The Vulgarities of Speech Corrected; With Elegant Expressions for Provincial and Vulgar English, Scots and Irish; For the Use of Those Who Are Unacquainted With Grammar
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PROVINCIAL AND VULGAR ENGLISH, SCOTS, AND
THE USE OF THOSE WHO ARE
UNACQUAINTED WITH GRAMMAR.
"Vulgar expressions imply either a very low turn of mind,
or low education, and low company."
PRINTED FOR JAMES BULLOCK, 163, STRAND ,
OLIVER AND BOYD, EDINBURGH; AND
W. GRIFFIN, GLASGOW.
Ready for the Press, to be Printed uniformly
with this Volume,
RULES OF POLITENESS, ETIQUETTE,
Adapted to Modern Fashionable Life, as well as to the
Genteel Circles of the Middle Ranks; with an Exposure of
the Awkward Manners of the Vulgar Genteel, and an Outline
of the Principles of Honour, Insult, and Satisfaction.
(To be dedicated to the Princess Victoria of Kent, with a
THE YOUNG LADY'S GRAMMAR
Of the English Language, divested of difficult Terms.
On a plan entirely new, and intended to correct Vulgarity,
and promote Elegance of Conversation and Writing, by an
easy method, for the Use of Governesses and Ladies Schools.
Utility of the Work 2
Vulgar-Genteel Errors, and Affected Speaking....8
Table of Vulgar-Genteel Pronunciation 14
Contracted Vulgarities, and the Contrary 21
Table of Examples in short Words 23
Table of Contracted Pronunciation 28
Table of Uncontracted Words 35
Table of Contracted Words 40
Miscellaneous Table 43
Awkward Vulgarities 47
Awkward Questions 51
Slovenly Vulgarities 59
Vulgar Bye-Words and Exclamations 64
Miscellaneous Table 92
Vulgarity of Swearing, and Imprecation 95
Vulgarity of Proverbs, and Proverbial Expressions
Defence of Proverbs 105
Table of Useful Proverbs 108
Table of Vulgar Proverbs.........110
Table of Vulgar Proverbial Phrases 116
Vulgarity of Comparisons 120
Table of Vulgar Comparisons 124
Learned, Pedantic, and Professional Vulgarities........................................................................130
Table of Pedantic Phrases and Quotations 134
Table of Obsolete Expressions 138
Mercantile Pedantry 143
Legal Pedantry 146
Medical Pedantry 147
Naval Pedantry 148
Pedantry of Pronunciation 152
Grammatical Pedantry 157
Slang Vulgarities 158
Table of Slang, Cant, and Flash Phrases 163
Vulgarity of Mimickry, Jeering, and Punning 176
Vulgar Subjects of Conversation 186
Vulgarity of Egotism........187
Table of Vulgar Egotisms. 193
Indelicacy and Coarseness 196
Trifling Circumstances 198
Wandering and Digression.........200
Ungrammatical Vulgarities 203
Provincial Scotch Vulgarities 222
Scotch Accent and Pronunciation 223
Table of Scotticisms, or Scotch Phrases 234
Provincial Irish Vulgarities 243
Irish Accent, and Pronunciation. ib.
Tables of Words Pronounced improperly 244
Irish Idioms, Words, and Expressions 249
Provincial English Vulgarities 253
Welsh Vulgarities of Pronunciation ib.
North of England Vulgarities 254
London Vulgarities of Pronunciation, with
Copious Corrected Tables.....................................255
London Vulgarities of Expression 262
VULGARITIES OF SPEECH
GOOD breeding and gentility are sooner discovered
from the style of speaking, and the
language employed in conversation, than from
any other circumstance. You may dress in the
first style of fashion — (that the tailor or the milliner
can do for you), and you may, with a little
attention, learn to imitate the lounge or swagger
of those in high life; but if you have not
attended to your manner of speaking, and the
selection of your words, the moment you open
your lips you will be discovered, like the daw
in the fable, that was tricked out in peacock's
feathers — to be the mere ape of gentility —
assuming airs to which you have no right, and
intruding into ranks where you cannot maintain
This is a very common mistake among many
who have, by industry or good fortune, risen
above their original station and prospects, and
therefore imagine, very mistakingly, that they
are entitled to take their place with the well
bred and well educated. They may do so,
without doubt, on the influence of their money
or property, but they will infallibly expose
themselves to be laughed at and ridiculed, by
those whose breeding and education enable
them to see their low expressions, vulgar pronunciation,
and continual blunders in grammar,
every time they join in conversation.
It is all very well for vulgar people of this
description, who have risen in the world, to
laugh among themselves at correct speaking,
and to despise the knowledge of grammar because
they have it not; but it is a known
maxim in the affairs of the world, when a person
is observed to talk with contempt of what
is universally considered excellent, that he is
eager to skreen his own obvious deficiency. In
this way you may hear such people talk with
contempt of learning French and Italian, and
sneer at music; all which, there cannot be a
doubt, they would be the first to praise, were
they themselves proficients in the same; nay,
the very contempt of such persons is the best
praise that can be bestowed upon any accomplishment.
"Knowledge," says a popular
writer, "in any art or science being always the
fruits of observation or practice, gives, in proportion
to its extent and usefulness, the possessor
a just claim to respect. We do, indeed,
often see all the outward marks of respect bestowed
upon people, merely because they are
rich and powerful; but these, while they are
bestowed with pain, are received without pleasure.
They drop from the tongue, or beam
from the features, but have no communication
with the heart. They are not the voluntary
offering of admiration, or of gratitude; because,
dishonesty and perfidy are crimes. To
entitle a man to respect, there must be something
of his own doing beyond the bounds of
his well known duties and obligations." Of
the accomplishments which do entitle to respect,
there are none, I am convinced, that
rank higher than correct speaking, and the
avoiding of vulgarities.
To young people, in particular, and those
who are rising in the world, this accomplishment
will be of the most invaluable advantage,
it being so very strong and obvious a mark
of character, as I shall demonstrate while I
proceed. In every station of life, in every employment,
the same advantage will be apparent,
and it cannot be too earnestly impressed on the
attention of the young to attend most carefully
to the directions which they will find in this
little work, and which, with no very great study
on their part, they may soon master.
Young ladies require not to be informed
how indispensible correct speaking is to them;
for unless they possess this accomplishment,
music, dancing, a fine carriage, or an elegant
taste for dressing, will be all thrown into the
shade. A vulgar expression will at once give
evidence of a glaring deficiency, and fix a blot
on their taste and their acquirements, which
will not be easily effaced from the memory of an
observer. A few hours careful study, with an
attentive practice of our rules and examples,
would not only prevent this, but would unfailingly
produce ever after, a favourable impression
of character and accomplishment.
As the utility of this work, therefore, must be
obvious to almost every class of the reading population,
it would be superfluous to waste
words in recommending it to the attention of
families, and to the superintendants of schools.
One remark, it may be important to make, with
respect to some schools (we hope but few)
where grammar is taught according to rule and
system — namely, that the pupils are not required
to practise their grammar by correct
speaking, it being thought sufficient to apply
the rules to the lesson only, and have done with
them. In consequence of this very blameable
carelessness on the part of the master or the
governess, the pupils, though paid for at a high
rate, enter into society with no more advantage,
so far as correct speaking is concerned, than
the children of the uneducated classes. In
schools and academies, where this has hitherto
been the practice, it is to be hoped this little
work will soon effect a salutary reform.
It is painful to think, that even at the highest
seminaries of education in this country, correcor
elegant speaking so far from being studied, is
held unfashionable; and an unintelligible jargon
is affected by those youths whose money and
influence enable them to take the lead at
Harrow and Eton, as well as at Oxford and
Cambridge. To such misled young gentlemen,
this book will afford direction and advice which
they cannot readily forget, and for which they
will be very thankful when they come to see
their follies, on taking their station in the higher
ranks of society, and on entering upon the duties
of noblemen and gentlemen.
It will be unnecessary for me to expatiate at
greater length on the utility of this work, which,
if the execution make any approach to the plan
that has been sketched, cannot fail to become a
constant companion for young persons of both
sexes, while it will be also of advantage to those
more advanced, for occasional reference and
VULGAR-GENTEEL ERRORS, AND AFFECTED
Those who attempt to speak very fine,
without a proper knowledge to direct them,
are certain to make more mistakes, than if
they were contented to speak plainly, without
endeavouring to do what they are altogether
unfit to accomplish, from deficiency of education.
In order to sound words properly, it is
indispensible that you hear some good speaker
pronounce them, and this may not always be
in your power ; nor are you probably a judge
of correct pronunciation when you hear it. In
the country, the only opportunities you may
have, will be confined chiefly to those who are
very seldom to be trusted to as correct models.
Country fine-speakers, indeed, often furnish
very strong examples of the vulgar-genteel,
which I wish here to guard you against, as
from their limited intercourse with polished
society, they usually acquire a stiff, starched,
precise way of speaking, and of mouthing and
mincing their words, which is exactly the very
character of the vulgar-genteel; and extremely
different from the easy flow of polite conversation.
You may easily avoid the glaring error of
speaking in the vulgar-genteel style, by avoiding
affectation, or endeavouring to speak finer
than your associates. Let me be understood
however: — I do not say you are not to try to
speak as correctly as you can; but there is a
very great difference between an easy correctness
of language, and a mincing affectation of
fine words, and fine pronunciation. The one
will only bring you into ridicule, while the
other will distinguish you as accomplished in
an elegant acquirement.
One rule for avoiding the error in question
is, to step as little out of the common path as
correctness will sanction, that you may not
attract observation by singularity. For example,
if a word is pronounced in two different
ways by good speakers, such as the word
"wind," — rather adopt the more usual than
the more rare pronunciation, that you may not
be pointed out as affecting to speak fine. In
words of more difficult pronunciation, such as
"miscellany," where there are also two methods
of pronouncing — this rule will be of still
greater importance. The word "revenue" is
another of the words which exemplifies my
rule. In some parts of the country, and in
some circles, you may hear it pronounced with
the force of the voice upon the "n," and in
others upon the "v"; I advise you therefore
to follow the practice of those with whom you
chiefly associate; rather than endeavour to
make yourself ridiculous by affected singularities.
I may mention as another mark of the
vulgar-genteel, the attempt to speak in familiar
conversation in the same style of pronunciation,
as if the speaker were reading a prayer or
a grave discourse. This style of speaking is,
and must be, always stiff and mouthy; yet
it is by no means uncommon to hear it among
those who affect to speak fine. I have often
observed it appear extremely laughable, when
the speaker had been taught to read with
some singularities of pronunciation. As an
example of this species of the vulgar-genteel I
may instance the words "whole" and "above,"
which, several years ago, were taught, in a few
schools, to be pronounced whoole and aboove,
and you may still occasionally hear them thus
pronounced in vulgar-genteel conversation.
The mistake in the first instance arose from
the words being similar in spelling to "who"
and "whom." Another word of the same
class is "gold," but the pronunciation of it is
doubtful, being sometimes sounded to rhyme
with "old," and at other times to be pronounced
goold, of which I would disapprove.
In "goldsmith," "goldfinch," and "gold--
beater," the irregular sound is fixed. The
word "Rome" is another, still more doubtful,
being pronounced "Rome" and "Roome"
indifferently, by the best speakers, though the
first is preferable.
I may class also, as vulgar book-speaking,
the words "business" and "busy," when pronounced
as we sometimes hear them, as if spelt
buzziness and buzzy, instead of "bizness" and
"bizzy." The word "bury," pronounced
beury or burry, instead of correctly "berry,"
is another of the same class, and sometimes we
hear "sugar," sounded suggar, instead of
"shoogar." I must not omit as belonging to
the same kind, the words "move," "prove,"
"improve," "improvement," when the "ov" is
sounded so as to rhyme with "love," instead of
being sounded, as in "hooves." It is no less
vulgar to sound "bull," "full," pull," "push,"
"bush," "put," "pudding," "pulpit," "pullet,"
"puss," "cushion," with the short sound of
"u," as if rhyming with "dull," "cull," "rush,"
"but," "budding," &c. The proper sounds,
are "bool," "pool," "poolpit," "cooshion,"
&c. These mistakes are in some degree peculiar
to the North, and to Ireland.
Among other mistakes into which those that
speak by book are apt to fall, is the sounding
of letters whose contraction is established in
the language by invariable usage. A strong
example of this might be adduced in the instance
of sounding the "l" in the words "could,"
"would," and "should," but this "l" is never
heard at present, except in some very remote
provincial districts. We may frequently, however,
hear the "t" vulgarly sounded in the
words "castle," "bustle," "hustle," instead of
"cassle," "bussle," "tussle," and in many
other instances,. as shall be fully shown in the
From the long sound of "u" being in many
cases rather difficult to master, as in the words
"suit," "suicide," "superfluous," "superabound,"
&c., which are, commonly, by the
vulgar, sounded as if written soote, sooicide,
sooperflooous, &c., those who would be fine
speakers may be observed to dwell with peculiar
force of voice upon what they imagine to
be the correct sound of the "u." This we
cannot hesitate to consider as an instance of
the pedantic vulgar-genteel, and worse than
either of the common vulgarities in pronouncing
similar words, namely, soote, sooperflooous
or shoote, shooperflous, the first of which is
common in the South, and the second in the
North. The correct sound of the "u" in all
those cases is precisely the same as the word
"you;" but it ought to be pronounced with
an easy flow, and not with a stiff and formal
mouthing of the letter.
In some measure, misled by the authority of
Walker, and other writers, we often hear
book-speakers pronouncing stiffly and affectedly,
the words in which "a" follows "c" and "g,"
by introducing "e" or "y" where they have
no business. In opposition to this authority,
I would bring the present example of our
best speakers, who, with a very few exceptions,
pronounce these words plainly according to
the spelling. That it is a vulgar pronunciation,
I have no doubt, from its being a common
provincialism. In other words, where there is
no "a," as in the words "county," "counter,"
"counsel," "account," "cows," &c., which
are vulgarly sounded Kyounty, Kyounter,
Kyounsel, Ackyount, Kyows, &c. Neither Mr.
Walker, nor any other writer would defend
this vulgarity, which is sometimes even affectdedly
extended to "common" pronounced
Kyimmon, "copy" pronounced Kyippy, and
the like. The following table will exhibit the
chief of these errors:-
CORRECT. C VULGAR.
I am not even certain that "guard," "guardian,"
"disguise," "sky," "catechise," &c.,
should not be pronounced plainly, and not as
Mr. Walker directs, ghyard, disghyise, sky-y,
catekyise, &c. In all the short sounds, however,
of "a" after "c" and "g," this pronunciation
which we have been reprobating, is
indispensible, as the words cannot be sounded
in any other manner, as in "captain," "cannot,"
"candle," "cant," &c., which are correctly
pronounced "kyaptain," "kyannot," "kyandle,"
"kyant," &c.; and "garret," "garrison,"
"gallop," "gambler," &c., correctly pronounced
"ghyarret," "ghyarrison," "ghyallop,"
"ghyambler," &c. It is a very singular omission,
that this pronunciation is not marked in
any of our pronouncing Dictionaries; not even
I must not omit to mention it as an indication
of the vulgar-genteel, to affect hard terms
and long sounding words, for unless the speaker
is a very good scholar indeed, he will in many
cases misapply them, and make himself ridiculous.
The best rule in this case, is never to
employ any word which you do not thoroughly
understand, and with which you are not quite
familiar. If you neglect this caution, and
eagerly endeavour to show off your supposed
acquirements, by introducing every strange
newfangled word which you may chance to
hear in conversation, or meet with in books—
you cannot fail to become a butt for the jests
of all who observe your affectation of fine
speaking. You may thus hear people say
tremenduous, for "tremendous;" genus, for
"genius" ; ingenuous, for "ingenious;" and
many other blundering words of the same
It is no less vulgar to show a fondness for
any particular word, and repeat it on all occasions,
frequently, in the most inappropriate
manner, as I shall have to advert to under the
chapter on the vulgarity of bye-words. You
may, for instance, observe that many persons
will repeat the words mighty, vast, vastly, &c.,
in almost every sentence which they utter.
Such persons will as readily say mighty small,
as mighty large, and vastly little, as vastly
great, though the expressions be not only
vulgar but nonsensical. The words terrible,
frightful, horrid, tremendous, and many others
of a similar kind, are frequently applied in the
same way by vulgar people (who imagine they
are speaking very fine) to things which are the
very reverse of terrible, frightful, horrid, tremendous,
The words "elegant" and "beautiful" are
very commonly misapplied in a similar manner.
"One of the first things," says a modern author,
"which a stranger observes in Ireland, in the
language of the street, is the very frequent
repetition of the word "elegant" to things the
most dissimilar. In the Irish market every
thing you bargain for is elegant, from the
basket of eggs up to the corpus of a fresh
slain hog; and we have no doubt that many of
the people there, would descant most warmly
on an elegant dunghill or a pigstye*." In
England the word "beautiful" is an equal
favourite, particularly where it is most inapplicable,
I mean in the flavour of eatables, for
which you may every day hear it employed.
Thus a plumb-pudding is said to be beautiful,
* Art of Beauty, Page 350.
not in reference to its appearance, how rich soever
that may be; but solely because it tastes
well and has a fine relish. The same will be
said of a joint of pork, turtle soup, calf's head,
or any other dish, as well as sauces, liquors, &c.
"I once knew a tradesman at a fashionable
watering-place, who had picked up the word
"elegant," which he applied without distinction
to every thing, and talked as often of elegant
weather, an elegant morning, or an elegant
day, as of an "elegant coach," to the no
small amusement of many of his customers, who
laughed heartily at his affectation*."
"Every one," says Sir William Cornwallis,
"is fitted by nature; whose fashion, if he likes
not, but will choose rather to wear other men's
cast clothes, — it is a pity the admiration he
affects should not be turned into laughter. I
have seen some silly creatures, that have had
the extremity of this disease in words; but
what has been the end? Alas! They have delivered
prisoners that have turned traitors, and
instantly betrayed them to derision. For my
part, I think generally, this ought to be shunned;
and if ever I were subject to affect, in
which I have been so precise, that I have been
* Duties of a Lady's Maid, p. 183.
afraid to wear fashions until they have been
well aired by a general use."
The manner of speaking, also, with regard to
the loudness or lowness of the voice, will, in
many instances, serve to characterize the speaker
as polite or vulgar. The affected whisper,
which has lately become common, is the very
extreme of the vulgar genteel; as loud bawling
is the mark of .low breeding and vulgar manners.
The affected whisper, however, and the
mincing whine of religious cant, are more contemptible
than the rudest bawling, as the latter
wears something of the air of independence,
while the former announces the speaker to be
under the restraint of leading strings.
In provincial districts, the vulgar genteel is
frequently to be observed in the conversation of
those who endeavour to avoid the provincialisms
of the common people. In Scotland, and in
Ireland, for example, the most laughable attempts
are often made to find English expressions
for the common Scotch and Irish, a thing
which is in many cases impossible, from the
want of equivalent expressions or synonymous
words: dishes, for example, the cookery of
which is unknown in England, and of course
there cannot be any English word for them.
As an instance, I may mention the common
breakfast dish in Scotland, and in many parts
of Ireland, which is called "parritch," or " porritch"
in Scotch, and "stirabout" in Irish. Now,
as there is no English word for this dish of
oatmeal, the vulgar genteel are very much
puzzled what to call it; and in their dilemma,
lay hold of the English words which are
nearest in sound; some calling it porridge, and
others pottage, though it is neither the one nor
the other. Sailors call it "bergoo," but that
word would never do on shore. A few of the
vulgar genteel think it better to call it hasty--
pudding, though in that case they are as far
wrong as in using the word pottage.
A similar mistake may sometimes be remarked
in attempts to give the provincial words a
correct sound, though these words are not
English, and cannot in this manner be made so.
I may take an example from the name of
another Scotch dish, celebrated by the author
of Waverley, I mean "crappit-heads," which is
pronounced "heeds;" but the vulgar genteel
in all cases pronounce heds, according, as they
suppose, to the correct English. The old
Northern festival in Winter, may be given as
another very prominent instance. It is uniformly
pronounced "yule," with the sound of
the French "u;" but the vulgar genteel, aping
the English mode, pronounce it as if written
yool, which is unintelligible to the only people
among whom the word is used or understood.
A singular instance of erroneous speaking by
book suggests itself here, from this word which
was formerly written "zule," the "z" being
pronounced like an initial "y." This pronunciation
of the "z" being now lost, though
it is retained in spelling some proper names,
has occasioned a vulgar genteel change in their
sound. Thus, "Dalzell," which was originally
sounded "Dalyell," is now bookishly pronounced
as it is written, and "Cockenzie,"
"Zuil," "Menzies," &c. the same. " Mackenzie"
has long lost is original and proper sound, which
would now appear quite vulgar and pedantic.
I shall extend these remarks under the head
CONTRACTED VULGARITIES, AND THE CONTRARY.
Perhaps it might have been more correct to
have entitled this chapter the vulgarity of contractions;
but about this we shall not dispute, if
we once understand the meaning of the thing
itself. You must have frequently remarked,
that it is a common characteristic of the vulgar,
to shorten or contract the words which
they use, in such a manner as to alter them entirely.
I readily admit, and request attention
to the admission, that some forms of contraction
are become from custom less vulgar than
others; nay, have even crept into good society,
and may be heard among the best speakers;
but, in the first instance, these were decidedly
vulgar, as will be seen from the examples which
I shall give below.
The most common example, perhaps, of contraction,
is that where the word "not" follows
"and, are, is, was, were, do, did, have, had,
shall, will, should, would, nay, might, can, and
could;" and as we have just remarked, some of
these are much less vulgar than others, but not
one of them could be admitted into correct and
elegant conversation. In some of our older
writers, we frequently find the contraction
"I'n't it," or, "is n't it," which bears some
appearance of the correct expression, though
it is a contraction of a bad arrangement of the
words, instead of the proper expression "Is it
not?" But what shall we say to the vulgar form
which this contraction has now so very commonly
taken, and which is so offensive to a
grammatical ear? I mean the expression,
"a'n't it," which is, I believe, peculiar to England
and the United States of America, and is
decidedly the most vulgar and incorrect expression
in common use. If you have got a habit,
therefore, of using this expression a'n't, in
any of its applications, you cannot be too
careful in avoiding it, as you will never hear
it employed by any well educated person, much
less by correct or elegant speakers. In order
to make you more perfect in avoiding this vulgarity,
I shall'give you a few corrected examples
I a'n't a going. I am not going.
You a'n't able to do it. You are not able to do it.
A'n't she come yet? Is she not come yet?
A'n't I very lucky? Am I not very lucky?
He a'n't ready. He is not ready.
They a'n't gone. They are not gone.
Those a'n't pretty. Those are not pretty.
A'n't they going? Are they not going?
It a'n't fine. It is not fine.
A'n't it a good one? Is it not a good one?
He is very clever — a'n't
Mr. Wilson? Is not Mr. Wilson very
This flower is pretty — a'nt it? Is not this flower pretty?
When you have mastered this easy lesson,
you may then proceed to the other forms of
contraction, which are by no means so bad as
this vulgar a'n't, which I may remark is made
worse by sounding, as is usual, the a long and
open, like the word "faint," rather than short,
like the word "and," as it ought to be when
contracted for "am not," and "are not." The
contraction of "is not," into isn't, does not
sound quite so bad as a'n't, but this also ought
to be avoided.
The next class of contractions to be avoided
are, wa'n't, wer'n't, won't, and the like, which,
from their being more universally used, are not
so vulgar as a'n't. To these I may add, don't,
didn't, haven't, hadn't, sha'n't, shouldn't,
wouldn't, couldn't, can't, mayn't, mightn't, and
a few others of the same sort. There can be
no doubt that it would be equally easy to use
the correct expressions for these awkward contractions,
and it is to be hoped that the circulation
of this little work will tend to effect this
desirable purpose among an extensive portion
of the reading population. A short table of
the contractions, with their corrected forms, may
be useful to my younger readers.
I wa'n't there. I was not there.
Weren't they at home? Were they not at home?
That won't do. That will not do.
It don't indeed. It does not indeed.
She don't sing She does not sing.
You shan't go You shall not go.
You mustn't indeed. You must not indeed.
Haven't they gone ? Have they not gone?
I hadn't it. I had it not.
Shouldn't he do it? Should not he do it?
They can't succeed. They cannot succeed.
Mayn't I try this ? May I not try this?
He don't affirm it. He does not affirm it.
It mightn't be so. It might not be so.
Wouldn't this fit? Would not this fit?
Oughtn't he to go ? Ought not he to go?
I may remark of the vulgar contraction don't,
that when it follows the words "he," "she," or
"it," or the name of an individual, it is much
worse than any of the others just mentioned, as
it involves in that case a grammatical error, and
is as bad as the expressions he do, she do, it
do, or Mr. B. do. In order, therefore, to avoid
this gross mistake, it would be well never to use
don't at all, even after "they" and "we,"
when, though it is vulgar, it is not ungrammatical.
Among expressions of the same kind, I
may mention, "this flower don't blow yet;"
"it don' t rain now;" "that horse don't trot
well;" "my tailor don't overcharge me;"
"that lady don't look handsome." In all these
cases, and hundreds of the same class, don't
should be discarded being ungrammatical, and
"does not" employed in its place.
Another vulgar contraction (which was, however
considered elegant about fifty years ago)
is the leaving out of the "th" in the word
"them." In conversation, this contraction is
still very common, but ought to be avoided by
correct speakers, whom we never hear saying
"I got 'em from the country;" "She gave 'em
to me as a present;" "The apples were very
fine: I had 'em from America;" "Those
books are prettily bound: Richards did 'em;"
"The parcels are arrived: John brought 'em."
In all these cases, and wherever this vulgar
'em occurs, "them" should always be substituted.
To those who have got into the habit
of using the contraction, this will at first be
difficult, but a little attention will easily conquer
it. T'other, for "the other," is a vulgar contraction
of the same kind. I must not omit to
notice another which is not quite so common
as the preceding ; but is occasionally used
when it would be better avoided, I mean the
contraction of "one" into 'un, in such phrases
as "It is a very good 'un; I would not have
given you a bad 'un;" "That is the right 'un;
the other 'un is not so large;" "He got a small
'un before, and he wants a smaller 'un now."
In such cases, you should carefully sound the
"w," which long custom has introduced in pronouncing
"one," as if spelled "won."
I now come to a very extensive class of contractions
which have long obtained a footing,
and become established in the best society, and
to which, accordingly, the stain of vulgarity will
not apply. On the contrary, it would be extremely
vulgar, in most instances, to avoid the
contractions. The great difficulty is to know
in what cases these contractions are to be employed
or to be avoided, and it is one of the
greatest niceties in correct English speaking
to know this well, and practise it properly.
The contractions to which I refer, are those of
the letter "e" before "n," "l," and "d,"
chiefly at the end of words, such as "loosen,''
"hazel,' and "passed," which are contracted,
as if written "loos'n," "haz'l," and "pass'd."
These contractions then are not vulgar, whereas
it would be so to pronounce the "e" without
contraction; but in such words as "sloven,"
"novel," and a few others, the contrary holds,
as these ought never to be sounded slov'n,
nov'l, &c. I shall, for the sake of perspicuity,
give a short table of the principal words of
these classes which are apt to be mistaken
even by good speakers, and I recommend it to
be attentively studied: —
Flann'l EL Flannel
A reb'l A rebel
Gravel L Grav'1
Weasel EN Weas'l
Christening E Christ'ning
Melton Mowbray Melt'n Mowbra
Milton Oysters Milt'n Oysters
I may remark, after Mr. Walker, that "this
suppression of the "o" must not be ranked
among those careless contractions found only
among the vulgar; but must be considered as
one of those devious tendencies to brevity,
which has worn itself into a currency in the
language, and has at last become a part of it.
To pronounce the "o" where it is supposed
would give a singularity to the speaker, bordering
nearly on the pedantic, and the attention
given to this singularity by the hearer,
would necessarily diminish his attention to the
subject, and consequently deprive the speaker
of something much more desirable."
The "e" is not only contracted and suppressed
in almost all words ending in "ed,"
where this can be easily done; but the "d"
is also at the same time frequently softened
down and sounded like "t." This, so far
from being vulgar, is the usual rule of the
language, according to the best speakers. Accordingly,
the words "lov'd," "liv'd," "barr'd,"
"marr'd," are not to be pronounced loved,
lived, barred, marred, as if they formed two
syllables. Almost the only exception to this
is when "t" or "d" goes before the ''ed," as
in "handed," "landed," " wanted," "matted,"
&c. Another very singular exception may be
mentioned in the instances of religious worship,
and of reading the scriptures, or the prayer
book, when all the "eds" are to be pronounced
at full length, as in the verse, "Who hath believed
our report, and to whom is the arm of
the Lord revealed." Again, "Whom he did
predestinate, them he also called; and whom
he called, them he also justified; and whom
he justified, them he also glorified."
There are also a few individual exceptions,
which will be best pointed out by mentioning
the words. In the word "blessed," for example,
the "ed" is sounded in the phrases.
"This is a blessed day." "That herb is
called the blessed thistle;" but in poetry it is
more usually contracted "blest," as
"Blest in thy genius, in thy love too blest."
The four words "learned," "cursed," "aged,"
and "winged," are in the same circumstances
with "blessed;" for example, the "ed" is
sounded full in the phrases "a learned man,"
"a cursed thing," "an aged woman," "a
winged horse;" but is contracted in the phrases,
"He learn'd to write," "he curs'd the day,"
"they wing'd their flight," "a full-aged horse,"
"a sheath-wing'd fowl." The following are
also pronounced without contraction, namely
"naked, wicked, picked, hooked, crooked,
forked, tucked, tressed, wretched, crabbed,
scabbed, chubbed, stubbed, shagged, snagged,
ragged, dogged, rugged, hawked, jagged," &c.
A good ear in such cases is the best guide,
and is seldom at variance with the practice of
elegant speakers. The following list of words,
however, I think it necessary to give, as being
sometimes mistaken from their similarity to
It would not be difficult to extend this table
to double the length; but I conceive that the
specimens just given will easily enable the attentive
reader to correct any vulgarity of a
similar kind, in almost all cases. There is,
however, a class of words very analogous to
those just enumerated, which will require to
be more particularly attended to, as the contractions
are a little farther removed from the
original sound, and are now so well established
that the original sound would appear in almost
every case vulgar and pedantic in conversation,
though in a few cases, and in but a few, it
might stand in writing. As this work, however,
is chiefly intended as a guide to correct
speaking rather than correct writing, it will be
important to attend to the following class of
words, which, from their contracted forms,
have been called irregular by writers on
He beated me. He beat me.
The dog bited him. The dog bit him.
I was bleeded. I was bled or blooded.
I breeded it myself. I bred it myself.
It bursted out. It burst out.
He casted it away. He cast it away.
She catched it as it fell. She caught it as it fell.
I was chided for it, I was chid for it.
He choosed this one. He chose this one.
I cleaved that stick. I cleft or clove that stick.
She comed home to day. She came home to day.
It costed sixpence. It cost sixpence.
The worm creeped out. The worm crept out.
He cutted it in two. He cut it in two.
He drawed it out. He drew it out.
I drived it in. I drove it in.
I drinked some of it. I drank some of it.
He eated the whole. He ate the whole.
It feeded well. It fed well.
I feeled it plainly. I felt it plainly
He fighted hard. He fought hard.
I finded the money. I found the money.
He fleed for his life. He fled for his life.
I flinged it away. I flung it away.
The bird flied high. The bird flew high.
It has flied off. It has flown off.
You forsaked her. You forsook her.
You have forsaked her. You have forsaken her.
It freezed last night. It froze last night.
It has freezed to-day. It has frozen to-day.
It was graved on the stone. It was graven on the stone.
I gived it away. I gave it away.
He grinded the knife. He ground the knife.
He growed wheat He grew wheat.
The corn has growed. The corn has grown.
I hanged it up. I hung it up.
He heared it. He heard it.
She hided from me. She hid from me.
It hitted him a blow. It hit him a blow.
It holded a pint. It held a pint.
It hurted me sore. It hurt me sore.
I keeped it for you. I kept it for you.
I knowed him I knew him.
All that is knowed. All that is known.
Heavy laded. Heavy laden.
He leaded the horse. He led the horse.
It was leaved behind. It was left behind.
I have lended it. I have lent it.
I have letted him do it. I have let him do it.
He lied down to rest. He lay down to rest.
He meeted out the corn. He met out the corn.
The grass is mowed. The grass is mown.
I readed the whole. I read the whole.
It was rended in two. It was rent in two.
You are well ridded of it. You are well rid of it.
I rided a mile. I rode a mile.
She ringed the hell. She rung the bell.
He rised at six. He rose at six.
It was rived in pieces. It was riven in pieces.
I see'd it myself. I saw it myself.
I have see'd it often. I have seen it often.
He seeked for it. He sought for it.
I selled three. I sold three.
It was sended off. It was sent off'.
The razor was setted. The razor was set.
The fruit was shaked down. The fruit was shaken down.
It was sheared. It was shorn.
The deer had shedded its horns The deer had shed its horns.
The horse was well shoed. The horse was well shod.
He shooted it with a bow. He shot it with a bow.
I shrinked back. I shrunk back.
She shredded the onions. She shred the onions.
He shutted it out. He shut it out.
She has singed there. She has sung there.
It is singed for ever. It is sunk for ever.
I have sitted too long. I have sit too long.
He slayed it. He slew it.
It is now slayed. It is now slain.
I have sleeped there. I have slept there.
It slided down. It slid down.
David slinged the stone. David slung the stone.
He slinked off. He slunk off.
He smiled me. He smote me.
I was smited on the head. I was smitten on the head.
He speeded fast. He sped fast.
It is all spended. It is all spent.
It spinned like a top. It spun like a top.
It spitted at him. It spat at him.
Splitted asunder. Split asunder.
Spreaded all abroad. Spread all abroad.
