The taming of the new
Over the last ten years our language has had to evolve more quickly than it’s ever had to before. As fast as people can invent those increasingly shiny and clever things everyone wants, we have to invent ever more bizarre words to describe them. Emails, iPods, blogs, tweets, instagrams, JPEGs, megapixels, Facebook. All nonsense. But all universally understood.
Blackberries and oranges are no longer just fruit. And an iPad is not something you wear after laser treatment for short-sightedness.
The English language is changing so quickly that even ‘new’ words and phrases are embarrassingly out of date within just a few years. Who even says ‘the World Wide Web’ anymore? Your gran, probably. And remember ‘minidiscs’? No? Me either.
So as I was ‘surfing’ the ‘information super highway’ I was heartened to stumble across this list of words and expressions, first published in 1699, from the Dictionary of the Canting Crew. They’ve survived the test of time and we still use them as much today as they did in Shakespeare’s time.
Oddly, the words that make up the definitions are so old fashioned that they themselves are almost obsolete. Although I think ‘underdrudge’ is surely due a resurrection.
Here are a few of my favourites.
(I especially like the random capitalisation and the definition for ‘Higgledy-piggledy’.)
Bacon, as he sav'd his Bacon – he has escaped with a whole Skin.
Bandy-legg'd – crooked.
Banter - a pleasant way of pratling which seems in earnest but is in jest, a sort of ridicule.
Bay windows – embowed, as of old, standing out from the rest of the Building.
Beside himself – distracted.
Birds of a feather – Rogues of the same gang, also those of the same Profession, Trade or Employment.
To kill two birds with one stone – to dispatch two Businesses at one Stroke.
Bite the biter – to Rob the Rogue or Cheat the Cheater.
Black and white – in writing.
Blind-mans-buff – a play us'd by Children blind-folded.
Blow hot and cold – play fast and loose.
Bode-ill – to presage or betoken ill.
Brow-beat – to Cow, to Daunt, to awe with Big looks, or snub.
Busy-bodies – Pryers into other Folks Concerns, such as thrust their Sickle in another's Harvest.
He knows which side his Bread is butter'd - in his own interest.
Carrots – Red Haired people.
A Man of character – of Mark or Note.
Chare-woman – Underdrudges or Taskers, assistants to Servantmaids.
How cheap you make yourself – how Contemptible you render your self or undervalue your self.
Cheer up – be of good courage, keep up the spirits.
Chip off the old block – a Son that is his Father's likeness, more particularly the Son of a Cooper.
Close-confident – a trusty Bosom friend.
Coals to Newcastle – when the Drawer carries away any Wine in the Pot or Bottle.
In cold blood – when the heat of war or Passion is over.
Cross-patch – a Peevish forward Person.
Not cut out for it – not turned for it.
Every dog will have his day – none so wretched as has his good Planet.
Egg one on – to prick him on, or to provoke or stir him up.
Eves-dropper – one that skulks, lurks or lies under his Neighbor's Window or Door.
Gad up and down – to Fidle and Fisk, to run a gossiping.
A gust of wind – a short sudden furious blast.
Higgledy-piggledy – all together, as Hoggs and Piggs lie Nose in Arse.
Hold his nose to the grindstone – to keep him Under.
To nip in the bud – to crush anything at the beginning.
Out-at-heels – in a declining condition.
Pay through the nose – Excessively or with Extortion.
From pillar to post – from Constable to Constable.
To smell a rat – to suspect a Trick.
Give him enough rope and he'll Hang himself – he'll Decoy himself within his own Destiny.
Troll-about – saunter, loiter, wander about.
Wet your whistle – to Liquor your Throat.