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

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

letter B

Letter B. Author’s collection.

BALLCOCKS referred not only to the testicles but also to a vulgar parson.

BALUM RANCUM was a dance by naked prostitutes.

Like amorous congress, BLANKET HORNPIPE was a socially acceptable and indirect term for sexual intercourse. It likely originated with sailors, as a hornpipe was a sailor’s dance.

A person whose knees knocked together when they walked was referred to as being BAKER-KNEED.

A BEARD SPLITTER was a ladies’ man or a man adept at wenching.

BARKERS were shopmen or second-hand clothes dealer, particularly on London’s Monmouth Street, who attempted to attract patrons by crying out, “Clothes, coats, or gowns—what d’ye want, gemmen? — what d’ye buy?”

A person who killed himself by drinking himself to death committed BARREL FEVER.

A BEAST WITH TWO BACKS is a reference from Shakespeare’s Othello. It is a metaphor for two people engaged in copulation, standing or in the missionary position, who cling to each other so that their backs are to the outside.

BEAU TRAP had two meanings. The first was a loose stone in the pavement that enabled water to lodge underneath it so that when stepped upon it squirted filth onto a person’s white stockings. The second meaning was that a sharp and neatly dressed gentleman laid in wait for an innocent country squire or an ignorant fop.

A small instrument used to force open doors by robbers was known as a BESS or BETTY.

To BISHOP a horse was a common practice among low horse dealers where they filed down the distinguishing marks of a horse’s teeth that indicated the animal’s age.

Anglo-Norman Horse. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

BILL OF SALE referred to a widow’s weeds, which was clothing worn by widows when in mourning for their husbands, such as Marie Antoinette, Madame Récamier, or Eliza de Feuillide.

A term used to describe a large, coarse woman who exposed her bosom was TO SPORT BLUBBER.

BOOBY HUTCH referred to a one-horse chaise or buggy, as well as a leathern bottle, which was used to transport a small amount of liquor.

A nickname for a tailor was BOTCH.

BOTHERAMS referred to convivial society, which was a gentler term than amorous congress.

The childish name for a dog or a jeering appellation for a man born in Boston, Massachusetts, was BOW-WOW.

BREAD AND BUTTER FASHION referenced the way a man and woman laid together and also meant to act contrary to a one’s own best interests.

A BRUISER was a boxer referred to an inferior workman or someone skilled at boxing, such as the bareknuckle boxer Tom Cribb.

Letter B - Tom Cribb

Tom Cribb. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

To have a BRUSH meant to have a short romantic and unimportant fling.

A man who surpassed his companions in debauchery was known as A BUCK OF THE FIRST HEAD, although sometimes a BUCK signified a cuckold.

A confused stupid person might be referred to as BUFFLE-HEADED.

BUGABOO was a “scare-babe or bully-beggar.”

BUGAROACH meant comely or handsome.

A BUGHER was a “little yelping dog.”

BULL BEGGAR or BULLY BEGGAR was an imaginary being used by servants and nurses to threaten children into behaving.

A bailiff or sheriff’s officer who arrested debtors was known as a BUM TRAP.

An unmarried man and woman who slept clothed in the same bed during courtship was known as BUNDLING and it was also practiced for a time in America among travelers when beds were scarce.

BUNG UPWARDS referred to a person lying on his face.

A BUNTER was a prostitute, whore, or beggar.

BUNTLINGS were another name for petticoats.

Letter B - American petticoat

American petticoat between 1855-1865. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum.

BUSHEL BUBBY was a full breasted woman.

A dependent, a poor relation, or a simpleton, upon who practical jokes were played, was known as a BUTT.

BUZBLOKE, BUZZER, and BUZZ-GLOAK were all names for a pickpocket.


  • Bailey, N. The Universal Etymological English Dictionary, 1737
    Albert Barrère, A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon & Cant Embracing English, 1897
  • Davies, Thomas Lewis Owen, A Supplemental English Glossary, 1881
  • 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, 1811
  • Slang and its Analogues Past and Present, 1902

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