It springed very high. It sprung very high.
It standed by itself. It stood by itself.
It was stealed from me. It was stolen from me.
He sticked in the mud. He stuck in the mud.
The wasp stinged her. The wasp stung her.
I strived to do it. I strove to do it.
He has strived hard. He has striven hard.
He sweared to it. He swore to it.
It swimmed well. It swam well.
He swinged about. He swung about.
She teached me. She taught me.
I was teached so. I was taught so.
It was teared asunder. It was torn asunder.
He telled it thus. He told it thus.
She has thrived well. She has thriven well,
It was throwed aside. It was thrown aside.
He thrusted it through. He thrust it through.
It was treaded down. It was trodden down.
The shoes are weared. The shoes are worn.
He weaved it well. He wove it well.
It was weaved. It was woven.
She weeped sore. She wept sore.
She wetted it. She wet it.
He winned it of me. He won it of me.
The watch is winded up. The watch is wound up.
Of this long list, it be may remarked, that
some of the vulgarities are very glaring, and
few persons above the rank of the lowest
classes will readily mistake them; but the
greater number we may hear every day among
the careless, the thoughtless, and the half
educated. I would recommend a careful perusal
of the whole table, to fix the correct words
in the memory.
There is a remarkable contraction, or rather
mispronunciation, of the syllable "ing" at the
end of words, which I would also press on the
attention of the reader, as it is extremely
common in all parts of the empire. "Loving,"
for example, is pronounced lovin; "something,"
somethin; "nothing," nothin; "writing,"
writin; &c. In England, these words
are often vulgarly pronounced with an error,
the opposite of what I have just reprehended,
the "g" being sounded too strongly, as if the
words were written nothingg, somethingg, lovingg,
writingg, &c. Frequently also we may
hear the "g" changed into a "k," and then
these same words will be sounded somethink,
nothink, lovink, writink, &c. All of which common
vulgarities are very different from the correct
sound, in which the "g" should not be
heard, except it mingles with the ringing nasal
sound of the "n." Mr. Walker, who is a good
authority in most cases, says, that the best
speakers pronounce "singin," "bringin," "flingin,"
"wingin," to avoid the disagreeable repetition
of the same sound. For the same reason,
the most vulgar and incorrect omission will
be in the words beginnin, pinnin, sinnin, &c.
In a particular class of words, of which I
shall next take notice, the letter "t," when it
follows "s," is sunk in pronunciation, and the
word is of course contracted. It will be the
most useful way of exhibiting those words, to
arrange them in a table.
VULGAR SOUND. CORRECT SOUND.
VULGAR SOUND. CORRECT SOUND.
Among vulgar contractions, I may perhaps
be allowed to mention the word "genius," when
pronounced as it sometimes is, genus. "Ordinary"
is also vulgarly contracted into or'nary,
and "extraordinary" into extr'or'nary. Mr.
Walker says, the best speakers say "ord 'nary,"
and "extr'ord'nary." The word "superfluous"
we often hear vulgarly sounded with the
second "u" left out, as if written, superflous.
The titles of civility, "ladyship," "madam,"
and "mistress," are very usually contracted in
speaking, and the circumstances alone can determine
upon the vulgarity or the correctness
of this. There can be no doubt that it is as
pedantic and vulgar to pronounce "mistress"
at full length, as to say master instead of
"mister." A servant may correctly talk of his
"master" or his mistress;" but in the case of
"Mr. and Mrs. White," it would be extremely
vulgar not to pronounce "Mister and Missis
White." In the North, and in Ireland, "Mrs."
is therefore incorrectly pronounced mistress by
almost every body. I think the contraction of
"ladyship" into la'ship must be considered vulgar,
and the contraction of "madam into ma'am
also, in the case of ladies of rank or distinction,
though it may be correctly used in speaking
to females in the middle ranks of society.
The mincing pronunciation of this contraction,
however, as if it were written me'm, cannot in
any case be permitted, and is very vulgar indeed.
At the bar, the words "lord and "lordship,"
are vulgarly contracted into lu'dd and
lu'ddship, or still worse la'dd and la'ddship.
I shall here insert another short table of miscellaneous
contractions, universally common in
vulgar conversation, and necessary therefore
to be carefully avoided.
Ma, shall I tell Pa so? Mamma, shall I tell Papa so?
I'd do it for him. I would do it for him.
I've attended to that. I have attended to that.
I'll go to-morrow. I shall go to-morrow.
I'll not go there. I will not go there.
I'm ready now. I am ready now.
Thou'st said right. You have said right.
Thou'rt quite wrong. You are quite wrong.
Thou'dst not refuse me. You would not refuse me.
Thou'lt have it then. You will have it then.
She's gone. She is gone.
He'll not come. He will not come.
He'd he in danger. He would be in danger.
It's frosty weather. It is frosty weather.
'Tis very cold. It is very cold.
John's off to-day. John is off to-day.
The Maid's arrived. The maid has arrived.
I'm not i'th' vein. I am not in the vein.
is't good, — that 'un? Is that a good one?
May't answer you? May it answer you?
There's one of 'em. There is one of them.
Will't do, this 'un? Will this one do?
I feel't sorely. I feel it sorely.
Let's seek for him. Let us seek for him.
All's in vain. All is in vain.
That's what I want. That is what I want.
The scar on's cheek. The scar on his cheek.
How d' ye do? How do you do?
D'ye go to-day. Do you go to-day?
I'll come t'ye. I shall come to you.
That is cur'ous• That is curious.
'T wouldn't do. It would not do.
I insist on't. I insist on it.
I have't here. I have it here.
The castle stands upon't. The castle stands upon it.
O'the rock, I mean. On the rock, I mean.
What's that, i'th' name of
wonder I wonder what that is.
I knew't before. I knew it before.
What's the price o't? What is the price of it.
'Twere better not. It were better not.
He will do't himself. He will do it himself.
An't please you. If it please you.
They're still here. They are still here.
They've done't now. They have done it now.
They'd be wrong to do it. They would be wrong to do it.
They'll come soon. They will come soon.
You're not going. You are not going.
You've mistaken. You have mistaken.
You'll find it there. You will find it there.
You'd be wrong. You would he wrong.
We're all ready. We are all ready.
We've been there. We have been there.
We'll come to-morrow. We shall come to-morrow.
We'd endeavour to be come. We would endeavour to come.
There's life in't. There is life in it.
He does not go p'rhaps. He does not go perhaps.
I s'pose so. I suppose so.
A very li'lle of it. A very little of it.
The parson was there. The pars'n was there.
The rule, in writing and printing, followed at
present, is to employ no contractions which
can be avoided; and the same rule is applicable,
in a great measure, to speaking, or at
least it is becoming every day more fashionable
in the polite world to avoid all contractions.
As the aim of this little work is correct
speaking, not correct writing, the vulgarities
which are reprobated are chiefly taken from
those that occur in conversation; but the following
very singular instance from a modern
poet, usually distinguished for his elegance and
precision of language, I think deserves notice:
That's hallow'd ground, where, mourn'd, and miss'd,
The lips repose our love has kiss'd;
But where's their memory's mansion? Is't
Yon church yard bowers?
Mr. Horne Tooke, in his ingenious work,
the DIVERSIONS OF PURLEY, has shown that
the lazy habit of contracting words has infected
all languages, and produced modifications
of sounds exceedingly different from the original
words. These, in process of time, become
established, are used by the most polite
speakers — by every body indeed who speaks
the language, and consequently are no longer
to be considered vulgar, in the same way as we
have seen in several instances in the preceding
pages. I shall here give a specimen of these
"winged words," as the ingenious author, after
Homer, denominates them.
The word "if," then he says, is a contraction
of "give," which in the old Saxon times was pronounced "gif," as it is at present in the
North. "If," therefore means "grant" or
"suppose," as in the phrase, "if I go, you must
stay;" that is, "give, grant, or suppose I go,
you must stay."
"But," again, is a contraction for "be-out;"
that is, "leave out," or "except," as in the
phrase, "she is fair, but she is not handsome;"
that is, "she is fair, be-out, (leaving out the
circumstance of fairness) she is not handsome;
"none but he," that is, "none be-out, or except
"And," in the same way, is a contraction of
the old Saxon word "anad;" which means to
heap together or add; as in the phrase, "you
and I may go;" that is, "you, add I, may go."
"Through," is a contraction of the old word
"thuruh;" meaning a door or passage, as in
the phrase, "the eagle flies through the air;"
that is, "the eagle flies, passage the air, or the
air being the passage."
"Till," is a contraction of "to while;" and
is only employed to express time, as in the
phrase, "tarry here till I return;" which means,
"tarry here to while, or to the time I return."
When "till" is otherwise employed, it is incorrect
and vulgar, as "he went till London," instead
of "he went to London;" "I intend till
do it," for "I intend to do it." The word
"until," which was formerly used for "till," is
wearing out of fashion.
The syllable "ly," at the end of words, is a
contraction of "like," as, "prettily" means
"pretty-like;" "darkly" means "dark-like;"
and so of other cases.
In this division, I shall take notice of a few
singular forms of expression, the vulgarity of
which is striking enough; but it would be difficult
to characterise them in any other manner
than by their being awkward, and they can be
compared to nothing more appropriate than the
stumbling gait of one who walks awkwardly.
The first of this class which I shall mention,
is a peculiarly awkward manner of bringing in
the name of a person at the end of a sentence,
with the words "is," "was," or "does," before
it. This cannot be described more intelligibly
except by an example, such as you may
hear every day in all parts of England, as, "he
is a worthy man, is Mr. Howard;" instead of saying
correctly, "Mr. Howard is a worthy man."
"She is a pretty woman, is Mrs. Howard;"
instead of "Mrs. Howard is a pretty woman."
"He was very fortunate, was Mr. Pitt;" instead
of "Mr. Pitt was very fortunate." "He
often comes here, does Mr. Grace;" instead of
"Mr. Grace often comes here."
The same awkward manner of speaking runs
through other phrases; such as, "it is not quite
what I want, that;" instead of "that is not quite
what I want;" "it is exactly right, this book;"
instead of "this book is exactly right;" "will
it do, this one, at half-a-crown?" instead of
"will this one, at half-a-crown, do?" "is it the
very best, that dark blue one?" instead of "is
that dark blue one the very best;" "shall I
send it to you, the superfine one?" instead of
"shall I send you the superfine one?" "He
trots well, that horse does;" instead of "that
horse trots well;" "it is neatly finished, that
house is;" instead of "that house is neatly
finished;" it has been newly arranged, the
library has;" instead of "the library has been
newly arranged;" "it is excellent, that is;" instead
of "that is excellent;" "it looks towards
the South, the garden does;" instead of "the
garden looks towards the South;" "I am very
fond of flowers, I am;" instead of "I am very
fond of flowers."
Another of those awkward modes of expression,
which, besides, wears an air of affectation,
and might have been properly enough mentioned
in a preceding page, will be most conviently
described by examples; for instance,
"pass we now to another subject;" instead of
plainly saying "let us pass," or "we shall now
pass;" "return we then to the story;" instead of
"let us return, or "we shall then return." This
phraseology is particularly awkward, affected,
and vulgar; as well as the similar expression,
"true it is;"instead of "it is true."
It would be easy to give a thousand examples
of similar awkward vulgarities, but these will
be sufficient to put the intelligent reader on his
guard against them. Such expressions indeed
are not only extremely vulgar, but uncouth and
harsh, and are more like the blunders of a
foreigner than a person speaking in his mother--
A very similar vulgarity to the one mentioned,
p.48, is usually prefaced by the word "that;" as
in the phrases, "he is very miserly, that he is
instead of simply saying, "he is very miserly;"
or if more force is wished to he given to the
expression, "he is very miserly indeed;" "she
dances very well, that she does;" instead
"she dances very well indeed;" "it would be
very hard, that it would;" "instead of "it would
be very hard indeed."
expression is no less vulgar when it is used as
a confirmation of any remark made by another
person; as if Mr. A. would say, "It is a very
ingenious plan," and Mr. B. would say, "That
it is;" Mr, A. "The inventor will make a fortune
by it," Mr. B. "That he will, I'll be
bound." All such phrases beginning with that
are awkward vulgarities, which correct speakers
I must class among the awkward vulgarities
the very common practice, particularly in England,
of ending every sentence with a question,
for the most part quite meaningless, as no
answer is expected. For example, "it freezes
hard to day, don't it?" the mild weather is now
gone, a'n't it? and we are already in the midst
of winter, a'n't we?" or, " you like plum-pudding,
eh? a very good dish, a'n't it? Mrs. A.
makes it excellent, don't she?" — I know nothing
more offensive than this continued repetition of
meaningless questions, which is one of the most
common of the awkward vulgarities we hear
in the South. To impress it the more strongly
on the attention of the reader, as I think it of
some importance, I shall give a short table with
I went very quick — didn't I?
for I always do — don't I? I went very quick, as I
I could do it — couldn't I? I could do it.
It is very easy — a'n't it? It is very easy.
He is away now — a'n't he? He is away now.
He is a worthy man — eh? He is a worthy man.
That looks pretty — don't it? That looks pretty.
She ought to do it — oughtn't
she She ought to do it.
For she was paid for it — wasn't
she? For she was paid for it.
We were lucky — weren't we? We were lucky.
We have got over it now—
haven't we? We have got over it now.
It would never do — would it? It would never do.
I'm ready to go — a'n't I? I am ready to go.
Is it possible?
You do not say so?
I do not mean, by these remarks and examples,
to insinuate that questions are never to be
asked; I only wish to caution those who would
speak correctly, to avoid the continual repetition
of them, and most particularly those questions
beginning with the vulgar contraction a'n't,
which is greatly worse than don't and didn't,
bad as these are. If you attend to the rule of
never asking a question unnecessarily, or where
you do not wish for, nor expect an answer, you
will avoid this awkward practice.
I have some hesitation in mentioning a very
awkward species of phraseology which has
lately become so common, that perhaps,
can scarcely be reckoned vulgar, though
stiffness, pedantry, and awkwardness be vulgar,
I know not what else it can be called. The
awkward phraseology to which I refer has
been obviously introduced to avoid the repetition
of names, and for the sake of variety; first,
perhaps, in books, or more likely in public
assemblies, where it appears to be the order
of the day to avoid mentioning names as much.
as possible. For example, when Mr. A. is
alluded to, he is called that gentleman, instead
of using the shorter and more legitimate words
"he" or "him". This, however, is not so
awkward, as when it is applied to the names of
things, as will appear more strikingly by the
following extract taken from a Medical Journal:
"We have received a very pressing petition
from the word "IT," begging that we would
interpose our authority to prevent the said
"IT" from having its legitimate place usurped
in medical language, by the unlawful intrusion
of "that," and "this," who have in pay a whole
host of mercenary names, to keep "IT" from
its legal rights. Amongst a thousand instances
of the usurpation complained of, we find that
the brain is called that viscus; the stomach,
that bowel; the heart, this organ; the arm, this
member; oxygen, that gaseous body; opium,
that medicinal; water, that menstruum, &c. in
all of which cases, and innumerable others of
the same kind, the said "IT" maintains that
it alone is, and should be used in classical
and correct language, and that all innovations
of this sort, are a corruption of style, not to be
tolerated. — We think the petitioner is right,
and shall endeavour to correct the abuse, both
in ourselves, and in those who come before our
I recollect some book of travels in the East,
that the author, wishing, no doubt, to write
very sublimely, while speaking of a "tiger," in
order to avoid both the common word tiger,
and the little word "IT," calls it "that horrid
object of man's detestation." This is precisely
the same awkward, and round-about vulgarity
as calling the stomach that bowel, or the intestines
that tube, or a member of Parliament that
gentleman. I could wish that all such awkward
expressions were banished from the language;
but I fear the last quoted instance, and a few
others of the same class, are already established
It is a very common habit of awkward
speakers to interlard what they say with ha
and hm, and other unintelligible and foolish
sounds. You may hear this every day, even
among those whose education ought to have
rendered them more polished. For example,
"As I was — hm — passing Hyde Park corner
— ha — my horse — hm — stumbled and a — a—
nearly threw me." A very little more would
render this absolute stuttering, and yet it is a
common fault in speakers, who do not stutter
in the usual sense of the term.
It is a fault analogous to this, and even
more common, particularly in England, where
every other person seems to be infected, if I
may say so, with the habit of repeating words
twice or thrice, in the greater number of sentences
which he utters. An example will
show what I mean, and I shall take the one last
given: — "As — as — I was — as I was passing
Hyde Park corner — my — my horse — my horse
stumbled, and nearly threw me."
Some may imagine that this is caricature,
but I venture to say, that if the reader observe
attentively, he may hear every day this
awkward vulgarity, as bad as in the preceding
example, from persons who do not stutter.
The words "I" and "my," are perhaps the
most frequently repeated of any other, as in
the example "I — I — I — intended to go; but
my — my — my things did not arrive in time."
There can scarcely be a more awkward manner
of speaking than this, and I advise every
Englishman, who reads this, to attend to his
own speaking, and observe whether he has
contracted this vulgar habit; and, if he has, to
correct it as speedily as he can. I wish, however,
to be distinctly understood not to mean
in this case, a habit of stuttering ; for this is a
repetition of entire words, and not of letters
and syllables as stuttering usually is. It is so
very common also, that it is seldom, I believe, remarked
by the speaker himself, though it must
always be disagreeably obvious to the hearer.
I shall here introduce a few appropriate remarks
on this subject from Lord Chesterfield's
letters. "From your own observation," says
he, "reflect what a disagreeable impression
an awkward manner of speaking, whether stuttering,
muttering, monotony, or drawling, make
upon you at first sight, in a stranger, and how
they prejudice you against him, though, for
aught you know, he may have great intrinsic
sense and merit. And reflect on the other
hand, how much the opposites of all these
things prepossess you at first sight, in favour
of those who enjoy them. You wish to find all
good qualities in them, and are in some degree
disappointed if you do not. A thousand little
things, not separately to be defined, conspire to
form these graces that always please. A
pretty person, genteel motions, a proper degree
of dress, an harmonious voice, something open
and cheerful in the countenance, but without
laughing; a distinct and properly varied manner
in speaking: all these things, and many
others, are necessary ingredients in the composition
of the art of pleasing manners, which
every body feels, though nobody can describe.
"Many people, at first from awkwardness,
have got a very disagreeable and silly trick of
laughing whenever they speak; and I know a
man of very good parts Mr. Waller, who cannot
say the commonest thing without laughing,
which makes those who do not know him, to
take him at first for a natural fool. This, and
many other disagreeable habits, are owing to
false shame at their first setting out in the
world. They are ashamed in company, and so
disconcerted, that they do not know what to
do, and try a thousand tricks to keep themselves
in countenance; which tricks afterwards
grow habitual to them. Some put their fingers
in their nose, others scratch their heads, others
twirl their hats; in short, every awkward ill--
bred body has his trick. But the frequency
does not justify the thing; all these vulgar
habits and awkwardnesses, though not criminal,
indeed, are most carefully to be guarded
against, as they are great bars in the way of
the art of pleasing; if a man has parts, he must
know of what infinite consequence it is to him
to have a graceful manner of speaking, and a
genteel pleasing address; and he will cultivate
and improve them to the utmost.
"What is the constant and just observation
to all actors upon the stage? Is it not that those
who have the best sense always speak the best,
though they may not happen to have the best
voices? They will speak plainly, distinctly, and
with the proper emphasis, be their voices ever
so bad. Had Roscius spoken quick, thick, and
ungracefully, Cicero would not have thought
him worth the oration which he made in his
favour. Words were given to us to communicate
our ideas by; and there must be something
inconceivably absurd, in such a manner, that
people either cannot understand them, or will
not desire to understand them. I tell you
truly and sincerely, that I shall judge of your
parts by your speaking gracefully or ungracefully.
If you have parts, you will never be at
rest till you have brought yourself to a habit
of speaking most gracefully; for I aver, that it
is in your power. Desire some friend that you
may read aloud to him every day; and that he
will interrupt and correct you every time that
you read too fast, do not observe the proper
stops, or lay a wrong emphasis. You will take
care to open your teeth when you speak; to
articulate every word distinctly; and beg of
any friend you speak to, to remind and stop
you, if ever you fall into the rapid and unintelligible
mutter; read aloud to yourself, and tune
your utterance to your own ear, and read at
first much slower than you need to do, in order
to correct yourself of shamefully speaking faster
than you ought. If you think right, you will
make it your business, your study, and your
pleasure to speak well. The graces of the person,
the countenance, and the way of speaking,
contribute so much to this art of pleasing, that
I am convinced the very same thing said by a
genteel person, in an engaging way, and gracefully
and distinctly spoken, would please;
which would shock, if muttered out by an
awkward figure, with a sullen serious countenance.
The poets always represent Venus as
attended by the three Graces, to intimate that
even beauty will not do without. I think they
should have given Minerva three also, for without
them, I am sure, learning is very unattractive.
Invoke them, then, distinctly, to accompany
all your words and motions. Do not
mistake me; I not only mean that you should
speak elegantly with regard to style, and
purity of language; but I mean that you
should deliver and pronounce what you say
gracefully and distinctly; for which purpose I
will have you frequently read very loud to a
friend, recite parts of orations, and speak passages
of plays. For, without a graceful enunciation,
all your elegancy of style in speaking
will be of little avail."
After this luminous exposure of the evils of
awkward vulgarities in speaking, and the best
means to avoid or remedy them by the great
master of politeness, it will not be necessary for
me to add another word on the subject.
As some are very careful, pedantickly precise,
and affected in their speaking, so there are
others who adopt the opposite mode of a careless
and slovenly indifference. This is most
observable in words which occur very frequently
in conversation, and is, indeed, the vulgar
error of contraction carried to the extreme.
We hear in this manner the word "yes" pronounced
with every shade of slovenly indistinctness
from the 's, or half-hiss, as it may
well be called, to the grating 'ns, pronounced
with the teeth shut, as if it were too much
trouble to open the mouth in speaking. One of
the worst forms of this vulgarity is peculiar to,
Ireland', consisting of the French u, or the
Scotch u in "guse" before the s, as if written
'us, a sound which is extremely offensive to an
English ear. All these sounds of "yes" are
equally bad and vulgar with the broad sound
yâs, which is by no means uncommon in England.
The word "no" cannot be mangled in
the same way; but slovenly speakers will hang
upon the "n" in a drawling vulgar manner, as
if were written n-no.
Various sounds, altogether inexpressible by
letters, are used by slovenly speakers instead
of "yes." The only one of these which can be
made intelligible on paper is hm or mm, a sound
which no well bred person will ever use instead
of yes, as it is, perhaps, even more vulgar
than the slovenly custom of nodding or
shaking the head, without deigning to speak
Several words, in common use, which end in
"m" are mumbled in the same way, such as
"them," which is sounded th'm, as in the
phrases, "I sent th'm to 'm," for "I sent them
to them;" "she has none of th'm," for she has
none of them." The contraction of "madam"
into "ma'am", is still farther vulgarized by slovenly
speakers, as if it were written m'm.
Among other vulgar habits of slovenly
speakers, we may reckon the forgetting of
names, or rather the carelessness of remembering
them. You will hear vulgar people of this
class talk of Mr. Thingum, or Mrs. What d'yecall-her,
or How-do-you-call-her, without giving
themselves the slightest trouble to recollect the
names for which they use such offensively vulgar
substitutes. Others refine, as they imagine,
upon this, by using Mr. Thingumbob and
Mr. Thingumie, instead of the shorter vulgarity
Mr. Thingum; or any other strange
sounding word which they can invent. This
vulgarity is not confined to the names of persons,
but is employed in every other case.
Thus, steam engine or a printing press will
be talked about as a thingumie, and a railroad
or a patent lock as a what-d'ye-call-it. If
the memory of people is so very treacherous
and deficient that they cannot recollect names,
it would be much better either to avoid speaking
of them if possible, or to turn the sentence
in such a manner as may allow of the name
A drawling indistinct manner of utterance
may also be reckoned among the slovenly vulgarities,
which ought to be carefully avoided
by the correct and polished speaker; as it indicates
an indifference to those who are spoken
to, and this is directly contrary to all the rules
of polite behaviour and respect for society.
This, however, is not, I am glad to observe, so
common a fault as many of the others which I
have pointed out.
I must not omit to mention among the slovenly
vulgarities, the habit of not listening attentively
to those who speak to you, in consequence
of which, you are forced to ask them to
repeat what they have been saying. In some
persons, this slovenly habit has become so confirmed
that they cry out "what?" or "eh?" or
"sir?" to whatever is said to them, as if they
were deaf, though the fault lies wholly in their
slovenly habit of not listening. This habit of
making every body who speaks to them repeat
their words twice or thrice over, is not
only vulgar, but extremely rude and insulting,
as every species of inattention cannot fail to
prove. This mode of causing a person to repeat
what he has just been saying, is a different
kind of vulgarity from that which I have reprobated
in another place, of ending every sentence
with a vulgar a'n't it? don't it? or some similar
expression; for in that case an answer is seldom
expected, while the continual what? or
sir? or what do you say? are not expected to
To begin a story, Lord Chesterfield well remarks,
when you are not perfect in it, and cannot
go through with it, but are probably forced
in the middle of your narrative to say, "I have
forgot the rest," is very slovenly and bungling;
and it would have been much better if you had
not begun it, than exposed yourself and tantalized
your auditors. He adds, in conformity
with what I have above said, that the voice and
manner of speaking are not to be neglected:
some people almost shut their mouths when
they speak, and mutter and sputter so fast, that
they are not to be understood; some always
speak aloud as if they were speaking to deaf
people, and others so low that one cannot hear
them. All these habits are awkward, slovenly,
and disagreeable, and are to be avoided by attention.
They are the distinguishing marks
of the vulgar who have had no care taken of
I shall mention only one other slovenly habit
of speaking, which is so much the worse, that
it is frequently affected for the purpose of
showing off the independent indifference of
the speaker, who wishes it to be understood
that he is above the trouble of using all the
words employed by other people in expressing
himself. A person of this class, instead of
saying, "I intend going to Paris at the end of
the season, as the Winter is more gay there;
than it is amidst the fogs of London;" will say
in the style of slovenly affectation, — "Intend
going to Paris — end of — season — winter—
more gay — town monstrous foggy — dull place
— is* town:" — a style of speaking derived most
probably from the nursery, and ought not to
be tolerated even in a child. I shall give another
brief instance of this: instead of saying
"I know the gentleman you mean; I met him
in the steam-packet on Tuesday; he looks
hearty and thrives fast in the world;" the
slovenly speaker will say, — "know — gentleman
you mean — met him in — steam-packet — Tuesday
— looks hearty — thrives fast in — world."
VULGAR BYE-WORDS AND EXCLAMATIONS.
The writers of dramas and tales, the object
of which is to delineate the various characters
*See Page 43, above, under Awkward Vulgarities.
and classes of society, almost uniformly distinguish
their low and vulgar personages by the
repetition of some favourite phrase or bye--
word; and the reader may remark, that this
holds equally true in real life, as almost every
ill-bred, ill-educated person, has some favourite
word or expression, which is repeated on all
occasions whether it be appropriate or not,
in the same way as a parrot repeats the words
it has been taught, without either aim or meaning.
Every body laughs at Dominie Sampson,
in the tale, for continually exclaiming prodigious!
but many of those who laugh are themselves
guilty of vulgarities of a similar kind,
which, though they may not be aware of them,
are, for the most part obvious enough to others.
Some persons are fond of the words shocking!
impossible! others of patience me! or my goodness!
others of gracious! or indeed! or yes
indeed! all of which are exceedingly vulgar, as
every word is when made a bye-word and repeated
on all occasions. Some of the dramatic
characters are ever repeating — body o' me!
or similar exclamations equally foolish, with
the Irish botheration! the English pesteration!
and the Scotch sorrow be on't! sorrow tak'
ye! and sorrow-me-care!
One class of those vulgar bye-words is usually
commenced with the phrase, in the name of;
for example, in the name of all that's good! — in
the name of wonder! — the name of fortune!.
and a multitude of other names, all equally to
be avoided by the correct speaker as meaningless
and vulgar. If you will take the trouble
to consider one of those bye-words, you will at
once see that it can have no possible signification.
Take the phrase, "Why did you go
into such low company, in the name of all that's
gracious?" and tell me whether this name —
bye-word, as I may well call it, adds any thing
to the sentence except a clumsy vulgarity?
Another very common and absurd bye-word,
used by ill-educated people, is never to mention
a sum of money simply, without adding
the vulgar preface to the tune of. You will
thus be told that a banker has left his widow
something to the tune of 50,000l.; and "the
Chancery suit cost him to the tune of 5000l.,
besides a cool hundred* or two in the King's
Bench." It is scarcely possible to conceive
how this jargon could ever be introduced, or.
ever become so common as it now is; it is
something near akin to slang, as we shall afterwards
see. All bye-words, indeed, are a species
* Why not a "warm hundred" as well
of slang; for example, pester me! but I'll do
it. I'll be soused if I don't! Every expression
of this kind bears the strong stamp of vulgarity.
Exclamations of O my! — O la! — La, ma'am!
— Alack-a-day! — lack-a-daisy! — Is it possible?
— You do not say so? — Figs and fiddlesticks!
and hundreds of a similar description
are no less vulgar than common among the
half educated classes. I may also mention pooh!
pooh! pish! pshaw! which the grammarians
call interjections, or "words thrown in," as
being seldom heard in polite conversation. At
the same time, that I denounce those as for the
most part vulgar, I must also say, that it is
chiefly when they are very frequently repeated;
FOR OCCASIONS MAY OCCUR when some of
them may be used with propriety. As a proof
that such exclamations are low and undignified,
it may be stated that they are seldom, if
ever, found in elegant composition, or in works
on history, but are confined to plays, novels,
and other light productions.
I have taken notice in a preceding page of
the affected repetition of the words Vast, mighty,
immense, and a few others which may be considered
vulgar bye-words, as well as the words
monstrous, pretty, and confounded, when repeated
in the same way without meaning; as in the
phrases, monstrous good, confounded bad, pretty
fair, confounded ugly, pretty much, monstrous
little. In the same way the very lowest of the
people use the abominable word "bloody," almost
every time they speak, examples of the
use of which would be too repulsive to be introduced
here with propriety. Indeed I would
scarcely have ventured to mention this hateful
word (which never can be used, I hope, by
any body who reads this work) had it not been
to show the analogy between its use and that
of bye-words which get into better society
though they have a vulgar character. The
words wretched and miserably are sometime
used in the same way, as wretched small, miserably
The words curious, wonderful, singular
strange, queer, and odd, are also very commonly
bandied about where they have no business
being produced either in form of solitary exclamations,
or as words ready to be applied
all things congruous or incongruous; as in the
instances, "well, that is wonderful! it is curious,
I never thought of it! but he is a strange
man, and his wife is no less a queer woman;
odd enough to be sure! but yet it is singular
they should have done this." "How curious
I feel after that queer accident!"
"Important," and "great," are bye-words
which naturally follow to be considered after
those I have just discarded from good company.
For example, a person who has fixed
upon these as favourite bye-words, will exclaim,
"that is great! a most important discovery,
certainly! the very great importance
of it must be self evident. It is important indeed
to all; and again and again I say, it is
great!" "I have no great opinion of his
The words "odious," and "precious," will
follow the same rule as those I have been proscribing;
for example, "You odious creature,
how could you bring here that precious friend
of yours? A rare couple, you are, I know."
Then there is that odious Mr. A. and the precious
Mrs. B., they will be the death o'me!"
"Famous" is a favourite bye-word with many,
and is vulgarly introduced, like others of the
same class, in the most incongruous manner.
Thus, you may hear of "a famous good dinner,"
though nobody ever heard of it except the
speaker. In the same way the word is hacknied
by applying it to many things which
neither have nor can have any "fame;" the
only circumstance that renders anything "famous."
The word "real," is another of the
as same vulgar class, "real good;" "real excellent."
This is a very low expression, as well
as capital! "A capital good one," or "a real
capital good one," which you may often hear
said by vulgar people.
The vulgar are in the universal habit of
continually using such expressions as I know;
— in all my life; — in my born days; — that
beats Harry; — that beats the globe; — I never
heard of such a thing, &c. To bring in expressions
of this kind on all occasions, is the very
height of vulgarity in speaking. For example,
"I wo'nt go, I know;" "I never heard of such
a thing in my life, I know; — it beats George
hollow;" "'Fore George! it's shocking, I know;
it beats all." If you wish to speak well and,
correctly, all such phrases must be carefully
avoided. The expression "I know," is by no
means vulgar, however, when properly introduced
at the beginning of a sentence: it is
only so, when constantly repeated at the end
of sentences, and without meaning, as in the
examples just given. As this phrase "I know,"
is a vulgar bye-word at the end, on the same
principle the phrase "I see," is vulgar at the beginning
of sentences, or when often repeated by
itself. This bye-word, I see, however, is extremely
common with many, particularly in Ireland.
The word "however," in the last sentence,
puts me in mind, that though it is a very good,
and polite word of itself, it is often vulgarly
applied at the end of sentences, where it ought
never to appear; and it is worthy of remark,
that it cannot, in elegant speaking, either begin
or end a sentence, but ought to stand near the
beginning. I shall not, however, when standing
first in a sentence, designate it as vulgar, though
inelegant, but confine my reprobation to the
word when used as a bye-word, at the end of
a sentence; for example, "I shall not agree to
that proposal, however;" "He intends to post
to London with all speed, however;" "That
is certainly a very singular and wonderful circumstance,
however." All these "howevers,"
in this bye-word manner of using them,
are unquestionably as vulgar as they are common,
particularly in England. May be so, and
it may so, are expressions very similarly abused
by the vulgar.
