My Top Ten Victorian Slang Words

Writing historical fiction isn’t easy. There are so many decisions I have to make to prevent myself from overdoing it with language and writing style. Do I try to match it with the time period? Do I use modern slang? How far into 1800s etymology do I really want to go? Research has been key in helping me make these choices and every once in a while I stumble across a gem of an article I couldn’t pass up blogging about. Today I came across a list of 56 Delightful Victorian Slang Terms – some crazier than others – and I’d like to share just ten of my favorites.

Side note: This blog post wasn’t easy to write as there are so many amazing choices!

ARFARFAN’ARF

It took everything in me to not bust out laughing in the middle of Panera reading this one and it’s following definition (according to the article above, “A figure of speech used to describe drunken men. “He’s very arf’arf’an’arf,” Forrester writes, “meaning he has had many ‘arfs,’” or half-pints of booze.”

BATTY-FANG

Sooo many thoughts came to my mind at the description for this phrase, but I’ll refrain from adding in that commentary! This will be enough: “Low London phrase meaning “to thrash thoroughly,” possibly from the French battre a fin.”

BRICKY

I’m honestly not sure if this term is meant as a compliment or an insult. I can tell you that I am not bricky at all. “Brave or fearless. “Adroit after the manner of a brick,” Forrester writes, “said even of the other sex, ‘What a bricky girl she is.'”

BUTTER UPON BACON

I think I definitely need to start using this more often. “Extravagance. Too much extravagance. “Are you going to put lace over the feather, isn’t that rather butter upon bacon?”

DOING THE BEAR

This phrase would not go over well in the twenty-first century (ie too many innuendos which is why I found it so funny). It simply means, “courting that involves hugging.”

GAS-PIPES

While gas lighting and systems were invented in the Victorian era, that’s not what this is referring to. And it’s yet another term I snorted at in a public place, “A term for especially tight pants.”

MAD AS HOPS

Also known as “excitable.” I’m definitely going to start saying this at work!

PARISH PICK-AXE

I certainly have a parish pick-axe. Also known as a “prominent nose.” Though why they use the term “parish” I don’t think I’ll ever know.

SHAKE A FLANNIN

“Why say you’re going to fight when you could say you’re going to shake a flannin instead?” And I wholeheartedly agree with this statement and explanation!

SKILAMALINK

I’m not sure I even know how to say this word, but I wonder if this is where the writers for the Muppet Treasure Island film got the idea for “boomshakalaka.” Eh, probably not. But it’s a fun thought! It means, “Secret, shady, doubtful.”


And there you have it! My top ten favorite Victorian slang terms. A few of them make sense for use in modern times but many of them are a bit out there. Of course this is all in good fun in 2019! Stop on by the main list on Mental Floss’ article to learn more fun terms! Happy writing!

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