Archive for December, 2013

From the Dictionary of Nautical, University, Gypsy and Other Vulgar Tongues first published in 1859.

Best Friends Forever

Best Friends Forever (Photo credit: wickenden)

Thick: intimate, familiar. Scotch, Chief; “the two are very Chief now,” i.e., friendly.

(The phrase, thick as thieves, comes to mind. I wonder, were thieves all that friendly back then? Perhaps so since they did have a common enemy.

I suppose today we’d say “the two are BFFs now.” )

Read Full Post »

From the Dictionary of Nautical, University, Gypsy and Other Vulgar Tongues first published in 1859.

10 Pence coins

10 Pence coins (Photo credit: Images_of_Money)

Tenpence to the Shilling: a vulgar phrase denoting a deficiency in intellect.

(There were, in fact, 12 pence to the shilling, so one can see why this described a person who was a bit lacking.

I did get to use this one in my novel, Lady Blade. The main character, Francesca DiCesare, is forced to become a pirate. When she refuses her share of the loot, one of the men calls her Tenpence to the Shilling. Since she’s Italian she doesn’t really know what that means, but she guesses he’s either calling her stupid or crazy.)

Read Full Post »

From the Dictionary of Nautical, University, Gypsy and Other Vulgar Tongues first published in 1859.

English: Picture of marbles from my collection

English: Picture of marbles from my collection (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Taw: a large or principal marble; “I’ll be one on your Taw,” I will pay you out, or be even with you, a simile taken from boys aiming always at winning  the Taw when playing marbles.

(I did enjoy a good game of marbles growing up. And yes, there was always the one really cool marble that everyone wanted. We just didn’t have a name for it. Now I do, but it’s a little late.

I wonder if there are still Taws now that everything is mass-produced. Do kids even play marbles anymore? Anyone?)

Read Full Post »

From the Dictionary of Nautical, University, Gypsy and Other Vulgar Tongues first published in 1859.


Some milky tats (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tats: old rags.

Milky Tats: white rags.

Tatting: gathering old rags.

(I assume that Tats is from tattered as in tattered rags. )

Read Full Post »

From the Dictionary of Nautical, University, Gypsy and Other Vulgar Tongues first published in 1859.

Soldiers Gambling with Dice

Soldiers Gambling with Dice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tats: dice.

Tat Box: a dice box.

(Though gambling was generally forbidden aboard pirates ships, there seems to have been a lot of it going on anyway. Dice games were the most common, since dice were easy to carry around and one didn’t have to worry about them getting wet or torn, like cards. Here’s how to play one of the most notorious pirate dice games. This one was shown in Pirates of the Caribbean II. It’s the game Will played for his soul. So if you’re looking for something to do during the Holidays, grab some dice and get your pirate on.)

Liars Dice

Each player needs 5 dice to start and an opaque cup to shake the dice in. You’ll also need at least one person to play with, but at least three are recommended.

Step 1: To start the game, players shake their cups with the dice in them. Then everyone slams them on the table with the openings downward, so no one else can see how the dice fell.

Step 2: Players can look at their own dice, but they shouldn’t be able to see anybody else’s. After you peek at your dice, based on what you found you can make a call about how many of any number of dice there are on the table. Generally the numbers start low and rise. Each bid must be higher than the last.

  • For example, you can say “three 2s,” meaning you think that there are three dice on the table that rolled a 2.
  • Remember, your guess includes all the dice belonging to all the players, not just your own dice, so you’re making a guess that includes dice you can’t see!

Step 3:  As the play goes around to the left, Players change their calls as others make theirs. Each call must be higher than the previous one either in number or face value. If somebody else makes a higher call than you, you can raise yours. The hands are ranked first by amount, number of dice (5 4’s), then by value, dots on the face (5 4′s). So, (2, 3’s) are better that (2, 2’s) but not (3, 2’s)

Five 2’s
Seven 2’s
Four 5’s
Five 2’s
Seven 2’s
Six 2’s

Step 4:  1’s, also known as aces, are wild, but if the person who made the first call calls 1s or aces, ones are no longer wild for that round.

Step 5: Eventually somebody will make what the next player believes to be an impossible call. For instance, they might say there are six 6s when there are only eight dice on the table and the other player can see none of his are 6’s, and somebody will say the caller is a liar. At that point, the dice are revealed.

  • If you call somebody a liar and you were wrong, you lose.
  • If you call someone a liar and they were lying, they lose.

Step 6:  Any player who makes a call that is shown to be wrong, loses. For example, if you call “five 6s” and there aren’t at least five dice that show 6 on the table, you’ve lost.

Step 7: The calls MUST keep going up until someone calls someone else a liar. This way there is always a loser–the loser loses whatever they were betting. The loser also places one die in front of his/her cup. That die is not to be used for the remainder of the game. The loser gets the first turn on the next round and the game continues until only one player remains. Bets can be re-decided each time, or you can choose to make the bets constant, it’s your choice. The first person who loses a game with no chips (NOT the first person who loses all of their chips).

If it should come down to two players each with one die, then Liar’s Dice becomes “spots”. This means that you both roll and look at your dice, but instead of number of dice you are saying the number of spots. If there is one 5 and one 3, there are 8 spots.

Example for two players
Player 1: 6
Player 2: 7
Player 1: 10
Player 2 : Liar!
If the sum of the dice is 8 — then Player 2 wins by calling Player 1’s bluff.

Read Full Post »

From the Dictionary of Nautical, University, Gypsy and Other Vulgar Tongues first published in 1859.

The Kitchen Maid

The Kitchen Maid (Photo credit: Accidental Hedonist)

Tape: gin, term with female servants.

