling around against all humanity."

Extravagance. Too much extravagance. "Are you going to put lace over the feather, isn't that rather butter upon bacon?”

A London society term for tea and coffee "used scornfully by drinkers of beer and strong waters ... in club-life is one of the more ignominious names given to champagne by men who prefer stronger liquors.”

A talkative woman.

A nickname given to a close friend.

Quarrels. A term from Queen Victoria's journal, More Leaves, published in 1884: "At five minutes to eleven rode off with Beatrice, good Sharp going with us, and having occasional collie shangles (a Scottish word for quarrels or rows, but taken from fights between dogs) with collies when we came near cottages."

To get a black eye. "Cop in this sense is to catch or suffer," Forrester writers, "while the colour of the obligation at its worst suggests the colour and size of the innocent animal named.”

A delightful way to refer to your rather boring hands.

This creative cuss is a contraction of "damned if I know.”

A phrase meaning "elderly," because it "makes the spectator giddy to think of the victim's years." The term is usually refers to "a maiden or other woman canvassed by other maiden ladies or others.”

"Courting that involves hugging."

Popular until 1870, this phrase meant "Don't lie to me!” Apparently, people who sold dogs back in the day were prone to trying to pass off mutts as purebreds.

A type of beard "formed by the cheeks and chin being shaved leaving a chain of hair under the chin,
and upon each side of mouth forming with moustache something like a door-knocker."

"Satirical reference to enthusiasm." Created by Braham the terror, whoever that is.

Not the game you might be familiar with, but a term meaning complete and absolute confusion.

An 1875 term for a polished bald head.

An 1870 term for "a man devoted to seduction.”

A term for especially tight pants.

"An habitually smiling face.”

Use of this 1880 phrase indicated temporary melancholy.

Partially intoxicated.

"Absolutely perfect young females,” circa 1883.

Lying, from 1896.


An excellent word that means getting rowdy in the streets.

"Absolutely preposterous.”

A street term meaning coward.

When walking or otherwise getting around, you could ask people to let you pass, please. Or you could ask them to mind the grease, which meant the same thing to Victorians.

This 1883 term for a policeman is so much better than "pig."

A tavern term, popular from 1800 to 1840, that meant great fun.

Someone who takes a day trip to the beach. He brings his own provisions and doesn't contribute at all to the resort he's visiting.

Not well.

No appetite.

A prominent nose.

This term, Forrester writers, describes a person with a "wilful determination to ignore the objectionable or inconvenient, at the same time assuming airs of superior virtue and noble resignation.”


An 18th century tavern term that means "getting drunk.”

An umbrella.

The mouth.

Why say you're going to fight when you could say you're going to shake a flannin instead?

To fail. According to Forrester, "The phrase takes its rise from rifle practice, where the queer shot misses the black and white target altogether, and shoots into the brown i.e., the earth butt."

Secret, shady, doubtful.

Drinking a glass of absinthe neat; named for the green color of the booze.

A legal term from 1889 meaning "to prompt.”

To win.

According to Forrester, this low class phrase means "thoroughly understood."

A term meaning "inferior, noisy singers" that could be used liberally today during karaoke sessions.

Source:  Passing English of the Victorian era, a dictionary of heterodox English, slang and phrase, by J. Redding Ware; 1909; Routledge, London.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

What is the Hobo Code?

The Language Late-19th Century Migrant Workers Created In Order To Survive
By Krissy Howard - May 3, 2017

Around the mid to late 1800s, poor, migrant workers roamed the country from coast to coast in search of work. Usually hopping onto train cars for a free, albeit illegal, ride to their next destination, the life of the transient worker was quite often a dangerous one, and in order to stay out of harm’s way, these men developed what is known as the “hobo code” to communicate with their fellow traveler.

Hobo culture after Civil War veterans, many of them now homeless, roamed the country in search of work.

The term “hobo,” now a somewhat offensive jab at those who make up homeless or vagrant populations, originated during this time and was used to describe impoverished migrant workers traversing the coasts in search of work and a place to call home, even if only for a few days.

Just how did one go about crossing the country with no money around the turn of the 20th century?

Train hopping, specifically freight cars which carried the train hoppers from state to state. A lucky worker may have even found himself employed by a railroad company on a part-time basis, making the tracks a common place for migrant workers to meet their needs.

Of course, hitching a free ride on a train traveling the countryside wasn’t exactly a leisurely endeavor, as train hopping was illegal even back then, forcing these workers to hide in cramped spaces for fear of being caught and kicked off, or hauled to jail.

