There’s something inherently amusing about hearing slang different from your own. “What?” you say. “You call what a what?” Then you go on about “double-doubles” and “two-fours,” and people give you funny looks.
Slang evolves over time, and it tends to be fairly regional (just ask a New Zealander about hokey pokey). We’ve got our own terms for alcoholic beverages – two-fours, mickeys, handles, and so on – and so did the Victorians. In fact, they had rather a lot of terms for beer in general, and very specific types of beer as well – just goes to show you how important it was to everyday life!
Here are just a few examples I’ve found in Victorian slang dictionaries. Grab a top o’ reeb, you malty coves, and we’ll see you in the jerry for bitters!
Lexicon Balatronicum: A Dictionary of Buckish slang, University Wit, and Pickpocket Eloquence (1811).
Act of Parliament: a military term for small beer, five of pints of which, by an act of parliament, a landlord was formerly obliged to five to each soldier gratis
Beggar-maker: A publican, or ale-house keeper.
Belch: All sorts of beer
Bub: Strong beer
Cali bogus: Rum and spruce beer, American beverage
Flip: Mixture of small beer, brandy, and sugar
Hard: stale beer, nearly sour, is “hard beer.”
Knock me down: Strong beer or ale
Neck stamper: The boy who collects the pots belonging to an alehouse, sent out with beer to private houses (Now, this is interesting – first of all, that alehouses sent beer out to public houses at all, and secondly, that it was common enough to that there was a term for the boy sent to collect the pots. Apparently, there was takeaway beer in 1811! – K)
Taplash: Thick and bad beer
Three threads: Half common ale, mixed with stale and double beer (like old styles of porter – K)
Whip-belly vengeance: Weak or sour beer
Sinks of London laid open : a pocket companion for the uninitiated, to which is added a modern flash dictionary containing all the cant words, slang terms, and flash phrases now in vogue, with a list of the sixty orders of prime coves (1848).
(First, I’d just like to say that one of the authors of the Lexicon Balatronicum above – George Cruikshank – also wrote this dictionary. He was about 19 when the Lexicon was published, and about 56 here. Clearly, he led a consistently interesting life.)
Bene bowse: Good beer
Gutting a quart pot: Drinking a pot of beer
Hot flannel: Mix of beer, gin, eggs, sugar, and nutmeg
Malty coves: Beer drinkers (this is my new term for all beer tour and sampler participants – K)
The Slang Dictionary; or, the vulgar words, street phrases, and “fast” expressions of high and low society (1864)
Belly-vengeance: small sour beer
Bemuse: to fuddle one’s self with drink
Bitters, to do: to drink beer
Bivvy: a pot or quart of beer
Boozing-Ken: a beer-shop, a low public house
Cold Blood: a house licensed for the sale of beer “not to be drunk on the premises.”
Dogsnose: gin and beer, from the mixture being cold, like a dog’s nose.
Gatter: a pot of beer
Heavy wet: porter and beer “because the more a man drinks of it, the heavier and more stupid he becomes.”
Hush-shop: a shop where alcohol is sold “on the quiet,” without a license
Jerry: a beer-house
Lush: intoxicating drinks of all kinds, but generally beer.
Lushington: a drunkard
Never fear: a pint of beer (an example of Cockney rhyming slang – not for the faint of heart – K)
Rot-gut: bad small beer
Small-beer: “He doesn’t think small beer of himself,” he has a high opinion of himself
Swankey: cheap beer
Swizzle: small beer
Top o’ reeb: a pot of beer (this is an example of Cockney back slang – essentially, slang made by reversing words – K)
Wobble-shop: unlicensed beer shop
The American Slang Dictionary (1891)
To take the chill off: to warm beer
Cooler: a drink, generally beer or some mild beverage
Dogsnose: mixture of gin and beer, otherwise known as “a h’aporth and a penn’orth,” that is one cent’s worth of beer and two of gin (aha, a slightly more thorough explanation! – K)
Gatter: beer, or more properly, porter
Pop: a mild drink, like ginger-beer
Rolling the duck: sending out for beer
Rushing the growler: sending to the saloon for beer with a can or pitcher (we’ve seen this before! – K)
Schooner (Am): a large beer glass
When you’re next at Black Creek, do feel free to drop some of this slang into your conversations. To Queen and Country!
Clarke, Hewson, George Cruikshank, and Francis Grose. Lexicon Balatronicum: A Dictionary of Buckish slang, University Wit, and Pickpocket Eloquence. London: C. Chappel, 1811.
Cruikshank, George. Sinks of London laid open : a pocket companion for the uninitiated, to which is added a modern flash dictionary containing all the cant words, slang terms, and flash phrases now in vogue, with a list of the sixty orders of prime coves. London: J. Duncombe, 1848.
Hotten, John Camden. The Slang Dictionary; or, the vulgar words, street phrases, and “fast” expressions of high and low society. London: John Camden Hotten, 1864.
Maitland, James. The American Slang Dictionary. Chicago: R.J. Kittredge & Co., 1891.