The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue
I love the English language. I’m sure other languages are wonderful too, but English is the only tongue I have any mastery of. Although, you could say that I don’t speak English properly: I am certainly ignorant of the rules of grammar and punctuation. However, I think that language, even the written language, should be more than just adherence to rules, or correct usage. I’m sure a computer could generate correctly worded and punctuated prose. I love slang and swear words and idioms and proverbs, dialect and colloquialisms.
I come from the Black Country, which is an area rich in slang words – tranklements, hoss road, donnies… faggots and pays. I haven’t been back there for many years and my daughter sometimes asks me to speak in Black Country, but I find that I have forgotten how. I just remember one overheard phrase, shouted from one old man to another, outside Brierley Hill market: “Orlroit chap yow bin shappin’?”. Other Midlanders call us ‘yammies’, perhaps because of the elision of the word “I” and “am” to the more convenient “yam”?
I especially miss talking to people of my Nan’s generation, whose speech was full of colloquialisms, but also strange sayings and turns of phrase, such as lines from old musical hall songs. I don’t think there are many people of her age left to chat with now.
Anyway, this dictionary of the vulgar tongue from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is a bostin’ read. I particularly like “apple dumpling shop” and “dairy” in reference to a woman’s bosom. I find the words inspiring – a “prigger of prancers” is far more interesting than ‘horse thief’, don’t you think?
I once wrote a poem in criminal cant – I’m sure you can find it, if you can be bothered to look. If you don’t like it, then you can kiss my cooler, you clumpish cove.