A little trifle for all those wordsmiths and curious souls who read Historicals and want to know the meaning behind some mysterious Regency terms and phrases. The author has tried, with varying success, to keep her oft-times nonsensical opinions to a minimum.
Addle-pate: foolish or stupid fellow. Also “not right in the upper stories.”
Almack’s: That venerable institution in London whose vaunted doors were closed to all those people not deemed suitable by the seven patronesses of the day: the Ladies Cowper, Jersey, Castlereagh, Sefton, Princess Esterhazy, Countess Lieven, and Mrs. Drummond Burrell. To receive a “voucher” granting entrance to the place was of supreme importance to all those balancing on the tipsy social ladder in Town (especially those on the Marriage Mart.) The food and drink were abominable: watered down lemonade and stale finger food.
Antidote: an unattractive woman. Also known as an “ape-leader in hell” if she was past her prime. Whoever says the modern age is awash in bad manners has never been called an ape-leader in hell.
Article: “She’s a prime article.” A beautiful woman. Sounds more like a compliment for a horse.
Bamming: to tease someone
Bandied about: gossiped about
Bang-up: dashing, or quite the thing, i.e. “We had a bang-up, good time.”
Billet doux: French for love letter.
Bird-of-paradise: a mistress or kept woman, aka, a light skirt, a bit of muslin, a high flyer, or fancy piece, doxy, a Cyprian. There were so many words for prostitutes that one wonders if gentlemen had so little to do that they spent a ridiculous amount of time just sitting around their clubs thinking up new words to describe the oldest profession in the world.
Blue Ruin: Devilishly bad—or good—gin, depending on whether or not a man liked to feel ruinously drunk one evening followed by ruinously ill the following morning.
Bouncer: a lie, aka, a clanker.
Bounder: a terrible cad.
Bottom: courage, grit (makes you wonder what “top” meant . . .), i.e. “The gentleman had bottom when he rode “neck or nothing” to win the race.”
Busk: a long rod (usually ivory) used as support in the front of a lady’s corset. They made today’s Victoria Secret lingerie look like child’s play.
Cake: “make a cake of himself.” To make a fool of oneself.
Carte-blanche: French for “blank check.” English for “If you come with me, little lady, I’ll give you a platinum American Express card with no spending limit.”
Cattle: horses, usually carriage horses.
Chit: a young girl.
Cicisbeo: a very pretty word for a very bad wife’s boy toy.
Coup de foudre: French for love at first sight. Literally it means: a bolt of lightning.
Coze: a quiet chat.
Cry off: to jilt someone.
Curtain lecture: A man in bed received this frequently if he had a nag for a wife. A man like this was known to “live under the cat’s paw.” Most women who dared to behave this way risked having a switch taken to them. The law allowed husbands to beat their wives as long as the switch was no thicker than a thumb.
Dandy: an overdressed male prig sometimes called a “macaroni.”
Dressed in “the first stare” of fashion: someone on the cutting edge of fashion.
Dun territory: about to face creditors with empty pockets. Also known as “under the hatches.”
Facer: a punch in the face (not a face in the punch.)
Fischu: a cloth (usually lace) draped around the neck and tucked into a lady’s bodice to give the illusion of modesty.
Fly into the boughs: to become very angry or upset.
Foxed: drunk as a skunk. Other terms for the same condition: top heavy, fuddled, flustered, cup-shot, to be in one’s altitudes, or deep in one’s cups. When this occurred, the lucky devil sometimes “cast up his accounts,” a nice way of saying he tossed up his cookies.
French leave: to leave without notice. As if the dear French (who were kind enough to let the English use their pretty language to hide some rude English behavior –see Congé, carte-blanche above) would leave without saying “au revoir” or “adieu!” That’s fustian (see below.)
Go aloft: to die. Way too many words for this final state: to cock one’s toes, go off, go home, got notice to quit, pop off, put to bed with a shovel.
Green girl: an inexperienced, young girl. Not to be confused with “green room” which was where the young bucks in London went to meet the women/actresses who were the very opposite of green girls.
Gretna Green: the first town after crossing into Scotland. Couples could marry there without a license or without benefit of reading the banns in their parish church for several weeks.
Hoyden: an outrageous girl.
In a coil: In a pickle
In a pickle: used when one is tired of saying “in a coil.”
Incomparable: an incredibly beautiful woman. Also known as a “diamond of the first water” which makes NO sense at all.
Inexpressibles: a man’s breeches. And men’s trousers were called unmentionables. Why did no one want to talk about men’s pants?
In high dudgeon: very angry
Jointure: a woman’s monetary settlement after her husband died. This was usually negotiated prior to the wedding so that the poor dear did not end up a pauper when the heir stepped forward to kick her off the estate.
Laudanum: Opium used for pain relief. It could knock a person unconscious if given in large quantities. Not surprisingly it was also addictive if taken too frequently.
Leg-shackled: married (a term first coined by author Georgette Heyer.) Also called Parson’s mousetrap, or tenant for life.
Make a leg: to bow
Mantua-maker: a dressmaker.
