04 October 2018

More Fun & Games With Victorian English Slang

by Brian Thornton

(For Part One of this series, click here.)

Charity Bob: The quick, jerky curtsey made by charity school-girls, now (1883) rapidly passing away.

Charlie Freer: (Rhyming, Sporting) Beer. e.g., 'He can put down Charlie Freer by the gallon, he can.'

Chew into dish-cloths: (Amer., 1882). To annihilate.
The wolf came down with his eyes working with delight, and had only reached the earth when the goose sprang upon him, and chewed him into dish-cloths.–New American Fables.

Chiv(e): (Historical). A knife.
Said to be Romany, but it may be a curtailment of Shevvle, as the metropolis of knife manufacture, Sheffield, is called to this day. If so, on all fours with 'jocteleg'–Jacques de Liège–who manufactured in the 14th century a splendid knife, long before Sheffield rose to glory.
Chiv is used on the stage. 'I've had to be chivved' Mr. H. Marston (1870)–meaning stabbed in the course of the piece.
Presently Selby pulls out a chivy (knife), and gives Big Tim a dig or two–one on his arm and one at his face, and another at his leg. Big Tim says to me, 'Costy, I've got it a bit thick, suppose I give him a bit of a chivy, and see how he likes it,' and makes a dig or two at him.–People, 6th January 1898.

Chivy: (Criminal) Relating to the use of the knife.

Chivy, To: (Hist.).  To hunt down, worry. A corruption of Cheviot (HillsO, whence this kind of attention was much practiced by the early English of the north when swinging into the Cheviots after the cattle stolen, or to use the more northern term–'lifted'–by the Scotch more or less all along the border.
'Which a pore cove were never chivied as I'm chivied by the cops.'

Choke off, To: (Peoples', 18 cent on). To get rid of. From the necessity of twisting a towel or other fabric about the neck of a bull-dog to make this tenacious hanger-on let go his biting hold. Used against persons of pertinacious application.
'Choke off' in the U.S.A. means to reduce a pleading man to silence.

Chokey: (Sailors), Imprisonment–derived from the narrow confines of the ship's lock-up and the absence of ventilation–chokey generally being fixed as near the keel as conveniently as it can be managed. However, some authorities maintain that this word is an Anglicising of the Hong-Kong Chinese 'Chow Key'–a prison.
Been run in? Been locked up? Been in chokey? What!–what do you take me for? Who are you blooming well getting at? Who're you kidding?–Cutting.
In a very short time the whole of them were safely in the chowkey. The parties implicated have been brought up at the Fort Police Court, and committed for trial.–Bombay Times.

Chouse: (Peoples', 17 cent.) A cheat, ti cheat. Henshaw derives it from the Turkish word chiaus, an interpreter, and referring to an interpreter at the Turkish embassy in London in 1609. He robbed the embassy right and left.

Chuck a Dummy: (Tailors'). To faint. Very interesting as illustrating the influence familiar objects have in framing new ideas–from the similarity of a falling fainting man to an over-thrown or chucked tailor's dummy–a figure upon which coats are fitted to show them off for sale. 'I chucked a dummy this mornin' an' 'ad to be brought to with o-der-wee.'

Chuck out ink: (Press Reporters) To write articles.
Suddenly it came across my mind that the boss might be waiting about for me somewhere with a big boot and genteel language, and that it might be better for my health if I chucked out ink.–Cutting.

Chuck up the bunch of fives: (Pugilistic) To die. The one poetic figure of speech engendered by the prize ring. The fives are the two sets of four fingers and a thumb–the fists–the 'bunches'–flaccid in death. 'Pore Ben–'o's been an' gorne an' chucked up 'is bunch o' fives.'

Church-bell: (Rural). A talkative woman. 'Ah ca'as ma wife choorch bell cas 'er's yeard arl over t'village.'

Churchyard Cough: (Peoples'). A fatal cold–sometimes in these later times synonymised by 'cemetery catarrh'.

Churchyard Luck: (Peoples'). The 'good fortune' which the mother of a large family experiences by the death of one or more of her children. e g 'Yes, mum, I hev brought 'em all up–ten boys, and no churchyard luck with it.'–Said by a Liverpool woman to a district visitor.

Cigareticide: (Soc., 1883) A word invented to meet the theory that the cigarette is the most dangerous form of smoking. More common in America than in Great Britain.
That young man's grit is indeed remarkable in this age of dudism and cigareticide.–Cutting.

Climb the Golden Staircase, To: (Amer.) One of the U S A equivalents to the Latin 'join the majority'.
Edward's Folly Dramatic Company is reported as having climbed the golden stairs. The cash assets are alleged to have been carefully secured in a pillbox–(1883).

Climb the Mountains of Piety, To: To pawn, from the first governmental pawnshop being situated on a height in Rome called Monte di Pietà, so named, of course, for group of the dead Christ and the Virgin called in art a pietà.
Mr Candy On one occasion, I think, you had to resort to what is called 'climbing the mountain of piety'?–Evelyn v. Hulbert, D N, 15th April, 1896.

Clobbered: (N. Eng, Prov.) Well nourished and dressed. Common in Yorkshire.
'Eh, he looks well clobbered.'

Cod: (Trade. Tailors') A drunkard. The word is suggested by the fallen cheeks and lips' corners which are some of the facial evidences of a drunkard, and which certainly  suggest the countenance of a cod, which fish, furthermore from its size, is typical of huge drinking. 'He's a bigger cod every day.'

See you in two weeks!


  1. Great list- makes me want to write an historical novel! And interesting how early cigarettes were thought to be deadly.

  2. I always liked the slang "gaspers" for cigarettes. Nice collection!


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