Many words and expressions similar to
"however," "I see," and "I know," which
are in themselves correct, and excellent when
properly employed, become extremely vulgar
as bye-words continually repeated. I may
instance as examples of my meaning, the
phrases "I think;" "I should think;" "I suppose;"
"I should like to know;" "I should be
glad to know;" "In my opinion;" "In my
mind, &c." The last of these (in my mind) is
the worst, and although the polished Lord
Chesterfield repeats it in almost every page of
his writings, I hesitate not to say it is an unpolished,
and scarcely correct expression in
itself, but when repeated as a bye-word on
every occasion, as his Lordship employs it,
there can be no question that it is vulgar.
The mimic satirist, Mathews, might with a
great effect expose the vulgarity of these very
common bye-words, as he has done in his exquisite
caricature of another vulgar bye-word
- and all that sort of thing, which common
expression is ungrammatical, as well as vulgar.
The phrases just mentioned as bye-words,
however, I think; I should think; I suppose;
I should like to know; I should be glad to
know; I should not wonder; In my opinion;
&c. are not in the same circumstances, but are
grammatically correct, and only become vulgar
by continual repetition.
When they are brought in at the end of
sentences by way of finish, they come under
the head of vulgar awkwardness, and are similar
to many of those formerly stated. We
laugh at our American brethren of the United
States, for continually repeating, I guess, and
I calculate; but we never reflect that our own
phrases, I should think so, and In my mind,
with many others, are no less unmeaning and
vulgar when introduced in the same way. For
example, "The mail is not yet arrived, I think;
in consequence of the heavy roads, I suppose;
and it will be at least, I should think, half an
hour later to-day. I should be glad to know why
they do not attend to the repairing of the roads,
which, in my mind, are disgraceful to the
country; that is my opinion." Any person
whose conversation is interlarded, almost every
time he speaks, with such phrases, may be assured
that he can never, while he continues in
this habit, speak with elegance or politeness.
If we translate this into vulgar American, we
shall, perhaps, see its absurdity more strikingly:
"The steamer is not yet arrived, I guess,
in consequence of some accident, I calculate:"
and so of the other phrases.
The word "perhaps," may be remarked as
one of the same vulgar bye-words, particularly
when employed to close a sentence, as in the example,
"He may not be willing to comply, perhaps;"
"I will not be able to undertake it, perhaps."
In all similar cases, the word "perhaps"
should stand first — not last — in the sentence.
Another common and vulgar bye-word is, at
all employed in every sort of meaningless way
and is the successor of the old word withal,
which was vulgarly employed in the same manner,
about a century or more ago, and is occasionally
still used by those who affect an
antiquated stile. As instances of these two
vulgarities, I may give the following examples
"You cannot succeed in that scheme at
all, you may be certain;" "I never heard
any thing of what you have mentioned, at all;"
"With respect to the circumstances in question,
he would say nothing at all" I have
done extremely little withal;" "I think he has
not done much good withal."
For the world, and in the world, are favourite
vulgar bye-words with many, and like
most others of the same class, have seldom any
meaning in the way in which they are employed.
"I would not do that for the world;"
"Nothing in the world could induce me;"
"I have no objections — not the least in the
world." There are no doubt worse vulgarities
than these; but when they are made constant
bye-words, as the phrases in question usually
are, we cannot hesitate to proscribe them from
polished and correct speaking.
In the north of England more particularly,
though it occurs sometimes in other districts,
the word Nay! is repeated on all occasions,
and consequently is often used without meaning,
in the same way as indeed, and yes indeed,
become vulgar bye-words, by tiresome reiteration.
In Ireland, they are not contented with
one "indeed," but use two, as in the phrase,
indeed and indeed now. The following, is an
example of some of these
Mr. A. "Indeed, and indeed now, you must
accompany me, however."
Mr. B. "Nay! I intended to go."
Mr. A. "Indeed! it is the best thing you can
do, in my mind."
Mr. B. "Nay! I am convinced of it from
what Mr. C. told me."
Mr. A. "Yes indeed! his reasons could not
be withstood, I'm sure."
Mr. B. "Nay! I never dreamed of opposing
them, I did'nt."
I have introduced in the preceding example
the expression "I'm sure," which every reader
will immediately recognize as a bye-word, that
consequently ought to be banished from polite
speaking, except on rarer occasions when it
may be sparingly admitted. Like the other
phrases, the merits of which I have just
been discussing, "I'm sure," becomes vulgar
chiefly from continued repetition. Like similar
expressions also, it becomes much worse
at the close of a sentence, than at the beginning;
and is much akin to, I know and
you know, or I see, I think, &c. For example
"Nobody understands that so well as you, I'm
sure;" "The case is not in point, I'm sure;"
"It is rather a singular instance, you must know
and I do not remember any thing like it, I'm
sure;" "Well, as I was saying, he called up
Mr. A. you know, and it was a curious interview,
to be sure." This last phrase "to be
sure," is in such instances altogether without
meaning, and decidedly vulgar. The phrase
when contracted, as it often is, into 'sure is still
worse; as "he is ready now, sure; and will use
all despatch to arrive in time, for he has much
at stake, sure." This is a very common Irish
vulgarity, and is also occasionally heard in
England. Surely, is a kindred word, that is
likewise misapplied as a bye-word by the vulgar,
as in the phrase, "That will never succeed
surely; for it seems to be impossible I know;
"Surely, surely! it is a mad scheme altogether."
The phrase "As I was saying," reminds me of
the very common vulgar bye-words, says I
and says he, which are now confined, if I do
not mistake, to the lower ranks of society, and
when they at any time get into better company,
they are usually transformed into said I, and
said he, though these also bear the character
of vulgarity, when reiterated. The expression
says I, besides its vulgarity, is not grammatical,
upon a principle which I shall show when I
come to treat of ungrammatical expressions.
Every body must have remarked the offensively
stunning repetition of these expressions in
the conversation of the lowest vulgar, and I need
scarcely enjoin any of my readers to avoid
Among other common bye-words (and I
wish it to be recollected that all bye-words are
vulgar) I cannot pass by really, certainly, and
undoubtedly, which though they are all good
legitimate, and polite words when kept in their
proper places, become degraded and vulgar,
when incessantly reiterated as bye-words.
Lady Morgan in one of her tales, caricatures
the first of these with considerable humour, by
introducing one of her characters, who every
time he speaks, says "really now!" and "oh!
really now, 'pon honour!" When the word,
"really," is introduced as a question, which is
as common a vulgarity in Ireland, as a'n't it,
and do'n't it, are in England; it is equally reprehensible
with the more universal use of it
at the close of a sentence. For example, "I
do not think so, really!" "You must endeavour
to procure that for me, as I cannot do
without it, really!" In the same way the
words, "certainly," and "undoubtedly," are
very often abused. As affirmations, more
emphatic and pointed than a simple "yes,"
these two words may be correctly employed,
but never in any case ought they to be introduced
at the close of a sentence, as in the examples,
"he intends to be a candidate, certainly;"
"I shall try to give you all the assistance
in my power, undoubtedly;" For certain
is a similar but more vulgar phrase, as "he is
off, for certain, and will not return again I
know." This phrase, "for certain," is an incorrect
and ungrammatical abridgement of
"for a certainty," which is a harsh and stiff
expression, and ought to be avoided, though it
is correct in a grammatical point of view.
I dare say, or as it is contracted in some
parts of England, I d'r say, and in Scotland
A dar' say, or without the "I" dare say," is an
extremely common bye-word, and like all suck
is frequently destitute of meaning. It is sometimes
varied, for the purpose of greater effect,
by I'll be bound to say, or I venture to affirm,
which though very good and correct expressions
in themselves, must often be ranked with
vulgar bye-words, or with vulgar egotisms.
"There will be no occasion for my assistance,
I dare say;" "he has arrived long ago, I dare
say;" "it is impossible, I will venture to
The expression, "upon the whole," is only
correct when not employed, as it most frequently
is, in the form of a meaningless bye--
word. "I have no great opinion of him, upon
the whole; "I am quite resolved not to do it,
upon the whole;" "yet, upon the whole, it appears
very singular, that he should have gone
off in that kind of way too." This expression
"in that kind of way," it will be remarked, is
of the same class with "all that sort of thing,"
I could never understand the genuine meaning
of the vulgar bye-word, for good and all,
or as it is so often abridged, for good. I can
understand well enough "they intend to go
to-morrow for good," to mean that they intend
to go entirely or altogether, for custom
has thus determined this signification to
be the usual meaning; — yet the words "for
good" do not appear to bear it out; and unless
this expression, "for good" he considered
to be a fragment of "for good, or for evil,
for better or for worse," we must be content
to remain ignorant of its import and origin.
If this be its source then it would appe
that, originally, it was not quite so unintelligible
as it is in its present vulgar form.
The introduction of words which are of
use in explaining the thoughts of the speak
must be considered out of place, incorrect,
consequently vulgar. Of this I shall give
examples of bye-words, that I am sorry to
mark are rather common, being useless introductions
of the words "matter," and "any,"
which are otherwise, I need scarcely say, very
good words. The expressions to which I object
as vulgar are subject-matter, and any the
least. The first was pointed out many years
ago by Dr. Armstrong, the poet, in his essay
and at present it is seldom used, I believe, except
by lawyers; but so long as the word
"subject," is sufficiently expressive alone, the
can be no use for idly adding to it the word
On the same principle any the least is uselessly
redundant, as "the least," without "any
is sufficiently expressive, not to mention that
the phrase objected to is ungrammatical. If
it were wished to render it emphatic, the
proper expression would be "any — even the
Apropos, a French phrase which originally
means "to the purpose" is a common bye--
word with many people, so much so, that it
may now be considered as naturalized in England;
yet, as Lord Chesterfield well remarks,
it is commonly used to introduce any other
subject than that which is to the purpose.
For example, if you are talking about
the Park, though you give no hint about the
statue, a vulgar person will interrupt you by
saying "apropos of statues — what think you
of the statue at Hyde Park corner," and if you,
out of good nature, reply to the impertinent
question, and give your reasons for thinking
it Roman, and not Grecian, he will
again catch at the word "Grecian," and say
"Apropos of the Greeks, how is this deuced
war of theirs likely to end?" and without
even waiting for your answer will probably
run on — "talking of war, I think the South
Americans are very inferior in that important
art*." The phrase talking of, or speaking of;
and two other vulgarisms "by the bye" and
"by the way," which are thus employed in the
* See pages 52, 53 above.
very same manner as "apropos," to bring in
something not to the purpose, are vulgarisms
which ought always to be avoided, were it for
nothing more than a polite feeling of courtesy
towards the person thus interrupted.
A very common and vulgar English bye--
word is, "I know no more than the dead where
he is;" or "I cannot tell what to say no more
than the dead." This vulgarism might perhaps
have been arranged under the chapter of comparisons,
but I thought it would be more prominent
here, and its universal occurrence
makes it of moment to impress it upon the attention
of the reader. In other parts of the
country, a similar phrase is exemplified in the
expression, "I am as ignorant of it as the child
that was born yesterday;" or "he is as ignorant
of it as a new born babe."
The phrase to death is often employed as a
vulgar bye-word, as in the expression, "I am
teased to death;" "I am vexed to death;" "I
am bored* to death;" "I am worried to death"
"I was squeezed to death at the theatre tonight,"
and hundreds of other instances of the
same kind, It is an illustration of the principle
of exaggerating, the extensive influence of which
will appear as we proceed.
* See Slang Vulgarities below.
The "eyes" appear to be very unfortunate in
getting so frequently into bad company, as
every body must have remarked the lowest
vagabonds saying, "ah! that's all my eye,"
or "that's all my eye and Betty Martin;" a
very few also of the more respectable classes,
though far from being in the first ranks for
politeness and education, foolishly try to soften
down a very offensive vulgar phrase by saying,
"dang my eyes," or sometimes blast my eyes!
though this supposed improvement is scarcely
a shade better than the original expression,
and will always mark those who use it as
coarse, vulgar, ill-bred, and uneducated, as well
as wicked; it is of the same class with the
sailors' phrase "split my timbers," meaning
Another vulgar bye-word is — "all alive and
kicking," the very sound of which is indicative
of low-bred phraseology. The word "all,''
indeed, enters very generally into vulgar expression,
from the "all's right;" of the hackney-coachman
to the "not for all the universe,"
of his employer.
Express-ions of contempt are apt to become
hackneyed bye-words, and usually contain or
imply some contemptuous comparison; for example,
"I do not care a pinch of snuff;" "I do
not care that [snapping the fingers] for him;"
"he does not value it a button ;" "I would not
give a fig for him;" "that is dog cheap;" "it
is what I call, as cheap as dirt;" "this is not
worth a pin's head," "or not worth twopence;"
"I care not a custard for it:" "It does not matter
a single straw;" It cost some matter of an old
song ;" "It does not signify a rush." "I shall
put that in at a mere song ; "it is not worth.
spittle;" "I care not a whit;" "I'll not give
one fraction more, — not a single groat* — not
much as the black before my nail." — This last
expression is not only vulgar from being a bye--
word, but is rude from its allusion to the uncleanly
habit of not brushing and washing the
nails, which is as insufferable among the better
ranks of society, as unwashed hands or uncombed
hair. Vulgarity of expression (it may
be inferred from this,) follows close upon dirty
habits and low company.
It is equally rude and vulgar, as Chesterfield
well remarks, to support every trifling assertation
with a bet or a wager, as "I'll bet you ,fifty to
one of it;" "I would not mind betting a crown to
a shilling that it is so;" "I'll lay you an
wager that you are mistaken;" "A thousand to
* Lord Chesterfield says "not one single groat;" but it is
one! he will never arrive;" "I'll take you a
rump and dozen of that;" "I'll take any bet
that I am in the right;" "What will you lay
upon that point?" and so on. The spirit of
these expressions is as bad as the form; for
they are always meant as direct and triumphant
contradictions, and are consequently no less
rude, unpolite, and ill-bred, than to say, "that
must be false sir;" "I know you are wrong;"
"that can't be true, I know;" "If what you say
be true, you may call me rascal."
This last expression reminds me of a whole
class of vulgarities, in the form of bye-words,
in which "call" usually occupies a prominent
place. For example, a vulgar man will say, "If
it is not so, call me coward;" or, "I give you
leave to call me knave, if you do not find I am
in the right;" "he says you may call him jack--
ass, if he do not attend to the order;" "it is
true, upon my honour, call me cuckold else."
This seems to be the origin of the exclamatory
Vulgar bye-word, "Cuckold me! but I shall be
revenged of* him."
Another vulgarity of this class is marked by
the phrase, is the word, introduced to accompany
some other hackneyed expression, as in
* see English Provincial Vulgarities.
the example of a person enjoining secrecy
who will say "snug! is the word;" or "mum!
is the word." This is borrowed most probably
from the military custom of appointing a password,
and like all other professional phrases
which make their way into common conversation,
is out of place and vulgar. The affectation
of military, naval, and other phraseology
of this kind, will come to be considered more
at length under the head of PEDANTIC VULGARITIES.
I may make the same reference to
details, which will be there introduced as
vulgar bye-words taken from other languages
such as pro bond publico, bonâ fide, in status
quo, nolens volens, ne plus ultra, &c. from the
Latin; — con amore, &c. from the Italian; — and
sans ceremonie, Je ne sçais quoi, au fait,
from the French. Many of these are pointed
expressive, and intrinsically excellent; but
when turned into English bye-words, and used
as they often are, by those who are ignorant
of their meaning, there can be no doubt of their
I shall conclude this long chapter, which
might have been easily extended, by a quotation
with a few slight alterations from a recent
publication of talent and merit — "THE REVELATIONS
OF THE DEAD ALIVE," upon the incorrectness
and absurdity of some bye-words, and
hackneyed expressions not noticed above.
I cannot well contemplate any thing more
unmeaning and absurd, than the variety of unintelligible
parts in the language of the present
day. As, for instance, "How do you do?" —
Shut your eyes, call home your powers of thinking,
forget that you had ever heard this sentence
before — and what idea does it convey to your
mind? "What do you do?" would be intelligible,
though a barbarous tautology; but "HOW--
do-you-do" — do what? — It is sheer nonsense*!
The French "How do you carry yourself?" intended
to express the same polite anxiety, is, if
possible, more ridiculous.
"I found myself" — in a desart, a forest, here
or there, or any where, is no less common and
absurd. To find, is to discover something
which you had never possessed before, or
which you had once possessed, and afterwards
lost. It can be taken in no other sense. And
may I not ask, how a grown man shall pick
himself up for the first time, or after a week's
* Lord Chesterfield has the same remark, "when he
says," for instance, ''How do you do," is absolute nonsense,
but is used by every body. What is the state of your health?
for there are a thousand expressions of this kind in every
language." — Letters, No. 104.
absence? This reminds me of the parallel sentence:
"I lost myself in a forest." If identity,
be rather the mind than the matter of a man
he might lose himself in a forest, by being devoured
by a wild beast, or having his throat
cut by robbers; and in such a case, his body
(he) might subtly be said to lose its spirit
(itself); but how body and mind shall part
walking together in any given direction, or h
he could lose himself, by only turning to the
right or the left — is indeed a puzzle.
Again, our neighbours, the French, apply
their ("Je me trouvois,") I found myself,
a still more extraordinary way. A gentleman
who has been telling you he made an a
pointment with a friend, adds, ("Je me trouvois")
I found myself at the place agreed
upon. Our absurd meaning for the phrase is
limited to, "I entered or visited the place for
the first time, or by chance;" but the Frenchman
knew the place well; he had reconnoitred
it often; yet he says, "he found himself
there," as if by the merest accident.
I was vexed with an acquaintance the other
day, for a mis-statement of my motives, which
he had made to others. I charged him with
the fact, and he attempted to explain. The
explanation did not at all satisfy me, and yet I
detected myself muttering through my teeth,
"no matter." But it was matter. The obvious
contradiction between my words and my thoughts
instantly struck me as very strange. I had
said the opposite of what I felt, and, indeed,
intended to say. But the phrase is used, indifferently,
to denote what it means, and what
it does not mean. "No matter," will serve for
all occasions and characters: for the expression
of contrary emotions, and no emotion at
all. In the depths of despair, a ruined man
will say, "I am done up — no matter." A waiting-maid
asks her lady which gown, scarf, or
ribbon, she will wear; and the lady answers, No
matter. A gentleman in a crowd accidentally
treads on your corn: after his polite apology,
you try to simper out, No matter. Another
hustles you in the street, and you still say,
No matter. This is extremely inconsistent and
"Let me alone," is only used to express a
wish that some one or other would have the
goodness not to continue tormenting you; but
in this forced application the sentence is significant
of no idea; nor, of itself, does it contain
any, except a preposterous one. Obviously, it
does not make the request intended by the
speaker; that is, he does not thereby wish for
a solitude; and the sole request that a man can
strictly urge by it, is, "to be let," in a particular
manner, like a house or farm. If an unsocial
or misanthropic cottage or meadow could
speak, either might say to its landlord, "let
me alone;'' that is, apart and distinct from your
other cottages or meadows.
"Mr. A. enjoys good health;" or, "Mr. B
enjoys bad health." Pleasure is enjoyed; pain
is suffered; good health is pleasure; bad
health is pain: assuredly, therefore, good
health is enjoyed, and bad health suffered.
Yet it is said "Alderman C. or Alderman D
enjoys bad health," such as "Gout in the
stomach." Now, I can easily conceive that I
enjoyed the good things which conferred gout;
the venison, the turtle, the dessert, the delicious
wines; but an effect is not always
pleasant as a cause; and we may affirm that
the gout in the stomach is, perhaps, the only
enjoyment that one Alderman does not envy
A man is said to be "taken up" for debt, or
treason, or any species of statute crime. Taken
he may be; but what shall we say of the "up?"
It is only a chance that his prison-chamber may
be up, instead of down; that is, elevated above
the street, on which he was taken, instead of
being sunk below it. If his crime be murder,
or any other of a heinous stamp, he must be
content with the lowest dungeon the jail can
afford; and when settled in it, he must certainly
be taken down, and not up. Fancy him
brought to a lock-up house, and secured in the
strong barred room on the first floor, while his
guard sits over his head, on the second floor.
One of them would easily say, "he is locked
up at last." Where is he locked up? — "Down
stairs." This is also inconsistent.
"Sit down," is a plain, good phrase. The
body is lowered by sitting down. Indeed, "sit"
would, of itself, express all we mean; and it
often does so. "Sit, cousin Percy." But,
"sit up" is a solecism as ridiculous as ever was
committed in language. If "sit" possesses
alone all the force of "sit down," "up" also
possesses alone the whole force of "sit up:"
so that when we use this phrase, we actually
say, "Be good enough to sit and stand at one
and the same moment."
We have words and phrases that, by themselves,
mean contraries, when opposed to each
other, though, in union with other words, they
mean the same things. Thus "in short — at
length," are opposite expressions; yet, "in
short he went to bed," and "at length, he went
to bed," propose the same action. Height
the very contrary of depth; yet "the height
despair," and the depth of despair," convey
precisely the same notions.
I think the reader will find it useful to see
the vulgarities of this chapter, together with
few others which have not been discussed at
length, arranged in the following
OF VULGAR BYE-WORDS AND EXCLAMATIONS.
He has caught a Tartar.
It stands to reason.
To raise the wind — (to procure money.)
To box Harry — (to shift for money.)
To sow wild oats. — (to act prodigally.)
Not by any chance.
More by token.
At all events, that is a God-send.
You are in for it, hollow.
For the matter of that.
In short, it is no matter.
Au fait — Sans ceremonie.
Bona fide — In statu quo.
Mum, is the word.
Upon my honour; call me coward else.
I'll bet you fifty of it.
I'll lay you any wager.
Will you bet a thousand on him?
Not one single groat.
Not a fraction.
That's what I call dog cheap.
It does not matter a rush.
Not worth a pin's head — or a straw.
I care not a pinch of snuff.
Some matter of a cheese-paring — or an old song.
I do not value it a button, or a fig.
I do not care a custard.
Not for the universe.
All alive and kicking.
All my eye and Betty Martin.
She is no chicken.
It is no matter.
Ignorant as a new-born babe.
I know no more than the dead.
Talking o f that, by the bye —
Apropos — speaking of that —
Any, the least.
Gone for good.
In that kind of way.
I dare say, or I'll be bound to say.
Upon the whole it is no great shakes. [This is
For certain — or really now.
I know. [At the end of a sentence.]
I see — I think — I'm sure — to be sure.
You know — you, must know.
Says I — says he.
Nay — indeed — yes indeed — however.
Sure — or sure enough — perhaps.
Nothing in the world.
In my mind — or to my thinking.
I should think — I suppose.
I should be glad to know.
I should not wonder.
All that sort of thing.
I should think so.
I guess — I calculate. [American.]
At all — Withal.
May be so — or may be.
It beats Harry — or beats all.
I never heard of such a thing.
'Fore George — it's shocking!
In all my life — or in my born days.
Wretched small — miserably little.
A swingeing good sum.
Vastly small — or immensely trifling.
O my! [Irish.]
Figs and Fiddlesticks!
Pester me! or Pesteration!
Is it possible? you do not say so?
To the tune of 50,000l.
That picture was a fifty pounder.
Singular! — shocking! — curious!
Famous! — capital! — odious! — precious!
That is great. [Irish.]
It will be the death o' me.
He lost a cool hundred in a trice.
In the name of wonder — of fortune — of all that's
Goodness! — or gracious me!
Bother me' — or botheration! [Irish.]
Sorrow tak' me. [Scotch.]
VULGARITY OF SWEARING AND IMPRECATION.
The Scriptures say,"swear not at all;" but in
open defiance of this precept, swearing was at
one time reckoned fashionable, and nobody
who had any pretensions to consequence, spoke
without oaths and other coarse and offensive
expressions. This time is happily no more,
and swearing is now banished from all polished
society, and confined to the lowest of the vulgar.
Into the causes of this great and wonderful
change, I shall not inquire; but of the
fact there can be no doubt, and every day is
diminishing the pernicious habit, which is at
present extremely rare among the well-educated
classes, and is only to be heard from the
profane lips of some hoary disciple of the
fashions of the last age. Although, however,
what may be called gross swearing has almost
disappeared from good society, many minor
oaths, and offensive expressions maintain their
ground, unshaken by the reformed taste of the
day, of which I shall give a few examples.
I must premise that, under swearing, I comprehend
only such phrases, as are introduced
with the words "by," or "upon," and all other
phrases, which are usually considered as swearing,
but want the words "by," or "upon,"
shall denominate offensive expressions.
As examples of minor or mincing oaths, as
they are sometimes called, I may mention
the law! which is extremely common in the
South of Ireland, so much so, as to become in
many instances quite ludicrous. It is dead
in the first instance, derived from a contraction
of the word "Lord," and as such is very
prehensible. I prove the derivation by a
common vulgar addition to it, in the phrase
"by the la' Harry!" or "by the lord Harry!"
which must stand in the same scale of vulgarity
as by George! and by Jingo! and I need
say that nobody above the rank of a porter
or a carman would now think of using either
these. By Gemini! and O Gemini! are similar.
One of those oaths, which has lingered
longest in the politer circles is by heavens! but
even that is fast losing ground, and I have no
doubt, that in a short time it will only be found
in the pages of a' play, or a novel. This is
one of those oaths, which are expressly forbidden
in the Scriptures:— "Swear not at all,
neither by the heaven, for it is God's throne, nor
by the earth, for it is his foot-stool." Frequently
the "by" is left out, and the exclamation
heavens! or good heavens! remains as a
strong indication of the speaker's vulgarity, or
what is much the same, his speaking without
knowing what he says; for in such exclamations
there is not a glimpse of sense or meaning,
no more than in the usual exclamation, Good
God! The only oath which I can recollect of
lately meeting with, in circles that have any
pretension to fashion, is by Jove! an old
heathenish oath, which like the ancient Roman
oaths "by Hercules" and "by Jupiter," are
sometimes picked up at classical schools, or at
the Universities. "By my stars!" more usually
contracted "my stars!" is a vulgarism derived
from Astrology; "by the powers!" is another.
Queen Elizabeth, with all her pretensions to
sanctity and religion, scrupled not to disgrace
herself by a habit of swearing, which hence
became fashionable at court, and spread rapidly
as court fashions always do, through the
country. The oaths employed by her Majesty
were very coarse, and offensive to modern
ears — those in most favour with her were God's
wounds, and God's blood. As these became
fashionable, the lazy habit of slovenly speaking
soon contracted them into s'blood and 'swounds
or 'zounds; expressions, which are still to be
met with in plays and novels; the first sometimes
with the addition of "thunder," as 'sblood
and thunder! or without the "s" — Blood
thunder! — S'death! is another vulgarity of the
I have no doubt that Egad, and 'gad, which
are still very common in Ireland, though
nearly obsolete in England, are derived
some old expression, by a similar contraction
as well as those most unmeaning, and
vulgar exclamations, Gadzookers! Odzookers!
Zooks! Ods bodikins! Ods my life! and many
others, which formerly disgraced our language
but have now happily almost disappeared.
Whether the vulgar word Deuce is derived.
from the Greek word "Zeus," or the Latin
word "Deus," which both mean "Jupiter,"
or from the number two, which is so called
in games of chance, I cannot tell; but it is
most certain that it is commonly employed in
conversation in a very unmeaning way. "Where
the deuce is this?" for example, expresses
more than "what is this?" and wherefore there
it may well be asked, is deuce employed?
most of these phrases, it would appear to be
tended as a polite substitute for the coarse
but not more vulgar word Devil, as in the
phrases "the deuce is in it;""go to the deuce;"
"deuce take me!" and perhaps even in the first
example, "what the deuce!" This vulgarity is
sometimes varied by the singularly unmeaning
phrase, "what the dickens!"
From these expressions or minced oaths
have arisen two very vulgar bye-words, introduced
in a similar manner with "prodigious,"
"vast," and others above noticed; I mean the
offensive words deuced and devilish, as in the
very common vulgar phrases "a deuced fine
horse;" "a devilish pretty girl;" "a deuced
hard case;" "devilish ill-luck," &c. From the
same source we have the vulgar bye-words -
He's the very devil;" "It will play the deuce
with the whole concern;" "That circumstance
has played the devil with them;" "It will play
the very dickens with them;" These expressions
require only to be put on paper to demonstrate
their gross vulgarity. Even Lord
Chesterfield, however, could say and write,
"Where the devil did he pick up that?"
Those, and many other expressions, which
it is unnecessary, and would be improper to
exemplify, are all what may be called minced
oaths, or swearing by contraction, in order to
skreen its glaring coarseness and vulgarity, not
to mention it, as a crime of the deepest dye in
a religious point of view. I shall next consider
a few examples of what may be considered
another class of oaths, in which the word "on"
or "upon" is used instead of "by."
The two most common oaths of this
are, upon my word, and 'pon honour; or by
way of greater force of expression, upon my
word and honour. As these expressions are
far from being so offensive as several of those
which I have formerly exemplified,
readers may think that I am refining too much
in discarding them; but upon the principle
that all repeated bye-words are vulgar, the
vulgarity of the phrases in question must
established beyond appeal. If I dared for a
moment to compare a sacred injunction with
law of politeness, I would say that such
pressions must be prohibited both by the
Scripture precept "swear not at all," and
the code of polite conversation "never use a
bye-word." There is another point of
in which we may consider the oaths "upon
my word," and "upon my honour;" — they add
no force to a speaker's assertion, but the contrary,
like the fruitman's call of cherries, "full
weight!" — for it is a maxim well known in
world, that nobody backs an assertion with an
oath, unless he is aware that it is not very
tenable. Besides, it is in a certain degree confessing
to the possibility of uttering a falsehood,
when it is thought necessary to enforce it with
such an asseveration, as "upon my word and
honour it is true;" — and nobody would hazard,
after a moment's reflection, to give cause for
such a suspicion.
"If a man," says Chesterfield, "uses strong
protestations or oaths, to make you believe a
thing, which is of itself so likely and probable,
that the bare saying of it would be sufficient,
depend upon it he lies, and is highly interested
in making you believe it, or else he would not
take so much pains."
These remarks apply to all oaths and emphatic
asseverations, but particularly to those
two expressions just considered, and are less
applicable to the phrases, upon my conscience;
or the contracted exclamation, conscience! and
Upon my life, or upon my soul, which are much
more coarse, offensive, and vulgar, not to say
impious. These are more of the nature of
exclamations than oaths, and from the very
air and tone of the speakers who use them,
we may easily infer that they are much more
seldom employed as asseverations of the truth
of what is said, though unmeaning vulgar
bye-words, interlarded in their conversation
to fill up a sentence for lack of better, and
more polished expressions. The phrase, "upon
my conscience," has sometimes, particularly
in Ireland, the addition of upon my faith; in
both are contracted into the vulgar exclamation,
Faith and Conscience! This is varied
by the vulgar word troth, a corruption of
"truth," as in the Irish phrase, faith and troth
and sometimes we meet with in troth and in
faith, or i'faith, and also a most vulgar corruption
of this, of which Lord Chesterfield
has taken notice in the expression i'fackings.
The expression "In good sooth," is another
instance in point.
The word "as," frequently introduces a
form of expression, that has all the air of an
oath, but it seldom sounds so very harsh as
the preceding instances, though it is unquestionably
vulgar. For example, a person
say "all I have told you is true, as I am a
Christian;'' or will assert, "as I am a living
man, I saw it with my own eyes;" or in a
stronger form, "as sure as God is in heaven,
what I tell you is true;" or perhaps "as sure
as death;" or "as true as you now stand there."
Numberless forms are current of this sort of
petty swearing, if it may be called, so but
under every variation, I hesitate not to pronounce
it vulgar, and it is frequently impious
Imprecations, and impious prayers are no
less wicked (While they are even grosser in
vulgarity,) than swearing. These often constitute,
it pains me to say, more than a third
part of the low conversation of seamen, carmen,
and beggars. A beggar, and more particularly
if a native of Ireland, will shower down
a multitude of prayers or of imprecations
upon you according to the humour of the
moment. If you are liberal in your charity —
it will be: God bless your good heart; or may
all the blessings of heaven follow you;" or "I
pray God, in heaven, to bless and reward
you." On the contrary, should your charity
be withheld, you may expect cursing instead
of blessings, and imprecations instead of
prayers: instances of the latter, would be no
less unnecessary than improper.
A few pages back, I gave two instances of
vulgar imprecation — one very common, the
other confined chiefly to seamen. Numerous
other examples might easily be furnished; but
it will only be requisite here, in accordance
with the plan of this work, to exemplify such as
from being not quite so glaring, are more apt
to creep insidiously into good company, and
produce a bad impression of those who may
not be aware of their error. The first instance
of this kind which occurs to me in
the vulgar phrase, "out upon him for a slanderer!"
"I do not believe it, souse me if I
do." This "out upon him," or "out upon
it," is both unmeaning, and sounds awkwardly;
and the word souse is scarcely a grade
better than blast. Another common vulgar
imprecation, is "hang it," sometimes varied
"dang it," and frequently, "hang me,".
still more vulgarly, "choke me!"
Some foolish persons task their ingenuity
to invent new oaths and imprecations, or
vary those which are common, by way of
supposed embellishment. Should this page
meet the eye of any of those who are so far
misled, I beg leave to assure them, that leaving
religion and common decency altogether
out of consideration — they can only by such
conduct acquire the character of vulgar,
distinction to which few, I am persuaded
would willingly aspire.
VULGARITY OF PROVERBS AND PROVERBIAL
A good proverb, well introduced, may sometimes
appear elegant, and give to a sentence a
very brilliant or pretty turn; but though this
may occasionally happen, it is rare and seldom
that proverbs and wise savings are thus happily
brought in, while it is extremely common to
hear them repeated, like the words which have
been discarded in the preceding pages, in
tiresome sameness and meaningless vulgarity.
Even in the days of Chesterfield, they were confined
to the lowest ranks, and nobody above a
housemaid or a footman spoke in proverbs.
This turn of fashion, however much it may
be reprobated by those who take a pleasure in
the study of proverbial wisdom and proverbial
wit, has maintained its ground longer, perhaps,
than ever any fashion did before; for
now it is certain that proverbs are no less, and
they may be more, vulgar in polite conversation,
than they were in the days of Chesterfield.
