Slang 19th century U.S.

Source: Linton Weeks, NPR History

Here are an even dozen, pretty much forgotten slanglike words or sayings from the 19th century, rediscovered while delving in the archives — and with added guidance from James Maitman’s 1891 American Slang Dictionary:

1) Too high for his nut — beyond someone’s reach. “That clay-bank hog wants the same pay as a Senator; he’s getting too high for his nut,” according to a grammar-corrected version of the Oakland, Calif., Tribune on Jan. 12, 1885.

2) Bottom fact — an undisputed fact. “Notwithstanding all the calculations of the political economists, the great bottom fact is that one man’s honest, steady work, rightly applied, especially if aided by machinery and improved modes of conveyance and distribution, suffices to supply the actual needs of a dozen burdensome loafers,” according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of Jan. 31, 1871.

3) To be Chicagoed — to be beaten soundly, as in a baseball shutout. “Political corruption … if the clergy only keep to that topic, Lincoln will be Chicagoed!” from the Plymouth, Ind., Weekly Democrat of June 7, 1860.

4) See the elephant — to see all the sights of a town, especially the edgier aspects. “A young Sioux Indian from Haskell Institute … said he was going to Chicago to hunt buffalo. He was told there was no game of that kind there, but that if he wanted to see the elephant he was on the right track,” the Lawrence, Kan., Daily Journal reported on Sept. 2, 1891. Also sometimes used by members of the military to describe going to war.

5) How came you so — inebriated. Describing an illustration, a reporter in the Gettysburg, Pa., People’s Press of May 22, 1835, wrote: “A gentleman a little ‘how came you so’ with his hat on the back of his head, is staggering about in the presence of Miss Fanny, who appears to be quite shocked.”

6) Lally-cooler — a real success. “That north show window of Shute & Haskell’s is a ‘lally-cooler,’ ” the Jan. 4, 1890, Salina, Kan., Republican noted.

7)Shinning around — moving about quickly. “It is shinning around corners to avoid meeting creditors that is sapping the energies of this generation,” opined the Dallas, Texas, Daily Herald on Oct. 31, 1877.

8) Shoddyocracy — people who get rich selling shoddy merchandise or services. “A lady of the shoddyocracy of Des Moines found, on returning from a walk, some call cards on her table,” observed the Harrisburg, Pa., Telegraph of June 30, 1870.

9) Some pumpkins — a big deal. “If there was any kind of trading,” noted the Grant County Herald in Wisconsin on July 17, 1847, “in which Simon B. … flattered himself he was decidedly ‘some pumpkins,’ it was a horse-trade.”
10) Like Thompson’s colt — doing something unnecessarily, like jumping a fence when the rails have been removed. “Thompson’s colt,” a reporter in the Saint Paul, Minn., Globe of Nov. 20, 1882, wrote, “was such an infernal idiot, that he swam across the river to get a drink.”

11) Tell a thumper — construct a clever lie. “When anyone told a thumper more palpably outrageous than usual, it was sufficiently understood …” Reminiscences of the Turf by William Day, 1891.

12) Wake snakes — get into mischief. “So I went on a regular wake snakes sort of a spree, and I went here and there turnin’, twistin’ and doublin’ about until I didn’t know where or who I was,” a man testified in court as to why he was intoxicated, according to the New Orleans, La., Times Picayune of Aug. 15, 1842.

1) Moll buzzer, 1870s. A criminal, especially a pickpocket or a pickpocket’s accomplice, who preys on women. Example: Habitual criminal Molly Holbrook “has taken as her companion one Jim Hoya who is known to the police detectives as a ‘moll buzzer,’ a man who follows a female pickpocket about, and receives from her the ‘leathers’ taken from a woman in public gatherings.” From the Chicago Daily Tribune on July 26, 1874.

2) Dingus, 1890s. A nebulous, unspecified object. Example: Nineteenth century slang may have crescendoed in the 1890s with this report on a new game: Tiddledywinks. “You take a wink, put it on the dingus, press a tiddledy on the wink and make it jump into the winkpot. … If you succeed, you are entitled to a difficiety and for every wink you jump into the dingpot, from the duwink you count a flictiddledy and you keep on operating the tinkwinkle upon the pollywog until the points so carried equal the sum total of the bogwip multiplied by the putertinktum and added to the contents of the winkpot or words to that effect and you have won the game.” From the Tribune in McCook, Neb., on April 24, 1891. And, while writing about operating a coal stove, a Wisconsin person noted this in the Appeal in Memphis, Tenn., on Dec. 28, 1873: “We turned every dingus in the stove that was movable.”

3) Spizzerinctum, 1920s. High spirits, nerve. Example: A Baptist Sunday school class seeking new recruits advertised: “Red hot lessons with pep and spizzerinctum — a room to ourselves — and we’re going to have a larger class than the girls.” From the Headlight in Deming, N.M., on Jan. 23, 1920.

4) Woofy, 1920s. A nonsense word — from flapper slang — that could be inserted into just about any context. Example: “When Shirley appeared on the beach, she was wearing oil-skin tights, painted over with birds and hearts and things, sort of woofy, if you get me.” From The New York Times on May 8, 1922.

5) Bazoo, 1940s. Mouth. Example: “Senator Bilbo settled down on the good salary and side-graft of the office and never opened his bazoo.” From the Daily News in Ludington, Mich., on March 7, 1949.

6) Fracture, 1950s. Fill with delight, causing laughter. Example: In a movie review, entertainer Frankie Laine said, “Born Yesterday fractured me, had me in the aisle. Judy Holliday is terrific.” From the Daily Courier in Connellsville, Pa., on March 29, 1951.

7) Ginchy, 1950s. Excellent. Example: Columnist Stan Delaplane wrote of hearing the hit song “Tan Shoes with Pink Shoelaces” coming from his 15-year-old daughter’s room. “For hours I could hear the radio — tuned to a — ginchy, I believe is the word — tuned to a ginchy station.” From the Standard-Examiner in Ogden, Utah, on May 12, 1959.