Sunday, September 23, 2012


Most of you know that I’m writing another book, a novel that spans roughly a century between the early 1800s and the early 1900s. What you don’t know is that I spend at least an hour every day doing research of some kind or another.

There’s a lot to learn, and not all of it is of the earth-shattering, history-changing variety. Truth told, most of it is pretty slow stuff; clothing, food, farming technology, sheep breeds, crop rotation systems, stone wall physics, different styles of wagons and chaises, etc. But getting it “right” matters – not only to me, but to others who read historical fiction.

This morning I spent an hour or so reading about 19th- and 20th-century American slang – after all, if my characters are going to talk to each other, it’s important that they use the common expressions of their time. Some slang is very clever and funny (but on the saucy side and, therefore, unprintable); some of it is simply puzzling.

Here, presented alphabetically, are some of my favorites:

alley-apple – a piece of horse manure (early 1900s)

dog’s nose – a drink containing beer or ale mixed with gin or rum

duck-fit – a fit of anger, a tantrum (and anybody who’s seen and heard an angry duck knows how descriptive this is!)

floss around – socialize, be seen around town (1920s)

galloping dominoes – dice

high cockalorum – a self-important person (1880s)

hitchy – nervous, agitated

hookshop – a brothel, especially a cheap one (consider the term “hooker”)

megger – a movie director (from the use of a megaphone to yell instructions to actors on set -- 1920s)

Monday man – one who steals clothes from clotheslines (Monday was the traditional washday for housewives)

Noah’s boy with Murphy carrying a Wreath – old lunch-counter term for ham (Ham – get it?) and potatoes with cabbage (1920s)

Snollygoster – somebody who talks a lot but doesn’t say anything (1860s)

weenchy – a little bit, as in “a weenchy” bit of salt, please (1900)

zapped drap – a skirt with a zipper (1940, which is a bit late for my book, but still intriguing)

Your assignment – should you choose to accept it – is to make comments to this post using one (or more) of these terms! And it’s perfectly fine if it’s slangwhang, an 1830s term for...

...absolute nonsense!


  1. I'm feelin' quite hitchy cause I can't figure out my blog. I did too much flossing around today and need to focus.

  2. Hi Deb, those are great! They made me laugh.

    Kathy M.

  3. I guess I've just been flossing around so much that I didn't notice that you had a blog? I nearly had a duck fit and dropped my zapped drap when I saw it. Dropping the drap would have saved that Monday man a weenchy bit of trouble though, wouldn't it?
    Anyway, this is exciting.

  4. I didn't realize you were writing a book. The best part to me would be the research. It's fun to learn about the past. My intention was to visit your blog before now, but I was delayed by a snollygoster who caused me to have a duck-fit. Fun post!

  5. Well would you believe it - I recognise one of those American slang words as being used in a song my father used to sing me about 70 years ago! It started off 'in China once there lived a great man, his name was Chickory Chee Chi Can' (spelling is just my guess at it) and the chorus started 'High Cockalorum'. I always thought they were made up words, just silly words to sing to young children! How wrong can you be? I live in New Zealand & it would seem strange he was singing something with American slang in it but now that I think about it his step-father was American so maybe he taught it to him. I won't repeat the rest of it as I wouldn't have a clue how to spell any of it, it still sounds strange to my ears today.

  6. I could never top Christine- I won't even try. She's the hands down winner. And even made me laugh more than a weenchy bit!