Pet names for Poppas


Any reference to the notion of Victorian fatherhood typically brings to mind an image of a distant and sever man. Dr. Julie Marie Strange challenges that image in her new book: Fatherhood and the British Working Class, 1865-1914″ (2015), and the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) supports her findings.

Strange found that Victorian fathers were as hands-on as today’s dads, talked about the same way, and had affectionate relationships with their children. Likewise, the OED indicates that more synonyms for “dad” were created during the nineteenth century than at any other point in history.

The long list of Victorian pet names for dads may simply reflect the fact that more words were created during the Victorian Era, or it could be a reflection of a broader trend in the history of fatherhood. Words like “paw” (1826), “governor” (1827), “pop” (1828) and “bap” (1842) sound overwhelmingly affectionate, leading me to conclude that Victorians must have been talking, reflecting, and writing about fatherhood more than ever before.

But this “more than before” aspect is part of the trend, as Strange’s research found that Victorian dads were being praised as “new men” and better parents than their fathers had been, something every generation of fathers has been told since.

Lost for words to describe how you feel about this? A few more synonyms for dad might help.

da (1851) a pet name for dad in the nursery, or around the house

baba (1863) a way to call one’s father, when speaking babytalk

pops (1893) also used to address a jazz musician

poppa (1897) a pet name for your dad, lover, or husband

Whatever your kids call you now, I hope all the dads out there have a happy Father’s Day this weekend.

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Baby Cake to Patty Cake


If you want to learn about a different culture, learn its language. Even if the language is the same, the time and context of otherwise familiar words can change their meaning. At least, this has been my experience when studying French and German, as well as in my investigation of the late Victorian era. That being said, some people will tell you that if you want to learn about a different culture, you have to eat its food.

Victorians loved their cake. The word cake has Scandinavian roots and, in Middle English, described a flat bread roll. The first thing I find, when searching the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) for 19th-century words containing “cake,” is ash-cake, which first appeared in English in 1809 and refers to a cake that is cooked in the ashes of a fire. This recipe was popular in English colonies, where resources were scarce. Looking over that recipe, I think it needs more butter, and then, I want a scone!

Through colonizing the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Creek People, English-speakers learned to make corn cake, a cake often associated with the American South, which actually belonged to its indigenous people.

“Baby-cake” doesn’t mean what you think it means, but is a seventeenth-century word that was still popular in the nineteenth century and used to describe cakes with a prize baked inside. The prize might be a bean, though I can’t imagine being pleased to find a bean in my cake, but coins were popular hidden treasures as well. I remember my mom baked me a birthday cake like this once when I was a child.

Sponge cake recipes date back to the seventeenth century, but they weren’t called such until one was named after Queen Victoria, who ate them every day! Saturate that cake in alcohol, or cordial, for a chance to use another Victorian word: “tipsy-cake.” If it’s saturated in booze, you’d think it would be properly drunk, but “tipsy” is a more delicate word by a mile.


In 1801, Coenraad Johannes van Houten was born in Amsterdam. He would grow up to be a chemist, who would make chocolate cheaper, saltier, sweeter, and easier to use, introducing Dutch Chocolate to the world and allowing the creation of modern conceptions of chocolate, like chocolate-, or “cocoa-cake,” an 1883 word.

The OED places the coining of the term “pat-a-cake” back to 1883, but, if you view the term as a variation of “Patty Cake,” it goes back to Thomas D’Urfey’s The Campaigners (1698).

Patty cake, patty cake, baker’s man, Bake me a cake as fast as you can; Pat it and prick it, and mark it with a B, Put it in the oven for baby and me.

In nineteenth-century American slang, however, “patty cake” referred to the pastry, while “pat-a-cake” described the game played with clapping hands. “Patty cake” might have been used to describe one of America’s greatest inventions, until the term “cupcake” was invented. The first American cookbook writer, Amelia Simmons invented the cupcake with her publication of American Cookery (1796), but Eliza Leslie (also American) coined the term in 1828.

Now, if you will excuse me, I might just go and bake a cake with one of, my friend, Lili’s amazing recipes!

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Writer’s Quote Wednesday: eggcorns wrecking havoc


Words are wild unpredictable tools. That’s why (no matter how slowly the fundraising is going) I love writing a dictionary. The wild unpredictability of words is why I’ve chosen this Nathaniel Hawthorne quote for Writer’s Quote Wednesday.

