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

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

Letter H

HABERDASHER OF PRONOUNS was a schoolmaster.

A person hired to write for booksellers or for attorneys was known as a HACKNEY WRITER.

If you were HALF SEAS OVER you were almost drunk.

HAND BASKET PORTION was used to describe a woman’s husband who received frequent presents from his father-in-law or her family.

If you had a HANG GALLOWS LOOK it meant you had a villainous appearance.

Someone who walked hastily for no specific purpose was said to be walking HARUM SCARUM.

HASTY PUDDING was oatmeal and milk boiled to a moderate thickness and eaten with sugar and butter. However, the figurative meaning was a wet, muddy road.

If you were under the HATCHES you were in trouble, distressed, or in debt.

HAWKERS were licensed itinerant peddlers.

A child costermonger or hawker. Public domain.

HEART’S EASE was another term for gin.

A bully was known as a HECTOR. Supposedly, its usage is based on the Trojan’s valiant deeds against his enemies.

An itinerant harlot, who bilked a bawdy house by disposing of her favors under a hedge was known as a HEDGE WHORE.

HEEL TAP had two meanings. The first was used to describe the peg in the heel of shoe that needed to be removed when the shoe was finished, and, the second, referred to the remaining liquor in a person’s glass that needed to be drank.

A child with a wicked disposition was said to be a HELL-BORN BABE.

A graceless boy was known as a HEMP.

If a man was hanged it was said he died of HEMPEN FEVER (having been hanged with a hemp cord), and HEMPEN WIDOW was the name given to his wife.

HEN-HEARTED meant to be cowardly.

HEN HOUSE was used to explain a woman who ruled the house, and HEN FRIGATE was the appellation applied to a ship when the captain’s wife was aboard, as she was said to command him.

To cross the HERRING POND meant to cross the sea, something that people like Hetty Green (a wealthy Wall Street woman who was miserly), American socialite Elizabeth Patterson (who married Jerome Bonaparte), and the Marquis de Lafayette, did.

Letter H

Hetty Green in 1897. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Tories or Jacobites were called HIGH FLYERS.

If you were on the HIGH ROPES you were passionate.

HIGHGATE was an oath of debauchery and merriment pledged by men at public houses in the suburb of Highgate. Different oaths were administered at different public houses but swearing on a pair of horns was always part of the tradition. The oath was administered by the landlord or host and often included six stanzas. The oath taker would pledge various things, such as to never kiss the maid when he could kiss the mistress, to never drink small beer when he could get strong, and so forth. Once the oath was taken the person was given the title of “Freeman of Highgate.”

A lad who was not quite a man and not quite a boy was said to be HOBBERDEHOY.

HOBBLEDYGEE was a pace between a walk and a run, such as a dog-trot.

A man’s favorite amusement was called his HOBBY HORSE, and the man attached to such amusements was known as HOBBY HORSICAL.

HOBSON’S CHOICE was a reference to a famous carrier in Cambridge. Hobson would lend horses to students but never permitted them to choose their own horse, as he took it upon himself to pick the horse that best matched the rider’s treatment of horses and riding skill.

HOBNAIL referred to a country clodhopper, and clodhopper referred to the shoes worn by ploughmen or farmers that were held together with hob-nails and clouted or tipped with iron.

HODDY DODDY, ALL ARSE, AND NO BODY was a rhyme applied to the Rump parliament in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. By the nineteenth century it denoted a short clumsy person.

HOGMAGUNDAY originated in Scotland and referred to sexual intercourse.

HOISTING was done by pickpockets where they would set a man on his head causing his money, watch, and other valuables to fall out of his pocket. They would pick up the valuables and then claim they had committed no robbery.

HOLBORN HILL was a reference to hanging. Holborn Hill was on the route to Tyburn, which was the execution place for London’s condemned criminals. Supposedly, the convicted person always rode backwards to the gallows to either increase the person’s ignominy or to prevent shock when the convicted person looked upon the gallows. The last execution at Tyburn occurred in 1784, after which an area near Newgate became the place for further executions.

On the Way to Tyburn, Author's Collection

On the way to Tyburn. Author’s collection.

If you beat the HOOF, you traveled on foot.

HOOKEE WALKER or HOOKY WALKER was an expression used to signifying a story was false or what was claimed would not happen.

If a man was HORN MAD he was said to be extremely jealous of his wife, and if he was HORNIFIED, he was a cuckold.

HORNSWOGGLE meant to cheat.

A kiss with an accompanying loud smack was known as a HORSE BUSS.

If you were a HORSE GODMOTHER you were a large masculine woman or a gentleman-like woman, which may have described George II’s daughter, Amelia Sophia or actress Charlotte Charke, both of who embraced more masculine dress.

Letter H

Amelia Sophia. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

HORSE LADDER was a term used to describe a fool’s errand.

HUMBUG was a slang word that meant to trick, hoax, or deceive.

Someone who claimed an imaginary illness was said to be HUMDURGEON or HUMDUDGEON.

HUM TRUM or HUMSTMM was a musical instrument made of a mopstick, a bladder, and thread that was played like a violin.

HUMP was once fashionable for the word copulation.

HUNT’S DOG was an appellation applied to an unreasonable and discontented person based on the following story. A man named Hunt had a mastiff. On Sunday’s when Hunt went to church, he would tie the dog up but the mastiff outrageously howled and disturbed the villagers so much Hunt decided to take him to church. The obstinate dog refused to enter, and Hunt exclaimed loudly the dog would neither go to church nor stay home, which is how HUNT’S DOG came to be associated with unreasonableness and discontent.

HUNTING THE SQUIRREL was a prank done by postboys and coachmen to the drivers of one-horse chaises. The boys would follow the one-horse chaise and pass by close enough to brush the chaise’s wheel, which would in turn terrified the driver.

Oh hi there 👋
It’s nice to meet you.

Sign up to receive awesome content in your inbox, every month.

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Leave a Comment