To stem this tide of fashion, Mr. Fielding, a
recent collector of proverbs, has opposed as a
barrier, their momentous influence on the
affairs of life, and what is perhaps of more
value in the argument — the fact of their having
been once in high fashion among the
courtiers at several splendid periods of history.
"By the operation," says this author, "of
some absurd impression, proverbs have for a
long time been kept in the back ground in
fashionable society. Lord Chesterfield said
a man of fashion has never recourse to proverbs
and vulgar aphorisms,' and they appear
to have withered away under the ban of his
anathema. But it is yielding too much to
name, to proscribe the most valuable treasure
that has been transmitted by former ages to
the dictum of a courtier. Men of fashion
in the days of Elizabeth, James, and Charles
had recourse to proverbs and aphorisms; as
in the splendid court of Louis XIV., the illustrations
of popular adages formed the subject
of dramatic entertainments; so far then, as
fashion can confer authority, we are justified
from the example of these periods, in their uses,
but it may be demonstrated, that no other
species of knowledge has such an influence on
the affairs of life — on the conduct of individuals,
and the history of nations. I will cite a
few examples, for the purpose of illustration,
of proverbs that have been the most influential
in society, and which are constantly at work,
either for great good, or great evil.
"What the eye sees not, the heart feels not.''
How many men and women too, have been
determined in a guilty course, from this simple
sentence. Again, there is another saying.
which has contributed not a little to people
the world, and is a far more formidable antagonist
of the doctrines of Malthus, than either
Cobbett or Godwin.
"God never sends mouths without meat."
It has been the misfortune of many to find the
contrary of this; but it still forms a cardinal
point in the creed of the labouring classes, and
I am sure it has been my fate, many hundred
times, to hear it repeated by fruitful dames —
and laugh at its absurdity.
"Mortui non mordent,"
The dead do not bite.
This fatal truth has sealed the doom of many
an unhappy wretch, by determining the last resolve
of the traitor, burglar, and assassin. We
cannot look into the annals of crime, or the
page of history, without meeting with examples
of the deadly application of this proverb. It was
applied by Stewart against the Earl of Morton,
in Scotland, and subsequently to the Earl of
Stratford and to Archbishop Laud, in England*."
The author might have added, that the
same proverb was applied either by Elizabeth, or
some of her blood-thirsty counsellors, to the
beautiful and unfortunate Mary Queen Of Scots.
We may grant all this, however, and more to
Mr. Fielding, and yet maintain with consist*
Fielding's select Proverbs. Introduction.
ency, that it is vulgar to hackney proverbs in
conversation; and we conclude with D'Israell,
that though proverbs embrace the wide sphere
of human existence — take all the colours of
life — are often exquisite strokes of genius, delighting
us by their airy sarcasm or their caustic
satire, by their luxuriance of the humour, the
playfulness of their turn, and even by the elegance
of their imagery and tenderness of sentiment;
and though they give a deep insight into
domestic life, and open for us the heart of man
in all the various states he may occupy, and ought
therefore to enter frequently into our reading
as treasures of thought; YET PROVERBS
CEASED TO BE THE ORNAMENTS OF CONVERSATION.
Proverbs, and proverbial expressions,
precisely similar to bye-words in respect to
vulgarity of reiterating or hunting after them
conversation; but I must allow them to be, in
general, much superior in point of meaning, and
I readily confess the influence which many.
them have occasionally had upon my own mind.
For example —
He who does his best, will often do more*.
* BURNS gives it thus —
Faint heart ne'er won lady fair,
But him that does the best, he can
Will whiles do mair.
A sleeping, fox catches no chickens.
Never venture, never gain
Honey catches more flies than vinegar.
The more haste, the worse speed.
Experience keeps a dear school, but it is the
Hope is a good breakfast, but a bad supper.
Good bargains are pick pockets.
Out of debt, out of danger.
To believe a thing impossible, is the way to make
All these, and hundreds which might be
enumerated, are maxims drawn from experience;
and there is no other objection to their
use in conversation, than that it will always have
the mark of vulgarity stampt upon it, and can
never be accounted elegant or polished. Let
those then use proverbial expressions who care
not for the graces of elegance and politeness
— and who would rather be distinguished
for low wit and waggery, than for the accomplishments
of good society; but whoever
wishes to avoid the language of the uneducated
and the unpolished, must entirely give up the
use of proverbs. Notwithstanding, indeed,
what Mr. Fielding has said of proverbs being
formerly fashionable in polite courts, we are of
opinion, that in their very nature they have an
air of vulgarity. So thought the inimitable
author of Don Quixote, when he made his
hero speak in the lofty, though caricatured
style of chivalric romance, and characterized
his attendant, Sancho, by his proverbial
speeches. It is the very same now; for whoever
speaks in proverbs, will always be ranked
with the vulgar.
I hesitate to give a long enumeration of
verbs, in order to point out their vulgarity
more strongly and effectually; but it may not
be unnecessary to give a few by way of example.
These I shall not select from the very
coarse and gross proverbs, which are only heard
among the lowest ranks of society; but chiefly
from the little volume of Mr. Fielding, who pretends
to have gleaned only what seemed "worthy
of modern taste and refinement." Again,
must repeat, that many of these may be
adapted for private reading and study, but a
no less vulgar in polite conversation, than talking
of abstruse Algebra, or of the Arabic language
TABLE OF VULGAR PROVERBS.
A drowning man will catch at a straw.
Affairs, like salt fish, ought to be a good while
A hand saw is a good thing, but not to shave with.
A mad bull is not to be tied with pack-thread.
A little pot is soon hot.
All is not gold that glitters.
A miss is as good as a mile.
A new broom sweeps clean.
A rolling stone gathers no moss.
A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.
As good be out of the world, as out of the fashion.
Beggars must not be choosers.
Daughters and dead fish are not keeping ware.
Either a man or a mouse.
Every tub must stand on its own bottom.
Every dog has his day.
Fine feathers make fine birds.
Give a dog an ill name, and he'll soon be hanged.
Out of the frying, pan into the fire.
Too many irons in the fire — some of them may
If wishes would bide, beggars would ride.
If the sky falls, we shall catch larks.
If you cannot bite, never show your teeth.
I'll not buy a pig in a poke.
It is good fishing in troubled waters.
It is a long lane that has no turning.
Look not a gift horse in the mouth.
Love me, love my dog.
Many a good cow has a bad calf.
Neither fish, nor flesh, nor good red herring.
No man cries — stinking fish.
Oil and truth will get uppermost at last.
One scabbed sheep infects the whole flock.
Patience is a plaster for all sores.
Pigs love that lie together.
Plain dealing is dead, and died without issue.
Pour not water on a drowned mouse.
Set a beggar on horse-back, and he'll ride to the
Sharp stomachs make short graces.
What will not make a pot, may make a pot-lid.
The frying-pan said to the kettle, avaunt, black
The worst pig often gets the best pear.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
The better day, the better deed.
The crow thinks her own bird the whitest.
The burnt child dreads the fire.
There is something in it, quoth the fellow, when he
drank dish-clout and all.
There's reason in the roasting of eggs.
Though the cat winks, she is not blind.
Wanton kittens, may make sober cats.
Well lathered, is half shaven.
Welcome death, quoth the rat, when the trap fell.
What is got over the devil's back, is spent under
All cats are grey in the dark.
When the shoulder of mutton is going, it is good to
take a slice.
When the fox preaches, beware of your geese.
Who can help sickness? quoth the drunken wife,
when she fell into the gutter.
Wishes will never fill the sack.
Aching teeth are ill tenants.
You cannot make velvet of a sow's ear.
You hare found a mare's nest, and laugh at the eggs.
You cannot have more of the cat than the skin.
Hell is pared with good intentions.
Reynard is Reynard still, though he put on a
Scandal will rub out, like dirt when it is dry.
Steal a pig, and give the trotters for God's sake.
King's chaff, is worth other men's corn.
The king's cheese goes half away in parings.
The mob is a many headed monster, but has no
Wars bring scars.
A hog upon trust, grunts till he is paid for.
A stitch in time, saves nine.
A wager is a fool's argument.
Care will kill a cat, but there is no living without
Crows are never the whiter for washing themselves.
Dirt is dirtiest upon clean white linen.
Enough is as good as a feast.
Fancy may bolt bran, and think it flour.
He knows not a hawk from a hand-saw.
He lights his candle at both ends.
He knows on which side his bread is buttered.
It is hard for an empty bag to stand upright.
Keep something for a sore foot.
Make hay while the sun shines.
Never lose a hog for a halfpenny worth of tar.
Poverty makes a man acquainted with strange,
Fair words, butter no parsnips.
When the pig is proffered, hold up the poke.
He gazed at the moon, and fell in the gutter.
Your trumpeter is dead, so you sound yourself.
A barren sow was never good to pigs.
It is a good horse that never stumbles.
A nay say, is hay' a grant.
The bitch, that I mean, is not a dog.
Three women and a goose make a market.
Children and chickens are always picking.
Hungry dogs will eat dirty puddings.
All goes down gutter lane.
Grantham gruel, nine grits and a gallon of water
Such are a fair specimen of the proverbs
which Mr. Fielding thinks worthy of the tastes
and refinement of modern times. Many others
might have been selected from his pages mucg
more vulgar, coarse, and even grossly indecent
than these. I am convinced, that nobody who
glances over the few which I have enumerated
will have the least doubt of their vulgarity, or
think that they can form any ornament in conversation,
except among common porters or
draymen. To have extended the preceding
table, would have been useless in a work like
the present. Those who wish to see a more
copious catalogue will find it in Mr. Fielding's
little book, though I must say that in its present
unweeded state, it is very unfit for the
perusal of young people: with a little pruning,
it might be rendered so.
It occurs to me, that all the useful knowledge
which is embodied in proverbs, might, with a
very little trouble, be stripped of the quaint
and vulgar language in which it is expressed,
and translated into polite and correct English.
The coarse and vulgar ideas of pigs, hogs,
dirt, and dunghills, can make no part of the
wisdom which is so much lauded; but which,
in its present form, must offend the taste of
every polite and well educated mind. In Mr.
Fielding's book, there are many proverbs which
have been thus translated with great advantage,
though he has spoiled others, particularly
the Scots ones, from not understanding them.
I would recommend it, therefore, to all who are
fond of studying proverbs, to avoid quoting
them in conversation, though they may, with
great advantage, give the spirit of them in correct
language, divested of quaintness, slang
In the chapter on bye-words, I have already
noticed several of those expressions which may
be called proverbial, and are similar in point of
vulgarity to the wise sayings of our forefather;
which I have now been examining, There are
many words and expressions of this class, however,
which I have thought will be more conveniently
arranged under the present division.
I do not intend to give all the local and provincial
examples of this kind, which might
easily be collected, but which are frequently
changing according to the lapse of time and
the occurrence of events. It will be sufficient
for my purpose to select a few of the more
common, and leave it to the good sense of the
reader to discover and avoid, in conversation
the proverbial expressions of the town or
district where he happens to reside.
TABLE OF VULGAR PROVERBIAL EXPRESSION
It fits to a T.
A blot in his escutcheon.
He's in clover. (In easy circumstances.)
A curtain lecture.
A pretty kettle of fish.
A Welch cousin.
Cream pot love. (Such as young fellows pretend
to dairy-maids, to get cream and other
things from them.)
A clinker, as the man said who drove a nail in the
To give one the go-by.
A good fellow lights his candle at both ends.
He has given him the bye-ball.
To look like an owl in an ivy bush.
To find a mare's nest.
His brains are a wool-gathering.
To come in pudding time.
To make a mountain of a mole hill.
Not a straw to draw between them.
To nourish a viper in one's bosom.
To pay one in one's own coin.
To run a wild goose chace.
To seek a needle in a bottle of hay.
To leave no stone unturned.
They are hand and glove.
To take the wrong sow by the ear.
The grey mare is the better horse.
Touch pot, touch penny.
To pocket an injury.
Of all tame beasts, I hate sluts.
Veal will be cheap, calves fall.
Water bewitched. (Small beer.)
That was laid with a trowel. (A great lie.)
To lay it on thick. (Said of flattery.)
To bear away the bell.
To wash a blackamoor white.
To come bluely off.
He is true blue, and will never stain.
To outrun the constable.
There is a bone for you to pick.
His bread is buttered on both sides.
A chip of the old block.
To carry coals to Newcastle.
To burn day-light.
To work for a dead horse.
To play the dog in the manger, not eat yours
nor let another eat.
A dog's life, hunger and ease.
To dine with Duke Humphry.
To eat the calf in the cow's belly.
Fair play is a jewel, don't pull my hair.
He pins his faith on another man's sleeve.
All is fish that comes in the net.
I have other fish to fry.
'Tis a folly to fret, grief is no comfort.
Go farther and fare worse.
He cannot say bo to a goose.
You halt before you are lame.
All bring grist to your mill.
To live from hand to mouth.
To harp upon the same string.
Too hasty to be a Parish clerk.
By hook, or by crook.
You measure every one's corn by your own.
I can see as far into a millstone as another man.
To rip up old sores.
He is put to bed with a shovel. (Dead.)
To rob Peter to pay Paul.
To have rods in pickle for one.
To make one a stalking horse.
He is up to trap.
I'll trust him no further than I can fling him.
To kill two birds with one stone.
To have two strings to one's bow.
You cannot see wood for trees.
She wears the breeches.
The cream of the jest.
"The same again," quoth Mark of Belgrave.
Weaver's beef. (Sprats, or herrings.)
A Cornish hug.
A Scarborough warning. (A surprise.)
To leave one not a leg to stand upon.
Spick and span new.
Brent new (Quite new.)
To curry favour, and dance attendance.
To pick a hole in one's coat.
A mote in your marriage.
Tell that to the marines, the sailors wo'nt believe
A touch of the Bishop. (Said of what is singed
These must be considered only as a small
specimen indiscriminately arranged — but they
will be sufficient, I think, to make my readers
careful in avoiding all expressions of a similar
character, with the phrases in the table,
otherwise they can never speak with
polite elegance and purity of language which
mark out the well-bred, and the well-educated.
It would be an easy task, I am aware, to endeavour,
as Mr. Fielding has done, to defend
the use of proverbs, by displaying their
wisdom and their usefulness; but when
come to try them by the laws of elegance
and politeness, and observe that they are
in use as ornaments of conversation among
lower and uneducated orders of the people
we cannot sanction their introduction into the
conversation of the well educated and polished
ranks of society.
The rule is then — Never use a proverb,
a proverbial expression, in polite conversation,
for these, though they may be smart, wise, or
humorous, are no less vulgar than bye-words
VULGARITY OF COMPARISONS.
Were I to commence this chapter with
hackneyed proverb, that "comparisons are
odious," I should commit a gross breach of the
rules which I have just laid down. I shall therefore
begin with a new version of it, and say that
"comparisons are vulgar," at least those which
I shall endeavour to exemplify; for good comparisons
well introduced, as I have already said
of proverbs, are among the highest beauties of
elegant and polite language, and constitute a
principal charm of both poetical and rhetorical
style. The comparisons which I consider vulgar,
consist of common, trite, and meaningless
phrases, very similar in character to the bye--
words and the proverbs already discussed.
Some persons have acquired the vulgar
habit of seldom or never speaking without backing
their assertions by trite comparisons, in
the same way as those who have a habit of
swearing do with oaths. The one habit is equally
vulgar with the other, though, in some respects,
it is not so reprehensible. A few examples will
illustrate my meaning to those readers who
may not at first comprehend the full signification
of comparisons as indicating vulgarity of language.
Instead, for instance, of saying a person is
foolish, the man of comparisons will say, as
mad as a March hare; or, instead of saying in
plain language, that a portrait is like or unlike
the person who sat for it, a vulgar speaker
will say, it as like as two peas; or as unlike
as chalk and cheese; and. that every body who
looks at it will see as plain as a pike staff; or as
the nose on your face; that he is right, like the
man who wandered in the snow but found himself
pat at his own chimney corner. If you
ask a person, who delights to string comparisons
in this manner — how he likes his patron
or employer, Lord A—, he will say "Ah, I
must take care what I say of him — as wary as
a blind horse, is the word? you understand
but under the rose, between ourselves, do you
see me; I like him as a cat likes mustard, or as
the devil likes holy water; for he is so niggardly,
that he keeps me as hungry as a church mouse;
and if I ask him for a trifle, he looks as grave
as an old gate post, and as cold as charity;
and though the old hunks is as rich as Crœsus
he swears* that he is as poor as Job; so
see I am just like the tailor who worked for nothing,
and found thread."
These examples, however, are superior in
point and meaning, to many which you may
hear every day employed by the vulgar,
rather than forego the awkward trick, for it
deserves no better name, the comparison frequently
ends in something very different from
what the speaker originally intended. For
example, "The race was a first rate one,
the Duke's colt flew like the very winds.
* It is no less vulgar than false to use the word "swears
for "says" or "asserts," as is so frequently done.
Dash bolted past him, like-like-you have no
idea." I recollect a person who had acquired
this vulgar habit of making comparisons every
time he spoke, attempted at table to describe
the battle of Waterloo; and by way of a grand
finish, he said, "the fields were streaming
with blood, and the air was dark with smoke;
for the artillery were thundering like thunder,
and the bullets were flying like any thing!"
This comparison like any thing, is no less
common, than it is vulgar and meaningless;
for it is unnecessary to say, that it can in no
case whatever apply as a comparison. As
salt, as salt's self; or as vain, as vanity itself,
are expressions of the same kind.
Lord Chesterfield very justly remarks, that
such expressions are an indication of a bad
education, and of having kept low company.
Archbishop Laud, though in high reputation
and a distinguished dignitary, injured his influence
at Court by introducing a vulgar comparison
in the star-chamber, saying, that "a
man entered the church as a tinker and his
bitch do an alehouse." Chesterfield remarks
also, that the conversation of a low-bred man
is filled with such trite and vulgar sayings;
example, instead of observing that "tastes
are different, and that most men have one peculiar
to themselves," such a person will say,
"every one to their liking, as the old woman
said, when she kissed her cow; for, as the
proverb has it, what is one man's meat is
another man's poison." Having thus pointed
out the nature of this class of vulgarities, it
will only be necessary to subjoin a short table
with a few more examples, in order to
press it more strongly on the reader's mind.
TABLE OF VULGAR COMPARISONS.
As grey as a grannum's cat.
As musty as my grandfather's wig.
Waddling like a duck.
As ugly as sin.
As high as a church steeple.
As lazy as Ludlam's dog, that rested his head on
the wall to bark.
As bare as a bodkin.
As hungry as a hawk,.
As dead as Adam.
As dead as king Henry the Eighth.
As merry as a cricket.
As drunk as Blesus.
As fat as a Michaelmas goose.
As red as fire.
As green as grass.
As white as the driven snow.
As nice as a Nun's hen.
As giddy as a goose.
As deep as the devil.
As white as a ghost.
As dark as pitch.
Jumping, like a cock at a gooseberry.
Hanging his ears like a drowned rat.
As old as Methuselah.
As secret as the grave.
As weak as water.
As fine as fi'pence.
As deaf as a door post.
Like grim death.
As dumb as a dead man.
As brisk as a bee in a tar pot.
Running like a lamplighter.
Strutting like a cock on a dunghill.
Standing like a crow in a gutter.
As black as a Bishop.
As mum as a mouse in a mill.
As flat as a flounder.
As busy as a hen with one chicken.
As kind as a kite.
As hot as Tewkesbury mustard.
As proud as a peacock.
As white as innocence.
As poor as Lazarus.
As obstinate as a mule.
Raging like the sea.
As frightened as a hunted hare.
As nimble as a cow in a cage.
As blind as a beetle, or as a mole, or as a bat.
As light as a feather.
As sharp as a needle.
As soft as a cushion.
As silent as death.
As old as the hills.
As grey as an owl.
As wanton as a kitten.
Looking as if butter would not melt in your mouth.
As fresh as a daisy.
As wise as Waltham's calf that ran nine miles
to suck a bull.
As ugly as a toad.
As proud as Lucifer.
As cunning as a fox.
As common as the street.
As black as a crow.
As bright as a guinea.
As impudent as a dog.
As grim as midnight, or as a ghost.
As straight as a Maypole.
As cross as a crab.
As touchy as gun-powder.
As pat as a potatoe.
It would be easy to multiply such examples,
but these, I hope, will be more than sufficient
to establish the vulgarity of comparisons of
a similar character. I cannot conclude, however,
without again adverting to the principle
upon which this reprehensible habit is founded
— the principle of exaggeration, or what in
more homely language is expressed by the
phrase — "talking big." It is this most mistaken
principle that originates and perpetuates
such vulgar expressions, as "I am so miserable
— you can't think" "You can have no notion,
for the life of you, how he was served;”
"As fast—slow—much—little—soon—late as
possible;" this last phrase is correct enough,
like many others, when not abused by perpetual
reiteration, or when it can have little or
no possible meaning; or if it have any meaning,
it indicates that the speaker is stretching
all his powers of expression to exaggerate
some very common occurrence. To Frenchify
the expression, and say, "I will do my possible
to accomplish it," is greatly worse.
It is this principle of stretching, whatever is
said, beyond all just proportion, that will be
found to run through many of the vulgarities,
formerly noted, as in the instances of vast,
mighty, immense, important, monstrous, tremendous,
&c. There is another branch from
the same root, which I shall now point out as
being usually characterized by the words most,
very, extremely, exceedingly. applied without
discrimination by low-bred, and half educated
persons to every thing and circumstance -
appropriate and inappropriate, about which
they speak. Every thing is the very best,
the very worst; or the very first rate; and evert
circumstance is most important, extremely interesting,
or exceedingly ludicrous; a parrot is
said to be "monstrously tame." This habit
of stretching expressions beyond their proper
bounds, reminds me of a person who always,
when he speaks, bawls at the top of his voice,
as if every body around him were deaf.
An instance of the spirit of exaggerated comparison
which is very common, but which is
seldom remarked, generally includes, or is introduced
by the words "No," or "Nothing.".
You may frequently remark this vulgarity is
young or unpractised authors, who seldom
fail to commence with, "No subject is of
greater importance, than" — or "Nothing is
more important, than" — To such phraseology,
I admit, it would be wrong to object as incorrect
or ungrammatical; but when it is repeated
till it is palling and tiresome, as it usually is,
it must be pronounced vulgar.
When joined with other hackneyed phrases,
the words "no," and "nothing," become
more degraded by associating with vulgar
companions, as in the expressions, "Nothing
on earth;" "Nothing under the sun;" "No
man in the world, or no man in all London
could do it better;" I would not for the universe;"
"Not for anything in Nature;" "There
s not the fellow of it in seven counties;" "It
cannot be matched in all Europe, no — not if
you were to search the whole of it." "I would
not have it done for any thing;" "Nobody is
so famous in the whole of London;" "There
is nothing earthly in the report; though there
is not any one thing more likely;" "When we
survey the whole of Nature, we must confess
that nothing is more conspicuous, than" — "No
occurrence of modern times claims more of
our attention, than;" — There is not his match
on the face of the earth;" The most extraordinary
of all extraordinary things;" The most
useful of all useful things, &c.
If I could persuade my young readers to
avoid magnifying every thing about which they
speak beyond its proper bounds, I should not
fear that they would soon be cured of this
vulgar practice; but unless they can prevail
upon themselves to speak with moderation,
there is no way to escape the use of the vulgarities
which I have just reprobated.
LEARNED, PEDANTIC, AND PROFESSIONAL
As many of the examples which I am going
to introduce here spring from affectation,
might have arranged them under the chapter
on Vulgar-genteel Errors; but I thought
better to bring them under a separate discussion,
in which I would have an opportuninty
of giving them more attention. The subject
follows most naturally to be considered after
Bye-words, Proverbs, and Comparisons, as
Pedantry of Conversation is very similar to
these, consisting for the most part of favourite
words or phrases derived from other languages,
of professional terms introduced into common
discourse, or of common words pronounced
in an uncommon manner. Before giving examples
of these pedantic vulgarities, which
have been more than once alluded to in the
preceding pages, I shall take the advantage
of some just and useful remarks of Lord
Chesterfield on the characteristics of a pedantic.
"Learning," he says, "when not accompanied
with sound judgment, frequently carries
us into error, pride, and pedantry, which are
very common failings. Some learned men, for
example, proud of their knowledge, only speak
to decide, and give judgment without appeal;
the consequence of which is, that mankind,
provoked by the insult and injured by the oppression,
revolt; and, in order to shake off
the tyranny, even call the lawful authority in
question. The more you know, the modester
you should be: and modesty is the surest
way of gratifying your vanity. Even where
you are sure, seem rather doubtful; represent,
but do not pronounce; and if ever you would
convince others, seem open to conviction yourself.
"Others; to shew their learning, or often
from the prejudices of a school education,
where they hear of nothing else, are always
talking of the ancients as something more
than men, and of the moderns as something
less. They are never without a classic or
two in their pocket; they stick to the good old
sense, they read none of the modern trash,
and will shew you plainly that no improvement
has been made in any one art or science,
these last seventeen hundred years. I would
by no means have you disown your acquaintance
with the ancients; but still less would
I have you brag of an exclusive intimacy with
them. Speak of the moderns without contempt,
and of the ancients without idolatry;
judge them all by their merits, but not by
their ages, and if you happen to have an Elzevir
classic in your pocket, neither show
nor mention it.
"Some great scholars most absurdly draw
all their maxims, both for public and private
life, from what they call parallel cases, in the
ancient authors; without considering that
in the first place, there never were since the
creation of the world, two cases exactly
parallel. "We are really so prejudiced by an
education, that, as the ancients deified their
heroes, we deify their madmen; of which with
all due regard for antiquity, I take Leonidus
and Curtius to have been two distinguished
ones. And yet a solid pedant would, in
making a remark, relative to a tax of two
pence in the pound upon some commodity or
other, quote those two heroes, as examples of
what we ought to do and suffer for our
country. I have known these absurdities
carried so far by injudicious learning, that
I should not be surprised if some of them
were to propose, should we be at war with
the Gauls, that a number of geese should be
kept in the Tower, upon account of the infinite
advantage which Rome received, in a
parallel case, from a certain number of geese
in the capitol.
"There is another species of learned men,
who, though less dogmatical, and supercilious,
are not less impertinent.
"These are the communicative and shining
pedants, who adorn their conversations, even
with women, by happy quotations of Greek
and Latin; and who have contracted such
a familiarity with the Greek and Roman
authors, that they call them by certain names
or epithets, denoting intimacy. As old Homer;
that sly rogue Horace; Maro, instead of
Virgil; Tully, instead of Cicero: and Naso,
instead of Ovid. These are often imitated by
coxcombs, who have no learning at all; but
who have got some names, and some scraps
of ancient authors by heart, which they improperly
and impertinently retail in all companies,
in hopes of passing for scholars. If.
therefore, you would avoid the accusation
of pedantry on one hand, or the suspicion of
ignorance on the other, abstain from learned
ostentation. Speak the language of the company
you are in; speak it purely, and unlarded
with any others. Never seem wiser,
nor more learned than the people you are
with. Wear your learning like your watch,
in a private pocket ; and do not pull it out
and strike it, merely to shew that you have
one. If you are asked what o'clock it is, give
it; but do not proclaim it hourly and unasked,
like the watchman.
"Upon the whole, remember that it is a most
useful and necessary ornament, which it is
shameful not to be master of; but at the same
time most carefully avoid those errors and
abuses which I have mentioned, and which too
often attend it; and remember, too, that
modern knowledge is still more necessary than
ancient." — So far Chesterfield.
In the chapter on bye-words I have pointed
out the vulgarity of introducing words and
phrases from foreign languages; but as this is
perhaps, the most common and offensive of
pedantic vulgarities, it may require to be more
distinctly noticed; and with this view I have
drawn up the following table of
PEDANTIC EXPRESSIONS AND QUOTATIONS
Multum in parvo. Much in a small space.
In toto. Altogether.
In the beau monde. In fashionable life.
A carte blanche. Unconditional terms.
Ad captandum. For the sake of attracting
Chef d'œuvre. A masterpiece.
Ad infinitum. To infinity.
Comme il faut. As it ought to be.
Terra firma Solid or dry land.
Ad libitum.At pleasure.
In terrorem. As a warning.
Con amore• With zeal or pleasure.
Au fait. Able, capable, knowing, perfect.
Conge d' clire. Leave to choose.
Ad referendum. For consideration.
Ad valorem, According to value.
Coup d'œil A rapid glance.
Coop de grace. Finishing stroke or mortal blow.
Coup de main. A sudden assault or enterprize.
Cum grano salis. With limitation.
A fortiori. With more reason.
A priori. At first sight, or for a former
He made his debut. He made his first appearance.
Debutant, A beginner.
Denouement. The winding up or finishing.
Argumentum ad hominem. A personal or home argument.
Boná fide. Indeed, or in reality.
Cacoéthes scribende. A passion for scribbling.
Denier resort. The last shift.
Douceur or bonus. A bribe or reward.
Eclaircissement An explanation, or rather explication.
Credat Judæus non ego. A Jew may believe it, but I
Audi alteram partem. Hear both sides.
Much or great eclat. Much or great show or fame.
An eleve of Newton's. A pupil of Newton's.
En masse. Altogether, or in a mass.
En passant. In passing, or by the way.
Cum multis aliis. With many others.
Aut Cæsar aut nihil. The first place or none.
Desideratum. Much wanted.
De facto and de jure. In fact, and by right or law.
Entreée. Entrance, or right of entrance.
Faux pas. A false step or slip.
Esto perpetua. May it last for ever.
Ex parte. On one side only.
Ex officio. Officially, or by right of office.
Mauvaise honte. False shame, or bashfulness.
Nonchalance. Cool indifference.
Sang froid. Coolness, or cold blood.
Outré and opiniatre. Eccentric and obstinate.
In propria persona. In person or actually.
In statu quo. As before, or as formerly
Ipse dixit Mere assertion.
Ipso facto. From the fact itself.
On the qui vive. On the alert.
Tête-a-tête. A private conversation.
Entre nous. Privately, or between
Sub rosa. [under the rose] Secretly.
Locum tenens. A deputy.
Ne plus ultra. The greatest extent.
Non compos mentis. Of unsound mind.
Onus or onus probandi. The burden or task of proof.
Verbatim et literatim. Exactly, or in word and letter.
Pro bono publico. For the public benefit.
Pro re nata. For the occasion.
Pro tempore. For the time.
Pro forma. For the sake of form or order.
Pro and con. For and against.
Sine die Without naming a day.
Sine qua non. Indispensible
Sui generis. Matchless, or unparalleled.
Summum bonum. The greatest good.
Vice versa. On the contrary.
Veluti in speculum. As in a looking-glass.
Delicatesse and Politesse. Delicacy and Politeness.
Nobilese and hauteur. Nobility and haughtiness.
An extremely common pedantic term occurs
in the Latin word Quære, Englished Query;
which is employed in a most awkward manner
to ask a question, when it is altogether useless
and impertinent. For example — "He thinks
so; — but query — is he right?" — "It is so reported;
— but query — is it correct?" — " Query
— Do you believe that?" This might with
great propriety have been classed with the
awkward vulgarities, were it not so evidently
Such are a very few of the pedantic vulgarities
which have spread from the schools and
the courts of law into conversation, the elegance
and purity of which they do much to
debase. I once heard it remarked, by a very
shrewd man, of the chemical phrase per se
that it was very often unintelligible; and he
had always observed, that when men speak
Latin, they seldom know themselves what they
are saying. The fashion of spoiling plain
English by words, phrases, and quotations
from foreign languages, was some time ago
nearly banished from good writing; but it still
kept its place in conversation: and now that
the style of conversation has crept into books
we begin again to see in them the same offensive
sprinkling of Latin and French, which
deforms the pages of Lord Chesterfield in the
eye of taste, almost as much as his duplicity
and systematic hypocrisy do in the eye of virtue.
The phrases bona fide, in statu quo, and
many others, are no less common than vulgar
In another class of pedantic vulgarities
may place the use of words which have become
obsolete, or nearly so, and are now chiefly confined
to old writers. Were this sort of pedantry
only found among those who study Chaucer
and Hooker, it might perhaps be excused, but
we may often remark it in the conversation of
those who have never read a page of our older
authors. The following are a very few of the
vulgarities belonging to obsolete expressions
Moreover. Besides. also.
Anon. Afterwards Afterwards or shortly.
Whereupon & Thereupon Upon which.
Thereat and Whereat. At which.
Thereof and Whereof. Of which.
Thereout and Whereout. Out of which.
For the nonce. For the occasion.
I wot not. I know not.
Quoth he. Said he.
Methinks I do. I think I do.
Beshrew me! [i.e. Bad luck to me!]
Thither, Hither. Here.
Therein. In which.
It behoves me. It is my duty.
Whichsoever. Which of the two.
Vouchsafe. Grant or condescend.
Actors, and those who frequent the theatres,
are the most apt to fall into the error of using
obsolete expressions ; and what is, in
cases, no less pedantic, of incessantly introducing
trite quotations from Shakspeare, and
other popular dramatic writers. There can be
no question about the vulgarity of every thing
that is trite; and well-known quotations, I
think, rank conspicuously among the commonplaces
of pedantic and affected learning, and
are chiefly used by those who
"—Think the partial reading of an hour
Can ape the charms of literary power;
But be the parrot's character his praise,
Who gives his mind to such delusive ways." —
A pedant, who has acquired this habit
trite quotation, has some scrap or distich ready
upon all occasions, to show, as he erroneously
imagines, his taste and his reading. If you
speak of education, he will not fail to give you
"Delightful task, to rear the tender thought,
And teach the young idea how to shoot."
and if you talk of humble and obscure merit,
you may be assured of hearing Gray's
"Full many a gem of purest ray serene," &c.