Hawthorne is right that words are potent in the hands of those who know how to combine them, but people who know how to use words are like lion tamers because words are still a potent force in the mouths of people who have no idea what they are saying. That’s why we sometimes want to take words back after we’ve said them.

Hawthorne knew this. That’s why he wanted to take his first novel back after he published it. As an older more experienced writer, he no longer felt that Fanshawe (1828) reflected his ability, or his brand, as a writer. Hawthorne went so far as to destroy every copy of the book he could get his hands on. After his death, his wife even denied he had ever written a book by that title.

I also have a first novel that I don’t feel entirely comfortable sharing with the world. It’s a politically-charged drama that was the result of my thesis writing as a student. I only want to write historical fiction now, so I empathize with how Hawthorne must have felt.

On a smaller scale, the wild unpredictability of words causes this kind of embarrassment whenever we have to stand helpless watching an unchecked phrase that we’ve unleashed wreak havoc in the world.

wreak havoc: to cause or effect chaos (1817)

On point, wreak is such a weird word, meaning to cause or effect, as in the definition above. A common eggcorn of the idiom “to wreak havoc” is “to wreck havoc.”

eggcorn: a linguistic term for an idiosyncratic substitution of a word or phrase that also bears a phonetic likeness (1844)

I like to imagine that eggcorn sprung from the use of ear horns, but that’s another story.


The notion of wrecking havoc is so far off of what people are meaning to say with “wreaking havoc” that it actually means the opposite. Havoc means chaosWreak means to causeWreck means to break, or otherwise ruin. Consequently, to wreck chaos would be to end/destroy/break chaos, thereby restoring order.

See why it is so important to know how to combine your words?

Have you ever written/published something you were embarrassed by? Know any good examples of an eggcorn? Leave a comment and let me know.

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It’s the weekend, which means it’s time to grab a nice person, pet, or blanket to curl up with and escape the winter blues for a few days. It turns out there were some great Victorian words for that.

If you ‘snugify’ someone, that means you are making them comfortable. If you make yourself comfortable with them, you are ‘snoozling.’

snoozle v. when napping and cuddling happen simultaneously.

‘Spooning’ is also a Victorian word, though it referred to doing a little more than just curling up on your sides back to front. No… not SEX! But sentimentality. Someone who was overly sentimental in love might be called ‘spoony,’ or a ‘spooner.’

‘Mollycoddle’ is another great Victorian word, though it involves more pampering and less lazing about. It’s kind of like snugifying, but involves extras, like snacks, or whatever the person wants. Mollycoddling is the same as spoiling; it just sounds more Victorian.

Wherever you are, I hope you have someone to snuggle with.

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Catwampous is a hysterical word. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) first places it in an 1840 printing of the Spirit of the Times, which was a New York publication. However, lexicographers guess that the word came about as a British lampoon of the way Americans spoke. It has two alternative spellings: ‘cattywampus’ and ‘catawampus,’ which is chiefly American.

There’s something poetic about Americans taking a word that the British used to make fun of them and spelling it differently.

In the OED, the catawampus (with the American spelling) became a fierce imaginary animal, like a crocodile that could fly. If my imagination could magnify the no-see-ums in Florida, they would look like catawampuses.


American dictionaries define the word as askew, awry. Catawampus is messed up. With an O and a British accent it becomes fierce. I recommend it as an intensifier.

Intensifier. a word, especially an adverb, or other linguistic element that indicates, and usually increases, the degree of emphasis or force to be given to the element it modifies, as very or somewhat; intensive adverb.

However, in this case, I still feel it understates how horrible those tiny invisible bugs in Florida are.

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Ten of the Most Romantic Words You Never Knew

Romantic Words

The Dictionary of Victorian Insults & Niceties celebrates the coming of Valentine’s Day by sharing ten of the most romantic words you never knew… or have I too underestimated your vocabulary?

  1. numinous adj. describing an experience that makes you fearful yet fascinated, awed yet attracted; the powerful, personal feeling of being overwhelmed and inspired.
  2. serein n. a fine rain falling from a cloudless sky.
  3. cordiform adj. heart-shaped.
  4. eudaimonia n. human flourishing; a contented state.
  5. sweven n. a vision seen in a dream.
  6. selcouth adj., adv., n. (to make or be/the state or characteristic of) unfamiliar, unusual, rare; strange, marvellous, wonderful.
  7. trouvaille n. something lovely that was found by accident.
  8. basorexia n. the overwhelming desire to kiss (this is a medical term).
  9. philocaly n. the love of beauty.
  10. redamancy n. the act of loving someone who loves you; a love returned in full.

