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

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

euphemism - letter D

DAGGLETAIL meant dirty, bemired, or a slattern.

DAIRY referred to the breasts of a woman who gave suckle.

DAISY KICKERS were known as ostlers, and an ostler was someone who looked after a guest’s horse at an inn.

To DANCE UPON NOTHING meant to be hanged, a fate that happened to such infamous murderers as the London Burkers, Elizabeth Ross, and John Holloway.

A DANDY was an extravagantly dressed young men with a refined and feminine attitude and defined in the nineteenth century as “a man, who pays extra attention to his person, his manners, his dress, and his exterior generally,”[1] and also defined in another was as “a male of the human species, who dresses himself like a doll, and who carries his character on his back.”[2]

“Dandy at His Toilette,” published in 1818. Courtesy of British Museum.

Many married men kept mistresses, such as Horatio Nelson, but such a man who visited his mistress after dark to avoid discovery was known as a DARK CULLY.

If you were a person who stealthily tiptoed into a stranger’s house after dark, hid yourself, and then let gang members into the house so it could be robbed, you were known as a DARKMAN’S BUDGE.

DAVID’S SOW came about because a Welshman named David Lloyd had a sow with six legs and a wife given to drunkenness. One day, when the woman was in her cups and fearful of the correction her husband might give her, she hid herself by laying down in the sow’s sty. After she’d fallen asleep a group of curious onlookers came to see the six-legged sow and David ushered them into the sty exclaiming, “There is a sow for you! Did any of you ever see such another?”[3] The onlookers replied that it was the drunkest sow they had ever beheld, and, thereafter, people referred to the woman as David’s sow.

A term used by thieves when they were disappointed with their booty was DEAD CARGO.

Irishmen were referred to as DEAR JOYS because they frequently made use of that expression.

Young buxom wenches or common strumpets who had not lost their virginity but were prone to sexual indulgence were called DELLS.

A woman’s breasts were also known as DIDDEYS.

In 1806 DIDDLE meant to cheat, swindle, or defraud, but by 1879 it meant to have sex with another person.

The top person or chief rogue of a gang was known as a DIMBER DAMBER.

A DINING ROOM POST was a scam whereby rogues pretending to be postmen would send sham letters, deliver the letters, and pretend to wait in an entry way for postage, but instead they would sneak into the first available room and rob the homeowners.

Today DITTO means the same or the same thing repeated, but in the 1700 and 1800s, it meant a suit (coat, waistcoat, and breeches) of the same color.

TO DOCK meant to lie with a woman. But DOCKING a woman was something entirely different. A sailor, who became infected by a prostitute with a venereal disease, would punish her by DOCKING her. In other words, he would cut and remove her clothes down to her stays and turn her half-naked into the streets.

DOG BUFFERS were people who stole dogs and advertised them as found. If the stolen dog was not claimed by its owner, the thieves would kill it, skin it, sell the skin, and feed the flesh to the remaining stolen dogs.

Letter D - dogs

From left to right: Skye Terrier, French Poodle, Spaniels, Italian Greyhound, and Pug. Author’s collection.

A Yorkshire DOLLY was a contrivance for washing clothes. It had a fixed wheel in a tub that turned, agitated, and cleaned the clothes.

If you were DONE UP it meant you were ruined by gambling, gaming, and extravagances.

A man’s backside was sometimes referred to as a DOUBLE JUGG.

To go on a DRAG meant to follow a cart in order to rob it.

DRAGGLE meant to trail in the dirt or to become wet or dirty.

A DRIGGLE-DRAGGLE was an untidy, unkempt woman.

A scam known as DROP A COG was where a piece of gold or silver was purposely dropped in order to cheat the person who picked it up. DROP COVES was similar, but instead of dropping a coin, a ring or other article was dropped. In both cases the defrauder hoped to induce guilt in the person who picked it up so they would either give them money or purchase the item.

TO DRUB was to give a good beating to a person with some sort of instrument, such as a rope or a stick.

DRYAD was a wood nymph.

Someone who could pick locks was known as a DUBBER.

If you stole cows or calves you were known as a DUNAKER.

And, if someone told you your father was a DUSTMAN, it meant he was a dead man.


  • [1] Bizarre, 1855, p. 149. 
  • [2] Mitchell, D. G., The Lorgnette, 1850, p. 243. 
  • [3] Grose, Francis, 1811 Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1811.

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