Others, who endeavour to surpass the quoter
of mere English, are no less ready with schoolboy
scraps of Ovid, Horace, Virgil, and Juvenal,
the last most usually borrowed from a
chance note in the school grammars. It is in
this way that we so often hear "Audi alteram
partem;" and "Credat Judæus Apella non
ego;" "O tempora! O mores!" "Rudis indigestaque
moles;" "Ne sutor ultra crepidem,'
&c. If my readers are desirous to avoid the
vulgarity of pedantry, let them never use any
of those common hackneyed quotations, whether
they be English, French, or Latin: Greek
I need not mention, as few will venture to introduce
it, except among pedants of their own
While I reprobate trite quotation, however,
I must admit that Burns was right in the opinion
of it being often useful as well as elegant,
when judiciously selected and appropriately introduced.
The shorter that such quotations
are they will be the more apposite; and even
the tritest may, by novelty of application in
rare instances, tend to show the elegant taste
or humorous conceptions of a speaker. But
this is an exception to the rule, which is far too
delicate for the young and inexperienced to
venture upon; as their vanity will readily
whisper, that the grossest breach of the rule
falls under the allowed infringement. It will,
therefore, be the safest way for the inexperienced
to avoid all quotation.
One species of quotation ought to be considered
still more offensive than all the preceeding;
not so much because it is vulgar as
because it is profane — I mean the quoting of
the Scriptures in common conversation. This,
in some circles, is a very common and reprehensible
practice; and whether it is done with
a serious design, or the contrary, it must tend
to produce improper feelings. To conversations
and discussions professedly religious, my prohibition
does not of course apply. I speak
only of the wanton or thoughtless practice
quoting Scripture, or the vain pedantry
doing this merely to exhibit the speakers
Those who have been in India are extremely
apt to affect a very absurd kind of pedantry in
their conversation. I allude to their frequent
introduction of Hindoo terms, which they are
at the same time obliged to translate to render
themselves intelligible. In a recent series of
Tales, written with great spirit and considerable
knowledge of life, this is admirably exposed
in the character of an old officer, who
has just returned to England from the East,
with a fortune, and who scorns to use plain
English words, but calls "lunch" tiffin — a
"messenger" hurkaruh; and instead of a common
English "How do you do?" or "Good
bye," always says Salaam. This is undoubtedly
one of the most silly exhibitions of the
pedantic that can be met with; and I am not
certain that it is not so even in India itself,
among the British residents, at least when they
are speaking English, which ought never to be
interlarded with foreign gibberish in correct or
Professional pedantry is the most vulgar of
all, and wherever it is shown is a crime against
the laws of good breeding and politeness, from
the terms used in various professions being for
the most part unintelligible in common conversation.
The story in Joe Miller, of the sailor
who looked with great contempt at the Judge
who did not know the meaning of "Abaft the
binnacle," is a good illustration of this. Several
mercantile phrases of this kind have become
no less common than vulgar, as will at once be
obvious by a few examples. For instance —
instead of assenting to an opinion by a plain
"yes," or "I agree with you in that," the mercantile
pedant's favourite expression will be "I
say Ditto to that." Again, instead of observing
that a young lady resembles her mother, he will
say "She is the very ditto of her mother." —
This word "ditto" ought to be under an embargo,
and ought never to be exported out of
the ledger and the invoice, or at least it ought
not to be imported into good society. The
words "per" and "via," for "by" and "by way
of," are other instances of the mercantile pedantic.
For example — "He intends to go per
the mail, and return per the stage:" "They go
per the packet viâ Calais, and return per the
steamer viâ Brighton." A pedant of this class
instead of "on the contrary," will say "Per
contra;" or instead of "several," will think
"sundries" more elegant, — these terms are as
in his books, but ought never to be heard in
his conversation, if he is desirous of speaking
elegantly. What would be thought in genteel
society, of a person who would say "Per advice
this day received, viâ Dantzic from Petersburg,
I am informed that war is ordered by
the Emperor;" or "I am advised this day, per.
the Dolphin, that our affairs in India are far
from prosperous." Some mercantile pedants,
still more vulgarly, will talk indiscriminately of
an act of Parliament, or a blood-horse, or a celebrated
beauty, or an old woman, as "a pretty
piece of goods." With those persons, alas
every thing and every circumstance is vulgarly
termed "a concern," as if it were connected
with the transactions of their "firm;" or involved
"a good or a bad spec," which is the
vulgar contraction for the word "speculation."
I am sorry to observe that the word "concern"
is by no means confined to the mercantile pedant,
but has now become extremely common
as a vulgar bye-word among many other classes
as well as the similar word "article," in such
phrases as "Our sheriff is a pretty article,
an't he?" "The new bridge is a queerish
article, and is not, by half; so good as the old
concern." The word minus, I believe, is also
mercantile; as in the phrases, "He left the
exchange minus a large sum;" "He was attacked
by footpads on Hounslow Heath, but
got off minus his hat, and a broken sconce."
This minus is a very awkward and pedantic
word, and ought to be banished from polite
conversation. Calling money — stuff, brass, gold,
the ready, the needful, &c. are of the same
class. Even cash is far from being a polite
or elegant word.
Such are a few, and only a few, of the pedantic
vulgarities of the merchant's counting-house;
but examples, equally faulty,may be collected
from the lawyers' chambers, the Inns of Court,
or the benches of Westminster Hall. One very
awkward expression — subject-matter — I have
already traced to this source; and I shall now.
mention one or two others: for example, the
words rejoinder for "reply," rebut for "refute,"
a moot point for "a doubtful point," and the
word "said," which is almost synonimous with
the mercantile ditto, as in the phrase "'The
said man," are very common instances of the
legal pedantic. It has tended much to diffuse
law phrases, that many of our young barristers
are employed in writing for the public press
and as their language must often derive a tinge
from their profession, it is in time incorporated
with the language, and steals into common conversation.
I may instance the term "set-off,"
as one of those legal intruders, and the phrase
"put the case," as another.
The most common law term, however, which
we meet with in conversation, is the word
"Party," used for "person," or some similar
term, as in the examples — "I told the party
what you said, and he was satisfied;" "I never
knew that she was the party concerned;" "I
think Mr. B., who is the principal party, is
wrong;" "It would be better for the parties
to divide the loss, Mr. A. taking one-third,
and Mr. B. two-thirds;" "Miss A. was a party
in that business;" "I, as the contracting party,
will be compelled to do it." The reader must
have frequently heard this pedantic and vulgar
use of the word, though everybody who studies
correctness or elegance will avoid it in conversation.
The word parcel for "a portion," is
another law term, sometimes pedantically employed,
as in the vulgar expression, "That is
parcel of it;" "Christianity is parcel of the
law of the land."
Under the head of vulgarities peculiar to
Scotland, I shall take notice of a few Scotch
law phrases; such as, to condescend upon,
which have got into common language.
From the medical profession, a few pedantic
phrases also have been derived; though not in
proportion, perhaps, to the influence of medical
men in society. The pedantic phrases of this
class are more an expression of opinion on
medical subjects than particular forms of
words; and I would, therefore, guard my
readers from the absurdity of expressing such
opinions, which they can know but very imperfectly,
and are almost certain to be wrong. If
dogmatic assertion is pedantry, and if ignorance
is a mark of vulgarity, I hesitate not to say
that it is vulgar to talk about the "foulness of
the blood;" "scurvy or humour in the blood;"
certain kinds of food "being good or bad for
the inside;" and certain other things "being
softening for the lungs or the breast." All of
which common opinions manifest gross ignorance
and vulgarity, no less than the common
habit of volunteering prescriptions for every
ailment of one's acquaintance — a habit which
is by no means confined to old women, as formerly,
but is now so frequently met with, even
among the young, that medical men are often
favoured with infallible prescriptions for their
colds, &c. by their own patients. If this is not
vulgar, it is at least ludicrous, and ought to be
avoided by those who study elegance and politeness.
It is not unusual with young persons, after
a boating excursion at a watering-place, or a
short sea voyage, to affect to speak the peculiar
language of the seamen; but those who do so
ought to be aware that this species of pedantry
is extremely vulgar. You may, for example,
hear such young persons calling to a servant
to bear a hand; and instead of saying "stop,
they will say "Avast," or "Avast you there."
Besides, they will talk of a coach making good
way, or running so many knots; they will call
"a situation'' a birth — "money" rhino — "brandy
and water" grog; and on meeting a friend
they will ask him the sea questions — What
ship? Where bound? or Where are you bound
for? with other impertinent affectations and
pedantry of the same kind, such as capsize
for "overturn," which cannot be too carefully
Those who affect military phrases again, call
their "house" or their "lodgings" quarters;
and are continually talking of the parade, the
review, &c. In a former page* I have given
another instance of a military phrase, which
has been introduced into common language;
and were I more conversant with military
language than I am, I have no doubt I could
muster a still longer roll. The two words here
marked in Italics, are undoubtedly military.
It will not be necessary to illustrate the principle
by examining severally the various trades
and professions whose terms and phrases are
introduced into conversation, as most of those
will be obvious without exemplification; and I
shall, therefore, pass on to pedantry in the subjects
of conversation, and in the manner of
speaking. It is most justly remarked, by an
elegant Essayist, that "Pedantry, in the common
sense of the word, means an absurd ostentation
of learning, and stiffness of phraseology,
* See page 86.
proceeding from a misguided knowledge of
books, and a total ignorance of men. But I
have often thought that we might extend in
signification a good deal further, and in general,
apply it to that failing which disposes a
person to obtrude upon others subjects of conversation
relating to his own business, studies
or amusements." According to this definition,
courtiers and soldiers, and in short, men
of all ranks, may be guilty of pedantry as well
as the philosopher or the divine. Even women
become liable to this imputation when they
descant at too great length on their dress and
ornaments, or on their domestic economy. It
is a natural weakness, indeed, to fancy that the
subjects on which we are best informed may
be thought as important and as interesting by
others as by ourselves. Hence we are apt
perpetually to introduce them into our discourse,
and are in danger of acquiring a habit.
which, if carried to excess, renders conversation
both tedious and ridiculous.
On this account, though it be proper and
allowable to engage persons to converse on
those subjects with which they are particularly
acquainted; yet, I think, a prudent man will
avoid taking advantage of such opportunities
of displaying his knowledge, lest those whose
information is less extensive, should consider
him as deserving the reproach of pedantry.
Some persons are never at ease in society,
except where they can take the lead, and
assume the style of dictation. A man of this
class seeks neither for amusement nor instruction,
but solely with a view to impress others
with a high opinion of his talents.
He endeavours to engross all the conversation;
he wishes not to hear remarks, but
merely to be listened to and admired. If you
oppose to him the slightest contradiction, he
only speaks louder, and assumes a more decisive
tone, and when no one replies, he
fancies every body is convinced.
Before I proceed to pedantry of pronunciation,
I shall mention one instance of a
pedantic expression, which is very vulgar and
affected, and which I may exemplify by the
phrases — "Newton is only another name for
Science;" "Euclid is only another name for
Mathematics." The harshness of such expressions,
which are by no means uncommon,
will appear more striking by saying on a similar
principle, that "Watt is only another name for
the Steam Engine;" or "Franklin is only
another name for Electricity;" — or "Davy
is only another name for Chemistry," which
I do not recollect ever to have heard.
Many instances of pedantry of pronunciation
will be found in the chapter on Vulgar--
genteel errors, and affected speaking; but
the most glaring mistakes of this kind occur
in making pedantic attempts to engraft the
pronunciation of Foreign words upon our
vernacular English. In proper names it may
be allowed to come as near as possible to the
original pronunciation, and upon this principle
we may be permitted to remark, by way of
illustration, that the French corruption of
"Dionysius," into Denys, and the Celtic, of
"Alexander," into Alaister, are as bad as the
Otaheitean corruption of "Cooke," into Toote.
But in proper names of difficult pronunciation
it is pedantic to give the exact original sound,
even when the speaker can pronounce it perfectly.
For example "Gottingen," when pronounced
as it is spelled, is well understood
in Britain, but if a pedant were to pronounce
it Yettingen in the German fashion, it would
be quite unintelligible to the mere English
scholar. In the same way, Mr. "Brande,"
the well known chemist, whose family is originally
German, has his name sometimes pedantically
transformed into Brandé or Brandie.
The name of the celebrated "Goethe," is
also pronounced by pedants, vain of their
German scholarship, as if it were written with
a French "u," Gutté, and sometimes Ghetté,
both of which are as unintelligible to the
English scholar, as would be the name
Odysseus, the Greek, for "Ulysses."
When the vain desire of exhibiting a knowledge
of Italian, induces some persons to
transform "Boccacio," into Boccatchio, and
"Buonaparte," into Boo-onaparty, why, it
may be asked, do they not also say Firenze,
for "Florence," and Venezia for "Venice?"
Italian pedantry, however, seldom ventures
so far as this, but usually rests satisfied with
such little affectations as Metzotinto, for
"Mezzotinto," which Walker indeed (improperly,
I think,) authorizes.
The most common pedantry, however, of
this kind, is derived from the French, in consequence
of the study of the language in this
country being more common. Accordingly you
will not only hear such words as "encore,''
and "Belles Lettres," pronounced in the
French manner, which in these instances has
become naturalized ; but you may also hear
"rencounter," pronounced "rangcongtre;
"cognisance," pronounced " connisance;" "environs,''
pronounced "angvirongs;" and "rendezvous,"
pronounced "rangdyvoo," with
many others of the same kind. In proper
names it appears still more reprehensible, as
when "Paris" is called "Pari," which is as
bad as Pairis, the pedantic Scotch pronunciation
of the word. "Calais," also is pedantically
called "Calay," "Lyons," is called
"Leeong," the late king of France is called
"Louee," instead of "Louis," and the present
king Sharl, instead of "Charles;" this, I think
is the utmost stretch of the Frenchified pedantic;
and is a shade worse than the pedantic
habit of introducing hackneyed French expressions.
It is in the same pedantic spirit
that "Rollin," is pronounced Rollang, and
"Vauquelin," — Vauquelang.
In some instances in which the peculiarities
of Foreign pronunciation are not so much involved,
it may be preferable to adhere to it, as
in the instances of "Murat," in which it is better
not to sound the "t;" — "Buffon," which
sounds very vulgar, when the stress of the
voice is put on the "ff" and not on the "n*;"
* In this word the genuine French pronunciation, "Bufong,"
is perhaps the best, in order to distinguish it from
— and "Bourdeaux," which ought always to
be pronounced "Boordo," — the English Burdox
being very vulgar.
Those who reside in a particular place ought,
in order to avoid pedantry, pronounce the
names of persons and places as they are usually
pronounced, and not according as they may
think, or may have been taught by book, to be
more correct. In Ireland, for example, it
would be the extreme of pedantry for a native
Irishman to call "Lough Neagh," — Lock
Neek, or to call "Youghal," — Yokal, or
Yooal; or in Scotland for a Scotsman to call
"Achtermughty," — Aktermukty, or, "Sanquhar,"
— Sankar — merely because Englishmen
pronounce them in this manner. In the instances
of "Armagh," pronounced "Armaw,"
instead of "Armahh," or of "Drogheda,"
pronounced "Dro-eda," or "Drohgheda," it
may be more excusable as it is not so obvious:
but in the word "Belfast," to put the stress of
the voice upon the "el," and not upon the
"st ;" or in the word, "Dumfries," to pronounce
Dum-freeze, is undoubtedly pedantic
for an inhabitant, though excusable in an
Englishman. I may say the same of the
name "Duncan" pronounced Dun-can instead
of "Dungcan;" and "Graham," pronounced
Gra-am, instead of "Grame;" and "the battle
of Longside," instead of "the battle of
Langside." A strong instance of this sort
of vulgar pedantry occurs in the word
"Catrine," the name of a Scotch village,
which is properly pronounced "Cătrine," the
"a" being sounded, as in "cat," but pedantically
like "a" long, as in "Kate;" which
pronunciation however is correct, according
to the law of custom in "Loch Katrine,'
though the origin of the two names, from
"Caterans," is the same. "Gloucester," shall
be pronounced "Glo'ster," on the same principle,
but it is considered vulgar to call "Birmingham,"
— " Brumagem."
In the instance of words difficult for an
Englishman to sound, such as "Loch Neagh,"
"Youghal," and "Ecclefechan," (pronounced
"Eklefehhan,") it will be the best way for him
to avoid, as much as he can, the use of them,
because it is impossible to pronounce them
without blundering. Some, indeed, take a
pleasure in committing blunders of this kind,
and think it a mark of their superior refinement
and civilization, that they cannot bring
their organs to pronounce such barbarous
words; but this they ought to know is only
another form of pedantry and affectation.
I think it right to mention here, that in the
names of towns ending in "burg," or "burgh,"
when British, it ought to be pronounced
"burrow," as "Edinburgh," — "Edinburrow;"
but when foreign it ought to be pronounced
"burg," as "Hamburgh," " Petersburgh," —
Formal rules have been one of the chief
sources of pedantry; for, as Lord Shaftsbury
justly says, it is the most effectual way of becoming
foolish to do so by rule and system.
One of the first rules in the common English
grammars is, that "a" goes before a consonant,
and "an," before a vowel, and in defiance of
all exception this was adhered to for many
years; but now that the authority of rules,
when opposed to common sense, has been
shaken to the foundation, this rule has properly
been abandoned by the best English
writers in the instance of words, which, though
in spelling they begin with a vowel, are pronounced
as beginning with a consonant, as
in the following table: —
An Universal remark A Universal remark.
An University A University.
An Unique specimen A Unique specimen.
An United brother A United brother.
An European A European.
An Ewe lamb A Ewe lamb.
An Ewer for water A Ewer for water.
It is but very recently that the peculiar
secret language of vagabonds, pick-pockets,
swindlers, professed boxers, and horse -jockies,
has obtained a partial currency among some
of the middle, and even of the upper, ranks of
society; and in consequence of this, a few of
the terms and expressions which are known
under the various names of slang, cant, or
flash language, have been introduced into
common discourse. That I am not proceeding
upon mere conjecture in this, I may mention
the examples of the words bore, rum, and go,
which are now understood by every body in
such low vulgar phrases, as "It is a great bore
to have such a rum fellow always calling;"
"there was a rum go, at the opening of Parliament;"
"Mr. B. is a rum one, he has always
some queer go to bore us with;" "that is all
If I should be asked what I mean by slang,
I would answer in the language of a Popular
writer, that it is chiefly what was originally
invented, and is still used, like the cipher of diplomatists,
for the purposes of secrecy, and as a
means of eluding the civil officers. It is subject,
of course, to continual change, and is perpetually
either altering the meaning of old
words, or adding new ones, according as the
great object, secrecy, renders it prudent to have
recourse to such innovations. In this respect
also, it resembles the cryptography of kings,
and ambassadors, who, by a continual change
of cipher, contrive to bafflie inquisitiveness and
prying. But notwithstanding the Protean nature
of the FLASH or CANT language, the
greater part of it has remained unchanged for
centuries, and many of the words used in
Beaumont and Fletcher, and in Ben Johnson's
Masque, are still to be heard in St. Giles's,
and at the Fives Court. For example, to prig
is still to "steal;" to fib is to "beat;" duds are
"clothes;" prancers are "horses;" bouzingken
is an ale-house or gin shop;" cove is "a
fellow," &c. There are several instances, however,
in which the same term is preserved,
but with a totally different signification. For
example, to mill originally signified to "rob,"
but now means " to fight," or "box;" and the
word rum, originally meant "fine," and "good,"
but is now commonly used for "roguish,"
"eccentric," — "bad."
Another popular writer says, to give an example
of what is not so clear in the general
statement as understood by cant or slang
phrases, I should say that the expression to
"cut with a knife," or to "cut a piece of
wood," is perfectly free from vulgarity; but to
"cut an acquaintance," is not, as it is far from
being perfectly intelligible, and has hardly
yet escaped out of the limits of slang phraseology.
To cut a dash or cut a swell, are equally
bad. The word swell itself, used in this way
is also vulgar.
On the same principle of imitation, which
I have exemplified above in young persons
adopting the language of sailors, it is by no
means uncommon to hear the thoughtless imitating
the slang of the prize-ring, or the tap--
room, under the very mistaken notion, that it
is an indication of spirit, wit, and knowledge
of life; whereas it is unquestionably low and
vulgar. One principal cause of the diffusion
of slang may be traced to the extensive circulation
of newspaper reports of boxing-matches,
drawn up in the peculiar language current of
such assemblies. The memoirs of pick-pockets
also, such as those of Hardy Vaux; and the
Police-office reports, have tended to render
slang familiar to the public.
Many instances of slang might be given,
which are now common in the numerous class
of those who speak in the style that may be
called the vulgar-genteel. For example, the
words do and done, are used for "cheat" and
"ruined," as in the instances, "Ah! he is a
rum one, if von do not take care he will do you
out and out;" "You have done us for once,
with your gammon;'' "I am done for now,
beyond hope." The word row is another slang
word, which has lately become very common.
Grose says it was first introduced at the University
of Cambridge; but how high soever its
origin may be, its vulgarity is unquestionable;
and nobody who wishes to speak correctly will
talk of a row, or of kicking up a row. In
some districts, the word dust is used in the
same vulgar way; as in the phrase to kick up
a dust, instead of to "make a disturbance."
To blow up, or to give a person a blowing up,
is from the same vulgar source, and is chiefly
used by those persons who call "porter" by
the name of heavy wet; "gin" by the name of
Jacky, or blue ruin; the "head" by the slang
name of the knowledge box; the "eyes"
day-lights, or peepers; the "teeth" grinders,
or ivories, and the "ears" listeners.
One of the most common slang words in
general currency is derived, if I mistake not,
from a particular sort of oysters called "natives,"
and is vulgarly applied, under the
take that it is very witty, to the inhabitants of
London, &c. You may thus hear of things
which "astonished the natives;" or which will
"delight the natives." The well known but
vulgar words funk, bam, humbug, hoax, fudge,
and others of the same class, are all undoubtedly
slang; and however expressive they may
be in humorous or satirical writing, they can,
never be admitted into correct, elegant, or polite
conversation. To call "halfpence" brown
makes, or coppers; "shillings" bobs or hogs;
"sovereigns" or "guineas" yellow-boys,, orr
Geordies; and to call "money" by the various
terms of mopusses, blunt, bit, &c., are all extremely
The word to sport, is also a common slang
term, used by the vulgar, as in the examples -
"He sports a coach;" "He sports a bit of
blood;" instead of "he keeps a coach," and
"he rides a blood horse ;" "He sports an
ægrotat;" instead of "he is sick." This word
is, indeed, applied in a thousand forms in slang
language; but the examples just given will
enable the reader to avoid employing it. The
phrase, "He sports a Manton, and is a good
shot," instead of "he has a fowling-piece made
by Manton, and is a good marksman," leads
me to remark that the very common practice of
calling a man a good shot, or saying he plays
a good fiddle, or a good bow, are not only
slang, but are both nonsensical and ungrammatical,
and therefore vulgar. It would be
quite endless, however, to exemplify all the
numerous vulgarities which rank under slang,
cant, and flash; and I shall conclude by arranging
a more extended specimen, in the
form of a
TABLE OF SLANG VULGARITIES.
Adam's Wine. Water.
Abigail. A waiting-maid.
Against the grain. Unwilling.
Agog, or all agog. On the alert.
An ape-leader. An old maid.
Awake to the effects of it Aware of the effects of it.
To back out of a concern. To give up or quit a concern.
He saved his bacon. He escaped.
He was badgered into it. He was importuned into it.
He gave them the bag. He left them, or dismissed
A Baggage. A worthless woman.
A baker's dozen. Fourteen.
Bam [contracted from] Bam--
boozle. To play a trick, to deceive.
Bang-up. Complete, dashing, well done.
Baptized or christened water. Rum or brandy adulterated
A Member for Barkshire. A person who has a bad
The whole batch of them. The whole of them.
I am for Bedfordshire. I am going to bed.
Benjy — Benjamin. A waistcoat — a great coat.
To bilk. To cheat.
Billingsgate. Coarse abusive language.
Bird witted. Foolish, thoughtless.
Bitched. [contraction.] Bewitched.
In black and white. In writing.
Blackleg. A gambler or sharper
Black-strap. Port wine.
To look blank. To look disappointed.
Blarney, or Irish blarney. Flummery or lies.
He bleeds well. He parts freely with money.
It was a blind. It was a deception or feint.
He looks blue. He looks abashed or afraid.
Blue devils. Low spirits.
To bolt. To escape suddenly.
He is out of my books. He is not in my favour.
Bounce — Bouncer. Lie — a liar.
In a brace of seconds. Instantly.
Brandy is Latin for goose. [An apology for a dram after
In good or bad bread. In a good or a bad situation.
Bread basket, or Victualling--
office The stomach.
She wears the breeches. She governs her husband.
He is done brown. He is completely cheated or
To buy a brush and lope. To go off.
To have a brush with one. To have a scuffle with one.
To kick the bucket. To die, or to become bankrupt.
To budge, [in Scotland] to
mudge. To move, or to quit.
A buffer stript to the buff. A boxer stript to the skin.
Bull-dogs, or barking-irons. Pistols.
To butter up. To flatter one undeservedly.
Spread your cabbage plant. Put up your umbrella.
He is a cakey. He is a foolish fellow.
To cut capers. To romp, or to act affectedly.
Carroty-pated. Red haired.
He puts the cart before the
horse. He begins at the end of his
Castor — Cat's-paw. A hat — a tool or instrument.
That chap is a charley. That fellow is a watchman.
To catch it. To be abused or scolded.
He got it in Cheapside. He gave little for it.
Chicken-hearted. Fearful. cowardly.
A brother chip. One of the same trade.
A chopping boy. A lusty child.
Chops — Chopper. The cheeks — a blow on the
A chum. A college acquaintance.
A church-yard cough. A deadly cough.
A church-yard deserter. An emaciated person.
To clapperclaw. To abuse, or to scold.
Under a cloud. In adversity.
To spy the cloven foot. To discover roguery.
He is the cock of the walk. He is the chief man.
Cock-sure. Quite certain.
Cold iron. A sword, dagger, or knife.
To come Harry over one. To cheat.
Corinthian swells. Gentlemen prodigals.
To send one to Coventry. To keep one at a distance
without speaking to him.
A crack man. A man in high fashion.
To crow over. To boast or triumph.
A cunning shaver. A clever rogue.
A cup of the creature. A glass of whiskey, or other
Curmudgeon. A covetous old fellow.
He is a great dab. He is very dextrous, or expert.
At daggers drawing. At great enmity.
Quite the dandy, or dandyish. In high fashion.
A deep one. A sly designing fellow.
It is all Dickey with him. It is all over with him.
To diddle. To defraud.
He is dished up. He is ruined.
A Dominie do-little. A useless old fellow.
A lame duck. A stock jobber who cannot
pay his debts•
Duke, [in Scotland] Laird. A fellow profligate, or an
In the Dumps. In low spirits.
To put out one's eye. To become a successful rival.
An eye-sore. A disagreeable object.
He has feathered his nest. He has enriched himself.
A fellow commoner. An empty bottle.
It was a fetch to gammon me. It was a trick to deceive me.
At fiddlestick's end. Nothing.
All a flam. A lie, or sham story.
He is a great flat. He is a very simple fellow.
To fleece. To plunder, or cheat.
Flush of mopusses. Full of money.
Foysted in. Interpolated.
A Friday face. A dismal countenance.
To be in a fuss. To he in a confused hurry.
That's all gammon. That is all deception or false.
His garret is muzzy. His head is giddy — He is
The gentle craft. Shoe-making.
His gills are rosy and merry. His cheeks look merry and
To give it. To abuse or scold.
The glue-pot looks glum. The parson looks sullen.
Grab, and to grab. Spoil, booty ,and to seize.
To grease the fist. To bribe.
He has sent his horse to Dr.
Green. He has put his horse to grass.
He is green, or a green-horn. He is young, or inexperienced.
Old Mr. Grim. Death.
To give a handle. To afford a pretext.
Where does he hang out. Where does he reside.
Herring pond, or dub. The sea.
He is playing at hide and seek. He is skulking for debt.
Used to high living. Accustomed to live in a
A hop, or caper merchant. A dancing-master.
The hyp, or hypped. In low spirits.
Before you can say Jack Robinson.
Instantly, or suddenly.
He jabbered like a Jarvy. He talked like a hackney
Quite Jemmy. Quite spruce.
To be in it. To be concerned.
A Johnny Raw. An inexperienced clown.
To keep it up. To prolong.
Of the same kidney. Of the same sort.
He is gone to kingdom come. He is dead.
To knock under, or succumb. To submit.
A Knight of the Thimble. A Tailor.
A knowing one. An experienced sportsman.
Laid up in lavender. Pawned, or imprisoned.
Laid on the shelf. Useless, over.
How does the land lie? What are the circumstances?
A lark, or larking. A trick, or making fun.
To lick. To beat or punish.
To give a lift. To assist.
In limbo, or in quod. In prison.
In a bad loaf, or in bad bread. In a bad situation, in trouble.
In Lob's pound. In prison.
TheLombard, or Lurgan, fever. Idleness, or laziness.
A long price. A great price.
Looking as if he could not help
it. Looking like a simpleton.
Looking up. Improving.
A loop-hole. A means of escape.
In the lurch. In trouble, or difficulty.
On his marrow bones. On his knees.
To melt. To spend, or to exchange
paper for gold.
Man of straw. A pretender, or false character.
A lad of mettle. A young man of spirit.
A matter of moonshine. A trifle.
Morning. [Scots.] A dram before breakfast.
A mouth of a fellow. A noisy, or silly fellow.
It would be a good move. It would be proper, or expedient.
Murphies, or Munster plums. Potatoes.
That is in his mutton. That will vex or annoy him.
To be nacky, or to have a nack. To be dextrous or expert.
To nail — nailed. To overreach — fixed.
In the very nick. At the critical moment.
Done to the Nines. Done excellently or correctly
Gone to the land of Nod. Asleep.
Led by the nose. Governed.
Follow your nose. Go straight forward.
To put one's nose out of joint. To rival successfully.
To put a finger in the pie. To interfere.
To put in an oar. To give an opinion unasked.
One of these odd-come-shortlys Sometime or other.
A good hand, or an old dog at it. Dextrous, expert.
The old One, old Nick, or old
Podger. The devil.
An out-and-outer, or out-and--
To mind number one, or the
P's and Q's. To be attentive to interest.
A paper skull. A foolish fellow.
On a par. Equal.
To palm upon. To cheat.
To cry pecavi. To acknowledge a fault.
Peckish, or Pickish. Hungry.
To give one a peppering. To beat or abuse one.
In the hands of the Philistines. In trouble or difficulty.
The phyz, or physog. The face.
Picking up. Recovering, or improvise.
Pilgarlick. An egotist.
In a merry pin or key. Cheerful, humorous.
It may do for a pinch. It may do for want of better.
To pink. To stab, or knock.
Pins — pipes. Legs — boots.
Pluck — pluckless. Courage or spirit — Cowardly.
Plucked. [University cant.] Refused a degree.
A plumb — half a plumb. £100,000 — £50,000.
It is gone plump, or smack. It is gone directly, or altogether.
To stretch a point. To do more than usual.
Potatoe trap. [Irish.] The mouth.
To prig, to haggle, to niggle. To beat down a price.
To break Prician's head. To write, or speak fake
In a pucker, or pother. In a fright, or confusion.
In pudding time. In good time.
To pull one up. To take one. before a magistrate
He is purse proud. He is vain of his wealth.
In a quandary. Puzzled.
He lives in Queen-street. He is governed by his wife.
To queer. To puzzle, or confound.
In queer-street. Wrong, improper.
A quirk — a quiz. A trick — an odd fellow.
To rag, or to tear to rags. To abuse, or calumniate.
A Rap. A false oath, a halfpenny, a
To rap. To curse.
That is a rapper. That is a great lie.
Ratting. Changing parties underhand
His rib has too much of the
red rag. His wife is too talkative.
To rib-roast. To beat.
Rif-raff, or tag, rag,and bob--
tail. Low people.
A rig. A trick, or piece of fun.
A rip. A lean horse, or a shabby
A roaring trade. A good business.
To roast. To banter, or jeer.
To rule the roast. To be master.
A roger. A portmanteau, or a goose.
A sad dog. A profligate.
St. Geoffrey's day, or to-morow-come-never
Sauce-box. A bold impudent person.
Scab — scamp. A worthless person — a footpad
He makes himself scarce. He is seldom seen.
To sconce. To skulk, to impose a fine.
To scout an idea. To reject an idea with contempt.
To get into a scrape. To be involved in a disagreeable
To come to the scratch. To be in proper time.
Seedy [run to seed.] Poor, mean, shabilly dressed.
To serve one out. To beat, to foil, to kill.
To settle — A settler. To finish — a finishing stroke.
A young shaver. A boy.
To cast a sheep's eye. To look wistfully.
To sherk, or to sherry off. To evade, or run away.
To sing out — to sing small. To call aloud — to be humbled.
Six and eight-pence. An attorney.
At sixes and sevens. In confusion.
Thin-skinned. Peevish, easily irritated.
Skin-flint. An avaricious person.
Skit. A joke — a romping girl.
Slap-dash — slap-bang. Instantly, or suddenly.
Upon the sly. Privately.
Sly-boots. A cunning, but simple looking
A smack — smack. A kiss, a blow — sudden.
To smash — all to smash. To break — all to pieces.
To go snacks. To be partners.
To snivel. To whine, or complain.
To squash, or squabash. To quash, or suppress.
To sound, or pump. To obtain intelligence cunningly.
To have a spell at it. To make a trial of it
A spice. A small quantity.
Spliced. [sea term.] Married.
Spunk. Spirit, courage.
A spoony — spoony. A fool — nonsensical.
To spout. To recite, or to pawn
A spree. A frolic.
Square, or fair and square. Right, fair, honest.
