22 February 2012

Vulgar words of 1811

A "vulgar" word or phrase is not necessarily lewd or profane; the term also refers to the language of the common people, though with an implication of ignorance, coarseness, and lack of sophistication.  Two hundred years ago a Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue was published, and was found at Project Gutenberg by Jason Kottke.  Herewith some selections from the letter "M":
MALKIN, or MAULKIN. A general name for a cat; also a parcel of rags fastened to the end of a stick, to clean an oven; also a figure set up in a garden to scare the birds; likewise an awkward woman.

MARRIAGE MUSIC. The squalling and crying of children.

MERKIN. Counterfeit hair for women's privy parts.

MINOR CLERGY. Young chimney sweepers.

MOON RAKERS. Wiltshire men: because it is said that some men of that county, seeing the reflection of the moon in a pond, endeavoured to pull it out with a rake.

MUMBLE A SPARROW. A cruel sport practised at wakes and fairs, in the following manner: A cock sparrow whose wings are clipped, is put into the crown of a hat; a man having his arms tied behind him, attempts to bite off the sparrow's head, but is generally obliged to desist, by the many pecks and pinches he receives from the enraged bird. [!]
The source link may keep you busy all day.


  1. Ah - moonrakers. Not just Wiltshire, but said of almost any village by another village just up the road. I heard that the inhabitants of Broseley (just over the river from here) throw rocks at the full moon.

  2. The phrase "moonraker" has a more interesting origin:
    There are variations on the legend of Moonrakers and the location of the legend is claimed by many locales within Wiltshire and a couple outside.

    The form told by Wiltshire's detractors is that a traveller came upon some drunken Wiltshire men one moonlit night. They were trying to rake a round glowing object from a pool. The rakers claimed it was a large cheese they were trying to retrieve; the traveller declared it was obviously a reflection of the moon. No imagination, travellers.

    Wiltshire's own variant on this is that smugglers detected an approaching Exciseman (revenue agent) on a bright moonlit night. In order to waylay suspicion the smugglers dumped the contraband (usually barrels or kegs of French brandy) into a nearby pond. When the Exciseman had gone they began to fish out the barrels with hay rakes. However, the Exciseman came back and asked them what they were doing. They told him it was surely obvious, they were raking out the cheese they could see in the water. The Exciseman laughed at them for being so stupid and rode off. The "moonrakers" left off raking the moon, laughed at the Exciseman's naivety and continued to recover their kegs.

    I suppose some smartarse from a neighboring county put this about: perhaps he was the unimaginative traveler?

  3. Does anyone know how the phrase was used or whether it was explained in Ian Fleming's novel of the same name?

  4. I think there is a world-class limerick waiting to be written using merkin, gerkin, and jerkin. I have not yet been successful.

  5. In the novel, the Moonraker is Hugo Drax's "super atomic rocket with a range that would cover nearly every capital in Europe-the immediate answer to anyone who tried to atom-bomb London". It's intended to defend the UK, but under the guise of a test firing into the North Sea, Drax targets London...

  6. I've heard the word merkin used recently in an article about some movie. Apparently, in certain nude scenes, merkins are still used... and still called merkins.

    1. Interesting. I just did a quick search and found this -


  7. It seems Michelle Malkin's name accurately reflects my opinion of her.


  8. To the weaving one above, with apologies in advance....

    Those using the cheap Chinese merkin,
    suffer spasms of twitchin' and jerkin'.
    Blame that toxic waste that holds it in place
    Also causing a rash on the gerkin'.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...