20 Forgotten Words From London's Past

By M@ Last edited 15 months ago
20 Forgotten Words From London's Past

Where shall we go tonight — the Bible Mill or the Chanting Ken? Whichever, avoid beef-hearts or we'll get into a schlemozzle.

Honk, Conk and Squacket by Ian M Rawes is a delightful book, filled with 'fabulous and forgotten sound-words from a vanished age of listening'. It contains 1,500 examples, drawn from old dictionaries and compilations, many of which come from London. We've picked out 20 intriguing examples:

AGITATOR: A door knocker or bell rope. Mid-19th century.

BARKING CREEK: Persons troubled with a short cough are said to have been there, or else to 'Barkingside'. Early 19th century.

BARRIKIN: High-flown speech, cant, jargon, gibberish. Mid-19th century.

BEEF-HEART: Rhyming slang: the act of flatulence. 'Beef hearts' is also slang for beans, indicating an association of the two terms. 19th century.

BIBLE-MILL: A public house, especially one in which raucous conversation is the norm. 19th century.

BILLINGSGATE: Foul, loud and vituperative language; so called from the abuse for which the fish-women at Billingsgate Market were once widely renowned. 17th century.

CARTS: A pair of boots, generally those of a noble size; so called in reference to the noise a young navvy can make with them, supposedly equal to that of the passing waggon. Late 19th century.

CATGUT-SCRAPERS: An orchestra; any group of players on stringed instruments. Late 19th century.

CHANTING KEN: A music hall. 19th century.

CONSTANT SCREAMER: Satirical term for the concertina. Also known as a Harry's Worrier. Mid-19th century.

FOURTEEN-HUNDRED: A cry warning that a stranger is in the Stock Exchange. The cry is said to have had its origin in the fact that for a long while the number of members never exceeded 1,399; and it was customary to hail every newcomer as the fourteen-hundredth. Late 19th century.

GRIDDLER: A person who sings in the streets from memory without a printed copy of the words. 19th century.

HALF-A-PINT-OF-MILD-AND-BITTER: Intimated by a whistled phrase, well known to bartenders and quite as readily accepted as a spoken order throughout London, except the West district. Late 19th century.

HINCHINARFER: A gruff-voiced woman. Late 19th century.

MUMP: To talk in a serious or earnest way, as in begging. Mid-19th century.

PATTERERS: Men who cry last dying speeches, &c., in the streets, and those who sell off their wares by long harangues in the public thoroughfares. 19th century.

PATTER-FLASH: To talk the language of thieves; to talk cant. Early-19th century.

RINGING-IN: A practice among the meat porters of Smithfield Market, whereby if any of their number arrives late and attempts to do so unnoticed, he is thwarted by the massed banging of knives and other metal implements. Early 20th century.

SCHLEMOZZLE: A loud quarrel; a noise or fuss of any kind. Late 19th century, Jewish.

WHISTLER: Chance labourer at the docks; from the poor fellow whistling for work. Late 19th century.

Honk, Conk and Squacket by Ian M Rawes is out now from London Sound Survey and via Amazon. Top image, Antony Gormley's 'Untitled [listening]' in Kilburn, image by M@.

Last Updated 06 January 2020