Local Slang and its Meaning in 1894 with Brian Gabriel

This will be a vulgar article, not to say low, for it relates to slang, which is both! Therefore, you who are particular in these things, or squeamish, would do well to skip. To such touch pitch and remain undefiled is difficult – unless gloves be worn. So much as a warning. Unaffectedly speaking, we find local slang a very interesting tongue, and comprehensive if somewhat unscientific. A youth of the street says that he will have to ‘flag’ it tonight in his ‘drop-dead,’ i.e. for want of a lodging he must walk the streets all night – bereft of all shelter save that afforded by his top-coat or ‘drop-dead.’ Let us examine a little closely this, the first example that rises to the pen. The boy has no bed. So he roams the streets through-out the night, passing from flag-way to flag-way. In brief, he ‘flags’ it. And he wears a ‘drop-dead.’, for, sure enough an ulster or top coat has a steep fall, and this perpendicularity or dead drop naturally courts the expressive description, ‘drop dead.’ Is not that interesting? Mind you this is no exceptional case; similar instances in which ingenious word-twisting or sense-twisting is to be traced could be multiplied. But there are some pages of this great Slang Dictionary which puzzles us. For example, those dealing with Finance. It is not given to ordinary man to explain why ‘Scoish’ stands for farthing, ‘Make’ for halfpenny, ‘Lop’ and ‘Ban’ for penny, ‘Deuce’ for twopence, ‘Tanner’ for six-pence, ‘Bob’ for shilling, ‘Two and a tadgey’ for half-crown, ‘Half Skiff’ for half-sovereign, and ‘Skiff’ for sovereign. All this is very wonderful and yet a well-educated little street boy who calls his mother ‘d’owl’ wan’ and his papa ‘d’owl’ fellow’ could supply you any day with a new list containing an equally amazing synonym for each of these terms. So, Masters, you will kindly not ask for derivations or roots and branches or details of that sort. You will unquestioningly receive all that is tendered you and be thankful. And if you don’t, no good will come of this every day chat. Would you expect us to deal with the light and shade, the past, the present and the future, the ramifications and off-shoots, the possibilities and impossibilities of a tongue that is spoken ‘Nort’ and ‘Sout’ that lovingly embraces the Mash and Goulnaspurra, that attunes the militiaman’s step in Mallow or Graball to the ring of the newsboy’s cry of ‘Evenin’ Aycho’ in Patrick street? We don’t feel equal to the task. We can only marvel with you at the potency of the sharp yell which once stopped a tin-pot band as it marched to meet a political leader – the yell of ‘Stop de band, dase a ferk canted.’ And we can only surmise that some musician had been suddenly deprived of his head-gear, and that his comrades were loyal enough to cease performing in order that justice might be done. We can only wonder with you why that same little boy does not say he has partaken of a Penny Dinner instead of ‘pecked on a brown’s worth o’ hash’ – the same enjoyed at the Hash House – why he does not describe an altercation in less startling terms than ‘chewin’ de rag’; why his boots are his ‘skeets,’ and his unmentionables his ‘jers; and why he is never deceived, but always ‘sucked in’; why he calls a public-house a ‘beer shant,’ and his lady-love a variety of names too numerous and too out-landish for mention; why his top coat if not a ‘drop-dead’ is a ‘flogger’; why – But let us dam this impure stream- and go on wondering in our inner consciousness whatever that may be. Little use for us to go to the boy himself and enquire for particulars. For he would say with a stinging shake of his shoulders – ‘Yerra go on now – get off our back, an’ don’t be coddin’ us,’ speaking in the first person plural as he mostly does. That would be a rude answer couched in vile and disgusting language. But don’t be too hard on him for all this slanginess. If he tried to speak otherwise he would probably be misunderstood by his companions, who would then call him a ’shaper,’ and do not forget that grammar or straight English has been, is, and ever will be of less consequence to him than the means of ‘turning a copper’ – a copper, mayhap, that is looked for all night by an old mother and helps to illuminate the last dark turn in her crooked life-road. At any rate, this little boy can congratulate himself on the fact that better reared and wealthier persons than he are dropping into his mode of speech – that the Drawing Room will soon be level with the streets. Already they have their’ Tanners,’ ‘Bobs,’ ‘Fivers,’ ‘Ponies,’ and ‘Monkeys,’ all belonging to the section of the Slang Dictionary named ‘Chinks,’ they have their ‘Bosses’ and ‘Governors’ for the paternal parent. Along with a luminous list of ‘Togs,’ they have a ‘trot round’ with their ‘Mash’ instead of ‘takin a scove with the Hooker,’ they put on ‘side’ or ‘style’ instead of ‘shapin’; they ‘do it heavy’ when they live lavishly, or ‘go on a burst’ instead of going on a ‘bend’ – and all the while they think the street-boy’s jargon dreadfully vulgar. If we have any desire in this matter it is that the little boy should preserve his Slang from the impurities of foreign streams. Some de-Anglicisation is already needed. The lad should not call his constable a ‘cop,’ or a ‘Slop’. Nor should he refer to his head as his ‘chump,’ his eyes as his ‘peepers,’ his nose as his ‘smeller,’ and his mouth as his ‘kisser.’ These and many other phrases that have of late supplanted the native terms recall English streets and the Prize Ring. And if we are to have Slang at all let it be of Home Manufacture. The quality is better. The above was published, 120 years ago, in the Cork Examiner of Monday 4th June 1894. Blarney Petty Sessions Monday December 20th 1869 Before Messrs. N. Dunscombe, N. Mahony and Dr. Wall Several defendants convicted of trespass on the plantation of Sir. George Colthurst, were fined in suitable penalties. Constable Drummy charged a publican named John Horgan with breach of the Publicans Licence Act, in having his public house at Cloghroe open at a quarter to twelve o’clock on Saturday night, and parties drinking therein. The defendant pleaded that a number of parties came into his house, and having got into a discussion about the Cloghroe affair, became so engrossed in the subject that he could not get them out at the legal time (a laugh). Mr. Dunscombe – And did they settle it at last? Defendant – They would not have settled it, your worship at all only Constable Drummy came in (laughter) Mr. Dunscombe – Well, in consequence of the discussion we shall only fine you the minimum penalty of 10 shillings. Dr. Wall – And we hope that will teach you no to allow these Cloghroe discussions in future. Defendant – O! that’s too much. The fine was paid. William Spence summoned James Bourne for a sum of money representing the cost of accommodation complainant was obliged to furnish his own son, who was apprentice to defendant, who neglected to provide him with suitable lodgings. Complainant said defendant kept pigs in his house, which was in such a condition that his son could not stay in it, and had to come home every night to sleep at his (complainant’s) house. In reply to Mr. O’Connell, who appeared for the defendant, complainant said the indentures of apprenticeship were lost; his son had been frequently absent from his master’s business; could not say whether his son stole the indentures from defendant. Mr. O’Connell submitted the case could not be sustained. The bench dismissed it. Back numbers of all ‘Old Blarney’ Journals are available from Brian Gabriel 087 2153216. The illustrated lecture for Thursday 6th November 2014 at 8.00 pm in Scoil Mhuire Gan Smal (Blarney Secondary School) is titled ‘The Battle of Kilmichael – 28th November 1920’. The speaker is Mr. Donal O’Flynn of the Muskerry Local History Society. Everybody welcome.