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

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


Today a CAB is a form of transportation that takes us to and from places, but in the 1700 and 1800s it referred to a brothel.

A military term used by soldiers to signify a solemn vow or a resolution promising not to get drunk for a certain length of time was known as a CAGG.

In Ireland, if you were CANDY you were drunk.

Preaching with a whining affected tone was referred to as CANTING. The term was probably derived from the famous Scottish preacher Andrew Cant of the 1600s who used the same whining tone when he preached.

CARRIERS were rogues employed to watch the roads at inns or other similar establishments in order to provide information to their respective gangs, so the gang could plunder more effectively.

A conundrum, puzzle, or riddle was known as a CARRY WITCHET.

CARTING was a punishment where a bawd was placed in a cart and driven through town to inform townspeople of her infamous status.

If you vomited you were said to be CASTING UP ONE’S ACCOUNTS.

A whistle given at the theater to interrupt actors or to show a patron’s displeasure was called a CAT CALL because it resembled the modulation of a boar cat.

To live under a CAT’S FOOT meant to be a hen-pecked husband with a domineering wife.

“A Hen Pecked Husband” by Thomas Rowlandson. Courtesy of London Museum.

CAT WHIPPING or WHIPPING THE CAT was a trick played on unsuspecting and ignorant country fellows. A wager would be made that a cat could be pulled across a pond. Then a rope would be affixed to the party being catted, and the end thrown across the pond where a cat was fastened to the other end. Three or four fellows would then be appointed to lead and whip the cat. When the signal was given the three or four fellows would pretend to whip the cat, but instead suddenly pull the astonished country fellow through the water.

A footboy, so called because he followed closely behind his master or mistress, was also called a CATCH FART.

A left-handed person was said to be CAUDGE-PAWED and of those noted as being left-handers in the 1700 and 1800s are Napoleon Bonaparte, Queen Victoria, and President James A. Garfield.

Although CAULIFLOWER may be a cruciferous vegetable, it also had two other distinct meanings in the 1700 and 1800s. The first refers to the large white wig commonly worn by clergymen or physicians. The second refers to a woman’s private parts based on the following story. Apparently, a woman went before a peevish old judge and called her private parts cauliflower. The judge then reproved her saying she might as well call them an artichoke. She replied, “Not so, my lord … for an artichoke has a bottom, but a **** and a cauliflower have none.”[1]

An old weather-beaten wig was known as a CAXON.

CHAW BACON referred to a stupid country fellow.

Women who were CHICKEN-BREASTED were said to have very small, if any, breasts.

One derogatory term used to describe a Black person was CHIMNEY CHOPS, likely because of the blackness of a chimney.

Anyone who was baby-faced was said to be CHITTY-FACED.

CHIVING LAY was a person who was not daring enough to attack a stagecoach but would willingly cut through the back of a hackney coach, snatch a passenger’s wig off his head, and decamp with it.

A term of endearment was CHUCK, but to be called CHUCKLE-HEADED meant you were stupid and thick-headed.

If someone gave a CHURCHYARD COUGH it was said to be a cough that would terminate in death.

A CINDER GARBLER was a servant who sifted ashes from the cinders.

To CLANKER was to lie.

A CLAP ON THE SHOULDER meant to be arrested for a debt, and the person who performed the arrest was called a SHOULDER-CLAPPER. However, CLAPPER referred to a tongue.

A CLIMBING BOY was a chimney sweep.

Climbing Boy with Master Sweep, Author's Collection

Climbing boy with master sweep. Author’s collection.

Rogues who lurked in entrances or dark alleys and snatched cloaks from emerging carriage passengers were known as CLOAK TWITCHERS.

COB or COBBING was a punishment used by seamen for petty offenses or irregularities. It consisted of bastonadoing the offender twelve times on the posterior with a cobbing stick. With the first stroke the executioner repeated the word WATCH and all persons present took off their hats. The last stroke was given as hard as possible and it was called THE PURSE. This same type of discipline was also inflicted in Ireland by school boys against a boy who did not take off his hat, but it was called SCHOOL BUTTER instead.

The private parts of a woman might be referred to as COCK ALLEY or COCK LANE.

COLD BURNING was a punishment inflicted by soldiers on their comrades for trifling offenses and was administered in the following manner. The prisoner was set against the wall with his arm held as high as possible above his head. The executioner then ascended a stool and poured cold water down the sleeve of the offender while patting and forcing the water down until it ran out the bottom of his breeches. The same procedure was then repeated with the other arm.

COOLER was term used to signify a woman’s backside.

A prostitute was sometimes called a COVENT GARDEN NUN.

A term more polite than amorous congress, and one that was used by the upper crust to describe sexual intercourse, was CONVIVIAL SOCIETY.

The private parts of a modest women or the public parts of prostitute were called a COMMODITY.

House robbers were known as CRACKSMAN.

CREAM-POT LOVE referred to young fellows who visited dairymaids with the pretense of getting cream or other dairy products.

CREEPMOUSE was a word used in the nursery as a term of endearment.

TO CRIB was to purloin or appropriate something of someone else’s that had been entrusted to them.

CROP or ROUNDHEAD was a nickname given to a Presbyterian because they cropped their hair and trimmed it leaving a ridge around their scalp as if a bowl had been used.

CROPPING DRUMS were foot guards who learned about weddings and rushed to the events to serenade the new married couple in order to obtain money.

A CROSSING SWEEPER was someone who swept the street ahead of a pedestrian as they walked. 

Letter c - child crossing sweeper

Child crossing sweeper with her dog. Public domain,

CRUISERS were beggars or highway spies that traversed roads, provided intelligence to their counterparts, and snatched up loot others wanted to sell.

A simple fellow was known as a CUNNINGHAM.

CUPS is a term from the seventeenth century, and to be “in one’s cups” means to be drinking or to be flat out drunk.

CURGLAFF was the word you might use to describe the shock you felt when plunging into cold water.


[1] Grose, F., Lexicon Balatronicum, 1811. 

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