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No Slang Like Old Slang, Unless It’s New–Part 2

For most writers of historical fiction, the slang of the 19th century is a delight. Creative and clever, it’s fun to know and, for us, fun to use (sparingly!) in writing our books to help give them that early 19th century “flavor”.

But an important part of using authentic slang is sounding authentic. As I’ve researched slang words and terms, I’ve found some that sound very 19th century but aren’t, and others that sound quite modern but are indeed, old—sometimes far older than the 19th century. So I’ve put together another quiz for you (see here for the first one): below is a list of words or phrases and how they’re used. Can you tell if they’re genuinely 19th century (or before), or more recent inventions? Answers will be posted below a spoiler section so you can test yourself without peeking. Good luck, and have fun!

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 (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 (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 (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 Nottle with legs up to her neck.

8. Munch (to eat or chew): I recommend not wearing 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 (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.

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Answers:

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?

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