Slang, Euphemisms, and Terms for the 1700 and 1800s – Letter W

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

Letter W

WABLER was a contemptuous term used in the cavalry for a foot soldier.

A WAGTAIL was another name for a lewd woman.

WAITS was a derisive term used for musicians who at Christmas time would purposely play under the windows of the well-to-do in order to collect a gift or gratuity.

A WAKE was a country festival commonly held on the anniversary of the tutelary saint of that village. It involved all sorts of past times including music, games, and contests, such as pig running, tup running, or whipping the cock.

Someone who stole poultry and then sold the birds door-to-door was known as a WALKING POULTERER.

If you were WALKING UP AGAINST THE WALL it referred to the amount you owed at an alehouse, as it was common to record such things with chalk on the walls of bars.

TO WAP meant to copulate or to strike.

You were sore-eyed if you were WAPPER-EYED.

WARE HAWK was the secret term used by thieves to inform their accomplices that the police were nearby.

A WARMING-PAN had several meanings. It referred to a large old-fashioned watch, a female bedfellow, or the actual pan that was ignited with coals and slipped into bed to warm its occupants. A fourth meaning referred to the WARMING-PAN scandal of 1688. The scandal swirled around James II of England (and VII of Scotland) and his second wife, Mary of Modena, related to the legitimacy of their son, James Francis Edward Stuart. It was alleged that the Queen’s child was an imposter or a changeling — a creature found in folklore — and had been smuggled into her bedchamber in a warming pan. This rumor played an important role in the propaganda and politics of the Glorious Revolution and resulted in James Francis Edward Stuart being viewed as a pretender to the throne.

James Francis Edward Stuart, Courtesy of Wikipedia

James Francis Edward Stuart. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

A WASP was a venereal infected prostitute, who, according to Grose, “like a wasp carries a sting in her tail.”[1]

WATER-MILL referred to a woman’s private parts.

Weak punch or beer was known as WATER BEWITCHED.

A WATERPAD was a person that robbed ships on the river Thames.

If you were WATERY-HEADED you were apt to shed tears.

WATER SCRIGER was also sometimes called a PISS PROPHET and was a doctor who prescribed cures based on the inspection of a person’s urine.

Letter W - water scriger

Water scriger examining urine. Public domain.

WATTLES was a nickname for ears.

WAYZGOOSE or WAY-GOOSE was a feast, outing, or event given by a master printer for his workmen on or near St. Bartholomew’s Day to celebrate a shift from the summer season to fall.

WEEPING CROSS meant to repent.

The thumb and four fingers were also called the WELCH COMB.

In Wales in order to eject a bad tenant, landlords would remove the house’s roof, which was said to be WELCH EJECTMENT.

A WESTMINSTER WEDDING was a match between a whore and a rogue.

WHACK was a share of booty that was acquired by fraud.

A large man or a large woman was sometimes called a WHAPPER.

To tell something was TO WHIDDLE and to be a WHIDDLER was to be an informer.

A relaxed scrotum was known as WHIFFLES, but WHIFFLERS was an ancient name for a fifer.

TO WHIP THE COCK was a sport practiced at wakes and fairs in Leicestershire. A cock was tied or fastened to a hat or a basket. Participants were then blindfolded, armed with cart whips, and placed around the bird randomly. If any of the participants whipped the cock and made it cry, they won the bird. However, instead of whipping the bird, they usually flogged each other.

WHIP-BELLY VENGEANCE referred to the “pinch-gut vengeance” suffered for having drunk a sour beer or some sort of rot gut.

WHIRLYGIGS was a euphemism for testicles.

An intriguing man was known as a WHISKER SPLITTER.

WHITE RIBBIN was another name for gin.

A man fetched from an ale-house or tavern by his wife was said to be arrested by a WHITE SERJEANT [sic].

A pregnant woman was said to have a WHITE SWELLING.

If someone was WHITEWASHED it was said they had purposely been defrauded by someone claiming insolvency.

A WHORE-MONGER referred to a man who kept more than one mistress, and a WHORE PIPE referred to a man’s penis.

WHOW BALL was a nickname for a milkmaid. It was said a milk maid frequently said “whow” to make a cow stand still as she milked it and “ball” was a nickname for the cow.

A bad drink was called WIBBLE.

WIDE-A-WAKE referred to a soft felt hat with a wide brim.

WIDOW’S WEEDS were drab, dreary clothes worn by a mourner denoting a woman’s mourning state. If you would like to learn more about widow weeds and mourning in the Victorian Era, click here.

A Woman Dressed in Widow Weeds, Authors Collection

A woman dressed in WIDOW WEEDS. Authors collection.

A fetter fixed to one leg was what Grose called a WIFE, but a WIFE IN WATER COLOURS referred to a concubine, mistress, or courtesan, such as Laura Bell or Grace Dalrymple Elliott

A man who wore a wig was a WIGSBY, but a man who wore a large one was a WIGANNOWNS.

A WIDOW BEWITCHED was a woman separated from her husband.

Foolish projects were known as WINDMILLS IN THE HEAD, and a foolish fellow was said to be WINDY.

A tailor was also called a WINTER CRICKET.

WIPER DRAWER referred to a pickpocket that stole handkerchiefs.

The WISE MEN OF GOTHAM was a name given to the village of Gotham as the people were deemed simpletons based on the following story from the 1200s. Any road the king traveled on had to be a public road, and one day when King John was traveling to find a hunting lodge, messengers were sent ahead of him. The citizens of Gotham did not want a public road through their village, nor did they want the king’s hunting lodge established nearby, so they behaved as if they were simpletons and began doing absurd things. Their behavior convinced the messengers the villagers were fools and the king did not travel to Gotham nor did he establish his hunting lodge nearby.

WOLF IN THE BREAST was a complaint made by beggar women about a supposed gnawing pain in their breast, but if someone complained of a WOLF IN THE STOMACH, it referred to a monstrous appetite.

A man who died in prison was said to go out of the prison in a coffin known as a WOODEN HABEAS.

WOODEN HORSE was a reference to a form of punishment perpetrated upon soldiers for misconduct. A “wooden horse” was made from planks nailed together so as to form a sharp ridge. It was also given a head, neck, and tail. Soldiers were placed astride it with their hands tied behind their backs and muskets tied at their feet and were condemned to sit upon the WOODEN HORSE for up to two hours. However, as it injured men severely, the punishment was discontinued sometime around the accession of King George I in the early 1700s.

A WOODEN RUFF was another term for the pillory.

Pillory. Author's Collection

Pillory. Author’s collection.

To never be satisfied was said to be a WOMAN’S CONSCIENCE.

Verbal critics were said to be WORD GRUBBERS, but someone who was overly fastidious in the use of words or busy correcting your use of words was said to be a WORD PECKER.

WRANGLESOME meant quarrelsome.

A WRAP RASCAL was a term for an overcoat, a red cloak, or a roquelaure.

If you were WRAPT UP IN WARM FLANNEL you were drunk.

WRY MOUTH AND A PISSEN PAIR OF BREECHES referred to a hanging, and WRY NECK DAY meant it was a hanging day.


[1] Grose, Francis, 1811 Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1811.d


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