Regency Slang

As Maggie MacKeever, I write historical romances. The large majority of them have been set in Regency England. The Regency period was the period between 1811 and 1820, when King George III of England was deemed unfit to rule and his son, later George IV, was instated as Prince Regent. The era is often expanded to include the years between 1795 and 1837. The period was distinctive for its architecture, literature, fashions, politics, snuffboxes and colorful characters and general excess.

I love Regency slang.

Here are some wonderful descriptions of someone who isn’t the brightest candle on the cake:

Bird-witted – inconsiderate, thoughtless

Bottle-headed – devoid of wit

Chaw-bacon – a countryman, or stupid fellow

Chuckle-headed – a stupid person, a blockhead

Clodpole – a stupid fellow, a dolt

Cod’s head – a stupid fellow

Cork-brained – light-headed, foolish

Dunderhead – blockhead, dunce, numbskull

Nickninny – a simpleton

Ninnyhammer – a fool or simpleton

Saphead/sapskull – a simpleton; fool

Simkin – a foolish fellow

Singleton – a very foolish fellow

Pig-widgeon – simpleton, fool

In addition, thanks to the incomparable Georgette Heyer, along these same lines we have:

Addle-cove

Goosecap

Cabbage-head

Bird-wit/Hen-witted

Buffle-head

Caper-witted

Cork-brained

Dunderhead

Feather-headed

Hare-brained

Muttonhead

Nodcock/Niddicock

Paperskull

Peagoose

Shatterbrain

Totty-headed

My personal favorites are ‘knock-in-the-cradle’ and ‘more hair than wit’, which are only bested by ‘his brains are in his ballocks’, found the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

Published in: on June 5, 2008 at 12:04 am  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I am writing a Regency romance and have used the word “shiner” for black eye. One of my mentors has made a note on my ms to check if that term was used at that time. Can you enlighten me please?

    • ‘shiner’ in Regency days meant a mirror, especially the kind of mirror used by card-sharpers. You’d be better off to stick with ‘black eye’, which goes back to the late 1500′s.

      An excellent resource for this kind of stuff is Eric Partridge’s Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. Also, for a quick online reference try dictionary.referency.com. They frequently give the origins of words.

      Hope this helps–


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