Old Jargon, Slang, and Cant
last update: 17 May 2020
Afternoon farmer - old expression for someone who wastes their best opportunity
All there - old expression for someone who is 'up to the mark' or perfectly dressed
Bash - as a kid it meant to beat someone
Big-wig - a person of authority or office
Bird-cage - old expression for a cab, but could be used for cheap or second-hand cars
Block - head
Bob - a shilling
Bog-oranges - I love this old expression for potatoes
Brass - money
Chalk up - to credit
Cheesy - now means cheap and of low quality, but it once meant fine or showy
Chinwag - now means to chat, but once it meant officious impertinence
Conk - nose
Copper - policeman
Fad - a short-lived enthusiasm for something, but it once meant a hobby or favourite pursuit
File - we all know several definitions of this word, but it once meant a cunning person and earlier still a pickpocket
Flash - still has the same meaning, showy but without taste
Fluff it - now means to fail to perform, but it once meant something that you did not want
Gone to grass - means to retire, but once it meant to be dead
Innings - can mean a good long life, but once meant a good run of luck with plenty of money coming in
Ivories - would mean today a piano, but once meant a set of teeth 'cage of ivories' or to drink 'wash your ivories'
Kiddy - means a child, but once meant a low thief
Mate - colloquialism meaning 'friend', but once was reserved for a "costermonger or low person"
Mild - once meant second-rate feeble, or inefficient
Mob - once was short for Mobility, which was the populace or 'great unwashed'
Muck - just means dirt or rubbish, but once meant to beat or excel
Mug - informal expression for a person's face (e.g. mug shot), but once meant mouth or face but often in the context of drink, e.g. to mug oneself was to get drunk
Mug-up - I remember using it to mean preparing for exams
Mugging - once meant simply a thrashing in the boxing ring
Nob - short for nobleman, or a person of high position, a 'swell' (check out snob as well, you will be surprised)
Nut - head
Palm oil - once meant money or a bribe
Pensioner - once meant someone of 'degraded morals' who lived off the earnings of a prostitute
Pot - as in 'go to pot', means today to deteriorate through neglect, but once meant to die
Potato-trap - love this, it once meant the mouth
Rag - once meant bank note, so naturally a 'rag-shop' meant a bank
Rig - still means to 'pull a trick', but in the past 'well rigged' meant well dressed
Screw loose - once meant when friends became cold and distant, or when a persons reputation or credit sank
Shoddy - today means badly made, but originally it meant when yarn from old soldier's and policemen's coats was unravelled and prepared into a fine cloth fabric used for ladies mantles, etc.
Sky-Blue - this is a tricky one because it once referred to London milk, either much diluted with water, or where the cream had been skimmed three times. I remember when milk was delivered daily to our doorstep, that the milk with less cream (not totally skimmed) had a blue colour foil sealer (red for full cream). I wonder if the colour came from the original "three times-skimm'd - sky-blue".
Snob - once meant a low, vulgar person. Nob was often appended to names of people of 'gentle birth', and was short for nobiles. This was also used by sons of Lords, who would add fil nob., and hence nob. Those who were not of 'gentle birth' had appended to their name sin nobilitate, shortened to s.nob. Those who imitated nobs were often called quasi-nobs, shortened to si-nob, and later snob. One satirist noted that there were three great estates of the realm, nob, snob, and mob.
Swell - once meant a man of importance, showy
Toad-in-the-hole - I love this expression for someone carrying a sandwich board
Togs - once meant clothes, and natural Sunday togs were your best clothes
Tom and Jerry - we all know what that means today, but once it meant a 'low drinking shop'
Translator - once meant someone who dealt in old shoes or clothes, and refit them for cheap wear. Translators were second-hand boots, repaired and sold at a low price.
Trolling - has acquired a completely new definition with the Internet, but it also means the "careful and systematic search for something", e.g. trolling the seabed for fish or trolling a flea market for bargains. But it once meant sauntering or idling, and a troll was an idle prostitute.
Trotters - once meant feet, and 'trotters cases' were shoes
Trump - this might appear odd given todays political climate in the US, but trump once meant a jolly or good-natured person
Tub-thumping - once meant someone preaching or speech-making from a tub or beer barrel, showing their contempt for decorated pulpits
If you have got this far, here is a little test. What is a 'seven-sided animal'? It's a one eyed man. He has an inside, outside, left side, right side, frontside, backside, and …. a blindside.