Depending on what part of the country a hobo may have found themselves in, the weather conditions could be harsh and even life threatening — especially in the winter months up north, where many froze to death in search of their next day’s work.

In between rides and jobs, migrants were usually limited to squatting in abandoned buildings or other unusual places, an already difficult pursuit made even harder by law enforcement and area residents who considered them to be bad news.

This prompted the development of a language known as the “hobo code,” a series of characters and symbols hobos would use to communicate with one another, and most importantly to aid in their survival.

Although typically loners by circumstance, this group of vagabonds understood the importance of solidarity and helping their peers. They used the esoteric hobo code for everything from warning someone about vicious dogs, unfriendly owners, judges, cops, and anything else that would serve them well to avoid.

In addition to cautionary signs, the hobo code would allow migrants to share the wealth of valuable information they had picked up along the way, cluing others in on a home that may have a gracious host, a hayloft one could sleep in for the night, a place to seek care if others happened to be sick, and good, safe drinking water, among others.

The glyphs of the hobo code also helped hobos learn which systems were easiest to exploit, indicating churches that would provide them a free meal in exchange for a “religious talk,” easily manipulated by the sound of a “pitiful story,” or even, to put it simply, an “easy mark, sucker.”

While hobo culture, in its traditional sense, more or less disappeared sometime during the 20th century, the hobo code remains in use to this day, its symbols sometimes seen in areas which typically employ migrant workers or day laborers, such as docks and ferry crossing, as depicted in the photo above, which was seen at the Canal Street ferry in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Mourning Portrait ~ Claudia Severine Groth and Millie Cecelia Groth

Mourning Portrait ~ Claudia Severine Groth and Millie Cecelia Groth

An authentic postcard showing two sisters laid out in matching coffins.

An inked inscription verso in a fine period hand identifies the girls as:

Claudia Severine Groth ~ Born Sept. 30, 1908 and Died Feb. 20, 1911 and
Millie Cecelia  ~ Born Dec. 25, 1910 and Died Feb. 21, 1911

George Lee Mills ~ Victorian Memorial Card

Memorial Card for George Lee Mills

10 Creepily Ironic Historical Deaths

By Pauli Poisuo

10 – John horrocks

As a pioneer and explorer of 19th-century Australia, John Horrocks always ran a fair risk of getting killed by a wild animal. Ultimately, that was indeed the hand fate dealt him. However, he wasn’t bitten by a spider, stung by a medusa, eaten by a shark or even kicked by a kangaroo. In fact, he didn’t get killed by any of the thousands of lethal creatures Australia has to offer.

He was shot to death . . . by a camel.

Horrocks was a camel enthusiast and was keen to introduce the animals to Australia, as he felt they would do well there. This mission came to an an abrupt end, as one day his foul-tempered expedition camel managed to shift its weight so that pack it was carrying caught Horrocks’ weapon, causing it to go off. Sadly, Horrocks was loading the gun at the moment, so the shot took off a few of his fingers before moving on to his face.

John Horrocks died of his injuries, but not before giving orders for the camel to be shot as well. This means that the first and only camel/human gunfight in history technically ended in a draw.


Segways are the (in)famous self-balancing electric scooters that are steered by tilting your weight. Although they may appear an affront to nature, the company that makes them insists they’re an extremely easy to use and the “green future” of commuting. However, the ease of their use and their validity as a vehicle took a bump in 2010, when Jimi Heseiden, the owner of the company, was testing a new Segway model on his grounds. He promptly lost control of the vehicle in the most ridiculous manner possible: Somehow, he managed to drive straight off a cliff and into the river below.He was pronounced dead on the scene.


David Grundman had two things: A shotgun and a massive need to shoot at things. So one day in 1982, David drove into the desert with his friend, in order to go nuts with his weapon. He opened fire at some small saguaro cacti (large, vaguely man shaped cactus plants), obliterating them with his shotgun shells. However, destroying small saguaros was way too easy: He needed a bigger, more powerful target. So Grundman focused his attention on a huge, 26-foot (7.92 meter) saguaro they found nearby. He opened fire at it, and with just one shot managed to blast off a whole, massive chunk of the plant’s “arm.” Some accounts report he even started shouting “Timber!” as the cactus fell, although he only got as far as “Tim–” before he was interrupted. In an impressively instant case of revenge on the part of mother nature, the wounded cactus fell directly on Grundman and crushed him to death.