Square-toes. An old man.
Run to a stand-still. Stopped, ruined
Sticks. Household furniture.
Stock and block, or stoop and
roop. The whole.
Stone — as stone-dead, stone--
blind, and stone-still. Quite.
Strait-laced. Precise, prudish.
To stump. To boast, or lie.
Tantrums. Pet, or passion.
By rule of thumb. By habit, or at random.
To tip. [this is very vulgar.] To give or lend.
Tip-top. The best.
Togger. A great coat.
To touch the ready. To receive money.
Up to trap. Informed, knowing.
Trimming — a trimming. Changing sides — a beating.
Trim — in good trim. Plight — in good plight.
To tweak, or twig. To pull, or fillip.
To twit. To reproach.
Upper story. The head.
Uppish. Testy, proud.
A warm man. A rich man.
To whip of, or to whip away. To drink off, or to run away.
To wet one's whistle. To drink.
A white lie. A harmless lie.
A wild-goose chase. An uncertain pursuit.
To wear the willow. To be left by a lover.
A windfall. A legacy, or something unexpected.
A wipe. A blow, a reproach.
A wiseacre. A self-conceited fellow.
Wrap-rascal A cloak.
To spin a yarn. To tell a story.
Young in the business. Inexperienced.
In making this table, I have, in most instances,
avoided those slang terms and expressions
which are more peculiar to proffigates,
as a secret language for the purposes
of concealment; and in order to make the
corrections more practically useful, I have introduced
many which can only be considered as
slang in consequence of their origin and application.
Miss Edgeworth, in her ingenious Essay
on Irish bulls, remarks that the common people
in Ireland usually speak in metaphor, or put
one thing for another, as in the instance, "Will
you sky a copper, Jack?" "I gave it him up
to Harry in the bread basket." Now all metaphor
of this kind is undoubted slang, which
indeed we may admire as characteristic of
fancy and ingenuity in a low Irishman; but
the least taint of which will tarnish the lustre
of polite conversation. Metaphor, or terms of
expression where the words mean differently
from their common signification, must never
be derived from low ideas, nor must they be
such as are current in vulgar society. Lord
Chesterfield, who, though he was a master of
polite conduct, was not always select or elegant
in his expressions, exemplifies what I mean
when he says, "Never talk of your own or
other people's domestic affairs: yours are nothing
to them but tedious; theirs are nothing
to you. It is a tender subject, and it is a
chance you do not touch somebody or other's
sore place." The idea of a sore suggested by
this metaphor is no less vulgar than disgusting,
and is very similar to the vulgar proverb, "let
the gall'd jade wince." The same idea is
sometimes expressed, rather less objectionably,
by the phrase, tender point; but though this
is better than Chesterfield's "sore place," it
is by no means elegant.
It is upon the same principle that the vulgar
always turn every object into metaphorical
personages. It is well enough to call a ship
"she," and to talk of "her sailing;" and to
call the sun "he," and to talk of "his rising;"
but vulgar people call almost every thing "he"
and "she." For example — "She is a pretty
coach. and I like her shape," for "It is a pretty
coach, and I like the shape of it;" "She is
a fine plough," for "It is a fine plough;"
"Snowdon has his summit hidden by clouds,"
for "Snowdon has its summit hidden by
clouds;" "She is an excellent sword," for
"It is an excellent sword;" "She is a Manton,
that pistol," for "That pistol was made by
Manton;" "She is a first-rate razor, I had her
from Kingsbury's, for "It is a first-rate razor,-
I had it at Kingsbury's;" "The Thames has
overflowed his banks at Chelsea," for "The
Thames has overflowed its banks at Chelsea;"
"The house is handsome, but her walls are
flimsy," for "The house is handsome, but its
walls are flimsy." All those "he's" and "she's,"
except in the case of the sun, of ships, boats,
and a very few other things, are very vulgar.
It is indeed the most obvious characteristic
of slang and cant, to use words and expressions
in a sense different from the common, or to
invent new terms for those in common use:
and it is also a mark of slang, which cannot be
mistaken, that it derives almost all its metaphorical
turns from low ideas, as the reader
may perceive in the preceding table, or in any
of the Police reports in the daily papers. "He
is knowing in horse-flesh," for example, instead
of "He has a knowledge of horses." That
it is much the same now as in the time of
Dean Swift, may be seen from his humorous,
dialogue or drama, entitled "Polite Conversation,"
in which he ironically caricatures the
proverbial and slang expressions which were
current in his time.
VULGARITY OF MIMICKRY, JEERING, AND
If you wish to be respectable, never degrade
yourself by mimicking the faults or peculiarities
which you observe in the conversation of
others; for though you may succeed in exciting
a laugh, it will uniformly be at your own
expence, and never at that of the person
mimicked. Lord Chesterfield has justly remarked,
that a joker, or a mimic, is near a-kin
to a buffoon, and he very properly adds, that
neither of them have any relation to genuine
wit. Romping, loud and frequent laughing,
punning, joking, mimickry, waggery, and too
great and indiscriminate familiarity, will render
any man contemptible, in spite of all his
knowledge and his merit. These may constitute
a merry fellow, but a merry fellow was
never yet a respectable one. Indiscriminate
familiarity will either offend your superiors,
or make you pass for their dependant; and it
will put your inferiors on a troublesome degree
of equality with you. Besides, a gentleman
should know that a fine coat is nothing more
than a livery, when the person that wears it discovers
no higher sense than that of a menial
servant. A joke if it carries a sting with it, is
no longer a joke, but an affront; and if it even
have no sting, unless its witticism be delicate
and facetious, instead of giving pleasure, it
will disgust; or if the company should laugh,
they will always laugh at the jester, rather than
Mimickry is the favourite amusement of
little minds, but has ever been the contempt
of great ones. Never give way to it yourself,
nor ever encourage it in others; it is the
most illiberal of all buffoonery; it is an insult
to the person you mimic, and insults of this
kind are never forgiven.
A wag is one who laughs at the first thing he
hears; not because it is ridiculous, but because
he is under a necessity of laughing, to keep
himself in countenance; and his gaiety consists
in a certain professed ill-breeding, as if it were
an excuse for a fault, that a man knows he
has committed one. Being too shallow to
draw any occasion of merriment out of his
own thoughts, his mind is always prepared to
receive some occasion from others; and rather
than not be grinning, he will search for an occasion
at any distance. He is ever guessing
how well such a lady slept last night, what she
dreamed of, and how much such a young fellow
is pleased with himself, on account of a smile
from his sweetheart, or the new fashioned cut
of his coat: in short, he is a ridiculous fool,
whom every man of sense must secretly despise.
A mimic or a wag, then, being little less
than a buffoon, who will distort his face and
mouth, or alter the tones of his voice, to make
people laugh, — be very careful to avoid the
imputation. Be assured, no person ever demeaned
himself to please others, unless he
wished to be thought the fiddle, or Merry--
Andrew of the company; and whether this
character be respectable, I shall leave you to
judge. If a man's company be coveted on
any other account than his knowledge, his
good sense, or his manners, he is seldom respected
by those who invite him, but made
use of only to entertain. "Let us have such
a one, for he sings a good song;" or, "he is
always joking or laughing;" or, "let us invite
such a one, for he is an excellent mimic;"
these are degrading distinctions, that preclude
all respect and esteem. Whoever is had (as
the phrase is) for the sake of such qualifications
singly, is merely that thing he is had for,
is never considered in any other light, and, of
course, is never properly respected, let his
intrinsic merits be ever so great.
It is the aim of some persons, says Rogers,
to be continually striving to discover the side
on which, whatever is said, may be turned
into ridicule; a discovery which may very
easily be made, even in the gravest subjects,
Thus with a single word, or an ironical observation,
they blast the most ingenious and profound
remarks. By adopting this plan, some
men of the world obtain the reputation of
greater talents than they really possess. Not
liking that mere genius should obtain that
respect which, in the opinion of mankind, is
sometimes considered more due to it than
either to rank or riches, they break in by some
jest upon every conversation, which they find
attaches the audience to the person who
amuses or instructs them. With this view,
they are continually upon the watch for some
transient word, which may be turned to ridicule,
and generally succeed in bringing the conversation
to a fault.
This is the worst species of the habit alluded
to. It is a most decided characteristic of inferior
talent; at least if it be not the effect of
a kind of policy practised by some men of the
world, and even by men of letters, — the one, to
put a stop to conversation when it turns upon
subjects, the discussion of which is at variance
with their interest or their prejudices; the
other, to prevent the company from perceiving
their ignorance of the matter.
"As for jest," says Lord Bacon, "there be
certain things which ought to be privileged
from it; namely, religion, matters of state,
great persons, any man's present business of
importance, and any case that deserveth pity;
yet there be some that think their wits have
been asleep, except they dart out something
that is piquant, and to the quick: — And generally
men ought to find the difference between
saltness and bitterness. Certainly, he that
hath a satyrical vein, as he maketh others
afraid of his wit, so he had need be afraid of
Jeering, says Rogers, is another sort of
pleasantry, which may be considered as the
pest of conversation, and, consequently, of
society. It may be said to consist in rendering
a man ridiculous, by turning his discourse and
opinions, or the defects of his understanding
and manners, into a jest. Good humoured
raillery, which gives offence to none, when
introduced at proper times, and in a natural
manner, is a very agreeable seasoning to conversation.
But this is rare, and we generally
find jeering substituted for it. How many do
we see who, to make a jest, will venture the
making of an enemy, or will rather hazard the
loss of a friend, than of a smart, but offensive
Raillery ceases to be proper, as soon as any
one in company feels hurt by it. In that case,
it cannot be the offspring of a desire to please,
but rather of ill-nature.
"The French," says Dean Swift with great
acuteness, "from whom we borrow the word
raillery, have a quite different idea of the
thing, and so had we in the politer age of our
fathers. Raillery was to say something that at.
first appeared a reproach or reflection, but by
some turn of wit unexpected and surprising,
ended always in a compliment, and to the advantage
of the person it was addressed to.
And surely one of the best rules in conversation
is, never to say any thing, which any of
the company can reasonably wish we had
left unsaid; nor can any thing be more contrary
to the ends for which people meet together,
than to part unsatisfied with each other
Like all other affectations, the habit of
affecting to be witty is foolish and silly, and
is certain to render conversation stiff and
formal, instead of easy and agreeable. Wit to
be pleasing, must be natural; and to be natural
it must flow from the fulness of a mind at ease.
A certain degree of carelessness is favourable
to it. If we search eagerly for a witty remark,
we shall generally fail; for spightliness.
and gaiety were never yet attained by a painful
effort. To abandon one's-self to the natural
course of ideas, and the dictates of fancy, is a
sure means of pleasing in conversation, even
for those who have but moderate talents, and
whose information is not extensive. This precept
is especially useful for young women, who
always speak well, when they speak naturally.
Neither is it evident that the continued
splendour of wit, if it could be attained, would
in conversation be either desirable or safe.
It would be apt to fatigue and dazzle, and to
render a man's companion painfully sensible of
the superiority of his talent.
"One of the greatest secrets of composition,"
says Dr. Blair, (and we may remark the
same of speaking) "is to know when to be
simple. This always gives a heightening to
ornament in its proper place. The right disposition
of the shade, makes the light and
colouring strike the more:" the same is true
The affectation of wit is most frequently
displayed in continual efforts at punning. This
unfortunate propensity, as Rogers justly remarks,
is the bane of all good conversation.
Words cease to be, to the punster, the picture
of the ideas which they ought to suggest:
they are considered merely as sounds and
syllables. Thus a punster resembles one who
in reading, sees the characters, and letters
of which a word is composed, but knows not
what it signifies. Punning, therefore, breaks
the chain of ideas; for it is necessary to commence
another conversation on a new subject.
In fine, the punster is lost to society and conversation,
he is occupied in spying out some
word as it passes, on which he may employ his
talent; instead of which he might, by a different
course, produce profit and pleasure, both
to himself and his companions, by attending
to the ideas and subjects, which are suggested,
and by contributing his share to sustain and
animate the conversation.
Perhaps, it would be going too far to say,
with Dr. Johnson, "that the man, who makes
a pun would pick your pocket," but I think,
that the desire of being distinguished as a
punster, is pardonable in those only who indulge
it with great sobriety, and who pun perfectly,
and ingeniously; a condition which
professed punsters seldom or never fulfil.
The play upon words, which is termed punning,
appears indeed to be a decided mark of
a weak, silly, and frivolous mind. For instance
to borrow an illustration from Chesterfield, it
we remark that such a dress is "Commodious,"
a punster would eagerly exclaim "Odious,"
or, self-satisfied with his own ingenuity, he will
remark, that "whatever it has been, it is now
be-Com odious." If a punster is describing
a person, whose knees are naturally a little
bent inwards, he will think it a good opportunity
for punning on the word, "Pyrenees,"
and say, "Oh, Mr. A. or Mr. B. is a soldier —
he was at the battle of the "Pair o' knees."
We cannot rank the person much above a
fool who, in the midst of a serious discussion,
if a reference be made to an "Encyclopœdia,"
would burlesque the whole by the pun of
"In sickly pay day." It is possible, in some
rare instances, to introduce a pun with effect,
and even with elegance, but as there are
usually, at least, a thousand failures, for one
successful pun, it is the safest rule to avoid
the practice, particularly as it is very apt to
become a confirmed and disagreeable habit.
Lord Chesterfield remarks, that other persons
much akin to the punster, will endeavour to
be witty by giving unexpected answers. Thus,
if you ask, "where is my Lord?" such persons
will answer, "he is in his skin;" or, "he is in
his clothes, unless he is in bed." Nothing can
be more low and vulgar than this.
I conclude then, that though punning is the
lowest kind of wit, and ought to be very
sparingly employed, yet I would except the
Laughing out, humanely will decide,
And turn commencing bickerings aside.
Such puns, the truly learn'd will not revile;
At such the wise may innocently smile.
VULGAR SUBJECTS OF CONVERSATION.
Although it does not fall directly into the
plan of this little work, I think it may be useful
to mention a few of the topics which ought
to be avoided in conversation, in so far as they
encroach on the great law of politeness and
good breeding, as well as of morality — To treat
others, as we would wish to be treated in
return. By strictly observing this law, we shall
abstain from introducing any topic or remark
which may excite disagreeable or unpleasant
feelings, or give pain to those with whom we
converse. Even the slighter degrees of such
unpleasant feelings ought not to be awakened
by tiring the hearer with what he evidently
takes no interest in, or does not understand.
There are few persons, for instance, who will
listen with patience to details of your private
affairs; and yet with many, this is the chief
theme of discourse. The fault, indeed, is so
common, that it has received the name of EGOTISM,
a term derived from EGO, the Latin word
As egotism is so common a mistake in conversation,
it will require to be carefully pointed
out in its various forms and colours, that the
reader may the more easily correct it. Upon
all occasions, therefore, if it be possible, avoid
speaking of yourself. Some, abruptly, speak
advantageously of themselves; without either
pretence or provocation. This is downright
impudence; others proceed more artfully, as
they imagine, forging accusations against
themselves, and complaining of calumnies which
they never heard, in order to justify themselves
and exhibit a catalogue of their many virtues.
"They acknowledge, indeed, it may appear
odd, that they should talk thus of themselves;
it is what they have a great aversion to, and
what they could not have done, if they had
not been thus unjustly and scandalously abused."
This thin veil of modesty, drawn
before vanity, is much too transparent to conceal
it, even from those who have but a moderate
share of penetration.
Others, again, proceed more modestly, and
more slily still; they confess themselves guilty
of all the cardinal virtues, by first degrading
them into weaknesses.
"They cannot see people labouring under
misfortunes, without sympathizing with them,
and endeavouring to help them. They cannot
see their fellow-creatures in distress, without
relieving them; though, truly, their circumstances
cannot well afford it. They cannot
avoid speaking the truth, though they
acknowledge it to be sometimes imprudent
In short they confess that, with all their weaknesses,
they are not fit to live in the world
much less to prosper in it. But they are now
too old to pursue a contrary conduct, and
therefore they must go on as well as they can."
Now though this may appear too ridiculous
even for the stage, yet it is frequently met
with upon the common stage of the world.
This principle of vanity and pride is so strong
in human nature, that it descends even to the
lowest object; and we often see people fishing
for praise, where, admitting all they say
to be true, no just praise is to be caught. One,
perhaps, affirms, that he has rode post a hundred
miles in six hours; probably this is
falsehood; but even supposing it to be true,
it can only be inferred, that he is a very good
post boy. Another asserts, perhaps not without
a few oaths, that he has drunk six or eight
bottles of wine at a sitting. It would be charitable
to believe such a man a liar; for if we do
not, we must certainly pronounce him a beast.
Those who indulge in this sort of lying
reckon it innocent, as it hurts nobody but themselves;
but it is certainly the spurious offspring
of vanity and folly. Such persons as deal
in the marvellous, pretend to have seen things
that never existed; they have seen other things
which they really never saw, though they did
exist, only because they were thought worth
seeing. Has any thing remarkable been said
or done in any place, or in any company, they
immediately represent and declare themselves
eye-witnesses of it. They have done feats
themselves, unattempted, or at least unperformed,
by others. They are always the heroes
of their own fables; and think that they gain
consideration, or at least present attention by
it. Whereas, in truth, all they get is ridicule
and contempt, not without a good degree of
distrust; for one must naturally conclude, that
he who will tell a lie from idle vanity, will not
scruple telling a greater for interest. Had I
really seen any thing so very extraordinary, as
to be almost incredible, I would keep it to
myself, rather than, by telling it, give any one
room to doubt for a minute of my veracity.
It is most certain that the reputation of chastity
is not more necessary for a woman, than that
of veracity is for a man, and with good reason;
for it is not possible for a man to be virtuous
without strict veracity, a lie being a vice of
the mind, and of the heart.
Nothing but truth can carry us through the
world, with either our conscience or our
honour unwounded. It is not only our duty,
but our interest; as a proof of which, it may
be observed, that the greatest fools are the
greatest liars: and we may safely judge of a
man's truth by his degree of understanding.
There are a thousand such follies, and extravagances,
which varsity draws people into,
and which always defeat their own purpose.
The only method of avoiding these, is never to
speak of ourselves. But when in a narrative,
we are obliged to mention ourselves, we should
take care not to drop a single word that can
directly or indirectly be construed as fishing
for applause. Be our characters what they
may they will be known; and nobody will take
them upon our own words. Nothing that we
can say of ourselves will varnish our defects,
or add lustre to our perfections; but, on the
contrary, it will often make the former more
glaring, and the latter obscure. If we are
silent upon our own merits, neither envy, indignation,
nor ridicule, will obstruct or allay the
applause which we may really deserve. But
if we are our own panegyrists upon any occasion,
however artfully dressed or disguised,
every one will conspire against us, and we shall
be disappointed of the very end we aim at.
It is not to be imagined by how many different
ways vanity defeats its own purposes.
One man decides peremptorily upon every
subject, betrays his ignorance upon many, and
shows a disgusting presumption upon the rest.
Some flatter their vanity by little extraneous
objects, which have not the least relation to
themselves — such as being descended from,
related to, or acquainted with, people of distinguished
merit and eminent character. They
talk perpetually of their grandfather, such a
one, their uncle, such a one, and their intimate
friend, such a one, whom possibly they are
hardly acquainted with. But admitting it all
to be as they would have it. What then?
Have they the more merit for those accidents?
Certainly not. On the contrary, their taking
up adventitious, proves their want of intrinsic,
merit; a rich. man never borrows. Take this
rule for granted, as a never failing one, that
you must not seem to affect the character in
which you have a mind to shine. Modesty is
the only sure bait, when you angle for praise.
The affectation of courage will make a brave
man pass even for a bully; as the affectation
of wit, will make a man of parts pass for a coxcomb.
By this modesty, I do not mean timidity,
and awkward bashfulness. On the contrary,
be inwardly firm and steady, know your
own value, whatever it may be, and act upon
that principle; but take great care to let nobody
discover that you know your own value.
Whatever real merit you have, others will
discover; and people always magnify their
own discoveries, as they lessen those of others.
The vulgar expressions which may be
ranked under egotism, have partly been mentioned
in some of the preceding chapters, but
it may be useful to bring them together under
one view. They will very generally be found
to arise from the silly practice which many
follow, of always "speaking their minds."
Those persons will often say a rude thing, or
flatly contradict you, for the mere pleasure of
showing independence, or in other words their
egotism. This is one of the most offensive
forms of affectation, and will never obtain for
those who practise it any character, besides
that of selfishness and rudeness. I shall here
set down a few of the most common expressions
of this kind, which ought to be avoided.
TABLE OF VULGAR EGOTISMS.
I for one.
That is my opinion.
I always like to speak my mind.
I am a straight forward man: I never go about
To my thinking, or, In my mind. [Ungrammatical.]
In my poor opinion, or In my humble opinion.
I told him my mind on the subject.
I should think.
I should like to know.
I should be glad to know.
I should not wonder.
I think so, or I am sure of it.
I know — or I see, or I perceive.
I hope and trust. (Slang.)
I suppose, or I fancy, or I imagine.
I always look to number one. (Slang for "self.")
It occurs to me.
I venture to affirm, or I dare say.
I'll be bound to say.
I never heard of such a thing in my life.
Upon my word.
For my part.
I gave it him — didn't I?
I am very lucky — a'n't I?
I always come in time — don't I?
Says I. (Ungrammatical.)
It is a question with me.
Such are only a few of the common egotisms
which might be enumerated. Some of then
have a meaning directly contrary to the literal
expression; for "in my humble opinion," or
"in my poor opinion," uniformly signifies, "in
my proud opinion," and is always understood
so in conversation. Rogers says, that Egotism
is too gross, either to be pointed out or
censured, but if this were the case we should
not find it so very prevalent. The road
which leads to it, indeed, is so smooth and inviting,
that we are easily induced to follow it,
and we as easily pass the limits of the attention
and patience of our auditors.
Among the vulgarities of Egotism, may justly
be reckoned the annoying habit, which many
have of telling all their little ailments, and
complaints. This may be agreeable enough
to the complainer, but it is most wearisome to
the listener, as the subject is inexhaustible, and
is generally most copious when there is little
to complain about, as fancy always makes
for the want of facts, or magnifies and multiplies
the most trifling circumstance in endless
variety. All who are anxious to please in
conversation must carefully avoid this topic,
for nobody will listen willingly to complaints
of any kind; and, least of all, to complaints
of sickness or of poverty.
There is one fault very nearly related to
egotism, which I must not omit to mention —
I mean the spirit of contradiction and dispute
so frequently met with, particularly among the
young, and those who have obtained a smattering
knowledge of all subjects by miscellaneous,
but unprofitable reading. When this
unfortunate propensity to contradict and dispute
prevails, all pleasure in conversation is
at an end; for every fact is doubted or denied,
and every inference and argument perverted,
by the pertinacious egotist, who strives for
victory, and triumph, and selfish exultation, at
the expence of truth, fairness, good-breeding,
and civility. Were such disputatious and contradictive
persons to reflect, that it would be
more honourable to gain a character for affability
and pleasing manners, than for cleverness
in dispute, almost inseparable from rudeness,
they would, I am persuaded, strive to subdue
rather than indulge their propensity to contradict.
To insinuate that your opponent in
such disputes is ignorant, and knows nothing
of the matter, or that he has some private
motive for his opinion, is both egotistical in
you, and a gross and unpardonable personality
I may be permitted, perhaps, for once to
break through my own rule, and use a common
quotation, because it is the best thing
which I can recollect to begin with on the subject
"Immodest words admit of no defence,
For want of decency is want of sense." — ROSCOMMON.
Under the term indelicacy, I would include
all subjects which may hurt the feelings of
those with whom we converse, by calling up
disgusting associations. It will, therefore,
comprehend many of those subjects which are
usually called "gross" and "coarse," as well
as those which are more strictly termed indelicate.
Some persons take a peculiar pleasure
in not only using broad expressions, but in
turning their discourse upon topics that cannot
be thought of without disgust. I may instance,
the detailed descriptions of national or provincial
dirtiness and filthy habits, which such persons
delight to give with faithful minuteness,
while others are scarcely less culpable in continual
allusion to them, and recalling, by this
means, the most disgusting associations. Mr
note details of carnage, or slaughter, and more
particularly the subsequent effects of these, I
consider to be of this kind, and unfitted for
general or polite conversation. Lord Byron's
well known lines may be taken as an example:
I saw the lean dogs beneath the wall
Howl o'er the dead their carnival,
Gorging and growling o'er carcase and limb,
They were too busy to bark at him.
From a Tartar's skull they had stript the flesh,
As you peel a tig when the fruit is fresh:
And their white tusks cranch'd o'er the whiter skull,
While they mumbled the bones as their edge grew dull.
The Tartar's skull's in the wild dog's maw,
And the hair around his tangled jaw.
SIEGE OF CORINTH.
It is creditable to the present fashion, that
immodest and indelicate conversation is proscribed
in all companies, and improper songs
and lewd anecdotes no longer disgrace the
table after the ladies have retired to the drawing-room,
which was formerly the signal for
giving way to unbounded licentiousness of conversation.
The coarse jest and the lewd song
are now banished to the tavern and the taproom,
and are no longer heard among gentlemen
who have any pretension to good manners.
As is the case with swearing, indeed, some
hoary disciple of the old school may by chance
be still met with, who will indulge in immodest
speeches, and the kind of mincing allusions
which the French call double entendre; but
such persons usually find their supposed jests
to give offence rather than produce laughter;
and their coarse and indecent vulgarity makes
them shunned rather than courted.
It is a strong mark of vulgarity, as well as of
a frivolous mind, to dwell on minute circumstances,
of no importance to the subject talked
of. A person who is given to this, is eager to
set everybody right in the exactness of dates
and places, and can always prove his silly
trifles with a number of circumstances, which
few besides himself would have troubled their
memory with. For example, "The illumination
for the peace happened on that very
night, for I remember I was at the Chapter
coffee-house with a cousin of mine, who had
come down out of Suffolk to see it — No, I am
wrong — it was not the Chapter, it was Peel's,
— but Mr. Hill was with us, and he can tell —
I think it was Peel's, however; but no matter
for all that, the thing's the same; — though now
I think of it, it must have been Peel's, for I
remember we had a muffin with our tea — no,
a crumpet, I dare say it was — before we went out
to see what was to be seen." Another
will show you that a particular event happened
precisely "Not at seven o'clock, but ten minutes
before; because, if you remember, a man
was calling oysters at the very time; and it
could not at least be seven, for tea was not then
announced, and seven, to a minute, is the tea
hour with him all the year round, except on
Sundays, when eight is more convenient." Or,
"I must beg your pardon, Sir, for contradicting
you, but it must be after nine; for I saw
him at St. Paul's exactly as the clock struck
the quarter past." Shakspeare furnishes us
with a well marked example of this in the following
speech, addressed to Sir John Falstaff:
"HOSTESS. Thou didst swear to me upon
a parcel-gilt goblet, sitting in my Dolphin
chamber, at the round table by a sea-coal
fire, upon the Wednesday, in Whitsun-week,
when the Prince broke thy head for liking his
father to a singing-man of Windsor; thou
didst swear to me then, as I was washing thy
wound, to marry me, and make me my lady,
thy wife. Canst thou deny it? Did not good
wife Keech, the butcher's wife, come in then,
and call me gossip Quickly — coming in to
borrow a mess of vinegar; telling us she had
a good dish of prawns; whereby thou didst
desire to eat some; whereby I told thee they
were ill for a green-wound? And didst thou
not, when she was gone down stairs, desire me
to be no more so familiarity with such poor
people; saying, that ere long they should call
me madam?" — HENRY IV. PART 2.
It is this sort of trifling gossip which fills up
the conversation of many, and stamps them
with vulgarity and silliness. It is the same
spirit which introduces so many useless words,
of which Swift gives the following example;
and, I doubt not, the reader will recollect
hearing a number of a similar kind: —
"SIR JOHN LINGER. I'faith, one of your
finical London blades dined with me last year,
in Derbyshire; so after dinner, I took a pipe
so my gentleman turned away his head: so,
said I, What, Sir, do you never smoke? So,
he answered, as you do, Colonel, No, but I
sometimes take a pipe. So, he took a pipe in
his hand, and fiddled with it till he broke it:
so, said I, Pray, Sir, can you make a pipe?
So, he said, No: so, said I, Why then, Sir,
if you can't make a pipe, you should not break
a pipe; so, we all laughed."
It is very characteristic of vulgar gossip to
mention all the trivial questions and answers
which occurred in conversation, and there
consequently an interminable series of such
words as so, and then, he said, I said, well,
very well, &c. Shakspeare gives us a speech
by Dame Quickly, very characteristic of the
vulgar gossiping repetitions of trifling remarks:
"HOSTESS. Never tell me; your ancient
swaggerer comes not in my doors. I was
before Master Tisick, the Deputy, the other
day, and as he said to me — it was no longer ago
than Wednesday last — 'Neighbour Quickly,'
says he; — Master Dumbs, our minister, was
by then; — 'Neighbour Quickly,' says he, receive
those that are civil; for,' says he, 'you
are in an ill name;' now he said so, I can
tell whereupon; 'for,' says he, 'you are
an honest woman, and well thought on;
therefore take heed what guests you receive.
Receive,' says he, 'no swaggering companions.'
There comes none here; — you would
bless you to hear what he said: — no, I'll no
swaggerers." — HENRY IV. PART 2.
Conversation of this vulgar cast, is always
digressing from the leading subject to the
most irrelevant topics; an evident proof of
an unsettled and silly mind. The following
example, from Shakspeare, exhibits this in a
ludicrous point of view:—
"SHALLOW. I saw him break Skogan's head
at the Court-gate, when he was a crack not
this high: and the very same day did I fight
with one Sampson Stockfish, a fruiterer, behind
Gray's-inn. O the mad days that I have
spent! and to see how many of mine old acquaintance
"SILENCE. We shall all follow, cousin.
"SHALLOW. Certain, 'tis certain, very sure,
very sure; death (as the Psalmist saith) is certain
to all: all shall die. — How a good yoke of
bullocks at Stamford fair?
"SLENDER. Truly, cousin, I was not there.
"SHALLOW. Death is certain — Is old Double
of your town living yet?
"SILENCE. Dead, Sir.
"SHALLOW. Dead! See, see; he drew
good bow: and dead. He shot a fine shot.
— How a score of ewes now?
"SILENCE. Thereafter as they may be. A
score of good ewes may be worth ten pounds.
"SHALLOW. And is old Double dead?"
HENRY IV. PART 2.
It would be ridiculous to say that all conversation
should be kept to stiff and systematic
formality; but ease and freedom are perfectly
consistent with correctness, and there may be
an unbounded variety without vulgarly digressing
in the manner of Master Slender, Sir
John Linger, or Dame Quickly.
It is very erroneously imagined that all those
who have been long at school, and received
what is called a good education, must have a
knowledge of grammar, and be able to speak
grammatically. With this notion, unfortunately,
facts do not agree; for we hear every
day, people, who have received an expensive,
if not a good education, committing gross
breaches of grammar, and the reason has already
been mentioned at the beginning of this
work, that though grammar is taught at school,
it is not practised.
It has been well remarked by Chesterfield,
of another class widely separated from the
well-educated, that people mistake very much
who imagine they must of course speak their
own language well, and that, therefore, they
need not study it; but you will soon find how
false this way of reasoning is, if you observe
the English spoken by almost all English
people who have no learning. MOST WOMEN,
and all ordinary people in general, speak in
open defiance of all grammar, — use words that
are not English, and murder those that are; —
and though, indeed, they make themselves
understood, they do it so incorrectly, inelegantly,
and disagreeably, that what they say
seldom makes amends for their manner of saying
it. It was not, perhaps, altogether gallant
in so polite a man as Chesterfield, to say that
most WOMEN speak incorrectly; for though I
fear it is still true, yet in this instance, as well
as in law, truth has the air of a libel, and
should not always be told.
Since the fact then is indisputable, that it is
very common for all classes of people to make
mistakes in grammar when they speak, and
consequently to be guilty of vulgarity, either
from want of education, or from want of practising
what they have learned; I shall, in this
brief chapter, endeavour to point out the
more common errors in grammar, which occur
in conversation, without laying down formal
rules, or speaking in the technical language
of grammarians. I shall begin with an error
which is one of the easiest to correct and
Nothing is more common, nor more offensive
to those who are well educated, than such
very incorrect and vulgar expressions as more
greater; most beautifullest; more prettier;
most commonest; and many other phrases of
the same kind. The plainest direction which
I can give for avoiding this vulgarity is that
the word "more," should never be used when
the word that follows it ends in "r;" nor the
word "most," if the following word end in
"st." The word "more," also, must not stand
before "worse," for more worse is as ungrammatical
as more handsomer. It may be remarked,
however, that the word "more" may
be correctly employed by leaving out the "r"
in the word following it, and the word "most,"
in the same way by leaving out "st," in the
next word. It will, therefore, be equally correct
to say, "This is the prettier of the two,"
and "This is the more pretty of the two;"
and "This one is the most beautiful;" or
"This is the beautifullest." If you are anxious
to be very precise and elegant, you must
in such cases select that which sounds smoothest,
or is most easily pronounced. — "Beautifullest,"
for example, does not sound so
smoothly as "most beautiful;" and "most
fair," is not so smooth as "fairest."
This error may be explained, upon the
ground, that where one thing is sufficient
there can be no use for two, — and, consequently,
when the expression "sweeter," or
"more sweet," is sufficient, there can be no
use for adding the two, as in the vulgar
phrase, "More sweeter." Upon the same
principle, worser, or more worse; and lesser,
or more less, are incorrect and vulgar, because
the words "worse" and "less" being
sufficient, require no addition, and are precisely
the same as more more bad, and more
more little, which nobody ever uses. Upon
the same principle, also, it is incorrect to say
chiefest, because nothing can be greater than
"chief;" universaller and universallest, are
equally bad. The most common error of this
kind is committed in such phrases as the very
first, the very best, the very worst, the very
highest, &c.; for it is obvious that the words
"first," "best," "worst," and "highest," cannot
have their signification increased by any
addition; yet we hear this breach of grammar
every day. It arises from the principle which
I have often alluded to, of endeavouring, like
the frog in the fable, to swell an idea beyond
what it will bear. Upon this principle, then
it is incorrect to say supremest, or more supreme;
extremest, or more extreme; or to
talk of the most superior, and the most exterior.
