Victorian Slang

‘Cor blimey, another month has gone by, the year is half over and I feel like I’ve got the morbs. Still, there’s no need for a marriage face, even if you’re not up to dick.

So, just let me finish these bags o’ mystery, my old chuckaboo, then I’ll  bitch the pot, put on me donkey’s breakfast, give the old door knocker a quick tidy up and then you’ll find me killing the canary in one of them penny gaffs on Whitechapel Road.

So, mind the grease, or I’ll prod you with my rain-napper, since I’m off to fake a poke or two.


Now, if you are scratching your head wondering what on earth those two paragraphs were meant to mean, worry not. I was merely chatting to you in the dialect of the average 19th century East Ender.

You see, people often say that they would love to go back and walk the streets of Whitechapel and Spitalfields around the time of Jack the Ripper. Wouldn’t it be great, they say, to meet with the 19th century locals and chat with them about their everyday lives.


But, if you were to, by some miracle of time travel, find yourself wandering along Middlesex Street, or sitting in the Ten Bells Pub, or sauntering along Whitechapel Road, or being jostled by the locals on Brick Lane in 1888, then the chances are you wouldn’t understand a word that they were saying!

People shopping and walking along Brick Lane.
Brick Lane 1900


And, as any seasoned traveller will tell you, being able to converse with the locals is one of the main joys, and advantages, of travel.

If you can’t understand a word that is being said, then you might inadvertently cause offence and end up copping a mouse – i.e getting a black eye.


But, here at the Jack the Ripper London tour, we are committed to giving you the authentic flavour of the East End of London at the time of the murders, and one of the important things about experiencing that London through the eyes of its inhabitants is to possess the ability to be able to speak the lingo.


So, pay attention at the back there, because here comes the translation of those opening two paragraphs.

I won’t translate the opening section as, hopefully, you spotted that I didn’t start slanging until I stated that I’ve got the morbs; which basically means I’m feeling a little bit down or depressed.

A marriage face, on the other hand, was a sad face – a reference to the fact that brides were meant to weep a lot, whereas not up to dick meant that a person was not feeling too well.


Perhaps they’d been poisoned by their bags o’ mystery – or sausages, as we know them today. The phrase was a reference to the fact that nobody could be sure of exactly what was inside the sausages, which, if you think about it is still the case today!

When I referred to you as “my old Chuckaboo” it was, in fact, a term of endearment meaning simply a favoured friend.


But, what did you mean by bitching the pot? I hear you ask.  Surely that was an insult?

Well, actually no it wasn’t. It simply referred to which of a group of men would – wait for it – pour the tea from the pot. Yes, the connotation may have had sexist overtones, but it simply refers to pouring a pot of tea – honest!


So, what was a going to do with the donkey’s breakfast. Put simply, I was going to put on my straw hat.

A door knocker, meanwhile, was a style of beard popular in the 19th century, whilst you would have no need to, nor justification for, reporting me to animal welfare enforcement for killing the canary, since it was Victorian slang for shirking work.

Why would I choose a Whitechapel penny gaffe in which to spend a work-dodging day. Well, they were the theatres that charged a penny admission and I could be entertained there to my heart’s content without fear of being discovered.


Mind the grease, was simply my 19th century way of asking you to let me pass, whilst my threat to prod you with my rain-napper, meant that if you didn’t move out of the way I would prod you with my umbrella, since it caught the rain.


However, you may well have wanted to fetch a policeman when I confessed my intention to fake a poke or two, since to fake a poke was underworld slang for pick-pocketing.


Anyway, you have there enough to get you started on your wander into the Victorian underworld of the East End of London.

After all, being able to converse in the local dialect is half the battle and should aid your enjoyment of the streets through which you will be walking.


Just be careful that you don’t stray into the wrong neighbourhood where you might just end up getting batty-fanged by a muffin-walloper or end up in the Loafries, which will, most certainly, wipe the smile off your chevy chase.

In short, to be batty-fanged meant to be beaten to a pulp, whilst a muffin-walloper was a lady who liked nothing better than a good gossip over muffins and tea.

The Loafries, meanwhile, was slang for the Whitechapel Workhouse and, if you haven’t yet figured it out, chevy chase was slang for your face.


So, there you have a quick primer in being able to hold your own in the Victorian East End of London around the time of Jack the Ripper and the Whitechapel Murders.

Yes, other phrases and words might come up that might result in you reacting to your new found chuckaboo with a blank stare. But, at least you’ll now have the ability to move the conversation on, look at him or her with the seasoned expression of a true local and tell them, in no uncertain times, that you must be off.

Oh, and don’t forget to bid them “Olive oil”, before you thrust into the seething mass of the Whitechapel crowds.