Pietro Aretino was an unrelenting Venetian 16th Century satirist, notable for his saucy humor aimed at the aristocrats. As such, it’s only fitting that this famous humorist’s death was brought on by a dirty joke. Aretino was never one to shy away from a naughty story. One day, he was told a particularly dirty one about his (possibly imaginary) sisters and the brothel they worked in. Instead of getting offended, Aretino found this hilarious. He laughed and laughed and laughed—until he collapsed backwards in his chair, dying as he hit the ground. He literally laughed himself to death.


Most people who pay attention to their diet are likely to live longer than those who eat lard at every meal. However, Basil Brown was not most people. He was a die-hard health advocate—literally. In 1974, Mr. Brown managed to drink himself to death with one of the healthiest imaginable drinks in existence: Carrot juice. The problem was that he was drinking way too much of it: a gallon each day, for 10 days. However, despite warnings, he didn’t realize that too much of a good thing can become very bad indeed: The massive dose gave him a severe vitamin A poisoning, a bright yellow skin and a completely ruined liver. He ended up getting killed by his “healthy” obsession.


In 1979, Nitaro Ito was a political hopeful vying for a seat at the Japanese House of Representatives. Ito wasn’t happy with how his campaign was going, so he decided it was time for drastic action: In an effort to gain some sympathy votes, he decided to stage an attack against himself. After all, what would be the better way to get the public’s attention than to be hospitalized in an attack by a mysterious enemy wielding a knife? Ito couldn’t trust anyone with the “attack,” so he decided to stage the stabbing himself. Sadly, he was not too handy with a knife: He managed to hit his own thigh artery and ended up bleeding to death.


According to many, Siegmund “Zishe” Breitbart was the strongest man of his time. A 20th century strongman, Zishe was a hit on the circus circuit and even appeared in movies to show his incredible feats of strength. He could hammer huge nails into planks with his bare hands and bend iron bars like they were candy. He could even lift baby elephants—while climbing a ladder and supporting three men in a locomotive wheel by a rope in his teeth. He was the closest thing there was to Superman. That is, until one day in 1925, when a nail scratched his knee during a routine performance. This seemingly laughable injury gave the invincible strongman blood poisoning and killed him.


James Otis Jr. was a famed American Revolutionary and a political force to be reckoned with: He invented the famous phrase “Taxation without representation is tyranny,” which became one of the rallying cries of the revolutionaries. At his peak (before an unfortunate head injury sent him to sidelines), Otis Jr. was a solid, level-headed man except for one thing: He had a peculiar tendency to insist that he would like to be killed by a bolt of lightining. He repeated this so often to many friends and relatives that it became something of a meme.Apparently, some thunderbolt-throwing entity had been paying attention to his words. On May 23, 1783, it is said James Otis Jr. was standing in a doorway of a friend’s house when a lightning suddenly struck the chimney, killing him instantly without leaving a mark. Strangely, no one else was harmed and no further lightning bolts—or, for that matter, thunderclouds—were seen.


Gouverneur Morris, a revered American legislator, was a no-nonsense kind of guy. Nowhere was this more evident than in the events that led to his death. When he was experiencing a urinary blockage, he didn’t trust the doctors to take care of the situation. Instead, he decided to settle the matter himself. Sadly, he was far better at determination than doctoring. His solution to the problem was extreme, to say the least: He stuck a piece of whalebone up his urinary tract and wiggle it around in an effort to remove the blockage. This cringe-inducing procedure failed to do anything to heal him—instead, it caused enough damage to kill him.


In 564 BC, Arrichion the Wrestler became the only person to win the Olympic gold by dying. Arrichion was a superstar of his age, a nigh-unbeatable wrestling god who went from victory to victory. But one day in the Olympic finals, he finally met his match. Arrichion found himself caught in a deadly ladder hold, a choke move that completely prevented him from breathing. He was out of options: If he wouldn’t submit, he’d asphyxiate. Clearly, the only reasonable thing to do was to submit and suffer a loss. However, Arrichion opted for the unreasonable and, in fact, unbelievable. Inspired by the shouts of his coach (who probably didn’t realize how dire the situation was), the wrestler rolled into an even more painful position, thus gaining access to the opponent’s foot. This brave move ended up killing him, but he was able to twist the other wrestler’s foot so painfully that he submitted at the exact same moment Arrichion’s life left him. Arrichion had won the Olympic gold, and all it cost him was his life.