The next grammatical mistake which I shall
notice as committed by the uneducated, may
be still more easily understood by those who
have no knowledge of grammar — I refer
the common vulgarity of using the words "no,"
and "not," or "none," at the same time, as in
the vulgar expression, "I have not got none."
The proper expressions would be, "I have
got none," or "I have not got any," or simply,
"I have none," or "I have not any," without
the "got," which is usually reckoned a vulgar
word. Again, you will hear vulgar people say
"I shall not go no more;" but the correct expression
is, "I shall not go any more." The
word "never" must be attended to in the same
way, and should not be used at the same time
with "no" and "none;" for it is vulgar to say
"I never saw it no more," or "I never had
none of it," instead of correctly saying, "I
never saw it any more," and "I never had any
of it." I may say the same of the word "nothing,"
which must not be used along with
"no," "none," and "never;" for it would be
vulgar to say "I did not hear nothing of it,"
or "I never heard nothing of it," instead of
"I heard nothing of it;" or "I did not hear
anything of it," or "I never heard anything
A little attention, and endeavouring to correct
yourself when you make any mistakes in
the use of such expressions, will soon make
the correct mode of speaking as easy and familiar
to you as the vulgar one; but it may be
proper to tell you, that even after you are familiar
with all which I have now told you,
mistakes may often be committed from not
observing when the word "not" is used in a
contracted form, as in the phrases, "It isn't
nothing," instead of "It is not anything," or
"It is nothing;" "I can't do none of it," instead
of "I cannot do any of it," or "I can
do none of it;" "I won't go no more," instead
of "I will not go any more," or "I will go no
more." The same mistake is frequently committed
by those who would not use any of the
expressions just mentioned, by separating the
two improper words, and keeping them at some
distance from one another in a sentence, and
at the same time turning the sentence backwards,
in the awkward manner pointed out
above, at page 48; as in the expressions "He
has not arrived yet, I don't think," instead of
"I do not think he has arrived yet;" "The
weather will not be fine to-day, I don't think,"
instead of "I think the weather will not be fine
to-day." This is a very common vulgarity,
even among the upper classes of society. The
same thing may be exemplified in a variety of
phrases, such as "It was not built then, the
Asylum was not," instead of "The Asylum
was not built then;" "It has not arrived yet,
the ship has not," for "the ship has not yet
arrived;" "He does not intend to go, Mr.
White does not," instead of "Mr. White does
not intend to go." All of these expressions
have two "not's," and are also awkward and
vulgar, independent of this error, by beginning
at the end and going backwards.
The reason of this being considered an
error in English arises entirely from custom,
as the same principle does not hold in the
Greek and French languages, though it does
in Latin; but it will be seen at once, that the
use of two "not's," or "no's," entirely reverses
the meaning of an expression; as, "I would
not on any account not obey;" that is, "I
would obey." "Not nothing," therefore, means
"something," and may be used in that sense
without impropriety, as in the expression, "he
dues not go there for nothing;" "I did not do
it for nothing," that is, "I did it for something,"
consequently the vulgar phrase, "I
can't eat no more," means, "I can eat some
more," which is contrary to the intention of
the speaker. "I would not do it on no account,"
should be "I would not do it on any
account;" I shall not do it neither now nor
again," should be "I shall not do it either now
or again;" "He does not come, if I recollect,
very seldom," — should be, "he does not come,
if I recollect, very often," or, "he comes very
seldom." The expression, "I must not disobey,"
on the same principle means, "I must
Among grammatical mistakes, I may mention
the use of one little word, which occurs
so often, that if it be improperly introduced,
is a certain mark of vulgarity, I mean the
word "them," when it is used instead of
"these," or "those;" as when you say, "I
have done them things now," instead of "those
things;" or when you say, "them colours are
very pretty," for "those colours are very
pretty." The only way in which you can discover
this error, and correct it, is to try
whether you can put "those" or "these"
instead of them, and always do so when you
can; or it may direct you still better if I tell
you never to use the word "them," just before
the name of anything — such as in the vulgar
expressions, "them houses," — "them trees," —
"them needles," — "them books," — for the
words "houses," — "trees," — "needles," —
"books," are the names of things, and must
never have a them before them. The expression,
"do you mean them?" instead of "do
you mean those?" is no less vulgar.
Another mistake in grammar very commonly
made, will be readily understood, when I tell
you that the words, "thee,", "me," "him,"
"her," "we," "them," must not follow the
words "am," "is," "are," "was," "were,"
"be," or "been." It is consequently ungrammatical
and vulgar to say, "It was me," instead
of "It was I;" or, "If I were him," for "If I
were he." I may also add, that none of those
words ought to follow "than," or "as;" for
example, "he is wiser than me," instead of
"he is wiser than I." As this is an important
class of errors, which are very common in conversation,
I shall draw out a short table of them
with the proper corrections: —
It is him. it is he.
It was them. It was they.
I am him vou seek. I am he you seek.
It was us that did it It was we that did it.
It was said to be him. It was said to be he.
It is them who are in fault. It is they who are in fault.
Is it me you mean? Is it I you mean?
It may have been him. It may have been he.
It might be them. It might be they.
It was not her It was not she.
Who is there? — me. Who is there? — I.
It may be us. It may be we.
I am her. I am she.
We are them. We are they.
It seems to have been him. It seems to have been he.
It is not me. It is not I.
Those are them. Those are they.
You are taller than him. You are taller than he.
He is greater than me. He is greater than I.
They are higher than us. They are higher than we.
It is better than them. It is better than they.
Happier than her. Happier than she.
Not half so bright as thee. Not half so bright as thou.
A greater loser than me. A greater loser than I.
He can write better than her. He can write better than she.
He is as good as her. He is as good as she.
To these examples, however, there are exceptions
which will not be so easily understood
by those who are unacquainted with grammar,
but I shall explain them as clearly as I can, by
saying that when any thing is asserted of the
word before the "am," "is," "are,'' "was,"
"were," "be," or "been," the correct expressions
are the reverse of the preceding. Thus,
it is wrong to say, "I took it to be she," because
something is asserted of the "it," before
the "be," according to the following table: —
I suppose it to be he. I suppose it to be him.
They believed it to be we. They believed it to be us.
They loved him more than I. They loved him more than me.
It is better expressed by him
than she. It is better expressed by him
It is easier for him than I. It is easier for him than me.
By attending to these examples, and those
of the same kind, common mistakes may be
avoided, and you may generally know whether
you are correct or not, by filling up the sentence;
for example, "he is happier than she,"
by filling up the sentence will be " he is happier
than she is," when it will at once appear
that you could not say, "he is happier than
her is." Again, "they loved him more than
me," is filled up, "they loved him more than
they loved me," when it will appear, that "I"
could not have been used.
I shall next give a table of expressions, in
which a number of little words require to be
followed in all cases by "me," "thee," "him,"
"her," "us," " them," and "whom," and never
by "I," "thou," "he," "she," "we," "they,"
and "who." These vulgarities are very common
He had it of I. He had it of me.
Is stands above they. It stands above them.
She was beside me. She was beside us.
They came after he. They came after him.
I gave it to she. I gave it to her.
They were far from thou. They were far from thee.
To who did you give it? To whom did you give it.
It may be as well to give a list of all the
words which must thus be followed by the
words "me," "thee," "him," &c.
Above. About. Across. Against.
Among. Amidst. After. At.
Athwart. Before. Around. Below.
Beneath. Beside. Behind. Betwixt.
Beyond. By. Between. For.
From. In. Concerning. Near.
Nigh, Of—On. Into. Upon.
Over. Round. Saving. Through.
To. Unto. Toward. Under.
Underneath. With. Without. Within.
Those who have contracted the English
provincial vulgarities of saying "To I," "On
he," " Of they," should carefully study this
table, which will enable them to avoid the
mistake. The same rule renders it incorrect
to say, "Who do you lodge with?" for "Whom
do you lodge with?" "Who were you speaking
to?" for "whom were you speaking to?"
"The same words "me," "thee," "him," "her,"
"us," "them," and "whom," must also be used
When anything is affirmed of them. It is consequently
ungrammatical to say, "He and they
I know; but thou I know. not;" instead of
"Him and them I know; but thee I know
not;" for something is here affirmed of "him,"
"them," and "thee." Again, it is wrong on
the same principle to say, "He who honours
me, I will honour;" instead of "Him who
honours me, I will honour;" because I assert
something — namely, honour of "him." "He
who was in fault correct, not I, who am guiltless;"
instead of "Him who was in fault correct,
not me, who am guiltless:" — "They are
the persons who we ought to love;" for "They
are the persons whom we ought to love."
Another grammatical error, which is extremely
common among the vulgar, will be
easily understood when I say that the word
"for" ought never to stand before the word
"to;" as when it is said, "He intends for to
do it," instead of "He intends to do it;" —
"They went for to prevent that," instead of
"They went to prevent that;" — "She came
for to get the books," instead of "She came
to get the books." In the French language
this would be correct; and the vulgarity appears,
indeed, to have been borrowed from
our polite neighbours; but custom has rendered
it quite intolerable to the ear of a well
When the words "and," "but," "or," and
"nor," come between terms which signify two
or more persons, those terms must correspond
with one another, according to the following
It was him and I. It was he and I.
It was he and me. It was he and I.
I and her were there. I and she were there.
Me and she were there. I and she were there.
I took it to be she and they. I took it to be her and them.
Wiser than both him and us. Wiser than both he and they.
As tall as her, him, and me
together. As tall as she, he, and together.
It may he I and them, as well
as he and her may go It may be that I and they,
as well as he and she
Not she, but him and them. Not she, but he and they.
Neither I nor them. Neither I nor they.
He or her may come. He or she may come.
In modern language, though it was not so
in old English, the word "who" follows the
name of a person, and the word "which"
follows the name of an animal, or anything
without life. Accordingly, in the Lords
Prayer, the old phrase "Our Father which
art in heaven," would, in modern language,
be "Our Father who art in heaven." It is
better to say "It was the child which cried,"
than "It was the child who cried;" and it is
better to say "That was the state party which
advocated liberty," than "That was the state
party who advocated liberty." "The man
which did it," for "The man who did it," is
very bad; but I think it is becoming fashionable
to use such phrases as, "It was the fox
who stole the chickens," for the grammatical
phrase, "It was the fox which stole the
chickens." Instead of "who," or "which,"
we may elegantly use "that" after the words
"some," "most," and words ending in ''st;"
as "It is the same man that was here before,"
rather than "It is the same man who was here
before;" "He was the most handsome man
that was there;" "It is the prettiest that I
In the chapter on Contracted Vulgarities
and the Contrary, I have given a long table of
words which are extremely vulgar, and which
it is necessary to revert to again, as being ungrammatical.
I may exemplify this in the
expressions "I giv'd it to him when he com'd
home," instead of "I gave it to him when he
came home;" "I see'd him do it," for "I saw
him do it;" "I have see'd it often," for "I
have seen it often." It is, if possible, still
more vulgar to say, "I see her yesterday," for
"I saw her yesterday;" "I see him this morning,"
for "I saw him this morning." This
word seems to be very subject to vulgar mistakes,
as we also hear it said, "I seen it my.
self," for "I have seen it myself;" "He told
me he seen it many times," for he told me he
has seen it many times." The words "did,"
and "done," are mistaken in the same way, as
"He done it long ago," for "He did it long
ago;" "I done it already," for "I have done
it already;" "He see'd them done it," for "He
saw them do it." By looking back to the
table at page 35, you will find a long list of
expressions equally vulgar, though, perhaps,
not so common as those which I have now
The next ungrammatical vulgarity which I
have to mention, I am not able, I fear, to render
quite so plain as the preceding; but I shall
try to make it intelligible, as it is of the utmost
importance in correct speaking. As a general
remark, then, I may say that when a name includes
more than one thing, as in the word
"houses" or the words "they," or "those,"
you must not use an "s" at the end of the
word following it. For instance, it is ungrammatical
and vulgar to say "The needles is
bad," instead of "The needles are bad;" or
"They looks rusty," for "They look rusty."
It is the "s" at the end of "looks," which
makes it, in this case, incorrect. The words
"I" and "you," also, must not have an "s" at
the end of the words following either of them;
for it is very vulgar to say "I is going to town,"
instead of "I am going to town;" or "I says
to him," for "I said to him;" or "You be's
the very person," for "You are the very person."
You must never then, according to
this remark, say "The streets is dirty," for
"The streets are dirty;" nor "The men who
works in the garden is going," for "The men
who work in the garden are going;" or "Women
easily believes a fair speech," for "Women
easily believe a fair speech." It will require
long and careful attention to practise this correctly,
as there is scarcely a sentence which
you utter that you may not commit mistakes
of this kind; but as it is, perhaps, the most
important of all the others, a little care will
be well bestowed in avoiding the errors just
It will be no less incorrect and vulgar, on
the same principle, to omit the "s" at the end
of words following the name of a person or a
thing, where only one individual person or
thing is meant. You may find it somewhat
difficult to comprehend this; but a few examples
will help you to apply the rule to correct
any mistake you may fall into; and it will
help you also to understand it if you consider
it as the reverse of what I have just told you
about the incorrect use of the "s" after names
of persons or things, where more than one individual
is included. Let us take the former
examples then, and it will be no less incorrect
and vulgar to say "The needle look rusty,"
instead of "The needle looks rusty;" than to
say " The needles looks rusty," which is wrong,
as I told you above. All such expressions as
"It do," "He do," "She do," are extremely
vulgar, and should be "It does," "He does,"
"She does," because the "s" is to be used when
only one person or thing is talked about; but
not when there are more than one. I may
remark, indeed, that the vulgar expressions,
"It look well," "She make a good servant,"
"He like to go," are rather peculiar to some
parts of England; while the incorrect expressions
"The streets is dirty," "The dresses is
badly made," are common to the uneducated
and vulgar classes in all parts of the three
kingdoms. — When "if" goes before, all these
are correct, as you may see at p. 223, line 26.
When two or three names, or two or three
subjects, are joined together with an "and," it
has the same effect on the following words as
if a single name had comprehended several
individuals. It will, therefore, be incorrect to
use an "s" at the end of the word which follows.
For example, "The needle and the pin
is well polished," instead of "The needle and
the pin are well polished;" "Both the field
and the street is dirty," instead of "Both the
field and the street are dirty;" "My brother
and I was there," for "My brother and I were
there." When the subjects are complicated,
this is not so easy for beginners. For example,
when we use two subjects, "To avoid communicating
with the wicked, and to associate,
as much as possible, with the good, is incumbent
on all," instead of "To avoid communicating
with the wicked, and to associate, as much as
possible, with the good, are incumbent on all."
On the contrary, if the two individual names
or subjects are disjoined by the words "or," or
"nor," the "s" must always be used; and,
consequently, it would be wrong to say "The
needle or the pin are very sharp," instead of
"The needle, or the pin is very sharp;" "Neither
the street nor the field are dirty," instead
of "Neither the street nor the field is dirty;"
"Either my brother or I were going," instead
of "Either my brother or I was going;"
"Either to associate with the good, or to
avoid the wicked, are incumbent on all," instead
of "is incumbent on all." Upon the
same principle, when more individuals than
one are talked of separately, by making use of
the words "every," "any," "each," the "s"
must be added; for it would be wrong to say
"Every one of them are going," instead of
"Every one of them is going;" "Any of the
three come," instead of "Any of the three
comes;" "Each of us have one," instead of
"Each of us has one;" "Either of them
do," instead of "Either of them does."
I shall not, for the present, enumerate any
more ungrammatical vulgarities, as an attentive
study of those just pointed out, will enable the
reader to avoid the grosser errors which are
but too commonly fallen into, even by those
who ought to know better.
PROVINCIAL SCOTCH VULGARITIES.
Many well-educated Scotsmen, who move
in the most polite circles in their own country,
take a pride in speaking the Scots dialect
blended with English, and when this is not
done from affectation, and a love of singularity,
it can scarcely be reckoned vulgar, though it
must require great attention to avoid low
and unseemly expressions. It is not with this
class of persons, however, that I am at present
concerned, but with natives of Scotland, who
endeavour to speak English, without any mixture
of the Doric dialect of Scotland, as written
by Ramsay, Burns, Sir Walter Scott, Alan
Cunningham, Galt, and other modern authors;
and who in such endeavours mistake errors for
excellence. The following remarks will, I hope,
be useful in pointing out some of those mistakes.
Every province, every district, and even
every town and village, have a peculiar tone
of voice in speaking, which is called the ACCENT,
and which is, for the most part, disagreeable
in some measure to the inhabitants of
other districts and towns. Now this accent
can seldom or never be altered after an individual
has arrived at mature age, and when any
attempt is made to alter or amend, it generally
makes the person ridiculous. No Scotsman,
therefore, who is above the age of fifteen,
or perhaps eighteen, ought ever to attempt to
speak with the English accent; for if he do,
he is is almost certain of going into ludicrous
affectation; examples of which are numerous
at the Scotch Bar, and among Scotsmen who
reside in England. In this way the original
native accent may be caricatured, or spoiled,
but the English accent can never be acquired:
the attempt is hopeless. Scotsmen indeed, who
vainly endeavour to attain the English, almost
uniformly fall into the Irish accent, and I have
known individuals of this description, who have
by strangers been taken for Irishmen.
Accent then must be abandoned as impossible,
and English must, by all Scotsmen, be
pronounced with the Scots accent. The pronunciation,
however, is in many cases very difficult,
and requires great care. In a few cases, it is
as hopeless, perhaps, to attain it as the accent.
The sounds most commonly mistaken in Scotland
are those of "a," "o," and "u." Indeed
all the vowel sounds are frequently made
too long or too short, or have some other peculiarity
which spoils them.
The letter "a," for example, when pronounced
short, has properly a sound intermediate
between "e" in "fell," and "a" in "fall,"
but a Scotsman endeavouring to speak English
almost uniformly mistakes it for the first, and,
pronounces "bad" — "bed," "tax" — "tex,"
"lamb" — "lemb," "black" — "bleck," "hand"
— "hend," "back" — "beck," "fat" — "fet,"
"cattle" — "kettle." This is miserable and
disgusting affectation, but it does not stop at
the words where the "a" is properly short,
but is foolishly carried into words where the
"a" should sound broad, as in "far," or
"water," and the affecting Scotsman will accordingly
pronounce "command'' — "commend,"
"demand" — " demend," &c. This
broad sound of "a" is also given to words
where it should be short, as "wax" — "wawx"'
— "waft" — "wawft." — "canal" — "canawl,"
"lamb" — "lawmb," — "dam" — "dawm,"
"many" "mawnny," "any" " awny." The
last two are very common affectations.
In the long open sound of "a," as in the
word "fare," similar mistakes are committed,
by giving it where it ought not, and altering it
where it ought to be. "Latin," for instance,
is pronounced "Laytin," instead of "Latin,"
"satin" — "saytin," "habit" — "haybit,"
"sacrament" — "saycrement," "sacrifice" —
"saycrifice," — "any" "ayny," "many" —
"mayny," "valley" — "vaylley," sometimes
the short "e" is pronounced in the same
way, as in "when" — "whayn," "then" —
"thayn," "whence" "whaynce;" "tepid"
"taypid," and sometimes again the long "a"
is turned into a short "e" as "lady" —
"leddy," — Again, "fatal" is pronounced
"fawtal," "satan" "sawtan," &c.
The short "e" has, in some words, the
sound prolonged till it can no longer be recognized
by an English ear. A Scotsman will
not, indeed, readily mistake this sound in the
words "beg," or "fell," but he will seldom
pronounce the words "bed," "leg," without
drawling. Another fault is the sounding of the
short ''e," like short "i," as "min," for
"men," but this is not so common in Scotland
as in Ireland. This short sound is sometimes
also turned into the long, as "meedow," for
"meadow," "cleenly," for "cleanly," "deedly,"
for "deadly," "heeven," for "heaven,"
"deef," for "deaf," "leent," for "leant,"
"steelth," for "stealth," "sweety," for
"sweaty," "weepon," for "weapon," "seemstress,"
for "seamstress," "leeden,” for
"leaden,'' &c. This "ea," is in many other
instances a great puzzle to natives of Scotland,
and is very readily pronounced like the long
open "a" in "fare." as "dayth," for "death,"
"bayrd," for "beard," "ayrly," for "early,"
"endayvour," for " endeavour," "layrn," for
"learn," " paysant," for "peasant," "rehayrce,"
for "rehearse," "zaylous," for "zealous,"
"crayture," for "creature," "ayger," for
"eager," frayk for "freak," repayl for
"repeal," — traytise for "treatise," traytmeat
for ."treatment," zayl for "zeal,"
bayt for "beat.'' In the few .exceptions
in which the "ea," is pronounced like "a"
long, Scotsmen mistake most of them, as beer
for "bear," beerer for "bearer," forbeer
for "forbear," sweer for swear," weer for
"wear," teer for "tear," and peer, for
"pear" Scotsmen also, uniformly say, brek
for "break:" — "brekfast," is right, and not
braykfast. Scotsmen, also, for the most
part, err in pronouncing the "e" in the
words enumerated at pages 28-31, above;
and very often, particularly in the eastern
counties, in those at pages 40, 41.
The sound of "i" when long, as in "fire''
and "fine," seems to be very hard for the
natives of Scotland, not so much from the
difficulty of the sound itself as from habit. It
ought always to sound exactly like "y" in the
word "my," but the Scotch sound is very
different, as any Scotsman may at once perceive
by trying to pronounce "child," "mild,"
"wild," &c. The peculiarity, however, is not
universal, and in some words, such as "fire,"
pronounced feire, is confined to the eastern
counties, as near Edinburgh. In the border
counties, as about Dunse and Dumfries, long
"e" has this anomalous sound, and is very
offensive to strangers, in such words as sey
for "see," mey for "me," tey for "tea," hey
for "he," &c. In some of the western counties,
as around Paisley and Kilmarnock, the
same sound is still more offensively given to
"oy" as in bey for "boy," empley for "employ,"
jey for "joy," &c. Throughout Scotland,
it is nearly universal to sound "I," like
"a" in "father," as "A did not intend to go,"
for "I did not intend to go;" and even the
most careful speakers, are apt to fall into this
vulgarity. It is Scotch vulgar-genteel, and
wrong to say "Louysa" for "Loueesa,"
Georgyna," for "Georgeena," "Christyna,"
The short sound of "i," however, is much
more difficult than the long sound to Scotsmen.
who can seldom acquire it after the most careful
trials, because they are almost certain of
either verging to the long sound of "ee"
the short sound of "u." Thus we may hear
een, en, or un for "in." The short sound is
the pedantic or vulgar-genteel, the long sound
is universal, and both are bad. As examples
I may mention wheech, or whech, or
whuch for "which," veesion, or vesion, for
"vision," deceesion or decesion for "decision,"
eedea sometimes yedea for "idea," deeameter
sometimes day-ameter for "diameter."
The letter "o" is pronounced very badly by
almost every Scotsman. The long sound, for
instance, is uniformly shortened, and we always
hear smok for "smoke," alon for "alone"
mon, for moan," ston for "stone," rodd for
"road," coll for "coal," bott for "boat," cott
for "coat," nott for "note," lonly" for
"lonely," &c. This is much easier to master
than the opposite error of sounding the short
"o" long, as in the words Gode for "God,"
Loard for "Lord," doag for "dog," conescience
for "conscience," conestable for "constable."
The short sound of "o" as in "not,"
"lot," "wot," is precisely the same as Mr.
Walker remarks, with "a" in "what," to
which it forms a perfect rhyme. The words
"food," "mood," "soon," &c. are all
sounded long in England, and short in Scotland.
In some of the other sounds of "o," Scotsmen,
for the most part, are greatly mistaken,
of which examples may be seen at page 11.
Others are pruv in for "prove," impruv for
"improve," but the most decidedly vulgar,
because it is always affected, is that of sounding
the words door and floor, as they are
spelled, so as to rhyme with "poor," instead of
the broad Scots "dore," which in this case is
right, though not in "flore," that sounds precisely
the same. In many of the words in
which the "o" ought to sound like "u" in
"but" Scotsmen sound it long, as in among
for "amung," comefort for "cumfort," comepass
for "cumpass,' covenant for "cuvenant,"
doth for "duth," hover for "huver," nothing
for "nuthing," sovereign for "suvereign,"
world for "wurld," worse for "wurse," and
I have already, at pages 11-13, given many
instances, in which Scotsmen mispronounce the
letter "u," and as those are nearly all which
occur to me, I shall only mention two, in
which the sound of "u" is mistaken in Scotland,
though both the words are spelled with
"oo," I mean the words "foot" vulgarly "fut,"
as rhyming with "but" — and "soot," vulgarly,
rhyming with "moot," or "put" instead of
"sutt," rhyming with "but." When "course,"
is sounded cowrse, instead of "corse," it is also
Scotch, and wrong.
The letter "y" is not so frequently sounded
wrong in Scotland as many of the preceding,
except, perhaps, at the end of words where it
is often pronounced as if faintly rhyming with
"day," as vanitay for "vanity," occupay for
"occupy," pleurisay for "pleurisy." We may
also hear steepend, for "stypend," Seenot
for "Synod," teepes for "types;" "y" however,
is sometimes by the Scots put where it
ought not to be, as yearth for "earth," yedaya
for "idea." "W" also, is often sounded in
particular counties where it ought to be silent,
as w-right for "right," w-rong for "rong,"
and sometimes changed to "v," as wright,
vrong. But "w" is not sounded in Scotland,
in the words "towel" — "bowels," which are
sounded to-el, bo-els.
The letter "t" is almost always left out by
Scotsmen in such words as fack for "fact,"
contrack for "contract," subtrack for "subtract,"
correck for "correct" direck for direct,
"compack for "compact." The letter
"a" is also left out in such words as an for
"and," comman for "command," and Stran
The only other letter which I shall notice is
"r," which is sounded in a peculiarly harsh
manner by the Scots, in the middle, and at the
end of words. No directions which I can
give, however, could lead to any practical result
in this case; but I must caution the
reader against sinking the "r" altogether in
attempting to soften it.
With respect to the stress of the voice, or
grammatical accent, the Scots place it at the
end, instead of the beginning, in the words
"govern,'' "harass," "ransack," "cancel,"
"comfort," "respite," "construe," "solace,"
&c.; and, on the contrary, place it at the beginning
instead of at the end of the word in
"success." The Scots sound the word "as"
too strongly in the phrases "as much," "as
little," "as many," and "as great," and very
often also pronounce it ass, instead of "az."
I shall next select a few of the words and
phrases which are peculiarly Scots, and consequently
vulgar when introduced into conversation
pretending to be English, how proper
soever they may appear under other circumstances.
In the lists which have already appeared
of Scotticisms, by Dr. Beattie, and
others, I find several words discarded, which
are certainly good English, such as the word
"notice" for "take notice," "narrate" for
"relate," "to appreciate" for "to estimate,
or value," "to adduce" for "to produce,",
"to restrict" for "to liberate," &c.
Scotsmen are most commonly accused of
mistaking and confounding the words "shall"
"should," "will," and "would;" but as Lewis,
a shrewd English grammarian, well remarks,
there are few persons in any part of the empire
who do not commit similar mistakes.
Originally, "shall" meant "owe," and "should'
"owed," and they still retain, in a great measure,
this sense. Chaucer, for example, says,
"The faith I SHALL to God," for "The faith
I OWE to God." SHALL, therefore, signifies
present — and SHOULD signifies past — duty, necessity,
or obligation, as in the expression "I
shall depart," that is, "It is my duty to depart;"
"I should go," that is, "I ought to go."
WILL or WOULD, on the other hand, evidently
means desire, intention, determination, tendency,
or wish. Consequently, "You will do
it," means "You are willing, or desirous to do
it;" while, "You shall do it," means "You
are bound by necessity to do it." "I will go,"
accordingly means "I am determined to go,"
which is very different from "I shall go," as
before explained: yet a Scotsman will very
readily use "will" in such a case, instead of
"shall." "Will I help you to some beef?"
is accordingly wrong, and ought to be "Shall
I help you," &c. for nobody would say, "Am
I willing to help you," which is the meaning of
the first phrase. "I will fall if you do not
assist me,"means "I am willing to fall;" it
ought therefore to be "I shall fall," that is,
"I must by necessity fall." "Where will he
be?" means "Where is he willing to be?"
Better "Where can he be?" By carefully
attending to these distinctions, vulgar mistakes
in the use of shall and will may be detected
and avoided. The other phrases which I shall
select, will be most conveniently arranged in
VULGAR SCOTCH. CORRECT ENGLISH.
Rather go as stay. Rather go than stay.
Annual rent of money. Interest of money.
A missing. Missing.
I asked at him. I asked him.
Stuck among the clay, or the
snow. Stuck in the clay, or the
I lost altogether £50. I lost in all £50.
Almost never. Seldom or never.
Almost nothing. Little or nothing.
Again him. [also Irish.] Against him.
Nothing ado with it. Nothing to do with it.
The better of a sleep. The better for a sleep.
I behoved to go. I was obliged to go.
By-table. Side-board or side-table.
Before I would break my
word. Rather than break my word.
By-gone — By-past. Past.
Baxter, brewster, dyster, webster.
Baker, brewer, dyer, weaver
VULGAR SCOTCH. CORRECT ENGLISH.
The hen is a useful beast. The hen is a useful animal.
[The word "beast" means a four-footed animal, and will
not apply to insects, birds, and fishes, as is usual in Scotland.]
Black sugar, or sugar o' liquorice.
He condescended upon the sum. He specified the sum.
He craved him for debt. He dunned him.
I must cut out my hair. I must cut off my hair.
I challenged him for it. I reproved him for it.
I quarrelled him about it. I questioned him about it.
I competed with him. I contended, or disputed
Her linens are fine. Her linen is fine.
I will go the morn. I will go to-morrow.
Show me it. Show it to me.
She was married on him. She was married to him.
She misguides her clothes. She abuses, or sullies her
A misguided girl. A misled girl.
Ill guided. Ill-used.
A milk-cow. A milch-cow.
Going to my dinner. Going to dinner.
Monday first. Monday next.
Pocket-napkin. Pocket handkerchief.
Curt, curtly, curtness. Brief, briefly, brevity.
Bravity. Gaudiness of apparel.
Cautioner, caution. Surety, bail.
For common. Commonly.
VULGAR SCOTCH. CORRECT ENGLISH.
Corn my horse. Feed my horse.
To play cards. To play at cards,
He is cripple. He is a cripple or lame.
A coarse day — coarse weather. A bad day — bad weather.
A pound of candle. A pound of candles.
Conceived in these words. Containing these words.
I discharged him not to do
it. I forbid him to do it.
Discreet — Discretion. Civil — Civility.
Debit me with it. Put it to my account.
He sent in his demission. He sent in his resignation.
Distressed with an inward
trouble. Pained with an internal disorder.
He was appointed a doer. He was appointed agent.
He defeat the enemy. He defeated the enemy.
The house is well situate. The house is well situated.
Evite — Expiry. Avoid — Expiration.
Fresh weather. Open weather.
For ordinary. Ordinarily, commonly.
She was a near friend of his. She was nearly related to
Factor to Lady Moira, Steward to Lady Moira.
The frost is slippery. The ice is slippery.
Failing him and his heirs. On failure of him and his
A flower. [a bunch of flowers.] A nosegay.
Fog. [which grows on trees.] Moss.
A moss. A bog, or marsh.
'VULGAR SCOTCH. CORRECT ENGLISH.
Gravy, — Sauce. ["Gravy" is the juice of
meat — "Sauce" a composition
Goat milk, cow milk. Goat's milk, cow's milk.
Solomon has been a wise man. Solomon was, or must have
been a wise man.
Hatred at one. Hatred to or against one.
I have no fault to him. I find no fault with him.
A coach and six horse. A coach and six horses.
Last harvest. Last autumn.
The neck of the gown. The collar of the gown.
I got it for half nothing, I got it very cheap.
I have the place in my offer. I have the place in my choice.
She took the pox. She was seized with small--
To plenish a house. To furnish a house.
Pens. Quills. [Pens are quills
Give me a clean plate. Give me a plate.
The child roars. The child cries.
I reckon it will. I think it will.
Roasted cheese. Toasted cheese.
I have severaIs. I have several.
Sore eyes. Weak eyes.
A sore head. A head-ache.
Some better, Somewhat better.
Scarce of money. Short of money.
Up the stair. Up stairs.
The church was throng. The church was crowded.
I am very throng. I am very busy.
VULGAR SCOTCH. CORRECT ENGLISH.
I had the cold and the fever. I had a cold and a fever.
I weary to stay. I become weary to stay.
Butter and bread. Bread and butter.
Cheese and bread. Bread and cheese.
A bit paper. A bit of paper.
A burial. A funeral.
Behind the time. Too late.
The clock is behind or before. The clock is slow or fast.
Gloves not marrows. Gloves not fellows.
I got it in a complement. I got it in a present, or as a
Close the door. Shut the door.
Below your clothes. Under your clothes.
I go the day. I go to-day.
The milliner's account. The milliner's bill.
A drink of beer. A draught of beer.
In my favours. In my favour.
Head or foot of the table. Upper or lower end of the
I feel a smell. I smell.
A servant's fee. A servant's wages.
She cast it up to me. She upbraided me with it.
What airt is the wind. How is the wind?
She is badly, or poorly. She is sickly, or in bad
A chapman. A hawker.
A huckster. A chandler.
It hurted me. It hurt me.
