The following are interesting slang, euphemisms, and terms for the letters I, J, and K and are primarily taken from Francis Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue published in 1811.
An INDIA WIPE was a silk handkerchief.
INEXPRESSIBLES were bum hugging, extremely tight pants that showed off a man’s muscular legs — similar to women’s leggings today. But, by the 1850s, INEXPRESSIBLES referred less to tight pants and more to underwear or unmentionables.
IRISH APRICOTS was another name for potatoes because it was a common joke on Irish ships to say the vessel was loaded with fruit and timber.
IMPOST TAKERS were usurers who frequented gaming tables to lend gamblers money at exorbitant premiums.
IMPUDENT STEALING was when the back of a coach was cut out and the seats stolen.
A false witness was known as IRISH EVIDENCE.
IRISH TOYLES pretended to be peddlers selling goods, such as pins, lace, and other wares but in reality they were house thieves.
IRISH UP or GET ONE’S IRISH UP meant to become angry.
ISLAND referred to the rising bottom of a wine bottle before the bottle was emptied because the center rose out of the wine similar to the way an island rises out of the sea.
ITCHLAND or SCRATCHLAND was a nickname for Scotland, and a Scotsman was referred to as an ITCHLANDER.
Jack Adams was a simpleton and lived in Clerkenwell on the Green during Charles II’s reign. He had a notorious reputation as a fool, and, in fact, Adams was constantly mentioned in pamphlets for his idiocy and foolish behavior. So, if you were called a JACK ADAMS it meant you were a fool.
A poor hackney parson was known as a JACK AT A PINCH.
JACK IN A BOX was a reference to a cheat, to a child in a mother’s womb, or to a child’s toy.
JACK IN AN OFFICE referred to an insolent fellow of authority.
An executioner or hangman in England, such as William Brunskill, was also sometimes known as JACK KETCH after the infamous English executioner employed by King Charles II of the same name.
JACK NASTY FACE was a nautical term used to signify a common sailor.
An unusually tall man was called JACK OF LEGS. The appellation comes from the folk hero named Jack O’Leggs. He was a giant who lived in Hertfordshire, England, and, similar to Robin Hood, he robbed from the rich and gave to the poor.
Supposedly, in the 1700s, a man named Jack Robinson would call on his neighbors and before his name could be said he would disappear. Thus, JACK ROBINSON became an expression for a very short period of time.
JACK SPRAT referred to a dwarf or diminutive thin fellow, but JACK TAR referred to a sailor.
A fat man might be called a JACK WEIGHT, but a large masculine wench was called a JACK WHORE.
Someone called JACOB was a fool, and JESSAMY was a reference to a dandy or a fop.
JIBBER THE KIBBER was a decoy method that used lights to deceive ships. One such method involved placing a lantern around a horse’s neck so that in the dark it gave the appearance of a ship’s light, which then encouraged ships to bear towards it. However, the ship would run ashore and pirates would plunder it. Moreover, this method may have been used to deceive the ship (the Patriot) that Theodosia Burr Alston disappeared on.
JINGLE BRAINS was a wild, thoughtless, rattling fellow.
JINGLERS were horse dealers who frequented country fairs.
JINK meant to cheat, trick, or swindle.
Your head might also be called a JOBBERNOLE.
TO JOCK or JOCKUM CLOY meant to enjoy a woman in a sexual way.
A polite lady would never say Jack ass as Jack was vulgar and ass was an indecent thing to say. Instead, she said JOHNNY BUM.
JOLTER HEAD referred to a dunce or stupid fellow.
A rough and rutty lane was known as a JUMBLEGUT LANE.
KEEL BULLIES were men employed to load and unload coal from ships.
If you pretended to keep a mistress for your own use, but in reality she was available for sexual dalliances with the public, you were said to be KEEPING CULLY.
KELTER was another term for money.
KENCH meant to laugh loudly.
KENT-STREET EJECTMENT was a method used by landlords on Kent Street when a tenant was more than a fortnight in arrears. The landlord would remove the street door to prevent the tenant having any privacy.
KETTLEDRUMS was a reference to a woman’s breast.
To be KID LAY was when a young apprentice committed to the care of certain goods, and, then a rogue, observing this commitment, would prevail upon the apprentice to deliver a trifling message, which then allowed the rogue to steal the goods.
KILKENNY referred to an old frieze coat, and frieze was heavy, coarse, woolen fabric with a one-sided nap that was manufactured in England and exported to Ireland in the nineteenth century.
KISSING CRUST had nothing to do with kissing. Instead it referred to the part of the bread that touched the oven.
KITTLE PITCHERING was constant contradiction so as to impede and interrupt a long-winded storyteller’s progress.
If you were a KNIGHT OF THE BLADE you were considered a bully, but if you were a KNIGHT OF THE POST you were a person, who, for payment, would swear to false evidence.
A coachman was considered a KNIGHT OF THE WHIP but a person with a large appetite who ate enormous portions was called a KNIGHT OF THE TRENCHER.
KNOCKED UP meant tired, but a KNOCKER-UP or KNOCKER-UPPER was a person who rapped on the door or tapped on your window to awaken you in the morning.
KNOCKERS were small, flat curls worn at the temples by thieves and costermongers.
KNUCKLES were superior pickpockets who frequented public places and stole watches, pocketbooks, or other valuables with careless abandon.
TO KNUCKLE ONE’S WIPE was to steal a handkerchief.