Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Peek at Regency Cant

As I said before, it is my goal to make Romancing History a place for writers and readers of Historical Romance--not just the medieval variety. Since my current wip is medieval, restricting the blog to that era would be easy and, since this is a new undertaking, wrong.

My first historical was set in the Regency. That disaster ended life feeding my roses (did you know paper blocks weed growth?) which was, in truth, a mercy. If I missed one contrivence, one tired plot device, one ANYTHING a story shouldn't have, trust me, it was purely accidental.

However, as a result, I own A Regency Companion by Sharon Laudermilk and Teresa L. Hamlin. This little treasure is no longer in print and holds pride of place on my shelves. It's a fun read because these writers named the characters they used to illustrate proper address with Regency cant. Names like Lady Cheese-paring, a stingy sort who would count the oats lest the servants ate too much porridge, and Lord Nipcheese, the miser, who not only counted the servants' oats but those of his family as well!

Cant is the language of the rabble. Polite society frowned on it--in public. Gentlemen using it in mixed company displayed ignorance of the social niceties. Ladies? No lady would lower herself to speak such rubbish--at least not where a chaperone or mother could hear.

For a society who found discussing money distasteful, they had a number of slang words for it.

Bean - a guinea

Blunt - money

Brass - money (or brazeness)

Canary - a sovereign

Groat (not in this book but used usually as, "I don't give a groat.") a 12th century English silver coin equal to four pennies.

Guinea - (also not in this book, but used not only as currency but to discribe color) a gold coin of Great Britain issued 1663-1813, worth 21 shillings. (fyi: a pound was worth 20 shillings or 240 pence until 1971 when it became equal to 100 new pence.)

Monkey - 500 pounds.

Pony - 25 pounds.

Plum - 100,000 pounds

Ready (or the ready) - money

Then, of course, since money was of no consequence (at least not in public) you had:

Cent per cent - usurer

Ten in the hundred - a usurious money lender, more than five percent interest was considered excessive.

Some words and phrases took root and are still in use today. Here are a couple of them.

Take-in - a hoax

Rig out - Clothing

sport - to display

spout - to speak theatrically

Spree - a bit of fun, a romp

jaw - talk

Cake - a silly, foolish person

Black book - A black book was kept in most regiments, and the names of all persons sentenced to punishment were recorded there. To be in someone's black book still means someone is unhappy with you for some transgression.

Floor - to knock someone down

Fob - fob off; to put off with a trick. And did you know that a fob is not the ornament or pendant hanging from the end of the watch, but the small pocket in a man's breeches where he kept it?

Fuss - much to-do about unimportant matters

There are more, but I've rattled on sufficiently for now.

In the future, I hope to cover other topics like marriage and property--the laws for which would have today's woman looking for a meat cleaver--entertainments, fashion, and a host of other things. The Regency era is fascinating on so many levels, but mostly, IMHO, because it is an era unique to history, the likes of which we shall never see again.


Authorness said...

Great post, Gwynlyn! I'm adding "I don't give a groat" to my lexicon.

~ Vanessa

Louisa Cornell said...

Fascinating stuff, Gwynlyn. Isn't it amazing that every era has its own slang and many of the things they choose to focus their slang on are the same?

Gwynlyn MacKenzie said...


Thanks for stopping by. The groat, because of its small worth, is a great tool for denigrating something: not worth a groat, useful as a groat, etc., so can be used in more ways than one to diss somebody or something. *g*


Yes, it is fascinating, and illustrates the old saw "The more things change, the more they remain the same."

Thanks for stopping.

Trisha said...

Love your posts! Good luck with your Medieval. I'll take Lancelot or Rhett Butler over Mr. Darcy anyday!!!