The following images have been designed by me, as examples of the kind of artwork I would like to include in the Dictionary of Victorian Insults & Niceties.
My husband recently asked me how The Dictionary of Victorian Insults & Niceties would be different from a Victorian Urban Dictionary. I quickly realized that, except for how I’m organizing it, it won’t be, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, there’s everything great about that because it meets a definite need, just like the Urban Dictionary does.
Now, I’m wondering… Would ‘the Victorian Urban Dictionary’ be a better title?
A reader recently asked whether the Dictionary of Victorian Insults & Niceties would include a chapter or section on seduction. I haven’t composed one yet, but it is an interesting idea that would be especially useful to writers of Victorian erotica.
In order to avoid saying the word ‘penis,’ Victorians definitely preferred euphemisms that would be useful in Victorian writing. Instead of penis, one might say: ‘male organ,’ but that doesn’t sound very sexy, and conjures images of an awkward how-to talk, rather than the whispering of sweet nothings. The clinical clinical sounding, ‘intermittent apparatus,’ might be uttered by a sexually inexperienced scientist of any gender.
By the end of the century, ‘pisser’ was a popular word. The phrase ‘pull your pisser” had the double meaning of playfully teasing a gentleman, or deceiving him, as in ‘pulling his leg.’ At this time, the ‘middle leg’ was also another word for penis.
Victorians used the words ‘dick’ and ‘root,’ as people still do in many English-speaking countries, but they had some funnier terms, like ‘peter,’ ‘Johnson,’ and ‘John Thomas.’ Interestingly, ‘John Thomas’ was also a generic name for a livery servant. This term is usually traced back to Lady Chatterly’s Lover (1928), but the Oxford English Dictionary has traced it back to 1879, which means that, if you are ever looking for Victorian porn star names, ‘Peter Johnson,’ and ‘John Thomson’ are practical options.
In a post I wrote last year on Victorian Dirty Words, I found a lot of synonyms for lady bits. However, upon further investigation, words like, ‘crinkum-crankum,’ ‘honeypot,’ and ‘muff’ are all older than the nineteenth century, though they were still in use. My instinct is to chalk this up to Victorian attitudes toward women’s sexuality. Victorian women’s sexuality wasn’t talked about unless it was being condemned, which is why Victorians came up with slut-shaming words like, ‘charver,’ ‘dolly-mop,’ ‘fly girl,’ and ‘cock-teaser’ for promiscuous women.
Still, the art of canoodling (a Victorian word for seduction) rarely ever means shouting synonyms for genitals at each other.
The last part of the Dictionary is devoted to ‘niceties,’ which includes words that can be used for sweet talking. It includes pet names for your sweethearts, and lovely adjectives to make them your own. ‘Dinah,’ another word for a female sweet heart, might be ‘dossy,’ or ‘ducky,’ if you like the way she dresses. And anyone’s ‘mash’ (crush) would be ‘jim-dandy’ (an excellent person or thing).
One of the things that I’ve learned about the origin and usage of words over time is that good writers seem to have consistently conjured up wonderful new words, as well as interesting uses for existing terms. I’m still not sure whether I will include a section or chapter on the art of seduction, but I have no doubt that writers of Victorian erotica will be able to put the Dictionary of Victorian Insults & Niceties to good use!
A variation of the word ‘dunce’ appears in the Dictionary of Victorian Insults & Niceties. ‘Dunce’ is one of those words that has a more interesting history because it comes from somebody’s name: Duns Scotus.
Duns Scotus (1266-1308) was no dummy. He’s generally considered one of the most important philosophers of the Middle Ages.
Scotus was ordained as a Catholic priest at the Church of Saint Andrew in Northampton, England, in 1291. That he was called Johannes Duns suggests that he was from Duns, in Berwickshire, Scotland, because it was traditional to call people by their Christian name followed by their hometown.
Scotus’ philosophies helped shape modern Catholicism. He’s often associated with voluntarism, the tendency to emphasize God’s will and human freedom in all philosophical issues. His philosophy argued for the existence of God, and emphasized the relationships between all living things. He also defended the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Pope Pius IX’s 1854 declaration of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception uses Scotus’ arguments on the subject, “at the first moment of Her conception, Mary was preserved free from the stain of original sin, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ.” Scotus’ position was hailed as “a correct expression of the faith of the Apostles.”
But people didn’t always think Scotus was so clever, and it’s amazing what a lasting impression criticism can have on our language. Sixteenth-century philosophers, who liked Scotus’ work were called ‘Dunse’ (like some people are called Marxist or Kantian). For the most part, sixteenth-century philosophers disliked Scotus’ work, and accused him of sophistry. Hence, as a variation of ‘Dunse’ the term ‘dunce’ was born, meaning “somebody who is incapable of scholarship.”
Welcome, and thanks for visiting the Dictionary of Victorian Insults & Niceties blog.
The purpose of this blog is to keep readers posted on the progress and development of this project. It should also help give readers a sense of what the finished project will feel like. All posts will be written by the Dictionary’s author, Tine Hreno (me).
Today, I’m revising some of the entries, building this blog, and contemplating starting a gofundme campaign to make funding the project easier.
I’m also looking for beta testers, people who are interested in seeing the very first digital copy of the eBook before it is officially released. There’s no charge for a beta version of the Dictionary. All I ask is for your feedback, so that I can make the first official version of the dictionary as good as possible.
If interested in becoming a beta tester, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Again, thanks for visiting. Don’t forget to follow this blog, so you can stay informed about the Dictionary’s progress!