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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Social Stratification in the Arts

by Mitchell James Kaplan

We want to believe in the tired cliché, La Boheme, the noble artist-as-rebel rejecting the vanity of status and the pecking order. This is of course a romantic notion – the artist as conscience, free of society’s hangups, liberated through self-expression. Its roots extend deeper than the romantic period, back to the medieval monastery – the ultimate opt-out for aristocrats who yearned for a more authentic life.

In reality, the society of artists is not different than any other society. Speaking only of literary society, which I know better than the others: there is an upper class of Nobel, Pulitzer, and Man Booker Prize winners. There’s an upper-middle class of best-selling authors. There’s a middle class that, like the middle class in the rest of society, has been dramatically shrinking through the last decades. In the publishing industry, this stratum is called the “mid-list.” And there’s the lower class of self-published authors – “lower-class,” that is, in the eyes of some conventionally published authors.

Authors can occasionally climb up this totem pole, but it isn’t easy. A parvenu has a hard time gaining acceptance in old-money circles. And then there are the nobles déchus, those whose Nobel prizes are growing dusty. They’re no longer earning, but they retain their pedigree. Perhaps the bottle speaks to them more, these days, than the Muse. Whatever. It doesn’t really matter what they write, anyway. No matter what they scribble, the critics will line up in praise. Their place on the totem pole is fixed.

Clearly, there are two status symbols that determine where an author fits in this social system, prizes and money. These markers serve two primary purposes: they determine the pecking order within the society of artists (who gets to express contempt for whom, and who gets to envy whom) and they help steer readers toward “books of quality.”

But what, exactly, is a book of quality? I’ll give you a hint. Study Literature at the college of your choosing. Get a PhD, even. You’ll get to read of lot of great books. But no one will be able to tell you why they’re great. On the day when you receive your degree, you still won’t be able to answer that most basic of questions any better than people who never finished college – or never even started – people like Maya Angelou, Truman Capote, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, William Faulkner, and William Shakespeare.

Don’t get me wrong. Within the context of any culture, at a given moment, there may well be something like a consensus. Books that reflect the world-view of the educated class are going to win the prizes. Everyone likes a mirror, after all. At least, everyone who considers herself or himself to be beautiful. And books that express the yearnings and fears of the merchant and professional classes will earn their authors substantial material rewards. But none of this has anything to do with quality. Some of my favorite living authors have been the recipients of major prizes. Some are best-sellers. Some are unknown.

Quality is not measured in dollars or prizes. Quality is measured in the taste buds. You know it when you bite into it. And the good news is, there are still authors who care about quality more than status. But, as in every age, they are few and far between. And you may not find them where you would expect to find them. Sometimes, browsing in a used book store, I’ll pull out a tome that no one has seen in decades, start reading, and think, Wow, I never heard of this author. This is great. Maybe no one else ever heard of that author, either. Maybe no one ever will.

I think of Felix Mendelsohn, and how he revived the reputation of Johann Sebastian Bach. What would have happened to Bach, had Mendelsohn not come along? But then, Bach wrote for God, not for man. Maybe, just maybe, wherever he is – in the ground, in heaven – Bach doesn’t really care.

About Author:

Mitchell Kaplan Streawberry fields

Mitchell James Kaplan, a graduate of Yale University, is the author of the prize-winning novel, “By Fire, By Water.” He is currently putting the final touches on his second novel, “Same Stars, Different Constellations,” which is set in Brittania, Rome, and Judea in the first century.

By Fire, By WaterAbout By Fire, By Water:

Paperback: 284 pages

Published May 18, 2010

Recipient of the Independent Publishers Award for Historical Fiction (Gold Medal), the Foreword Book of the Year Award for Historical Fiction (Bronze Medal), and an honorable mention in the category of General Fiction for the Eric Hoffer Award.

Luis de Santángel, chancellor to the court and longtime friend of the lusty King Ferdinand, has had enough of the Spanish Inquisition. As the power of Inquisitor General Tomás de Torquemada grows, so does the brutality of the Spanish church and the suspicion and paranoia it inspires. When a dear friend’s demise brings the violence close to home, Santángel is enraged and takes retribution into his own hands.  But he is from a family of conversos, and his Jewish heritage makes him an easy target. As Santángel witnesses the horrific persecution of his loved ones, he begins slowly to reconnect with the Jewish faith his family left behind. Feeding his curiosity about his past is his growing love for Judith Migdal, a clever and beautiful Jewish woman navigating the mounting tensions in Granada. While he struggles to decide what his reputation is worth and what he can sacrifice, one man offers him a chance he thought he’d lost…the chance to hope for a better world. Christopher Columbus has plans to discover a route to paradise, and only Luis de Santángel can help him.

Within the dramatic story lies a subtle, insightful examination of the crisis of faith at the heart of the Spanish Inquisition. Irresolvable conflict rages within the conversos in By Fire, By Water, torn between the religion they left behind and the conversion meant to ensure their safety. In this story of love, God, faith, and torture, fifteenth-century Spain comes to dazzling, engrossing life.

Available on Amazon HERE