Listen, we may seem like fine, upstanding citizens to you (… right?) but IRL, we love swearing. We believe this is all preparation for when we meet our MC heroes. In case we travel back in time and end up with an olde timey alpha (it could happen), we asked historical author Shana Galen to give us a primer on how to curse like a historically accurate sailer. Galen, whose RT Top Pick! Earls Just Want to Have Fun, is out this week, was kind enough to oblige.
If you’ve ever read an historical romance, especially one set in the popular Regency era, you know the novels have their own lexicon. Using those words and making them sound natural is part of the fun of creating the characters’ world. When I began Earls Just Want to Have Fun, the first novel in my new Covent Garden Cubs series (a cub is a cant/slang word for a young thief), I dipped my toe in a new aspect of the Regency world. The Regency underworld had a cant all its own.
The most interesting thing about Regency cant is how much of it we still use today. The words even retain the same meaning 200 years later. This actually created a dilemma for me because if I used certain period cant phrases, they sounded too modern.
Here are a few examples of “modern” phrases that aren’t so modern.
Down—aware of a thing; knowing it. In the Regency, a house-breaker might say, “There is no down,” meaning the people in the house are asleep or not alert. That’s not so far from some of the phrases we use today, like “Are you down with that?” or “Keep it on the down low.”
And what would the house-breaker call his fellow house-breakers? His cronies or possibly his gang. We still use gang as a label for a group of miscreants or kids up to no good.
To my surprise, many of the words we associate with crime were familiar to people in the Regency. Some of these include snitch, fence, to grease (bribe), job (like do a job; robbery), and pig (police officer or Bow Street Runner).
Interestingly, the word rap, which I didn’t have occasion to use, meant to take a false oath or curse. For example, “He rapped out a volley,” meaning he swore a lot of false oaths. Isn’t that similar to the definition of rap/rappers we have today?
Just for fun, here’s a list of my Top 5 Favorite Historical Swear Words. Many of these are used by Marlowe my heroine, a pickpocket in Earls Just Want to Have Fun. Can you figure out what they mean? (Answers below.)
5. Buss blind cheeks.
4. Brother round mouth speaks.
3. Kiss my cooler.
2. Navigate the windward passage.
*5—Kiss my arse, 4—Fart, 3—Kiss my arse, 2—Sodomite, 1—Slut
Use one of these in a conversation today, won’t you? And don’t forget to pick up a copy of Earls Just Want to Have Fun, available today, in stores and online! For more romantic tales, cuss ridden and otherwise, visit our Everything Romance page!