Little Details

A Fact-Checking Community for Writers

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
1890s Slang
sunliner wrote in little_details
Setting: London, England; 1890s. If it matters... probably post-'96.
I'm looking for slang terms. I've googled "victorian slang," "victorian idioms," and "1890s slang," but I haven't really found what I want as of yet. I've gotten some lists of words that upper class and (presumably very) lower class people would have been familiar with, but I'm more interested in terms that the average, middle class person would have used. I don't need anything specific (i.e. crime-related slang), just some things I could throw in here and there, in dialogue or in the narritive itself, as it's in first person. Anyone able to help?

I'd recommend reading the Alan Quatermain books and "My Secret Life", depending on what sort of slang you want. For the most part, slang was considered vulgar and something "good" people didn't use--middle class citizens would be a lot more likely to avoid the use of slang in order to appear more respectable than they actually were.

For truly appalling slang, a cross-section of Dickens and Mark Twain will serve you pretty well, with the Americans being much more free with manners and social behaviour than the British.

I'd agree with this. Colloquialisms would be all right, but actual slang would have been frowned on; more acceptable to upper and lower classes (like sexual promiscuity - the middle classes were far more "respectable" than either)

Not slang as such, but try the Dickens Glossary for useful vocabulary that fits the era.

You could try Caleb Carr's novels (The Alienist and Angel of Darkness.) They're set in Victorian-era New York I believe.

There's a book called "Slang and its analogues" by J.S. Farmer and W.E. Henley, first published in serial form between 1890 and 1904. It should give you everything you need and more. The link is to various online versions; PDF, TXT, and even a flipbook version. :)

Not specifically slang-related, but this is a very useful resource for Victorian London, if you haven't come across it already.

You might want to search for regional colloquialisms; at that period, a lot of people lived in the town where they were born for all their lives, so regional accents were strong and specific, and colloquialisms were common, and also very specific to particular regions. But as other people have said, the middle classes generally didn't use slang very much unless they were talking about "taboo" subjects (such as sex) or unless they were in the armed forces. You might also get slang cropping up in young men, particularly those at university.

Wodehouse's stories are full of slang (plus, they're fun reads). "Bally" is one of my favorite slang terms of his.


Log in