(So does that mean that only female servants called gin “Tape?” The first tape, invented around 1845, was surgical tape, and used mostly in hospitals. It consisted of strips of fabric spread with rubber adhesive. Were the female servants implying that gin was holding people together? One wonders.

It is hard to imagine a world without tape. I suppose that explains why there were originally ribbons on Christmas packages. No tape to hold the paper on. And you thought wrapping gifts was work now… )

Read Full Post »

From the Dictionary of Nautical, University, Gypsy and Other Vulgar Tongues first published in 1859.


IMG_2940 (Photo credit: 7D-Kenny)

Tantrems: pranks, capers, or frolicking: from the Tarantula dance? See account of the involuntary phrensy and motions caused by the bite of the tarantula in Italy. Penny Cyclopeadia.

(Well, that’s certainly different from the modern usage. I wouldn’t call a tantrum “frolicking,” though, I can see where the involuntary frenzy comes in. I also found this for Tantrums (with a “u”). Perhaps they were two different things.

Gaelic, Dan, violent furious hot; Trom, heavy; whence Tantrum, a hot and heavy fit of passion.

And the Tarantula dance sounded too interesting not to look up. Sounds like a lot of fun to me…

TARANTISMUS is the name given to a peculiar nervous affection which was long supposed to be the consequnce of the bite of the Tarantula Spider. It seems to have occurred frequently in the kingdom of Naples during the sixteenth century and to have been nearly similar in its characters to the disease which was originally called St. Vitus’s dance [Chorea], and to that which has occasionally prevailed in parts of Scotland and has been called the ‘leaping ague.’ The patients, nearly all of whom were women, soon after being bitten, as it was supposed, used to fall into a profound stupor from which nothing roused them but the sound of such music as pleased them, on hearing which, they had an irresistible desire to dance.

So long as the music continued and was in tune and sufficiently lively, they would go on jumping and dancing till they fell exhausted; and, all the time, some used to shriek, some to laugh and sing, some to weep. When after a short rest they had recovered from their fatigue, they would again begin to dance with as much vigour as before, unless the music were played slowly or confusedly, when they would stop and grow anxious and melancholy, or even, if the music were not soon made agreeable to them would fall into a dangerous state of stupor. The disease used to last about four days, and seemed to be cured by the profuse perspirations brought on by the active exercise, but it often returned at the same time in the following year, or even for a succession of years, and on every occasion required the same treatment. Since it has been found that the bite of the Tarantula can produce no such strange effects as these, many have suspected that the disease ascribed to it never really existed, but was feigned for the purpose of exciting pity, or for the pleasure of dancing. )

Read Full Post »

From the Dictionary of Nautical, University, Gypsy and Other Vulgar Tongues first published in 1859.

Photograph of news-boys selling near the Capit...

Photograph of news-boys selling near the Capitol building – NARA – 306628 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

School or Mob: two or more “patterers” working together in the streets.

Schooling: a low gambling party.

(Patterers are apparently people selling “newspapers” in the streets. Of course, in those days, most of the “news” was completely made up or at least sensationalized and anyone with a press could print it. Okay, some things haven’t changed all that much. This is from the London Labour and the London Poor, by Henry Mayhew.

Of Running Patterers

Few of the residents in London, but chiefly those in the quieter streets, have not been aroused and most frequently in the evening by a hurly-burly on each side of the street. An attentive listening will not lead any one to an accurate knowledge of what the clamour is about. It is from a mob or school of the running patterers, for both those words are used, and consists of two, three, or four men. All these men state that the greater the noise they make, the better is the chance of sale, better still when the noise is on each side of the street, for it appears as if the vendors are proclaiming such interesting or important intelligence, that they were vieing with one another, who should supply the demand which must ensue. It is not possible to ascertain with certitude what the patterers are so anxious to sell, for only a few leading words are audible.

One of the cleverest of running patterers repeated to me in a subdued tone his announcements of murders. The words “Murder,” “Horrible,” “Barbarous,” “Love,” “Mysterious,” “Former Crimes,” and the like could only be caught by the ear, but there was no announcement of anything like “particulars.” If however, the “paper” relate to any well-known criminal, such as Rush, the name is given distinctly enough, and so is any new or pretended fact. The running patterers describe, or profess to describe, the contents of their papers as they go rapidly along, and they seldom or ever stand still. They usually deal in murders, seductions, crim-cons, explosions, alarming accidents, assassinations, deaths of public characters, duels, and love letters. But popular or notorious murders are the “great goes.” )

Read Full Post »

From the Dictionary of Nautical, University, Gypsy and Other Vulgar Tongues first published in 1859.


Snake…Scales? (Photo credit: Pipistrula)

Scaly: shabby, or mean. Shakespeare uses Scald, an old word of reproach.

(I’m pretty sure Scaly has always been an insult. Except among ichthyologists and herpetologists.)

Read Full Post »

From the Dictionary of Nautical, University, Gypsy and Other Vulgar Tongues first published in 1859.

Counterfeit Money

Counterfeit Money (Photo credit: Chris Yarzab)

Schofel: bad money. See Show-Full.

Show-Full: Bad money. Mayhew thinks this word is from the Danish, Skuffe, to shove, to deceive, cheat: Saxon, Scufan, whence the English, Shove.  The term, however , is possibly one of the many street words from the Hebrew (through the low Jews): Shephel, in that  language, signifying a low or debased estate. Chaldee, Shaphal. See Psalm exxxvi. 23. “in our low estate.” A correspondent suggests another very probably derivation , from the German Schofel, trash, rubbish, the German adjective, Schofelig, being the nearest possible translation of our shabby.

(Hmmm, I think his “correspondent” is probably right. The German seems the most likely. Interesting that there are so many possibilities.)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: