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

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


A RABBIT referred to a new-born babe, and a RABBIT CATCHER was what you called a midwife.

In the late 1700s, RAG FAIR referred to a military inspection made by officers of a soldier’s kit bag. The term was originally associated with Jewish clothes sellers in Houndsditch in London and referred to clothing being aired out or sold.

A RAINBOW referred to a footman.

RAKE, RAKEHELL, or RAKESHAME was a lewd, debauched, and womanizing fellow.

TO RAMP meant to snatch or tear something forcibly from another person.

A highwayman was also called a RANK RIDER.

RANTALLION was first recorded at the end of the eighteenth century and denotes a man whose scrotum is so relaxed it is longer than his penis. Grose also gave a firearm metaphor to make it clear: “[his] shot pouch is longer than the barrel of his piece.”[1]

If you were called a RANTIPOLE it meant you were a romping, sexual person. In 1789, The Edinburgh Magazine, or Literary Miscellany described a female RANTIPOLE saying, “Your modern RANTIPOLE … is of high birth, or considerable fortune, or great beauty, either of which may entitle her to do that which others are ashamed of.”[2] RANTIPOLE was also a reference to RIDING TO ST. GEORGE.

A great lie was known as a RAPPER and so was a dealer who knocked at a door in an attempt to buy something second-hand.

RATTLE or RATTLER referred to a coach.

Example of seven different horse-drawn carts, coaches, and carriages. Courtesy of Wellcome Images.

A volatile, unsteady, or whimsical person was known as a RATTLE-PATE.

REBUS was a device in the form of pictures or words that created a pun or riddle on a man’s name. Grose gives the following examples: “a bolt or arrow, and a tun, for Bolton; death’s head, and a ton, for Morton.”[3]

RECAMIER was a backless couch with a high curved headrest and low footrest that was named for the French socialite Madame Récamier.

Juliette Récamier 1801 by Jean-Baptiste Jacques Augustin. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

A prostitute was also known as a RECEIVER GENERAL.

Port wine was also called RED FUSTIAN.

If someone swallowed something it was said to have gone down the RED LANE, which was another word for throat, and RED RAG was a reference to the tongue.

A RELIGIOUS HORSE referred to a person given to prayer or someone apt to be down on his knees.

RESURRECTION MEN were body snatchers employed by anatomy students to steal dead bodies from church yards.

Body snatchers at work. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

RICHARD SNARY is a pun for the word dictionary. It is based on a story about a country lad, who, after being reproved for calling people by their Christian names, was sent by his master to borrow a dictionary. The boy decided to show his breeding by asking for Dick Snary.

RIDING SKIMMINGTON was a way to express moral outrage of a person by using a ludicrous and noisy procession to follow the offender. Grose described the procession as, “ROUGH MUSIC, that is, frying-pans, bull horns, marrow-bones and cleavers, etc. beaten upon and sounded in ludicrous processions.”[4] The practice began as early as the 1600s in England and was first recorded in the American colonies about 1730.

RIDING TO ST. GEORGE or THE DRAGON UPON ST. GEORGE referred to a woman being on top during sexual intercourse, which was also a position said to be effective if parents wanted the child to be a bishop. The term also meant riding RANTIPOLE.

RIG was a sleight-of-hand game used to deceive someone.

RING THE CHANGES occurred when a person asked for change and gave bad shillings in exchange for good ones.

To steal poultry was known as ROOST LAY, but plain, honest dealing was called ROUND DEALING.

ROYAL SCAMPS were highwaymen who robbed the rich.

A swaggering, boisterous fellow was known as a ROYSTER or a ROISTER DOISTER. The term originated with Nicolas Udall’s play from the 1500s titled Ralph Roister Doister, and ROISTER DOISTER was the nickname given to Ralph, who thought he was a ladies man but was really a buffoon.

RUM CULL was a rich fool, who was easily cheated, particularly by his mistress.

A well-constructed and fashionable hat (usually made of beaver) was called a RUM NAB or RUM NABB.

RUM TOPPING referred to a woman’s rich and decorative headdress, such as the one seen below.

Example of a Rum Topping Headdress From the 1780s, Author's Collection

Example of a Rum Topping headdress from the 1780s. Author’s collection.

RUNNING SMOBBLE referred to a means employed by two people to steal goods. One person would snatch the goods off a counter and throw them to an accomplice, who would then rush off with them.

Hawkers of newspapers, pamphlets, and other written materials were known as RUNNING STATIONERS or RUNNING PATTERERS.

RUSHERS were thieves who knocked on the doors of great houses in London when families were out of town. When the door was opened by the staff, the RUSHERS rushed in and robbed by force.

A blunt surly fellow was known as a RUSTY GUTS.


  • [1] Grose, Francis, 1811 Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1811.
  • [2] The Edinburgh Magazine, Vol. X, 1780, p. 252.
  • [3] Grose, Francis, Lexicon Balatronicum, 1811.
  • [4] Grose, Francis, 1811 Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

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