I am hopeful not. I hope not.
Half six o'clock. Half-past five.
Five minutes from six. Five minutes to six.
VULGAR SCOTCH. CORRECT ENGLISH.
He was lost in the pond. He was drowned in the pond.
Indeed no. No indeed.
Indweller — Indwelling Inhabitant — Inhabiting.
He learned me grammar He taught me grammar.
He is still in life. He is still alive.
The project misgave. The project failed, or miscarried.
Going to my bed, my supper,
&c. Going to bed, supper, dinner,
Going to his, or your bed,
&c. Going to bed, breakfast, &c.
I do not mind his appearance. I do not remember his appearance.
This is no what I want. This is not what I want.
That is not necessar. That is not necessary.
Overly. Very, over and above.
The water of Ayr. The river Ayr.
It wakes a great odds. It makes a great difference.
Proven — Improven. Proved — Improved.
In place of. Instead of.
Pennies — Halfpennies. Pence — Halfpence.
A piece bread, cheese, &c. A piece of bread, of cheese.
A queer man. A comical or humorous man.
He roved in the fever. He raved in the fever.
Relevant — Irrelevant. [law.] In point — Not in point.
A storm of frost lay on the
ground. It was a severe frost.
Sweet butter. Fresh butter.
Simply impossible. Quite impossible.
VULGAR SCOTCH. CORRECT ENGLISH.
I sustained his excuse. I admitted his excuse.
Tell the servant to speak to me. Tell the servant I want to
speak to him.
For my share, I say, &c. For my part, I say, &c.
He will some day repent it. He will one day repent it.
A woman's shirt. A shift.
But speak ye, or speak to me. But hark ye, or listen to me.
Where do you stay? Where do you live, or lodge?
Seeking his meat. Begging his bread.
He subsists her. He supports, or maintains
I slipped a foot and fell. My foot slipped, and I fell.
Timeous — Timeously. Timely.
She thought shame. She was ashamed.
A penny the piece. A penny each, or a-piece.
Tradesman*. A mechanic.
The sugar and the rum. Sugar and rum.
A timber leg — a timber bridge. A wooden leg — a wooden
He thinks long for it. He longs for it.
To-morrow's morning. To-morrow morning.
I turned sick. I grew, or became sick.
He goes to the school and the
church. He goes to school and church.
He speaks through his sleep. He speaks in his sleep.
He was in use to do it. He used to do it.
He has got his victual in. He has got his corn, or crop
Paper, pen, and ink. Pens, ink, and paper.
* Tradesman in England means a shopkeeper, or one who
employs men to work for him.
VULGAR SCOTCH. CORRECT ENGLISH.
Versant, or versed in Greek. Conversant, or learned in
I wrote him yesterday. I wrote to him yesterday.
Not without I am paid. Not unless I am paid.
He is a widow. He is a widower.
A wright, or square-wright. A joiner, or cabinet-maker.
I know his word. I know his voice.
A workman. A labourer, a porter.
He never wants enemies. He is never without enemies.
An old [unmarried] wife. An old woman.
I witnessed the accident. I saw the accident.
You was there. You were there.
A yard. A garden.
A vicious frost. A severe frost.
The Scots are extremely apt to confound
the use of "these" and "those," because,
perhaps, the broad Scotch for "those" is
"thae," and for "these" is "thir." By recollecting
this distinction all mistake of the two
words may be easily avoided.
I must not forget to mention the common
Scots vulgarity of contracting all names beginning
with "Mac" or "M';" for instance,
Mrs. M'Grigor" is called "Mrs. Mack,"
and "Mr. Macculloch" is called "Mr Mack,"
or among his friends, "Mack," without the
"Mr." I only know one other instance of a
similar vulgarity, which is still more pedantic
and affected, and is common both in England,
Scotland, and Ireland, among the vulgar--
genteel; I mean that of addressing persons
by the initial letter of their name, as Mrs.
M. instead of "Mrs. M'Grigor," and Mr.
M. instead of "Mr. Macculloch." In polite
society this would be an unpardonable insult
to the person whose name was so vulgarly
mangled. In talking of imaginary personages,
as may be seen at pages 50 and 75,
this may be allowed; but it must never be
used to any person of respectability.
The Scots are peculiarly fond of such contractions,
as In't for "In it," — Is't? for "Is it?"
— He's for "He is," — O't for "Of it," — O'er't
for "Over it," — Do't for "Do it." In some
districts, as in Fife and the Lothians, this Contracted
"t" is sounded "d," as do'd for "do
it," — does'd for "does it." All over Scotland
this word, "does," is by the vulgar-genteel
pronounced doos, instead of "duzz," in the
same way as "says" is pronounced broad, as
it is spelled, instead of "sezz."
Before concluding, I may remark that
Scotsman always makes two syllables of the
words "pearl, earl, world, girl, marl, whirl
&c. erroneously, pronouncing payr-el for
"perl," ayr-el for "erl," wo-reld for "world,"
gir-el for "girl," mar-el for "marl," whir-el
for "whirl," and chur-el for " churl." For
other Scotch vulgarities I refer the reader to
pages 11, 13, 19, 21, 42, 47, 155, 156, &c.
PROVINCIAL IRISH VULGARITIES.
The Irish accent, or brogue, as it is called,
is equally obvious with the Scotch, to an
English ear; though there are neither so
many peculiarities of pronunciation, nor of
the use of words in Ireland as in Scotland.
Much difference, however, both of accent and
pronunciation prevails in the different provinces
of Ireland, according as the inhabitants
happen to be chiefly of Celtic or Saxon, of
English or Scottish origin. In the South
and West, therefore, the language is very
different from that in the North and East.
I shall first take notice of a peculiarity of
Pronunciation, which seems to be of Celtic
origin and is chiefly confined to the South,
or partially to the Catholic population of
other districts; I mean the sounding of "th"
like "t," and "t," like "th," wherever an "r'
follows or precedes them. It will be most
convenient to give these in form of a table.
AS SPELLED. VULGAR IRISH
SOUND. CORRECT ENGLISH
Thrash. Trash. Thrash.
Thread. Tred. Thred.
Threat. Trent. Thret.
Three. Tree. Three.
Threepence. Truppence. Threppence.
Threshold. Treshold. Thresh-hold..
Threw. True. Throo.
Thrice. Trice. Thrise.
Thrift. Trift. Thrift.
Thrill. Trill. Thrill.
Thrive. Trive. Thrive.
Throat. Trot. Throte.
Throne. Trone. Throne.
Through. True. Throo.
Throw. Trow. Throe.
Thrush. Trush. Thrush.
Thorns. Tarns. Thorns.
Thirst. Tirst. Thirst.
Thirty. Turty. Thurty.
Thirdly. Turdly. Thurdly.
Thermometer. Termometer. Thermometer.
Straw. Sthraw. Straw.
Trace. Thrace, Trase.
Tract. Thract. Tract.
Trade. Thrade. Trade.
Trance. Thrance. Trance.
Transplant. Thransplant. Transplant.
Trash. Thrash. Trash.
Trick. Thrick. Trick.
Troop. Throop. Troop.
True. Thrue. Troo.
AS SPELLED. VULGAR IRISH
SOUND. CORRECT ENGLISH
Trust. Thrust. Trust.
Truth. Thruth. Trooth.
Troth. Throth. Troth.
Try. Thry. Try.
The Celtic Irish also sound "t" at the end of
a word like "d," and "f" like "v," as wid for
"with;" iv for "if;" bud for "but."
The next mistake which I shall mention,
is common to the whole country, and in the
instance of some words is also a Scots provincialism,
particularly in Galloway, where the
vicinity of the coasts has closely assimilated the
language to Irish. I refer this remark to the
mistake of pronouncing many words with the
long open sound of "a" in "fare," which should
be pronounced as long "e" in "me." The
words of this kind mistaken by Scotsmen, are
enumerated at page 226. As in the preceding
example of "th" and "t" those sounds are
also for the most part confounded so, that we
hear both "a" for "e," and "e" for "a," as
in the following table: —
AS SPELLED. VULGAR IRISH
SOUND. CORRECT ENGLISH
Beastt. Bayst. Beest.
Beat. Bayt. Beet.
AS SPELLED. VULGAR IRISH
SOUND. CORRECT ENGLISH
Bleach. Blaych. Bleech.
Appear. Appayr. Appeer.
Dream. Draym. Dreem.
Rear. Rayr. Reer.
Eat. Ayt. Eet.
Easy. Aysy. Eesy
Cream. Craym. Creem.
Clean. Clayn. Cleen.
Mean. Mayn. Meen.
Stream. Straym. Streem.
Teach. Taych. Teech.
Speak. Spake. Speek.
Tea. Tay. Tee.
Please. Plase. Pleese.
Sea. Say. See.
Deceit. Desate. Deseete.
Receive. Resave. Reseeve.
Sincere. Sinsare. Sinseer.
Supreme. Supreme. Supreeme.
Stair. Steer. Stare.
Great. Greet. Grate.
Baby. Beeby. Baby.
Swear. Sweer. Sware.
Tear. Teer. Tare.
Forbear. Forbeer. Forbare.
Prey. Pree. Pray.
Convey. Convee. Convay.
Would. Udd. Wood.
Should. Shudd. Shood.
Could. Cudd. Cood.
Dry. Dthry. Dry.
AS SPELLED. VULGAR IRISH
SOUND. CORRECT ENGLISH
Better. Bether. Better.
Strong. Sthrong. Strong.
Smatter Smather. Smatter.
Utter. Uther. Utter.
Cold. Cowld. Cold.
Bold. Bowld. Bold.
Old. Owld. Old.
Drink. Dthrink. Drink.
Storm, Staw-rum. Storm.
Arm. Aw-rum. Arm.
Harm. Haw-rum. Harm.
Alarm. Alaw-rum. Alarm.
Realm. Rell-um. Relm.
Lucky. Locky or Loocky. Lucky.
Cushion. Cushion. Cooshion.
Put. Putt. Poot.
Come. Coom or Come. Cum.
Strove. Struv. Strove.
Much. Mooch or Moch. Much.
Drove. Druv. Drov.
Dublin. Dublin or Dooblin. Dublin.
Breadth. Brenth. Bredth.
It will be unnecessary to extend this table, as
it may easily be enlarged by such readers, as
may be interested in it by collecting all the
words, having the long open sounds of "a"
and “e." In the sound of "o" short, Irishmen
are no less apt to mistake, giving it very
commonly the sound of "a" in "far." For
example, we may hear crass for "cross;"
acrass for "across," Lard for "Lord " Gad
for "God," &c. The following are a few
miscellaneous instances, which are very common
errors of pronunciation in Ireland.
The words "mamma" and "papa" are pronounced
even by the middle ranks in Ireland,
as of the "a" at the end of the words were a
short "e," as in the word "then," or something
between this and a short "a," as in the word
"than," whereas the terminating "a" in
"mamma," and "papa," ought to sound like
"a" in "far." To a stranger this Irish sound of
"mamma" and "papa" is very offensive. The
same offensive Irish sound is given to "a" in
"ah," as "ah! now is it?" In some parts of
Scotland, this sound of "all!" is as common
as in Ireland — in Glasgow for example.
There is a peculiar sound of "u" common
in Ireland, particularly in the North, as about
Belfast, which I have little doubt has been
often remarked. It is not easy to explain
it, but it consists in sounding an "e" rather
slightly before the "u," as de-oo for
"due,'' te-oo for "two," tre-oo for "true," gre-oo
for "grew," ye-oo for "you." This is very
The remark which I made relative to the
harsh and jarring pronunciation of the letter
"r" in Scotland, is equally applicable to Ireland;
but I regret to point out a fault, which
it is, I fear, impossible in most cases to correct.
With respect to grammatical accent, the
only word which I can recollect at present
as very striking, is the word "character,"
which ought to have the stress of the voice on
the syllable "char," whereas an Irishman almost
invariably puts it upon the syllable "ac,"
as if the word were written char-eckter. The
same word I have remarked, is often pronounced
with an opposite fault, as if it were
written chareter the sound of "ac" being left
out. This error, I should think it almost impossible
for an Irishman to commit.
The most remarkable peculiarity of Anglo--
Irish, I think, is the construction of the sentences,
derived I have no doubt from the Celtic,
though I am not sufficiently acquainted with
it to exemplify or prove the derivation. —
The peculiarity which I allude to is that of
inverting the order of the English construction,
and saying that at first, which an Englishman
would say last, as in the example, "The boy, is
you mean?" for "Is it the boy you mean?"
This inverted order runs through the whole
conversational speech of Ireland, and if I had
room I should give a table of corrected examples,
but I must be contented with this single
remark. I may mention, however, that it is
the same principle which gives origin to what
may be called the paraphrastic phraseology so
common in Ireland. For example, "and it is
just he sure who is the man that will do it."
instead of "he is the man that will do it." No
instances, which I can give, will be of much
practical utility for avoiding this vulgarity.
The reader must, therefore, depend upon his
own observations for its correction.
Another of the Irish vulgarities of Celtic
origin is, that instead of answering a plain
question simply by "yes" or "no," part of the
question is repeated. For example, if you put
the question "does it rain to day?" the answer
will be "It does" or "It does not," instead of
"yes" or "no." If you ask whether the
mail has arrived; the answer will be "It has,"
or "It has not." The words "yes" and "no,"
indeed, seem to have no place in the Anglo--
Irish vocabulary. In this respect, the Latin
is somewhat similar. It would, perhaps, be
wrong to assert that this manner of answering
questions is always a breach of the English
idiom, but when it is uniformly practised, it
must be considered an Irish vulgarity.
In asking questions, an Irishman has a great
predilection for the word "which," and employs
it very often improperly, at least it frequently
sounds very awkward, though this may
be partly owing to the broad pronunciation,
nearly approaching to whuch. It is most out
of place when it is used, as it always is by an
Irishman, if he do not hear or understand what
you say. For example, if you ask indistinctly,
what it is o'clock, the Irish cross question,
"which?" seems very awkward; if you remark
in a low voice, that "Ireland is a fine country,"
you will probably hear this perpetually recurring
"which ?" as a counter-tenor to your
bass. The French in similar cases use "how?'
[COMMENT?] which seems no less awkward.
The vulgar Scotch say, "what's your will?''
and the more vulgar English, "what did you
In exclamations, oaths, and bye-words, the
vulgar Irish is very copious; but I must refer
to the chapters on those several subjects for
the few which I have thought it requisite to
mention, in accordance with the plan of this
work. It is not necessary, I conceive, to point
out such obvious vulgarities, as by the law; —
by dad; — sure and sure; Och, and indeed now;
at all, at all; Arrah; Botheration; Musha;
Honey; Jewel; &c., as none of those, who
may read this little book, can require to be
told that such expressions are as vulgar as that
of using the word boys for "bachelors," or a
sprig of shellalah, for a "bludgeon," or purtty
for "pretty," or once't and twice't, for "once
As another instance of the peculiar use of
words, I may mention "entire," "entirely,"
used for "whole," and "altogether," which
in this sense are quite Irish and vulgar. Thus
an Irishman will say, "I have bought the entire
or the altogether of it," instead of "I have
bought the whole of it;" — and "It is impossible
entirely," instead of "It is altogether impossible."
In consequence of the great number
of Irishmen engaged in writing for the daily
papers, these expressions are beginning to be
used, even in England. The word "invite"
for "invitation," is also a vulgar Irish expression;
for example "I got an invite to visit her,"
instead of "I got an invitation to visit her; or
"she gave me the invite to come," instead of
"she gave me an invitation to come." A vulgar
expression very common in Ireland, and
extremely offensive to an English ear, is used in
inquiring about the character of a person.
Thus instead of saying, "what sort of a person
is he?" the Irish question is, "what kind is
he?" This expression must be carefully
avoided, as it is only used by the uneducated.
For a few other Irish vulgarities I may refer
to pages 12, 17, 39, 42, 60, 65, 75, 76, 77, 94,
95, 96, 98, 102, 155, 174, &c. See also the
observations on the use of "shall" and "will,"
"should" and "would," at page 233, above.
PROVINCIAL ENGLISH VULGARITIES.
Wales, in one point of view, can scarcely be
considered as a part of England; but it will
sufficiently answer my purpose to mention a
very few instances in which the prevalent
Celtic language disqualifies those who have
spoken it from infancy, from speaking English
correctly. The following are given by
Mr. Walker, as peculiarities of Cambro-English:
AS SPELLED. VULGAR
WELSH SOUND. CORRECT
Big. Pick. Big.
Blood. Ploot. Bludd.
Good. Coot. Good.
Virtue. Firtue. Virtue.
Vice. Fice. Vice.
Zeal. Seal. Zeal.
Praise. Prace. Praiz.
Azure. Aysher. Azure.
Jail. Shail. Jail.
In Somersetshire the opposite fault is common
of pronouncing many letters hard instead
of soft, as vather for "father;" zhure for
"sure;" Zomerzetzhire for "Somersetshire;"
and "th" is uniformly pronounced hard, as
in the word "them," in think, theft, thaw,
theatre, &c. In the West of England it is
remarkable that they sound the letter "a"
short, as in "ran," instead of long, as in
"gain," in the words range, strange, change,
angel, ancient, &c. which ought to be pronounced
"rainge, strainge," &c.
In the North of England the chief peculiarity
of pronunciation is that of giving the
sound of "oo" in "good," to the short sound
of "u" in "but;" and it may be remarked
that this peculiarity prevails even in words
not spelled with "u." The following are
a few examples of this foreign-looking pronunciation:
AS SPELLED. VULGAR NORTH
ENGLISH SOUND. CORRECT
Dull. Dool. Dull.
Hull. Hool. Hull.
Bulge. Boolge. Bulge.
Bustle. Boostle. Bussle.
Bulk. Boolk. Bulk.
Trunk. Troonk. Trunk.
Sunk. Soonk. Sunk.
Tongue. Toong. Tung.
AS SPELLED. VULGAR NORTH
ENGLISH SOUND. CORRECT
Bung. Boong. Bung.
Up. Oop. Upp.
Shut. Shoot. Shutt.
Butter. Booter. Butter.
Thus. Thoos. Thuss.
Gull. Gool. Gull.
The only words which retain this sound of
"u" in correct English, such as "put, full,
bull," are enumerated at page 12. At page
75, I have mentioned two bye-words, "Nay"
and "Indeed," which are very characteristic
of the North of England. The low dialect
in Lancashire, Yorkshire, and Cumberland,
such as thraw for "from," &c. would require
more space to illustrate it than I can spare in
this brief work.
In most parts of England, but more particularly
in London, and along the South and
East coasts, a very gross vulgarity prevails in
the sounding of an "r," at the close of words
ending in "a" or "o." As this is one of the
most offensive vulgarities, it will be important
for the English reader to attend to the following
WORDS AS SPELLED. VULGAR SOUND. CORRECT SOUND.
Idea Idearr. Ideea.
Mamma. Mammarr. Mamma.
Papa. Paparr. Papa.
WORDS AS SPELLED. VULGAR SOUND. CORRECT SOUND.
Window. Winderr. Windo.
Fellow. Fellerr. Fello.
Hollow. Hollerr. Hollo.
Eliza. Elizarr. Eliza.
Louisa. Louisarr. Loueesa.
Maria. Mariarr Maria.
Apollo. Apollorr Apollo.
Geneva. Genevarr. Geneva.
Yellow. Yellerr. Yello.
Dinah. Dinarr. Dina.
Law. Larr. Law.
Awe. Arr. Awe.
Jaw. Jarr. Jaw.
As most of the errors of this kind have an
inverse counterpart, it may be remarked in
this case that the natives of London leave
out the "r" altogether in many words where
it ought to be sounded, though but slightly.
We thus hear them say pul for "pearl;" wuld
for "world;" ghell, or gul for "girl;" mal for
"marl*;" cawt for "cart;" and cawd for
Another vulgar English pronunciation, and
common in London, is that of sounding "a"
long, as in the word "far," instead of "a"
short, as in "man," in such words as chawnce
"chance;" dawnce for "dance;" pawst for
"past;" bawsket for "basket;" awfter for
* See page 246 for the Scots pronunciation of such words.
after;" awnswer for "answer;" plawnt for
"plant;" mawst for "mast;" grawss for
"grass;" glawss for "glass;" cawn't or can't
for "cannot," &c. In words ending in "st,"
when another "s" is added, the natives of
London, and of the South of England, always
sound an "e" before the "s," as postes for
"posts;" and not contented with this they
sometimes double the "es," as posteses. In
the same vulgar way we may hear ghostes, or
ghosteses for "ghosts;" fistes, or fisteses for
"fists;" mastes, or masteses for "masts." I
have also heard persistes for "persists;" hastes
for "hast;" wastes for "wast;" wristes for
"wrist;" chestes for "chests," &c.
Natives of London are supposed to make
the greatest mistakes with regard to the
sounds of "v" and "w," and in sounding, or
not sounding the letter "h" improperly; yet
these mistakes are by no means confined to
London, but may be met with in every part
of England. A person who is in the habit
of making such mistakes will talk of a "Wery
'igh vinder," for a "Very high window;" or
of a "Hold hoak table," for an "Old oak
table;" or of "Pretty blue heyes,'' for "Pretty
blue eyes," The best way of conquering this
vulgarity, and indeed of most of those which
I have pointed out, is to make out a list of
the words of which you are apt to mistake
the correct use, and repeat them frequently
till you are familiar with them all. If you
have any friend, from a different part of the
country, who will assist you in the task, your
labour will be greatly facilitated, and you will
be more confident of your correctness.
The following tables are only a specimen
of a more extensive series which I have drawn
up, but cannot introduce here without making
this work too expensive for the design intended.
I shall probably publish them separately,
if they appear to be required by the public.
WORDS AS SPELLED. VULGAR SOUND. CORRECT SOUND.
What. Wat. Hwot.
Wheat. Weet. Hweet.
Wheel. Weel. Hweel.
When. Wen. Hwen.
Where. Ware. Hware.
Which. Wich. Hwich.
Whig. Wig. Hwig.
While. Wile. Hwile.
Whip. Wip. Hwhip.
Whist. Wist. Hwist.
White. Wite. Hwite.
Who. Oo. Hoo.
Why. Y. Hwy.
Harm. Arm. Harm.
Had. Ad. Had.
Hail. Ail. Hail.
WORDS AS SPELLED. VULGAR SOUND. CORRECT SOUND.
Hair. Air. Hair.
Ham. Am. Hans.
Hand. And. Hand.
Happen. Appen. Happen.
Happy. Appy. Happy.
Hard—Hardy. Ard—Ardy. Hardy—Hardy.
Hark. Ark. Hark.
Harp. Arp. Harp.
Haste. Aste. Haste.
Hat. At. Hat.
Head. Ed. Hed.
Heart. Art. Hark.
Heat. Eat. Heat.
Hedge. Edge. Hedge.
Hold. Old. Hold.
Hive. Ive. Hive.
I shall next give a few of those words in
which the "h" is sounded in vulgar English
where it ought not.
WORDS AS SPELLED. VULGAR SOUND. CORRECT SOUND.
Art Hart. Art.
Able. Hable. Able.
Ache. Hake. Ake.
Air. Hair. Air.
Ale, Hale. Ale.
All. Hall. All.
Arm. Harm. Arm.
Eagle. Heegle. Eegle.
Ear. Heer. Eer.
Easy. Heezy. Easy.
Eat. Heet. Eet.
Enemy. Henemy. Enemy.
Evil. Hevil. Evil.
WORDS AS SPELLED. VULGAR SOUND. CORRECT SOUND.
I. Hy. I.
Ice. Hice. Ice.
Idea. Hideear, Ideea.
Itch. Hitch. Itch.
Ivy. Hyvy. Ivy.
Oath. Hoath. Oath,
Oats. Hoats. Oats.
Office. Hoffice. Office.
Often. Hoften. Often.
Open. Hopen. Open.
Orange. Horange. Orange.
Over. Hover. Over.
Out. Hout. Out.
Oyster. Hoyster. Oyster.
The next examples which I shall select, are
taken from the words that contain a "v" or a
WORDS AS SPELLED. VULGAR SOUND. CORRECT SOUND.
Veal. Weel. Veel.
Vain. Wain. Vain.
Valley. Walley. Valley.
Value. Walue. Value.
Vary. Wary. Vary.
Vast. Wast. Vast.
Vegetables. Wegetables. Vegetables.
Velvet. Welvet. Velvet.
Venus. Weenus. Veenus.
Venison. Wenison. Venison.
Venture. Wenture. Venture.
Vermin. Wermin. Vermin.
Verse. Werse. Verse.
Victuals. Wittles. Vittles.
Vile. Wile. Vile.
WORDS AS SPELLED. VULGAR SOUND. CORRECT SOUND.
Vision. Wizhun. Vizhun.
Visit. Wizit. Vizit.
Vulgar. Wulgar. Vulgar.
Wage, Vage. Wage.
Waiter. Vaiter. Waiter.
Walk. Vawk. Wawk.
Want. Vant. Want.
War. Var. War.
Warehouse. Vare-ouse. Warehouse.
Wasp. Vasp. Wasp.
Watch. Vatch. Watch.
Water. Vater. Water.
We. Vee. Wee.
Well. Vell. Well.
Wild. Vild. Wild.
Wind. Vind. Wind.
With. Vith. With.
Woman. Voman. Woman.
Work. Vork. Work.
World. Vorld. World.
Another vulgar pronunciation very common
in London, in the South and East of England,
as well as among the vulgar-genteel in Scotland
and Ireland, is that of sounding the long
"u" like "oo," instead of "you." To a correct
ear, this sound appears extremely vulgar
and offensive; and I shall, therefore, refer to
Page 13, and also give a specimen of examples
with the proper corrections, premising that I
spell the sound in question "ew," which sounds
WORDS AS SPELLED. VULGAR SOUND. CORRECT SOUND.
Duty. Dooty. Dewty, or dyouty.
Produce. Prodooss. Prodewss.
Due and Dew. Doo. Dew, or dyou.
Kew. Koo. Kew, or kyou.
Steward. Stooward. Steward.
Lieu. Loo. Lew, or lyou.
Luke. Look. Lewk, or lyouk.
Lunar. Loonar. Lewnar.
Music. Moosic. Mewsic.
New. Noo. New, or nyou.
Numerous. Noomerous. Newmorous.
Puny and Puisne. Poony*. Pewny.
Purely. Poorly. Pewrly.
Putrid. Pootrid. Pewtrid.
Q. [the letter.] Koo. Kew, or kyou.
Tewkesbury. Tooksberry. Tewksberry.
Tube. Toob. Tewb.
Tumult. Toomult. Tewmult.
Tutor. Tooter. Tewtor.
The vulgar expressions, words, and phrases
which prevail in England, and particularly in
London, may be compressed into a small space,
after the copious illustrations of them which I
have given in the preceding pages. I may
refer particularly to pages 24, 26, 39, 43, 48,
50, 51, 54, 60, 63, and to the chapters on
Bye-words, Comparisons, Proverbs, and Slang.
I shall only introduce here a few which I have
* This is also a Scots vulgarity.
previously omitted. I request the attention of
the English reader most particularly to the
gross and offensive habit of ending every sentence
with the vulgar questions — a'n't it? —
don't it? — a'n't I? — &c.*
Another vulgarity peculiar to England, is
the use of the word "as" instead of "that,"
which you must also avoid; for example, in the
vulgar expression "She wan't here as I knows
on," instead of "She was not here that I know
of." This word "as," indeed, should. never
be employed before "I," except in the meaning
of "when." For example, it is correct to
say "As I was going to town I met Mrs. B.''
which means "WHEN I was going to town,"
but it would be wrong to say "She was not at
church as I knows of;" because in this expression,
"as" does not mean "when;" and the
expression should, in correct speaking, have
been "She was not at church that I know of."
A vulgarity not quite so gross as this, but
very unmeaning, may be exemplified in the
expression "What with one thing and what
with another, I entirely forgot." This is extremely
common, but when it is thus put down
on Paper and examined, it appears both awk*
See pages 50, 51, and 63.
ward and ungrammatical. It is varied too in
many different forms, as "What with the Exchange
business, and what with attending at
Westminster, I had no leisure." As this is
contrary to every rule of grammar, the next
vulgarity which I shall mention is contrary to
common sense: for instance, "It was bad to
a degree," "He succeeded to a degree;" in
both of which cases the question "To what
degree?" is naturally suggested, but to this
the vulgar speaker makes no answer.
A vulgar English bye-word, which I omitted
in the proper chapter, is "It is no use," or
"There's no use;" and though the expression
is intrinsically unobjectionable, yet as it is a
very great favourite with the lowest people, it
ought not to be introduced into polite or elegant
conversation. As it is vulgarly employed,
we frequently hear it very much out of place,
for it is most commonly repeated in a mechanical
manner, without a thought being passed
upon its meaning. "Come now," is another
bye-word that has little meaning, as "Come
now, that is good." Where, it may be asked,
is the person to come?
The word "name" is vulgarly used in England
for "mention," or "tell," in a form that
grates on the ear of a grammarian. For example,
"I named the circumstance to him,"
instead of "I mentioned the circumstance to
him;" "I shall name it to them," for "I shall
mention it to them;" "He would have named
it if it had been so," for "He would have told
it if it had been so." This meaning of the
word "name" is very incorrect; it is to be
found in no dictionary — not even in Grose's.
The use of the word on for "of," in a very
great number of instances, which I can only
point out to you by examples, is another vulgarity
peculiar to England. From these it
will not be difficult to discover the error in
most of the circumstances in which it occurs.
You may hear persons, for example, say "Five
was the number on 'em," instead of "Five was
the number of them;" or "Peach is the name
on it," for "Peach is the name of it;" or "I
can't say nothing on't," for "I can say nothing
of it." I have remarked that in the dramas
founded on the Waverley Novels, this on't is
given for the Scots o't, but very erroneously.
Still more vulgar than either of these, is a certain
use of the words "there" and "here," along
with "that" and "this;" as when it is said
"That there house," instead of "That house;"
or "This here book," instead of "This book."
You may, however, without impropriety say
"This book here," or "That house there;"
but never "This here," nor "That there."
The word lot, or lots, for "number," or
"quantity," is an English slang term, and a
mark of vulgarity in speaking, which you ought
to avoid. The expressions "lots of things," or
"a great lot of things," are of this kind, and
you should say "a number of things," or "a
great number of things." It will not, however,
by many be remarked as very vulgar, though
you say "a quantity of people," or "a quantity
of birds;" but I may tell you that it is incorrect,
and you ought to say "a number of
people," and "a number of birds."
It is one of the most common offences
against grammar and good English, both in
England, and among the vulgar-genteel in
Scotland and Ireland, to use the words lay
for "lie," lays for "lies," laying "for lying,"
and laid for "lay" or "lain;" as in the examples,
"The book lays on the table," for
"The book lies on the table;" "The oranges
are laying on the mantel-shelf," for "The
oranges are lying on the mantel-piece;" He
laid in bed too long," for "He lay in bed too
long;" "It has laid there since yesterday,
for "It has lain there since yesterday;" "They
lay at this moment on the table," for "They
lie at this moment on the table." It is correct
to say "Lay it down;" "He lays these up for
use;" and "I laid it there myself." The
irregular use of these words has been lately
gaining ground, and may become established,
but till this happen, it is vulgar to employ
them in this ungrammatical manner.
The word "since," is frequently used in
England for "ago," as in the expression "A
long time since," for "A long time ago;" " It
happened a year since," for "It happened a
year ago." The expressions "The both," and
"They both," are also vulgar English, as "The
both ends," for "Both the ends;" "I have the
both," for "I have both;" "It was they both
who did it," for "It was both of them who
Among the lowest ranks in the Southern
Counties of England the word "nation" is
vulgarly used for "very," as "It is nation
good," for "It is very good." In the same
way the word "pure," was fashionable in the
reign of Queen Anne, as "Pure good;" "It is
pure beautiful." Sometimes we hear "Main
bad," for "very bad." To express a smaller
degree of good or bad, we may often hear the
vulgar expressions "A pretty goodish number,"
and "He is in a baddish way." The
ungrammatical vulgarity mentioned at page
207 above, is very common in England, under
the form of "I do not intend to go, no more
don't he," instead of "I do not intend to go,
neither does he;" and similar expressions
beginning with "no more." Another vulgar
English word is "after," sometimes "a'ter,"
instead of "for," as "He came after the
goods," instead of "He came for the goods;"
"The maid came after the situation," instead
of "The maid came about, or for the situation."
C. Smith, Printer, Angel Court, Strand.
Cite this Document
The Vulgarities of Speech Corrected; With Elegant Expressions for Provincial and Vulgar English, Scots and Irish; For the Use of Those Who Are Unacquainted With Grammar. 2021. In The Corpus of Modern Scottish Writing. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved November 2021, from http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/cmsw/document/?documentid=157.
"The Vulgarities of Speech Corrected; With Elegant Expressions for Provincial and Vulgar English, Scots and Irish; For the Use of Those Who Are Unacquainted With Grammar." The Corpus of Modern Scottish Writing. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 2021. Web. November 2021. http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/cmsw/document/?documentid=157.
The Corpus of Modern Scottish Writing, s.v., "The Vulgarities of Speech Corrected; With Elegant Expressions for Provincial and Vulgar English, Scots and Irish; For the Use of Those Who Are Unacquainted With Grammar," accessed November 2021, http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/cmsw/document/?documentid=157.
If your style guide prefers a single bibliography entry for this resource, we recommend:
The Corpus of Modern Scottish Writing. 2021. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/cmsw/.
The Vulgarities of Speech Corrected; With Elegant Expressions for Provincial and Vulgar English, Scots and Irish; For the Use of Those Who Are Unacquainted With Grammar
|Title||The Vulgarities of Speech Corrected; With Elegant Expressions for Provincial and Vulgar English, Scots and Irish; For the Use of Those Who Are Unacquainted With Grammar|
|Year of publication||1826|
Author information: Anonymous