Edwardian Catchphrases


Jan 28, 2003
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So - my distant female relative was doing business in Mayfair. Well, I'd rather she'd have been one of the first female Graduates of London University .. but if that wasn't on the agenda, at least she had some style.

Looking forward to be putting on the mailing list, Bob, despite my advanced age...
 
May 1, 2004
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Bob, would you put me on your mailing list too, please? I desire to write at least one story set in Edwardian times - is there room in the world for another Sherlock Holmes pastiche? - and it would be nice to have accurate, colourful terms for the habitues of the mean streets.

Re: "Tom" applied to a woman. I thought it was the Edwardian equivalent of our "Butch": an aggressively 'male' lesbian, one who went in for domination or rough sex, like a tomcat; but I don't have a source for my assumption.
 
May 1, 2004
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'Bunter' as a destitute prostitute from "Harris's List of Covent Garden Ladies": My eyes are opened, Geoff. I read a 1920's novel in which two women were cattily gossiping about their society friends, referring to one as a 'bunter' and one as a 'bolter'. The 'Bolter' was obviously a married woman who ran off ['bolted'] with her lover; but I thought the 'Bunter' was just a jolly athletic type who flirted with every man she saw.
 

Bob Godfrey

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Yaroo!

"Covent Garden nuns", by the way, was another term current in the 19th century. Drury Lane and 'The Square of Venus' had been well populated with ladies of the profession along with footpads, dips and garotters, and one of the reasons why Henry Fielding had established the famous Bow Street Runners.
 

Ben Lemmon

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"Covent Garden nuns", by the way, was another term current in the 19th century.
Hmmm . . . I think I like "clergyman's daughter" in this respect. So ironic.

Thanks for the list, Evangeline. However, 'tis a shame it had to be removed. I'll find it again. 'Twill be very helpful when I write. My story will sound more authentic. OK, I'm getting tired of me talking about my story. It's like "my story this" and "my story that." I feel like it's becoming a cliche. Oh well. I'll just not mention it as often. Thanks again, Evangeline!!
 
Jul 11, 2010
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I'm reading my copy of a slang dictionary published in 1890, and here's some of what I found for prostitute:

Nanny (popular): a prostitute
Nanny shop: brothel
Nightshade: a shameless prostitute of the very lowest class
Poll (society): a prostitute, one of the demi-monde, derived from the sailors, who always christen women Polly
Prosser (popular and thieves), a degraded creature, one who sponges, a male prostitute
Rabbit-pie (popular), a low word for a woman in a sensual or carnal sense; a prostitute.
Rum-Johnny (Anglo-Indian), a low class of natives who obtained employment on the wharves of Calcutta. Among soldiers and sailors, a prostitute.
Shake (popular), a prostitute.
Star-gazers (American), "ladies of the. pavement, who walk by night."

If I'm not permitted to send the glossary to any of you through PM, type in "edwardianstudies.org" at archive.org.
 

Jim Kalafus

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"Soiled Doves" has a wonderful, period, ring to it.
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Behold "Paretic Old Freak" (Paretic- another great Victorianism) Champagne Charley whose one-time Greenwich Village rowhouse still exists. Charlie was fond of hiring "soiled doves" by the dozen, at twenty dollars each per visit, for private parties at his manse. He was over 80 years old, and the papers loved depicting him as a drooling old deve and the women he hired as "poor lasses who ventured/ down life's stormy path ill advised."

Each time I pass the "paretic old freak's" now-restored mansion, I find myself wondering if the current tenants know of its intereting brush with infamy.
 

Inger Sheil

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Thanks for those suggestions, Bob and Evangeline - I've learned some new ones! Never let it be said that ET fails to expand the vocab. We seem to have tapped into a vein of interest here...

Soiled Doves, like "Magdalens", is an evocative usage, Jim. Reminds me of Thomas Hood and his Bridge of Sighs -

One more Unfortunate,
Weary of breath,
Rashly importunate,
Gone to her death!

Take her up tenderly,
Lift her with care;
Fashion'd so slenderly
Young, and so fair!
I'll admit a sneaking preference for Rossetti's Jenny -
Lazy laughing languid Jenny,
Fond of a kiss and fond of a guinea
Although neither could be considered the definitive view of 19th Century prostitution.

I have a weak spot for Champagne Charlies as a rule (having been nicknamed "Champagne Charlene" on the odd occasion, but I think I can do with out yer paretic (or pathetic) chap there. On the other hand, one cannot buy admire his stamina.
 

