No Slang Like Old Slang: Another Quiz

Since everyone seemed to have fun with the last vocabulary quiz I posted, I’ve brought you another. So sharpen your pencils (or your quill pens!) and get ready to tell me which of the following words, expressions, or exclamations were commonly used in the 19th century, and which are more modern (post 1900). Answers will be listed below, after a spoiler space. Cheaters who peek first will have their hands slapped with a ruler and be forced to copy the sentence “I will not cheat at quizzes on the Book View Cafe blog” fifty times on the finest foolscap with peacock-blue ink.

Are you ready?

1. Mad as a wet hen: very angry (Cynthia was as mad as a wet hen when Augustus accidentally spilled his tea down her back.)

2. Birthday suit: to be naked (Our youngest brother William was sent down from Cambridge for punting down the Cam at noon on Sunday wearing only his birthday suit.)

3. Dimwit: a foolish or stupid person (Gerald is not known for his perspicacity, but how could he have been such a dimwit as to bring Jane a posy of dandelions?

4. Mind your Ps and Qs: be careful or well-behaved (Grandmama exhorted Augustus to mind his Ps and Qs when the Duchess of Hitherfore came to lunch.)

5. Oh, brother!: exclamation indicating exasperation (Oh, brother! Purple satin turbans are all the rage at Almack’s this season.)

6. Swept off one’s feet: to be infatuated (Alice was quite swept off her feet by Sir Vincent, but we were all appalled by his bald spot and flannel waistcoat.)

7. Hang out: to spend a lot of time somewhere (Henry is hanging out far too frequently at the Opera House; the reason why is a dancer named Agnes Nimm with legs up to her neck.)

8. Munch: to eat or chew (Don’t wear a hat with feathers if you go driving with Alfred; one of his matched bays like to munch them.)

9. On the go: in constant motion, busy (Louisa is so on the go for the first few weeks of the season that she’ll surely waltz her way into a decline.)

10. In a tizzy: in a state of agitation (Don’t tell Eliza that Lord Arbuthnot came to speak to Papa today or she’ll be in a tizzy for the next week wondering if he’ll propose.)






1. Mad as a wet hen: No—-dates to 1918, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED)
2. Birthday suit: yes! Recorded in the Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, published in 1811
3. Dimwit: No–dates to the 1922 OED, and listed as an Americanism
4. Mind your Ps and Qs: Yes! Dates at least to 1821
5. Oh brother: Yes! Dates to 1824
6. Swept off one’s feet: No—-dates to 1913, according to the OED
7. Hang out: Yes! 1811
8. Munch: Yes! Dates to at least 1829
9. On the go: Yes! 1843
10. In a tizzy: No—-1935 Americanism

How did you do this time?



About Marissa Doyle

Marissa Doyle originally planned to be an archaeologist but somehow got distracted. At long last, after an unsurprisingly circuitous path, she ended up writing historical fantasy for young adults (the Leland Sisters series) and contemporary fantasy for slightly older ones, most recently By Jove from Book View Cafe. She is obsessed by the Regency period, 19th century stuff in general, and her neurotic pet bunny. Visit her at


No Slang Like Old Slang: Another Quiz — 8 Comments

  1. The only one I guessed correctly was ‘munch.’

    Being that even ‘in town’ so many people kept chickens until in to the 20th century I was certain ‘mad as a wet hen’ was older.

  2. Even the OED only adds words and phrases after they’ve been in use for a while. Why explain them if they are brand spanking new at the New Year. Who knows if they will catch fire and linger?

    My rule of thumb is to put the date back a decade. Still couldn’t use birdbrain in a Medieval setting.

  3. I appear to be half eddicated – I got squarely 50%. (to be perfectly honest, possibly one of the “right” ones I got was literally a good guess I wasn’t entirely sure but I mulled it over and finally made a choice and it turned out to be the right one but I wasn’t at all CERTAIN there…)

  4. I guessed them all as modern… but that was because anything used first in 1700 and still in use is modern to me. I’m a sad, sad soul.

    I have a question, though? Do you use “like a chicken with its head cut off”? It would make me very happy if this were part of international English and not purely Australian. It sounds so very Australian, you see.

    • I don’t know about now or across the country, but where and when I was growing up, it was indeed a common place idiom, particularly among women, like my mother, whom I first saw cutting off chickens’ heads when still technically an infant.

      • Umm — that should have been, “when I was still technically and infant.” Not my infant mother cutting off chickens’ heads. Though she did begin to do so at least at adolescence.