Aug 1, 2011

Bawd houses and other debauchery

by Emily May

I've just finished writing a scene set in a Regency brothel -- not a high-class establishment, but a very low-class and vulgar place! The sort of brothel you'd find in this picture below.

I had so much fun writing the brothel scene that I thought I'd share of the colourful language that was used in Regency times to describe brothels, the people who frequented them, and the activities that went on in them.

The following phrases are all taken from one of my favourite research books, the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. Sit back and enjoy!

a mutton-monger -- a man addicted to wenching

to make a duchess -- to have sex with one's shoes on

to take a flyer or take a flourish -- to enjoy a woman in a hasty manner (i.e. with her clothes on or without going to bed)

feather-bed jig -- sex  

a fire ship -- a wench who has venereal disease

to burn one's poker -- to catch venereal disease

laced mutton -- a prostitute

a Covent Garden nun -- a prostitute

to break one's shins against Covent Gardens' rails -- to catch venereal disease

a woman's commodity -- the private parts of a modest woman and the public parts of a prostitute [beautifully worded description, don't you think?] also known as crinkum crankum, the venerable monosyllable, and the mother of all saints

fruitful vine -- a woman's private parts, so called, because it flowers every month and bears fruit in nine months [I love it!]

the miraculous pitcher -- a woman's commodity, so-called because it holds water with the mouth down [!]

to crack one's pitcher -- to lose one's virginity

pucker water -- water impregnated with alum or other astringents to counterfeit virginity

Of course, there were far cruder words and phrases used to describe sex, prostitutes and prostitution, and women's anatomy, but I'll spare your blushes!

So what's your view on historical accuracy? Would you prefer that authors kept to the glittering ballrooms of the ton, or would you like to see something of the seedier side of Regency England?


  1. Emily

    They certainly knew how to describe things back then didn't they LOL.

    I like to see a bit of both sides of the Regency when reading but of course dreaming of the ballrooms and country estates is always good

    Have Fun

  2. And we complain about euphemisms today! Though something about laced mutton just works perfectly. Can't look at meat in the same way again.

    I haven't read much in the way of Regency England; my historicals always seem to take place somewhere off in Scotland. But I wouldn't mind branching out.

  3. Emily, I think the seedy side is so much more interesting! I know it was Victorian times, but I love the real life aspects/tone of movies like From Hell. Then again, could be the fact Johnny Depp was starring =)

  4. Emily "the miraculous pitcher" LOL!!! There's some great descriptions in there that's for sure!!
    I'd actually like to read a book that gives us glimpses of the real words that were used, but without getting a headache trying to work out their meanings! =)

  5. Emily, thank you for the laughs. These are brilliant descriptions. Not sure I could read a wole book with them, might give me a headache.
    I'd prefer we saw a bit of the seedier side. Let's face it, we all know it went on, so why not write about it. Tastefully, of course.

  6. I definitely like seeing all aspects of society. I just watched Dorian Gray on the weekend, where polite society is juxtaposed with the seedy side of life.

    Thanks for sharing, Emily.

  7. Some of those expressions are worth their weight, Emily!

    You know, it may be the Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer influences here, but in a Regency romance I like the fairy tale. LOL, the seedier side of life simply makes me think of the conditions I'd be living in if I had been alive then. Cue appropriate shuddering.

  8. Hi Helen -- yes, they were very good with descriptions! Some of them are unbelievably crude, and others laugh-out-loud funny. Ah, yes, it's very easy to dream of country estates....

  9. Hi Marlena! Laced mutton is a great one, isn't it? Some of the slang just fits perfectly!

    Have fun branching out!

  10. Robbie, I agree -- the seedy side is so interesting! I've never seen From Hell. I'm putting it on my list of movies to see!

  11. I loved the miraculous pitcher, too, Mel! Some of the slang is so great -- and some of it sounds weirdly modern. There's stuff I wouldn't use because it sounds like it comes out of someone's mouth today and it jerks me out of the regency world when I read it!

  12. Hi Sue! Tasteful, yet seedy ... I'll do my best! And I agree, too much slang is headache-making. It needs to be sprinkled very judiciously!

  13. Hi Eleni! Dorian Gray ... I must watch this! I'll add it to my growing TBW pile....

    Will I see you at conference? I hope so!

  14. No conference for me this year :( but at least I will be Claytonsing.

    Have a good one.

  15. Yeah, life wouldn't have been pretty for most of us, Michelle!

    I like the fairy tale, but I also like a bit of the underbelly too. A balance of dark and light. Of course, the dark isn't as dark as it really was -- that would NOT be fun to read about!

  16. Ah, a shame, Eleni. Enjoy the Claytons conference!!

  17. Recently we watched a movie "Dangerous Beauty" it is based in beautiful Venice at the time of World War, and this dangerous beauty definitely moved leaders and emperors to change decisions!

    And all the soldiers wives came to her for news of their husbands. We LOL'ed when she explained to a proper lady just why her husband came to her instead of his wife!

  18. Sounds like an interesting movie, Nas. The lady must have had some spectacular skills!

  19. Emily, I love your historical blogs and I can't wait to read your seedy scene! Ballroom scenes are lovely too but as they say, variety is the spice of life! And with that wonderful "vulgar" vocabulary from your dictionary, your WIP sounds like something to look forward to!


  20. Emily, I think I'll love your scene (since I've loved all your other Regencies, it's a pretty safe bet!).

    I like variety, so some balls, some pretty dresses, and some of the seedier side. Which is one of the reasons why The Unmasking of A Lady was so fabulous.

    Can you maybe write this one faster so I get to read it sooner? =)