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The Ten Best Words in Johnson’s Dictionary

Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language (1755) is better known as Johnson’s Dictionary, and is among the most influential dictionaries in the history of the English language. It’s also available online! Because I fully acknowledge that few people get as excited about dictionaries as I do, I’ve taken the liberty of pulling out my ten favourite definitions for you.


rhetorick: The act of speaking not merely with propriety, but with art and elegance.

crapulous: Drunken; intemperate; sick with intemperance.


affront: 1. Insult offered to the face; contemptuous or rude treatment. 2. Outrage; act of contempt, in a more general sense. 3. Open opposition; encounter: a sense not frequent, though regularly deducible from the derivation. 4. Disgrace; shame. This sense is rather peculiar to the Scottish dialect.

I must confess that, with a little Scottish in my family, I find Johnson’s treatment of them amusing. However, he might not find them to so easily offended, if he didn’t put so much work into offending them!


warlock: A male witch; a wizzard. Warlock in Scotland is applied to a man whom the vulgar suppose to be conversant with spirits, as a woman who carries on the same commerce is called a witch: he is supposed to have the invulnerable quality which Dryden mentions, who did not understand the word.

pirate: 1. A sea-robber. 2. Any robber; particularly a bookseller who seizes the copies of other men.

At least Johnson also devotes some time to making fun of his own occupation.

dull: Not exhilaterating (sic); not delightful; as, to make dictionaries is dull work.

oats: A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.

lexicographer: A writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of words.

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As well as the work of others like him.

booby: [a word of no certain eymology; Henshaw thinks it a corruption of bull-beef ridiculously; Skinner imagines it to be derived from bobo, foolish, Span. Junius finds bowbard to be an old Scottish word for a coward, a contemptible fellow; from which he naturally deduces booby; but the original of bowbard is not known.] A dull, heavy, stupid fellow; a lubber.

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the intentions and methods of a lexicographer

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“Most early commentators on the Dictionary felt compelled to reflect on the author’s efforts in producing the work – not surprising, of course, for a lexicographer’s intentions and method’s are particularly relevant to the work’s authority and the critical reference within which the book may be understood, used, and interpreted.” Allen Reddick, The Making of Johnson’s Dictionary 1746-1773, 1993.

I do not wish to compare myself to Samuel Johnson, only to address what Reddick says about the intentions and methods of a lexicographer. I consider myself more of a lexophile than a lexicographer. The task I’ve set for myself is nothing compared to what Johnson did. I have countless dictionaries to consult that build on his work and others. To reinvent the English Dictionary from scratch would be pointless.

Samuel Johnson (18 September 1709 [O.S. 7 September] – 13 December 1784), often referred to as Dr Johnson, was an English writer who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer.

Samuel Johnson (18 September 1709 [O.S. 7 September] – 13 December 1784), often referred to as Dr Johnson, was an English writer who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer.

I’ve discussed my intentions elsewhere in this blog and on my crowdfunding page, but for those of you who are new to the Dictionary Project I will recap. The Dictionary of Victorian Insults & Niceties is an instructive resource for Victorianists, especially authors of historical fiction. It was inspired by authors’ questions about what to make their characters shout, when they wanted to say “fuck” in the 1800s. Depending on the character you are writing, the answer may very well be ‘fuck.’ That is what my dictionary sets out to teach you.

My methods for writing the dictionary involve consulting other dictionaries and thesauruses, as well as researching the ways in which words were used in the literature and press of the time. University libraries, Project Gutenberg, and online newspaper databases provide examples of how words were used. Oxford’s Historical Thesaurus is especially helpful, and I recommend it. It covers the entire history of the English language, whereas my little book will only cover 100 years – and only the words that need an explanation on usage.

Sir James Augustus Henry Murray (7 February 1837 – 26 July 1915) was a Scottish lexicographer and philologist. He was the primary editor of the Oxford English Dictionary from 1879 until his death.

Sir James Augustus Henry Murray (7 February 1837 – 26 July 1915) was a Scottish lexicographer and philologist. He was the primary editor of the Oxford English Dictionary from 1879 until his death.