Megrim: a migraine head-ache.
Men: a brief classification
(so many, so little
time . . .)
Mésalliance: an elegant–sounding word a gossip uses to describe a marriage between two people of differing classes.
Mushroom: social climber
Nightrail: a woman’s nightgown.
Nipcheese: a miser.
Nipfarthing: a miser’s miser.
Not a feather to fly with: ruined, destitute
Not care a fig about: to care less about
On-dit: French for “one says,” i.e. gossip.
Out: Short for “allowed to mingle with society,” i.e. “Is your daughter out yet?” Not to be confused with today’s shortened version of “out of the closet.”
Paragon: a person who behaves with the utmost propriety.
Parvenu: pushy social climber
Pay addresses: to propose or to court a lady.
Play fast and loose: to act without thought and in an inconsistent way, i.e. “Sophia was playing it fast and loose when she said she could draft a witty lexicon in one day.”
Portmanteau: French for “carry coat”. This was a trunk that usually opened into two halves.
Posting banns: to announce or publish in church an upcoming wedding (usually done for 3 consecutive Sundays before the marriage.)
Puff-guts: a fat man.
Pull a face: to scowl.
Rag-mannered: no manners, unpolite.
Ratafia: weak, fruity brandy liqueur. No self-respecting rake would be seen drinking such a feminine brew.
Ready, the: money, aka, “blunt,” “wherewithal” or “rhino.”
Reticule: a purse that was considered lovely in its day. It looked rather like an ugly, long tube sock which leads one to wonder what Regency-era designers were thinking. . .
Ring a peal over his head: to reprimand or scold loudly.
Scandalbroth: tea—the gossip-monger beverage of choice. Also known as cat-lap or chatter-broth.
Sixes and Sevens: chaotic, i.e. “The house was at sixes and sevens when the cat got into Father’s snuff (see below.)
Snuff: The legal cocaine of 200 years ago—usually carried in ornate snuffboxes.
Squabs: the upholstered, cushioned portions inside a carriage.
Take the King’s shilling: to enlist in the military.
Tendre: French for a budding affection
Tiger: a groom (usually a boy or small man) who rides on a small platform on the back of a cabriolet or a curricle.
Town bronze: to acquire a facade of clever sophistication.
The Marriage Mart: Each season ambitious mothers trotted out their unwed daughters who were determined to do their families proud by “leg-shackling” (marrying) a peer of the realm with plump pockets. And every season gentlemen proclaimed their desire to avoid the old ball and chain but succumbed eventually—especially in proper Historical Romances—as they should!
cut (the cut direct,
the cut indirect,
the cut sublime,
the cut infernal): No, this
is not about cuts
of meat. It’s
all about precise
levels of renouncing
maneuvers are still
at most American
To boil one’s lobster: When a man of the cloth trades in his career and his robes for scarlet military finery.
Ventre à terre: French for “belly to the ground,” meaning traveling (usually on horseback) very fast.
Vowels: IOUs when gambling.
Wag: someone who is impish or mischievous.
Witness the wild
beauty of Cornwall
Cornwall comes from the word “Cornovii,” meaning hill dwellers, and “Waelas,” meaning strangers. Contrary to popular belief many suggest Cornwall has never been a shire county of England. It is in fact a Duchy, i.e. ruled by a duke — Prince Charles to be precise. As late as 1856 the Duchy of Cornwall was still asserting its rights as a separate territory.
This is a mystical land of farmers, fishermen, tin miners, and smugglers. For more than 2,000 years tin mining was a major industry here. Today there is only one working mine in the area. Pilchards, a type of fish, ran in shoals off the Cornish coast for centuries. The 14th century Huer’s Hut in Newquay was inhabited by a hermit who was entrusted with lighting beacon fires to help guide fishermen as they placed their nets. The fisherman’s motto was, “Pilchards are food, money, and light, all in one night!” But the fisherman shared the sea with smugglers during wartime. Smugglers traded warm English wool (for uniforms) for fine French brandy.
A Cornish proverb suggests, “There are more saints in Cornwall than in heaven.” And if the ancient churches, holy wells, stone circles, standing stones, and pagan burial sites are any indication, this is indeed a place of legend and lore. One of my favorite stories is that of St. Guron’s Well in Bodmin. It is said that it determines who will rule the roost in a marriage. If the groom drinks from it before the bride, then he shall have the upper hand. If a bride gets there before him, she will be in charge. One smart bride secreted a bottle of the well water to her wedding and drank from it before her new husband left the church!
Cornwall truly is breathtaking – a spot not to be missed. My hope is that readers will enjoy an “armchair’s view” of this beautiful place while reading the Widows Club series.
Coastline in the Pays Basque region of France Cornish beachA hotel in Penzance A flock of Southdown sheep
» What’s in a Name? This website explains the correct forms of address.
» Stand and Deliver . . .all about 19th century highwaymen.
» The Regency Collection: Everything you always wanted to know about the regency period
» What’s your tree? (I’m an Oak…)
Sophia doesn't just write historical romance, she reads it voraciously. Here are some authors whose books she never misses.