Weird Wednesday: An Exploration of Our Quirky World

Nineteenth Century Slang, Phrases and Meanings

19th Century Family Heirloom

We are delighted to welcome you to “Weird Wednesday,” a joint series, partnered with our friends at before the second sleep, that explores the quirky side of our universe.

We live in an extraordinary quirky world that often times we forget to pause in our busy lives to notice. During these times many cannot venture outside-another great reason to pick up a book-so we are bringing our explorations to you.

I’m obsessed with history and cultures from all walks of like. A particular favorite of mine-because I read and write stories in the time period-is nineteenth century history in America. Did you know that many of our expressions and slang come from what many considered forgotten or overlooked? Today we are taking a look at a few quirky slang words and phrases from the nineteenth century and perhaps, we will find a few similar to our modern-day slang. But before we do, and without going too much in-depth on this subject, lets’ look at its definition and a minuscule of the development.

Many slang words and phrases were brought to America from other countries and thus been adopted. Subcultures blending and becoming our main culture-if you will. Slang is ingrained in Americans’ and many don’t realize they are using it or where it comes from or how it evolves. Truth be told, it is difficult to say where exactly it all originated from.Often times, the meaning of the words change or the word can be used for different purposes.. For example: In the American Civil War Era, the word, “Dictator,” means: “The nickname of a 13-inch seacoast MORTAR mounted on a railroad flatcar and utilized during the siege of Petersburg. A.k.a the Petersburg Express.” In today’s society, “Dictator,” is commonly known as a country governed by a Dictator. Another example is, “Dresser,” The usage of this word during the American Civil War Era meant: “A volunteer or medical student assigned the task of dressing wounds. Today we associate the word as a piece of furniture that has drawers to hold clothing, house items and etc…

19th Century Family Heirloom

According to Britannica: “Slang, unconventional words or phrases that express either something new or something old in a new way. It is flippant, irreverent, indecorous; it may be indecent or obscene. Its colorful metaphors are generally directed at respectability, and it is this succinct, sometimes witty, frequently impertinent social criticism that gives slang its characteristic flavor. Slang, then, includes not just words but words used in a special way in a certain social context. The origin of the word slang itself is obscure; it first appeared in print around 1800, applied to the speech of disreputable and criminal classes in London. The term, however, was probably used much earlier. The term, however, was probably used much earlier.” Click on the Britannica site to read more about it their interpretation.  

19th Century Family Heirloom

19th Century Slang and phrases used in America

Here are a few quirky slang and phrases you probably have never heard of:

Hornswoggling, Honey-fuggling, Give me jesse, Bottom fact, Hang up one’s fiddle, To give up, See the elephant, gallnipper, Go the whole hog: to go all the way, Acknowledge the corn, and I’ll Hang up my fiddle.  

Here are a few that you might know:

Humbug, Dad-blame it, You can sass me, You cussed scalawag, How came you so, they’re “Fixin’ to” do it, Carryings-on, Crazy as a loon, Almighty, grit, Bad egg, balderdash, dude (a dandy), and Over yonder.

19th Century Family Heirloom

Meanings of a few:  

Grit: guts; courage; toughness.

Hang up one’s fiddle: to give up.

Go the whole hog: to go all the way.

Almighty: huge

Bad egg: a bad person; a good-for-nothing person.

My personal favorites (Southerners Use):

A-hootin’ and a-hollerin’, Bless your heart, Fixin’ to, I reckon, Hold your horses, Well, I declare, Heavens to Betsy, and Hush your mouth, Water under the bridge, Hogwash, Stuff and nonsense.

Mind your own beeswax – started as a retort in the 1700’s. I remember using that phrases often as a child. Ha!

I’ve only scratched the surface of this fascinating and quirky topic and what a subject to explore! One can go down a rabbit hole with this. What are a few quirky slang words and phrases from the nineteenth century that you know? -Stephanie Hopkins

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