A couple of weeks ago whilst reading the early 19th century novel, The Absentee, by Maria Edgeworth, I came across this passage: “‘Gad! You distress me now!’ said Lord Clonbrony, ‘and I didn’t expect it, or I wouldn’t make a fool of myself this way,’ added he, ashamed of his emotion, and whiffling it off.”
And I thought, hang on a tick, that is a fine word, whiffling is, but what in the blazes does it mean?
(No, I will not discuss why I am reading the overwrought prose of Maria Edgeworth…)
Anyway, off I went to fossick about in volume W of The Oxford English Dictionary, and what did I find but that whiffle and whiffling and whiffler have rather a rather long and glorious tradition of usage.
(The obvious question is why didn’t I know of this before now–but we’ll leave that…)
Then, a few days later, I was pootling about in Hatchard’s fine emporium of books on Piccadilly–yes, heaven on earth, that’s right–and what should I see on the shelf but a small volume entitled, The Wonder of Whiffling.
Taking it down and perusing its contents made one thing clear–the thing had to come home with me. For this book is nothing less than a wonderful compilation of some of the most delicious historic and regional English slang.
(No, it’s not my only dictionary of historical slang…)
Now, however, having absorbed its many delightful lessons, how can I keep from sharing some of the more entertaining words and phrases of early 19th century English found therein? Well, to keep it all to myself would just be intellectually miserly, wouldn’t it? So I shan’t do it.
So here, historical fictioneers, are some of the ‘real thing’ from Adam Jacot de Boinard’s bijou oeuvre-ette with which to flavour your novels (ha ha ha):
argol-bargolous (1822) quarrelsome, contentious about trifles;
kef (1808) a state of voluptuous dreaminess, full of languid contentment (originally used to describe the effects of opium);
cachinnate (1824) to laugh loudly and immoderately;
windlestraw (1818) a thin, lanky person;
mimp (1786) to speak in a prissy manner usually with pursed lips;
thorough cough (before 1811) coughing and breaking wind backwards at the same time;
waff (1808) the slightest touch of illness (especially a cold);
thorough churchman (b. 1811) a person who goes in at one door of a church, and out at the other without stopping;
engastration (1814) the act of stuffing one bird into another (the result is called a turducken);
yaffle (1788) to eat or drink especially noisily or greedily;
vice admiral of the narrow seas (1811) a drunken man that pisses under the table into his companion’s shoes;
mush faker (1821) an umbrella repairer (‘mushroom faker’);
stalko (1802) a man who has nothing to do and no fortune to support him but who styles himself as a squire;
clipsome (1816) eminently embraceable;
squabash (1818) to crush with criticism;
boots (b. 1811) the youngest officer in a regimental mess, whose duty it is to skink (b. 1811) to stir the fire, snuff any candles and ring the bell;
And last, but not least, and ever so useful: air one’s vocabulary (c. 1820) to talk for the sake of talking…
Ah…*sigh* I love historical slang…it’s just the best, isn’t it?