Being Rude in a Victorian Stylee

When I set about writing Pardon Me: A Victorian Farce, asides researching the era to get the feel of the period, I also began putting together my own period lexicon. I did not want authenticity as such, I wasn’t doing a Hillary Mantel here. This was going to be farce, and to some extent, a parody to-boot. I wanted to have some fun with our Victorian forebears, and I wanted them to have some fun with the 21st Century. So in essence, what I was looking for was my very own ‘cod’ Victoriana. I wanted my characters to sound a bit Victorian in their speech, manners and attitudes, but to keep one foot in the present day. My ground-breaking methodology, which I can exclusively reveal here for the second time ever, and what’s more, as I have yet to patent it, I can offer free to all my followers, was this: I read a great number of books written in or around the 1890s. Yes, it was the innovative. But seeing as how the modern generation find a twenty word tweet something of a struggle to get through I feel safe that my methodology will find few imitators.

Anyway, so much for the lecture. Let us get down to some examples. What I was especially on the lookout for was words and phrases that had fallen out of favour, and if the passage of time had perverted their meaning then all the better. Take for example the expression ‘to get gay’ with someone. Would you believe that this once meant ‘to get on with something’, rather than to ‘get onto your best friend’. To be honest, this is double endentre with bells on and so blatant that even I shied away from deploying it for comic effect. ‘Making love’ however is a tad more subtle. Back in the days of the fin de siècle to ‘make love’ meant to flirt, or perhaps to take a girl by the arm and talk to her of poetry and flowers or something. Ergo: “He made love to me on the bus” a la 1890s is romantic and not in anyway sluttish.

Just in case you are thinking of writing your own Victorian era comedy and would like your characters to be both convincingly vulgar and open to miss-interpretation, I will throw up a few of my Bs to get you started.

Bondage = a place of confinement not the favoured recreation of Tory ministers.

Brick = yes, something to build your house out of, but also a spiffing chap.

Bestial = a terribly unpleasant fellow, but not one who is necessarily into cattle.

Bosh = a total nonsense, not a miss-spelling of the preferred nickname for our partners in the EU.

Bootless = a total waste of time and nothing at all to do with being caught in Tesco in one’s slippers.

Bounder/Brute/Blighter/Blister = a plethora of authentic replacements for ‘total cunt’.

Beano = a total p*ss up rather than a boy’s favourite comic.

Blue Funk = not a derivative of acid jazz but an expression for losing one’s marbles.


Happy swearing.