Draco was one of the earliest notable Greek politicians. He was a very popular lawmaker and a powerful orator. Sadly, history books say that his popularity ended up causing his untimely death. Draco was so loved that when the people saw him, he was pelted with hats and cloaks in a display of honor. Sadly, one particular body of people that chose to give him such honor was very large and had an extremely good aim. Draco was smothered to death under the massive pile of cloaks.

Irish Death Superstitions

1.  The hand of a corpse was believed to be a cure for all diseases.  Sick people would be brought to a house where a corpse was laid out so that the hand could be laid on them.

2. The candles used at funerals were also thought to have curative powers. The butts of the candles would be saved to cure burns. Another Irish cure for burns is said to be raw potato.

3. Nettles gathered from a churchyard and boiled down were believed to cure water retention when boiled down into a drink.

4. It is believed that the souls of the dead that die abroad, wish to be buried in Ireland. The dead will not rest peaceably unless buried with their forefathers and people of their own kind.

5. The spirit of the dead last buried has to watch in the churchyard until another corpse is buried.
Duties include carrying water for the dead that are waiting in Purgatory. This keeps them very busy. Purgatory is a very hot place. This superstition has been known to cause fights when two funeral processions try to enter the same churchyard at the same time. No one wants their loved one to be the last buried and have to perform these duties.

6. If anyone stumbles at a grave it is considered a bad omen. If you fall and touch the ground you will most likely die by the end of the year.

7. If you meet a funeral you must turn back and walk at least four steps with the mourners.

8. If the nearest relative touches the hand of a corpse it will shout out a wild cry if not quite dead.

9. On Twelfth Night the dead walk the Earth. On every tile of your house a soul is sitting waiting for your prayers to take it out of purgatory.

10. If a magpie comes to your door and looks at you it is a sure sign of death. Nothing can be done to avert the doom.

11. When a swarm of bees suddenly quits the hive it is a sign that death is hovering near the house.

12. Similarly the corner of the sheet used to wrap a corpse was used to cure a headache or a swollen limb.

13. When someone dies you should close the curtains because should a moonbeam shine through the window onto the corpse or coffin then the devil sends his demons down it to steal the soul.

14. Stop all clocks at the time of death to confuse the devil and give the soul time to reach heaven.

15. In Ireland the dead are carried out of the house feet first, in order to prevent the spirit from looking back into the house and beckoning another member of the family to follow him.

16. Family photographs were also sometimes turned face-down to prevent any of the close relatives and friends of the deceased from being possessed by the spirit of the dead.

17. Cover all mirrors at the time of a death in the house or the soul will be trapped within the mirror.

Superstitions About the Dead, Dying, Graves & Cemeteries

Superstitions About the Dead, Dying, Graves & Cemeteries
(Gathered from various sources)

Superstitions About The Dying
  • Sudden deaths, especially ones with delirium, are attributed to witchcraft.
  • If two people in the same house are sick, and one dies, the other will improve in health.
  • If a person has a prolonged or painful death, he will haunt the survivors, so all attempts are made to make the passing have as little suffering as possible.
  • The bed of a gravely ill person should never be placed north and south, and always east and west, with the head toward the west. This will speed the process of dying and reduce suffering.
  • It was thought that a person could not die on a mattress with feathers of wild fowl, so when someone was dying a slow death, the person would sometimes be carried to a different mattress to ease the suffering.
  • The last person’s name called by the dying will be the next to follow in death.
  • You will die if a dying person hits or bites you. In order to prevent your own death, you must hit or bite them back in the same place.
  • At the beginning of the year, if the first person to die in a community is elderly, the community will suffer from many of the elderly passing.

Superstitions Concerning Death & Mirrors
  • As soon as death occurs, the mirrors and pictures in the room should be covered or turned where they can’t be looked upon. It is bad luck to let the reflection of the corpse be seen in the mirror. Some people believe it is bad luck to see your own reflection in the mirror until the corpse is taken out of the home.
  • Some others believe that if mirrors are not covered, they will never be able to be fully cleaned again. A variation on that states that the reflection of the corpse may never leave the mirrors or pictures. A European tradition says that if you look into the mirror before the body is removed, you can see the deceased looking over your shoulder.

