With our archives now 3,500+ articles deep, we’ve decided to republish a classic piece each Friday to help our newer readers discover some of the best, evergreen gems from the past. This article was originally published in March 2010.
While writing our first book, The Art of Manliness: Classic Skills and Manners for the Modern Man, we decided to throw a few old-time 19th century slang words into the text just for fun. While scouring old dictionaries for some virile words and phrases that would fit into the book, we came across many others that were beyond awesome but didn’t make the cut. Here’s a glossary of some of our favorites (with their original definitions) that were tossed about on the streets and saloons back in the day. These colorful expressions probably won’t ever come back into popular parlance, but they’re a real hoot to read through.
The Art of Manliness Dictionary of Manly 19th Century Vernacular
Admiral of the Red: A person whose very red face evinces a fondness for strong potations.
All-overish: Neither sick nor well; the premonitory symptoms of illness. Also the feeling which comes over a man at a critical moment, say just when he is about to “pop the question.” Sometimes this is called, “feeling all-over alike, and touching nowhere.”
Anointing: A good beating. A case for the application of salve.
Barking-Iron, or Barker: A pistol. Term used by footpads and thieves generally.
Bellows: The lungs. Bellowser, a blow in the “wind,” or pit of the stomach, taking one’s breath away.
Bellows to Mend: A person out of breath; especially a pugilist is said to be “bellows to mend” when winded.
Blind Monkeys: An imaginary collection at the Zoological Gardens, which are supposed to receive care and attention from persons fitted by nature for such office and for little else. An idle and useless person is often told that he is only fit to lead the blind monkeys to evacuate.
Blinker: A blackened eye. Also a hard blow in the eye.
Bone Box: The mouth. Shut your bone box; shut your mouth.
Bully Trap: A brave man with a mild or effeminate appearance, by whom the bullies are frequently taken in.
Bunch Of Fives: The fist. Pugilistic.
Cat-heads: A woman’s breasts. Sea phrase.
Cold Coffee: Misfortune; sometimes varied to cold gruel. An unpleasant return for a proffered kindness is sometimes called cold coffee.
Colt’s Tooth: Elderly persons of juvenile tastes are said to have a colt’s tooth, i.e., a desire to shed their teeth once more, to live life over again.
Crab: To prevent the perfection or execution of any intended matter of business, by saying anything offensive or unpleasant, is called crabbing it, or throwing a crab.
Cupboard Love: Pretended love to the cook, or any other person, for the sake of a meal.
Cut: To renounce acquaintance with anyone is to cut him. There are several species of the “cut,” such as the cut direct, the cut indirect, the cut sublime, the cut infernal, etc. The cut direct is to start across the street, at the approach of the obnoxious person, in order to avoid him. The cut indirect is to look another way, and pass without appearing to observe him. The cut sublime is to admire the top of King’s College Chapel, or the beauty of the passing clouds, ’til he is cut of sight. The cut infernal is to analyze the arrangement of your shoe-strings, for the same purpose