Slang, Euphemisms, and Terms for the1700 and 1800s – Letter N

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

Letter N

A NAB GIRDER or NOB GIRDER was a bridle, and a NANNY HOUSE was a brothel.

NAP was a word used in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century and had two meanings. One was to cheat at dice. The other meaning was to catch a venereal disease, an illness that Princesse de Lamballe‘s husband died from and a disease that infected many people in the 18th and 19th centuries.

If you drank a NAPPY ALE it was strong ale.

NATTY LADS were young thieves or pickpockets.

NAZARENE FORETOP was the foretop of a wig made in imitation of Christ’s hair that was represented by painters and sculptors.

NAZY meant drunken or drunkenness, with one of the biggest drinkers being Jane Cakebread.

A boy who collected the pots and pans belonging to a tavern was known as a NECK STAMPER.

English law allowed a provision where a person could be tried in an ecclesiastical court instead of a secular one. To achieve this provision, known as the “benefit of clergy,” a person had to appear tonsured and wearing ecclesiastical dress. Over time the law changed and required Psalm 51 be read, so as to demonstrate the person’s clerical status. When the statute was formalized it became common for lay people to memorize Psalm 51, and thereby created the appellation the NECK VERSE, as those who memorized the Psalm often avoided the gallows.

NECK WEED was a nickname for hemp and the basic material used in the gallows or executioner’s rope.

NED STOKES referred to the four of spades in a deck of cards. Why Ned Stokes? Even The Gentlemen’s Magazine of 1791 said “I don’t know.” But sailors long ago claimed the card was unlucky. The Saucy Arethusa, published in the mid 1800s and written by Captain Frederick Chamier, claimed it started with a forbidden game of cards on Sunday. Apparently, a group of young men were joined by a man, who they later learned had a cloven hoof and was the devil himself. That encouraged them to vow never to play cards on Sunday again, and Chamier claims that was how the four of spades got the “Devil’s bedpost” nickname and the unlucky status.

NEW DROP was a reference to the scaffolding used to hang criminals at Newgate Prison as it dropped down and left them suspended.

The Second Newgate a 19th Century Print by George Shepherd, Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Second Newgate a 19th century print by George Shepherd. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

NEW LIGHT was what a Methodist might be called.

NEWGATE BIRD was the appellation given to a thief or sharper who was frequently caged, although not necessarily at Newgate Prison.

You were called a NEWGATE SOLICITOR if you were a second-rate attorney and if you frequented prisons hoping to find clients and help them evade justice.

NEWMAN’S LIFT was a reference to the gallows, and NEWMAN’S TEA GARDENS was a reference to Newgate Prison, as was NEWMAN’S HOTEL.

NIBBLER referred to a petty thief.

To NICK meant to win at dice or to hit the mark just in the nick of time.

A simpleton was also called a NICK NINNY.

A NICKUMPOOP or NINCUMPOOP referred to a foolish person.

NICKNACKATORY referred to a toy shop that sold toys known as NICKNACKS.

NIGHT-HAWK was a slang term used in New York in the late 1800s for public cabs that sought passengers at night.

NIGHT SOIL was a euphemism for human feces collected at night from cesspools, privies, etc. and sometimes used as a fertilizer.

NIGHTINGALE referred to a soldier who sang out when he was punished.

A NIGHTMAN was either a thief who robbed houses at night in an operation known as a WEDDING or a man who emptied out cesspools.

If you were a silly fellow you might be called a NIGMENOG.

A NIMGIMMER was a physician or surgeon who specialized in curing venereal diseases, such as the famous eighteenth century Scottish surgeon John Hunter.

Letter N - John Hunter

John Hunter. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

A nickname for the purser of a ship or a stingy person was NIP CHEESE.

A NIT SQUEEGER or SQUEEZER was a hairdresser, based on the idea that a hairdresser squeezed or removed lice from a person’s head.

NOB referred to a man’s penis.

NOCKY BOY was a dull, simple fellow.

NOISY DOG RACKET had nothing to do with dogs as it was a reference to stealing brass knockers off doors.

If you were NOOZED you were either married or hanged.

NORFOLK DUMPLING was a type of dumpling, as well as a jocular nickname given to an inhabitant of Norfolk, as dumplings were a favorite food in that county.

A NORWAY NECKCLOTH referred to the pillory, as most were made from Norway fir trees.

Letter N - pillory

Pillory. Author’s collection.

NOSE had several meanings. One meaning was to give evidence or to inform. Another meaning was to bully someone, and a third meaning was to curry favor.

Quack or ineffective medicine was called NOSTRUM.

NOTCH was another way to refer to a woman’s private parts.

A NUGGING DRESS was an old-fashioned, loose dress worn by a courtesan, and a NUGGING-HOUSE was a brothel.

If something was NUTS, it meant it was agreeable.

Another term for the pillory was NUTCRACKERS.

NUTMEGS was first used sometime in the late seventeenth century and was another word for a man’s testicles.

NYPPER or NIPPER was a term made popular in ancient times when people wore their purses at their girdles. A light fingered person could easily cut them and abscond with the purse. So, NYPPER refers to a pickpocket.

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