Jim Kalafus

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>"Magdalens",

Gotta watch those Magdalens, Inger. Much like "Voluptuaries" "She-Imps of Hell" and "Women of Pleasure" they are dangers to ALL who encounter them. With their ermine; paste diamonds and tawdry flashy clothing they can EASILY entice even the purest, whitest of hearts into A Degraded Life with tales of easy money and luxury. And, as for men....

Behold Sergeant Brennan. Either the most inexperienced, or stupid, Marine who ever lived, or yet another "John" shot by an enforcer when he did not want to pay. You be the judge....
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Jim Kalafus

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Something is SERIOUSLY adrift in this widely-reported affair. They "lost" me at the point where he went upstairs with his scantily clad love, still blissfully unaware that she was....uhhh.... a Magdalen. Either he was a complete idiot, or something more sinister than what the papers reported transpired.


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Inger Sheil

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I wouldn't want to impugn the intelligence of Sgt Brennan...he must have known what was going on when he was met by the Madam at the door (goodness, if ever anyone was looking for a visual for the term "voluptuary"...!). And by the time he followed her to her room, if he didn't already have a clue he must have been phenomenally naiive.

I wonder who dreamed up the "He Had Believed Her Pure" angle? The brothel proprietor? His military colleagues? His family?
 

Jim Kalafus

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Demi-mondaines can be dangerous, too:

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"Tom O'Dea, a Sioux City Iowa lawyer was recently horsewhipped and rotten-egged by two women of Fourth Street....

Some time ago O'Dea instituted proceedings against a number of disreputable women to drive them from the city.

When the cases were called they were dismissed on O'Dea's motion. The defendants and court officials accused him of blackmail.

They say he went to the women and told them that if they would employ G.W. Kellogg to defend them and pay his fee in advance, he would dismiss the cases. Florence Winters and Laura Foldren refused to be bled. He instituted extra proceedings against them.

Armed with rawhides, they drove to his office and sent the driver up to callO'Dea down to the street. When he appeared they jumped on him. His eyes wre blackened and his face was bruised before he could get away.

He started to run, and his assailants followed, pelting him with bad eggs until he dodged into a hallway and sought refuge in an office. The women then drove away and were unmolested.
October 8, 1892.
 

Jim Kalafus

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Actresses, as well....

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"Jake Hirsch, a correspondent with Chicago and New York papers, was horsewhipped and badly punished in Denver Colorado the other night by a Philadelphia actress named Lizzie Gonzales, now filling an engagement in that city.

Miss Gonzales resented some scurrilous item Hirsch wrote in his papers. She secured a blacksnake, and when Hirsch made his appearance flew at him, bringing down the whip with the force of an old time ox driver and raising blisters at every blow. Then reversing the whip, she smashed his nose with the loaded butt. Hirsh then endeavored to clinch her, and was worsted.
 

Jim Kalafus

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Female Lawyers were a hazard...
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"An extraordinary scene was enacted in the municipal court in Milwaukee. Kate Kane, a female lawyer, having taken umbrage of presiding Judge Mallory attempted to show her indignation inn a peculiar manner. She grasped theinkstand resting on the bar, but finding it too heavy for dextrous handling, let go of it and seized a glass full of water.

This she poised in her hand until the judge looked at her, when, with a vicious jerk, she threw the water squarely in his face, with a "Take that, you dirty dog."

Judge Mallory, fairly beside himself with rage, ordred Kate to be arrested, and she was promptly seized by two deputy sheriffs, marched to the prisoners dock, and fined $50 and costs for contempt. She then broke out into a perfect torrent of abuse, telling the judge she would rather go to jail than pay her fine; that the county jail was a far more respectable place than the municipal courtroom with his honor; that his recent re-election was accomplished through bribery and fraud, and much else.

Judge Mallory simply said "Take this creature out of this court."

"You have insulted me, you dirty dog" screamed Kate. Her order to the deputy sheriff who eized her wrist to hasten her exit was "Unhand me, sir." She struggled all the way to the clerk's office. When asked if she wished to pay the fine, she replied:
"No, I will rot in jail first."

May 12, 1883.
 

Jim Kalafus

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All of which is marginally related to cacthphrases, BUT, which underscores another point for would-be historical novelists. Not only does one need to research slang; catchphrases; colloquialisms and regional speech patterns, but one must also research, in great depths, the actual social context into which they fit. The surprising revelation- borne out by hundreds of clippings in my archive- that American Victorians actually ADMIRED assertive women, is not something easily learned by reading Edith Wharton and etiquette books. One must look into the 'penny dreadful' press which, to 21st century eyes, seem to have had a rather more sophisticated view of gender relations than did its more reputable brethren.

Would that I could see an end to the cycle of dreary pretentious films in which women in long white dresses suffer the torments of a restrictive society, shot in gauzy soft focus....
 

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