Colonial Capers

Boston Tea Party
The Boston Tea Party as depicted by Nathaniel Currier in 1846

Colonial Slang

Instead of making our world richer (at least in the use of colorful language), the modern years of the 20th and 21st century seem to have ushered in a narrowing of linguistic diversity within the English language. Just look at how often modern speakers resort to the ever-so-popular F-word, when they could be using such descriptive terms as fart catcher, flaybottomist, kinching morts, jerrycummumble, sluice your gob, crinkum crankum and apple dumpling shop.  When translated to modern English, these 18th century vernacular witicisms respectively mean; a valet or footman that walks behind his mistress or master, a schoolmaster, a crew of women, to tumble about, to take a hearty drink, a woman’s commodity and last but not least a woman’s bosom. Many thanks to Cooper Fleischman and his fascinating online article, 38 Vulgar Terms from Colonial Times That Need to be Brought Back, for this partial list.

Rum Grog
A glass of rum grog, from Wikipedia

18th Century Alcohol Consumption

To paraphrase our newfound historical lingo, residents of the original thirteen colonies really liked to “sluice their gobs”. Nowhere is this more evident than in the colorful names applied to some of the cocktail mixtures, which more often than not were just as colorful as the names used to insult the Colonist’s fellow man and woman. So next time you head into a Philadelphia or Boston bar, you might ask for a Rattle-skull, a Mimbo, a Bombo, a Whistle Belly, a Syllabub, a Sling, a Bogus or a Stonewall. If you think that pre-Revolutionary America was thrilled by alcohol consumption, you’re right. With rum and whiskey leading the way, Colonial America was perfectly capable of enjoying their liquor. And for those of you who might like to sample one of these drinks from the past, try making a Rattle-skull. All you have to do is add 3/4 of an ounce of rum and 3/4 of an ounce of  brandy to 12 ounces of dark beer. Then add a half a lime and garnish with nutmeg. Sounds delicious…..and perhaps a bit potent. By the way many a 18th century drink consisted of mixing the hard liquor to beer.

End of Elizabethan English

When the first English Colonists arrived in the New World (approximately 1600), Shakespeare was still alive and uses of such words as thee, ye, thou, thine, hither, thither, morrow, naught, yonder and n’er were abundant. If one could be magically transported to the early settlements at Roanoke, Jamestown, Plymouth or Massachusetts Bay, use of these words would abound with everyday speech along with some interesting slang.  Curses were common and came in the form of such phrases as “a pox upon thee”, “Devil take thee”, “beshrew thee” or “fie upon thee”. Petty insults to another person might include such words as Cocklorel, Runagate, Cur, Jackanape or Coxcomb.  When uttering slang in everyday speech, one might use such gems as trull (whore), varmint (vermin), palliard (beggar), jordan (chamber pot), hooker (thief) and cuttle (knife).  Even though much of this language had fallen out of use by the mid 18th century, a few of these  colloquialisms are still understood today. Life may have been tougher back then, but the language seems to have been much more colorful.


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