1800s Beer Slang


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

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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)

Victorianlife18

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

Boozy: intoxicated

Bunker: beer

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!

-Katie

Sources

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.

 

 

 

 

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