How They Talked Back Then

Blimey, what a night that was! I think I might become a tea kettle purger after getting so scammered, but that Marm Puss just kept letting me have more, and I was shooting the cat half the night.

I must look like a right slosh pot, but just let me get my upper Benjamins on and I’ll suck the mop to see if I can’t get a sprat to give the top gob what I owe him. It’s Queen’s weather today so I should do well.

Failing that, if you could stag the peeler, I could try and wop a fogle or two; or perhaps do a bit of spunk faking; and, if none of that works out, I could always pop round to uncle’s, if he hasn’t gone to Hanwell without a return ticket.

Last time I was there, though, he flashed me a fawney and told me I looked like a right Harlequin Jack.


You might recall that in a previous post, I gave a quick crash course as an introduction to Victorian slang.

After all, if you want to study the era, it’s best to be able to converse in the lingo, so to speak.

So, today, the lingo lessons continue with part two of my course on ‘ow ‘t’ talk like a 19th century Eastender.

You might not want to even attempt it – and for that, when you learn the meaning of some of the words and phrases I’ve just thrown at you, I probably wouldn’t blame you – but, every so often you come across an article in a Victorian newspaper and, since the journalists sometimes enjoyed reporting phonetically on what the locals said to them, you can be left wondering, “what on earth did that mean?”

So there is method on my madness.


So, what was I talking about with those opening four paragraphs.

Well, let’s take it word by word and phrase by phrase.

I opened by singing the praises of the night before when, in theory at least, I’d over imbibed in one of the Whitechapel or Spitalfields pubs.

In the local 19th century dialect, a tea kettle purger was somebody who abstained from alcohol.

Scammered was slang for drunk; and such was my night that I was making the vow that people make time and time again after such a night – “never again.”

A Marm Puss was an overdressed pub landlady of the type that was prevalent in the East End of London until recent times; whereas to shoot the cat was to vomit profusely after drinking too much.

May I,  incidentally, point out that this was an artistic exercise and none of this applies to any person, and in particularly not to me, as a) I didn’t go drinking last night and b) I don’t have a cat.


Anyway, moving on.

My reference to looking like a right slosh pot, was just a reference to my (fictitious) appearance, since slosh pot was slang for a very untidy person. Upper Benjamins, were trousers, which I, obviously, would want to put on before sucking the mop, which was local lingo for heading down to the cab stand (did I mention I’ve suddenly become a Victorian cab driver?) to wait for a job or fare.

A sprat was slang for sixpence and a top gob was the pub pot boy, who I’d evidently borrowed sixpence off, although such were the excesses of the night before that I actually have no recollection of having done so, but he’s insisting I did so, hey ho!

Queen’s weather meant it was a nice day, since in the latter years of her reign Queen Victoria – who was mourning the loss of her beloved Consort, Albert – rarely made public appearances. However, it was noticed, or, more probably, rumoured, that whenever she did make a public appearance the sun always came out and thus Queen’s weather became the slang for a nice sunny day.


However, if I wasn’t going to earn my money honestly, I could always resort to nefarious means; so when I asked you to “stag a peeler”, I was, in fact, asking you to keep an eye out for a policeman whilst I steal a handkerchief or two; or “wop a fogle” as it was referred to in the East End slang of the age.

Spunk faking, was to sell very cheap matches on the street, and was a popular way for the poor to try and earn money, since the investment in stock wasn’t too much, and was, therefore, something many of the areas’s poor could, just about, afford.

But if none of those options worked I was, you may recall, ready to go and see uncle – which was the slang term for a pawn broker, although it would appear that last time I saw him I drove him mad; since the reference to gone to Hanwell without a return ticket was a reference to the insane asylum at Hanwell; and not having a return ticket meant you became an inmate.

But, then again, last time I was there, as I mentioned, he flashed me a fawney, meaning he showed me a fake ring and, sarcastic fellow that he is, he told me that I looked like a Harlequin Jack, which meant I was dressed extremely ostentatiously.


So, there you have another guide to blending in, should you, by some miracle of time travel, find yourself transported back to 19th century Brick Lane, Petticoat Lane, Dorset Street, Hanbury Street, or any other Victorian East End thoroughfare.

After all, when it comes to blending in – here is a major tip by the way, don’t try to use your mobile phone, the signal back then was terrible – the easiest way not to stick out like a sore thumb is to be able to converse in a language that the indigenous population will understand.

I’m not saying that my little linguistic guide will keep you out of trouble, I’m just saying that it should make the trouble that little bit more enjoyable and, when all is said and done, isn’t that the beauty of time travel?