Slang, Euphemisms, and Terms of the 1700 and 1800s – Letter A

The following are slang, euphemisms, and terms for the letter A and are primarily taken from Francis Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue published in 1811.


ABBESS or LADY ABBESS referred to a mistress of a brothel or a woman who procured women for prostitution.

ABEL-ACKETS referred to blow on the palm of the hand with a twisted handkerchief and was a punishment among seamen who sometimes played at cards for wackets, the loser suffering as many strokes as he lost in games.

ACE OF SPADES referred to a widow and there were plenty of those in the 1700 and 1800s, such as Eliza de Fueillide, Madame Récamier, and Marie Antoinette.

ACTIVE CITIZEN referred to a louse, the type that caused so many problems for Napoleon Bonaparte’s army.

Withdrawal of Napoleon’s troops from Russia. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

ACTEON was a cuckold.

ADAM TILER(S) was a term used to refer to a pickpocket‘s associate who received stolen goods and then absconded with them.

A man in his ALTITUDES meant the man was drunk.

An AMEN CURLER was a parish clerk.

The term AMOROUS CONGRESS was used primarily by the Georgian era upper crust when in public. It was a polite but repressed term referring to the sexual and naughty happenings that occurred behind closed doors and depicted in the sexually explicit cartoons by artists like Thomas Rowlandson.

AMUSERS were roguish thieves who carried snuff or dust in their pockets and threw this snuff or dust into the eyes of a person to distract them. After doing so, the amuser often ran away and their accomplice took pity on the unwitting victim claiming to help them, but in reality pick pocketing them.

Any pickpocket caught red-handed that was then punished by being doused under a water pump or in a horse pond was called an ANABAPTIST.

ANGLERS were pilferers and petty thieves who stole goods from unwary shop owners through the use of a stick with a hook attached.

ANGLING FOR FARTHINGS was a term used to describe prisoners who begged through an open window by lowering a cap, a box, or long string to people passing by the prison window.

An old maid was called an APE LEADER because it was said that when she died she would be leading apes to hell for having neglected to increase and multiple.

APPLE DUMPLIN’ SHOP was a term used to describe the bosom of a woman, particularly a fat and large-breasted woman.

The leader of a gang of thieves or gypsies was referred to as ARCH ROGUE or a DIMBER DAMBER UPRIGHT MAN. A woman of the same tendencies was called an ARCH DELL or ARCH DOXY.

To you and I the term ARBOR VITAE may mean tree, but, in the 1800s, it was frequently used to refer to a man’s penis.

To ARGUEFY THE TOPIC was a slang phrase used to describe a boxing match, and boxing matches were said to be “the bastardly creations of Capt. Topham.”

Rogues who in conjunction with watermen picked fights with passengers on boats and then robbed, stripped, and threw them overboard were known as ARK RUFFIANS.

A wench or a handsome girl was often referred to as a prime ARTICLE.

An AUTEM DIVER was used to describe a churchwarden or overseers of the poor, but it was also used to describe pickpockets that practiced their thievery exclusively in church.

Pickpockets of the Clergy. Public domain.

An AUTEM MORT was either a married woman or a female beggar with several children hired to excite and elicit charitable donations.


  • Bailey, N. The Universal Etymological English Dictionary, 1737
  • Bee, John, ed., Slang. A Dictionary of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, the Pit, of Bon-ton, 1823
  • Davies, Thomas Lewis Owen, A Supplemental English Glossary, 1881
  • Egan, Pierce, Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue Revised and Corrected, 1823
  • Farmer, John S., etal. eds., Slang and its Analogues Past and Present, 1902
  • Grose, Francis, 1811 Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1811
  • Grose, Francis, Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit, and Pickpocket Eloquence, 1811
  • Halliwell, James Orchard, Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words, Vol. II, 1881

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