Currently, I’m struggling with the construction, style, and layout of the thesaurus section of my dictionary, but am constantly working on and reviewing every part of this book. If you have any ideas, questions, or suggestions, feel free to contact me.

What am I fundraising for? The Dictionary of Victorian Insults & Niceties will hardly be a reliable resource if I don’t have a second and third pair of eyes edit the thing. I started the Dictionary as an eBook project, which is inexpensive, but I will be creating promotional materials, covering the cost of the design, and am working on a business plan to create hard copies for those who want them. In the meantime, I am absorbing costs myself, as I do not wish to go with a conventional publisher, who would increase the cost to you, my reader. I intend to give away lots of free downloads. I want the finished product to make it into the hands of everyone who can use it!

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Home… Soil… Rain…


This is not exactly free association, but I’ve been inspired by the daily prompt to riff on home, soil, and rain with some Victorian words for you, as I look out my window and see nothing but snow.

Home played an integral role in Victorian culture. Victorian morality was built and maintained at home, and the home was presided over by those domestic angels, the wife and mother. ‘Householdy’ and ‘householdness’ were used the way millennials use ‘random’ and ‘addicting’ to describe things that aren’t random, or addictive, at all. (On a side note, ‘addictive’ is an adjective; if you put the suffix ‘ing’ on a word, it’s a verb.)


In mid-nineteenth century American slang, a ‘drum’ was a house that was not a home, like a boarding house, or some other place that you slept regularly, but didn’t feel at home.

‘Home,’ in the larger sense of the word, isn’t just your house, but your town. ‘Ham’ was a Victorian abbreviation of ‘hamlet,’ and was recognized as meaning such as the suffix of popular surnames, like ‘Billingham.’ Around the time of the Boer War, the term ‘stad,’ with its Dutch roots, also increasingly referred to the town someone was from in English.

‘Soil’ also has feminine connotations because things grow inside Mother Earth. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the oldest recorded use of the term ‘Mother Earth’ refers to ‘her’ reproductive qualities.

“And all the while in bellie of His mother Earth it lies, The want of humour in the seede The moistie soile supplies.” – Mancinus & Dominicus, “The Plaine Path to Perfect Vertue,” 1568.

Doesn’t the Earth have enough problems without us throwing gender on it and debating its reproductive rights? Sometimes soil is just dirt.

It needs rain, which the Victorians enjoyed referring to as ‘waterworks,’ as in “The fireworks were put out by the waterworks.” Though, colloquially, that just makes us think of tears. When miserable people love company, our fireworks are extinguished by their waterworks.

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Old-fashioned Gender-neutral Terms of Endearment

If you know me, you know I’m the proud parent of a genderqueer artist. Learning to address someone you adore with gender-neutral pronouns is like learning to speak a second language. It challenges the way that you think about gender and identity. When you hear someone speaking your first language (referring to your loved one in old familiar terms), it is too easy to slip back into old ways of speaking, even though you are trying to show your loved one the respect they deserve.


Clearly, these changes to my language infiltrate the rest of my life. I’ve searched in vain for genderqueer folk in the nineteenth century, but have only been able to locate their trans and cross-dressing friends. ‘Genderqueerness,’ as a concept, didn’t exist yet. Victorian England was a very heterosexist gendered society, but they still had gender-neutral terms of endearment.

Many of the labels that signify closeness use gender to personalize the connection. For this reason, it is easy to think of gendered terms of endearment as ‘traditional,’ or more ‘natural,’ but even the Victorians were capable of expressing affection without binary language.


A ‘cobber’ is a late victorian way of calling someone your ‘BFF.’ Likewise, ‘pally’ was a more affectionate way of saying ‘pal.’

Calling someone a ‘crackerjack’ was like calling them a pro, or super-talented. In fact, there are many contemporary ways to refer to someone affectionately by complimenting their abilities.

Though it has connotations of snobbery today, ‘fancypants’ was a way to compliment someone on their good looks.

Which brings us into romantic relationships, where your ‘mash’ is someone (of any gender) that you are infatuated with.

An ‘out-and-outer’ was a bold Victorian, but the term could be used to insult someone for being too outspoken about their beliefs. The Victorian Era was, after all, a time when referring to someone as a ‘squarehead’ was a way of saying they were honest. Out-and-outers were extraordinary people, who were reckless and beautiful. ‘Ripsnorter’ and ‘ripstaver’ were other ways of saying basically the same thing.

Leave your favourite gender-neutral terms of endearment in the comments.

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