Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (1962) has already achieved recognition as a modern children’s classic, and quite rightly too. It spawned a dozen or more sequels, all set in an alternate history universe (“uchronia”) in a world a little like ours but with some alternative geography (“paracosm”). The majority of them feature that wonderful Cockney sparrow Dido Twite, though she didn’t appear till the second volume, Black Hearts in Battersea, only to seemingly drown.
I started taking notes on the sequence in 2012, fifty years after the first story appeared, but never got round to reviewing all the titles. In preparation for a re-read I intend to publish some of those notes on this blog in the hopes they may be of interest to diehard fans as well as to new readers yet to fall under Aiken’s spell. This first occasional post is about Dido’s colourful lexicon, and here I acknowledge the influence of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable (this first appeared in 1870, though my edition dates from the 1980s) and The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (re-issued in facsimile in 1994). Here it is then:
Dido’s Dictionary of Phrase and Lingo
Dido’s vocabulary is made up of cockney terms (she is a Londoner, after all), thieves’ cant and her own idiosyncratic words and phrases. This list is not exhaustive, though it can be exhausting read all in one go. It’s very tempting to resurrect some of the more obscure slang words and oaths, is it not?
Blimey! Also Blister! / Blister it! or Blow me! Oaths.
Butter my brogans!
Croopus! Also Crumbs! or Crumpet! / Crumpet it! More oaths.
In the name of jugganaut! Also Jeeminy!
Slumguzzle to you!
Who/why the pize! What the devil!
Why in the name of Morpus…!
Addlepate: numbskull, addlehead.
All rug: Alright, Okay.
Banbury / Bunbury sauce / story: fib, cock & bull tale. [perhaps like cheek (“sauce”) from a “Banbury man” or Puritan bigot Brewer]
Bosky: drunk. [“on the verge of drunkenness” Brewer]
Cove: bloke, fellow. [thieves’ cant]
Cully: term of endearment. Cull: “a man, honest or otherwise”. [cant: 1811 Dictionary]
Downy: untrustworthy. [Downy cove: “a knowing or cunning fellow up to or, as formerly, down to every dodge” Brewer. Down: “aware of a thing. Knowing it” 1811 Dictionary]
Fubsy: strange, odd. [Fub or fob:”connected with Ger. foppen, to hoax” Brewer]
Gull: an innocent, a nodcock. [“Elizabethan synonym for one who is easily duped” Brewer; “a simple credulous fellow, easily cheated” 1811 Dictionary]
Hack: hackney carriage, carriage for hire. [from O. Fr. Haquenée, “ambling horse” Brewer]
Half-seas-over: blind drunk.
Havey-cavey cove: suspicious fellow. [havy cavy: “wavering, doubtful, shilly shally” 1811 Dictionary]
Ken: kennel, hovel. [cant]
Loblolly: coward, scaredy-cat. [loblolley: “water gruel prescribed for the sick” 1811 Dictionary]
Looby: idiot. [“An awkward, ignorant fellow” 1811 Dictionary]
Mill-ken: rogue. [to mill: “to rob”; to mill a ken: “to rob a house” 1811 Dictionary]
Mint-sauce: money, cash.
Nabble-head: idiot, gull.
Nodcock: an innocent.
Peach: grass, inform on. [“blow the gab, squeak, or turn stag” 1811 Dictionary]
Prog: food. [“used in the 16th century for to forage for food” Brewer; “provision; be on the hunt for provision” 1811 Dictionary]
Rabshackle: a dibble-dabble fellow.
Skimble-skamble: underhand. [“rambling, worthless” Brewer]
Twig: divine, guess. [“to observe” 1811 Dictionary; Irish tuigim, “I understand” Brewer]
“As crooked as a pair of croquet hoops”: bent, corrupted
“Can’t tell an egg from an Austrian”: can’t tell one’s arse from one’s elbow
“Don’t fret your fur”: don’t worry
“Ducats to dumplings”: as like as not
“Lob your groats”: vomit, be sick
“Right, left and rat’s ramble”: everywhere
“Turpentine Sunday”: never, rarely, once in a blue moon
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