Death and Clocks
  • Clocks were stopped upon the death of a person in a home to show the departed that “time was over” for him or her. If the head of the household dies, it is particularly important to stop the clocks, lest all the other inhabitants of the home die as well. (E) Others believed that once a clock in the house with a dead person ran down, they would never work again. (AA)
Death, Bees & Fruit Trees
  • When the head of the household dies, one must go out and whisper the news of the death to the bees, or all in the home will meet the same fate. Bees were believed in ages past to be the messengers of the gods, so when informed, bees would take the news to them.
  • Likewise, if the deceased cared for an orchard or any fruit trees, they must be informed of the passing, or all in the household will decay.
Superstitions About Death and Preparation
  • As soon as the person is dead and in the clothes in which they are to be buried, a dish of salt should be put on their chest to keep evil spirits off. It is also said to help prevent swelling and putrefaction.
  • If the body of the deceased is limp for some time after death, another member of the family will soon follow.
  • None of the family of the dead should help prepare the body for burial, or ill luck will follow.
  • Coins were often placed over the eyes of the deceased to keep them from coming open. If the eyes of the corpse remained open, he was said to be looking for a “follower”, and another death would soon happen.
  • Sweeping the home before the corpse is taken out will ensure that the person who does so will be the next to die.
  • Likewise, removing the bed clothes from the home before the corpse ensures that another member of the family will soon die.
  • A European belief is that the intestines of the deceased will rumble when the body is touched by his murderer. Also, that blood will flow from the bones when touched by the murderer, regardless of how old the corpse is. Another superstition says that if a corpse’s nose bleeds, it is a sign that the murderer is in the room.
  • Do not put the clothes of a living person on a corpse. That person will die once the clothes decay.
  • If you shave with a dead man’s razor, your beard will turn prematurely gray.

Superstitions About Death & Burial
  • A corpse should leave any home or building feet-first, or else the corpse would be looking back at the building and calling for someone within to follow him in death.
  • Touching the corpse will ensure that the ghost of the dead will not haunt you. A variation says that touching the corpse on the forehead assures you will not dream of the dead.
  • Taking a corpse to the cemetery in your own vehicle is extremely bad luck.
  • The corpse should not pass over any part of the same road twice.
  • If the funeral procession stops on its way to the cemetery, another death will soon follow.
  • Counting the cars in a funeral procession is ill advised, as it is said you are simply counting the days until your own death.
  • Take care that you do not see your reflection in a hearse, or you will be the next to be carried in it.
  • Going ahead of the funeral procession or passing a funeral procession is very bad luck, and death will soon follow if you do. It used to be believed that carrying a baby in a funeral procession would ensure that it would die before its first birthday.
  • If a black cat crosses in front of a funeral procession, there will be a death in the family of the deceased within three days.
  • Some fascinating American superstitions involve the burial of people who have been murdered. Some believed that burying the victim face-down would prevent the murderer from leaving the area in which the victim was buried. Others believed that burying the liver separately from the body would ensure that the murderer would be caught near the place the liver was buried!

Graves and Cemeteries
  • Graves should be dug east to west. Superstition over time has varied on which direction the head should be laid. Many say the head of the deceased should be laid towards the west. In general, it is so the soul will not be lost at the Resurrection. One reason given for this is so the dead won’t have to turn around when Gabriel blows the trumpet during revelation. Still others believe the head should face the east, as that is the direction of the star that shone at the birth of Jesus.
  • Graves should never be left open overnight. It will lead to another death. It is ideal to dig and close a grave all on the day of the burial.
  • If a grave is left open over Sunday, another death will occur before the next Sunday.
  • The shovels and other tools used to dig a grave used to be left at the grave site for a day or more after the burial, as moving them too soon would bring bad luck (AA).
  • If the casket slips while it is being lowered into the grave, another death will soon follow.
  • Leaving the grave before it is filled will welcome another death to follow.
  • If it rains into the open grave, bad luck will come to a member of the deceased’s family.
  • Likewise, being the first to leave the cemetery is bad luck and could bring you death. Another similar superstition stated that the sex of the first person to leave the cemetery would be the sex of the next person to die.
  • Another member of the family will soon die if the earth covering a grave sinks in.
  • It is bad luck to step over a grave, and bad luck to point at a grave.
  • Visiting a cemetery after dark will bring you bad luck.

Superstitions About the After Life
  • If lightning strikes the house of the dying, the devil has come to claim them.
  • If a person dies with their mouth and eyes open, they will go to hell.
  • To dream of a deceased person in an agitated state means that they are in hell. Likewise, to dream of them in a pleasant state means they have gone to Heaven.
  • If it rains shortly after a person is buried, it means that the person has found eternal rest and happiness. A variation on this superstition says that thunder after a funeral shows the deceased has gone to Heaven.
  • If a turtle-dove flies upward after a death, the soul of the deceased will go to heaven.