Slang, Euphemisms, and Terms of the 1700 and 1800s – Letters E and F

The following historical slang, euphemisms, and terms for the letter e and f are primarily taken from Francis Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue published in 1811. Here they are:

A grave was also called an EARTH BATH.

ENGLISH RIDING COATS or ENGLISH FROCK COATS were terms used by the French to refer to a condom.

If you were a drunken, red-faced man, you might be called an ENSIGN BEARER.

A woman’s private parts were also known as EVE’S CUSTOM HOME.

One historical slang term is related to the type of robbers that lurked around hen houses and people who listened in on private conversations. Both were known to be an EVES DROPPER.

EXQUISITES, another name for DANDIES, were considered more effeminate and refined than the dandy, but also described by one nineteenth century writer as “a conglomeration of lanky legs, hairy heads and creamy countenances.”[1] The word in this context first appeared in 1812 and experienced a meteoric rise in use, peaking in 1852. In comparison, the word Dandy became popular one or two years later and experienced a gentle rise, peaking in 1901.

historical slang - exquisite dandy

Exquisite Dandies, Courtesy of Library of Congress.

A small boy who wiggled through a window to rob a house was known as FAGGER or FIGGER.

If you grew fat over time it was said you had FALLEN AWAY FROM A HORSE LOAD TO A CART LOAD.

Breeches were also known as FARTING CRACKERS.

A rich fellow was called a FAT CULL.

Tradesmen who purposely sold goods to young heirs at excessive rates and then continually bothered them to pay the debt were known as FERRETS.

FIDDLE FADDLE was a historical slang term that was not a candy-coated popcorn treat but rather trifling discourse that made no sense and during the time of Jane Austen and her fascinating cousin, Eliza de Feuillide, one spinster found the term a perfect way to express her displeasure with men stating:

‘really there is much Care in a Married State & fiddle faddle in most Men’s Tempers that I Esteem myself vastly happier in having nothing to do with ’em.”[2]

A pickpocket was also called a FILE, FILE CLOY, or BUNGNIPPER, and to pickpocket, the FILE relied on two assistants — an ADAM TILER and a BULKER. The BULKER would jostle the intended victim and push him against a wall, so the FILE could pick his pocket and hand the loot off to the ADAM TILER, who would run off.

historical slang - skilled pickpocket

A skilled pickpocket. Public domain.

The term FINGER POST became associated with parsons because although they pointed out the way to heaven for others, they did not follow their own advice.

FIRE PRIGGERS were villains who removed goods at fires under the pretense of helping but in reality were robbers.

FLICKER may mean photo sharing to you, but in earlier times it referred to a drinking glass.

Oatmeal and water boiled to form a jelly or false compliments were known as FLUMMERY because they both said to lack nourishment.

The historical slang word FOGUS meant pipe tobacco.

FREE BOOTERS originated with soldiers who served without pay just for the privilege of plundering the enemy. An example of FREE BOOTERS were those who joined alongside the Spanish army between 1808 and 1814 in a campaign against Napoleon Bonaparte‘s army. These FREE BOOTERS organized themselves into an ad hoc army that then attacked French conveys and encampments with particular ferocity. Later the term became associated with robbers and plunderers.

historical slang - image of Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte published in 1814. Courtesy of the British Museum.

People who ran away from their creditors were known to have taken FRENCH LEAVE.

FRENCH LETTERS was a term used by the English to refer to a condom.

FRIGGED meant to masturbate.

Gin was also known as FROG’S WINE.

I had a friend in high school who avoided swearing by constantly saying FUDGE. In the 1700 and 1800s it meant nonsense.

Another interesting historical slang word for a lazy, old, pudgy woman or a donkey was a FUSSOCK.


  • [1] Arthur, Timothy Shay, Arthur’s Home Magazine, Volume 4, 1854, p. 8.
  • [2] Jones, Hazel, Jane Austen and Marriage, 2009, p. 195.

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