Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Top Ten Awesome Victorian Swear Words

So if anyone actually checks in on this blog every Wednesday, you may have noticed that I haven't blogged in like three weeks because over the holidays, I was hit with the @W#$#$% storm of the century! Too much family visiting, bronchitis, septic tank failure, two car breakdowns, and all while I was on deadline to finish reviewing the copyediting for my forthcoming novel A White Room (Now Available!)

So to celebrate my return from the @#A$# storm, I have prepared for you a list of the Top Ten Victorian Swear Words, which I've selected from the must-have research guide The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in the 1800s by Marc McCutcheon.

One of my readers asked the question in the comments whether this is American or English, which is a very important difference for research, so I just want to point out that this book is focused on America in the 1800s. In the comments I also included a list of chapters so you can see exactly what else is covered in the book.

WARNING: This blog post contains SWEAR WORDS!!! Probably not suitable for children.

photo credit: brizzle born and bred via photopin cc

Just so you know, I'm going for historically unique, but for clarification purposes let me say that words like fuck, bitch, cunt, and shit were all used back then too. Only problem is I don't know if you readers will believe it.

Top Ten Swear Words

1. Balls - shortened from ballocks
2. Bootlicker - same as ass-licker
3. Cherry - vulgar term for a young woman
4. Quim - female genitalia
5. Strumpet - a whore
6. Blazes - hell or the devil
7. Cussed - cursed or mean
8. Dratted - expletive or used for damned
9. Lickfinger/Lick-spittle - kiss-ass
10. Tarnation/Nation - used for damnation

BONUS: Top Five Surprisingly Naughty Words

1. Bull - taboo word because it was associated with sexual potency so polite people said cow brute, a gentleman cow, a top cow, or a seed ox.
2. Dad - euphemism for God as in dad-blame it.
3. Dickens - devil as in what the Dickens are you doing?
4. Inexpressibles - a euphemism for pants or trousers. This was due to the fact that the legs were considered extremely private. People usually said limb instead of the word leg. Also very awkward to use in your writing without explaining and even more awkward for your character to stop and explain it. Have to admit I tried to avoid it in my novel.
5. Mary - homosexual.

Want to know more commonly used words or see some real examples of how these words were used? Check out The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in the 1800s by Marc McCutcheon. He's also written another one The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life from Prohibition to World War II by Marc McCutcheon.

Someone commented below, curious about finding the British equivalent of these books. I think What Jane Austen Ate and What Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool might be of use but keep in mind that I haven't personally read it so I can't guarantee anything.

Show me you're out there and leave a comment! Anyone know any other interesting naughty historical words they can share? Or good books for such research? Feel free to shoot me some questions too!

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  1. Great post, Stephanie, but are we talking USA or English Speaking World? Good to see you're back to blogging. I rely on my weekly visit!

  2. Thanks Malcolm for the welcome back! It means the world to me to me to know that you look forward to my weekly posts! Yay! =)

    Also thanks for the question US vs. English! That's an important difference. The book "The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in the 1800s," where I pulled the words from, is about America in the 1800s. I’ll make sure to go back and clarify that in the blog post itself too.

    Related to your questions - the book does a good job of showing how some American slang words derived from the British - for example people would use the "balls" as a shortened version of the British word "ballocks."

    Several chapters are specific to America including Money and Coinage, Slavery and Black Plantation Culture, Out on the Range, and The Civil War, which includes customs, practices, language of the armies of the North and South, Music, Weaponry, Uniforms, Rations, and Battlefield Health and Medicine. I would definitely recommend seeking out a different book for European 1800s. They were ahead of America is some ways, like fashion, they outlawed slavery earlier, and obvious language and money was different.

    For anyone who is now curious about all the chapters, here is a listing:
    1. Slang and Everyday Speech
    2. Getting Around (transportation)
    3. Around the House
    4. Clothing and Fashion
    5. Occupations
    6. Money and Coinage
    7. Health, Medicine and Hygiene
    8. Food, Drink and Tobacco
    9. Amusement
    10. Countship and Marriage
    11. Slavery and Black Planation Culture
    12. The Civil War
    13 Out on the Range
    13. Crime

    The Appendices include:
    Chronology of Events
    Chronology of Noted Books and Novels
    Chronology of Selected Magazines
    Chronology of Innovations
    Chronology of Popular Songs

  3. Excellent post! I'm writing a blog called Writers in London in the 1890s and just added that book to my amazon wish list because I loved your post so much. My question is: how much of the book is exclusively about the United States?

    1. Hi Tine,

      Thank you for commenting and for your question. That book is all based on America but Americans were still heavily influenced by Europeans at the time. Still, if you are looking for something specifically for Britain, I think "What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew" by Daniel Pool might be just the thing for you.

      Let me know if I can be of any more assistance and looking forward to reading your blog. Feel free to post the link once it is up and running! =)

  4. This was really useful to me when writing a story based in Victorian times

    Thanx a million =)

    1. Thank you for commenting anonymous! I'm really glad you found it helpful.
      Stephanie Carroll

  5. googled "1800s swear words" for high school newspaper article... very pleased with findings!

    1. Glad to hear it hope. Good luck with the article!

      Stephanie Carroll
      Author of "A White Room"


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