In 1909, writing under the pseudonym James Redding Ware, British writer Andrew Forrester published Passing English of the Victorian Era, a dictionary of heterodox English, slang and phrase. "Thousands of words and phrases in existence in 1870 have drifted away, or changed their forms, or been absorbed, while as many have been added or are being added," he writes in the book's introduction. "‘Passing English’ ripples from countless sources, forming a river of new language which has its tide and its ebb, while its current brings down new ideas and carries away those that have dribbled out of fashion."
A figure of speech used to describe drunken men. “He’s very arf’arf’an’arf," Forrester writes, "meaning he has had many ‘arfs,’” or half-pints of booze.
Bags o’ Mystery
An 1850 term for sausages, “because no man but the maker knows what is in them. ... The 'bag' refers to the gut which contained the chopped meat.”
Bang up to the elephant
This phrase originated in London in 1882, and means “perfect, complete, unapproachable.”
Low London phrase meaning “to thrash thoroughly,” possibly from the French battre a fin.
Bow wow mutton
A naval term referring to meat so bad “it might be dog flesh.”
A London society term for tea and coffee “used scornfully by drinkers of beer and strong waters ... in club-life is one of the more ignominious names given to champagne by men who prefer stronger liquors.”
A talkative woman.
A nickname given to a close friend.
Quarrels. A term from Queen Victoria’s journal, More Leaves, published in 1884: “At five minutes to eleven rode off with Beatrice, good Sharp going with us, and having occasional collie shangles (a Scottish word for quarrels or rows, but taken from fights between dogs) with collies when we came near cottages.”
This creative cuss is a contraction of “damned if I know.”
Doing the Bear
"Courting that involves hugging."
A type of beard "formed by the cheeks and chin being shaved leaving a chain of hair under the chin, and upon each side of mouth forming with moustache something like a door-knocker."
An 1875 term for a polished bald head.
A term for especially tight pants.
“An habitually smiling face.”
Got the morbs
Use of this 1880 phrase indicated temporary melancholy.
"Shut your sauce box before I batty-fang you!"
Jammiest bits of jam
“Absolutely perfect young females,” circa 1883.
An excellent word that means getting rowdy in the streets.
A street term meaning coward.
A tavern term, popular from 1800 to 1840, that meant great fun.
A prominent nose.
An 18th century tavern term that means “getting drunk.”
Secret, shady, doubtful.
Smothering a Parrot
Drinking a glass of absinthe neat; named for the green color of the booze.
According to Forrester, this low class phrase means "thoroughly understood."