Archive for the ‘Victorian slang’ Category

We recently had a fun event in Houston for the local Steampunk community. The Brass Ball, a DJed dance with multiple musicians and vendors was held Sunday July 27 at Mimms Martini and Wine bar on Montrose. You can see photos of the Brass Ball here in the blog post.

This event had me thinking about Houston saloons in the 19th century. The main choice of drink in the saloon was whiskey, also called rotgut, sheep-dip, cactus juice, coffin varnish, and tarantula juice. In those days cowboys and western gents could partake of more than just a drink in a saloon. In 1839, a local Houston, Texas newspaper decried the town’s houses of ill repute. The newspaper was probably either The Houston Morning Star, a daily newspaper founded April 8, 1839, or the Telegraph and Texas Register, a weekly newspaper that included local, state, and national news, established July 10, 1839. The Houston Morning Star was actually printed in the office of the Telegraph and Texas Register.

In Houston Land of the Big Rich the author, Geroge Fuerman, statesbrass ball 2 that from 1880 to World War I Houston’s vice area was on old Howard Street. In the early 1900’s the brothels in Houston used a practical bookkeeping system based on towels. One was given to each customer and at the end of the night the madam counted the brass ball 5towels and paid the girls accordingly. There’s a story about a Howard street brothel in those days that caught on fire. The madam fled the burning house by taking the outside stairs but when she looked up she saw the porter jump form a second story window with his arms loaded with towels. She exclaimed, “Thank God. He saved the books.”

I did find some saloon information from other Texas towns. In the early 1870s in Lampasas Texas a gunfight broke out in the saloon between state police and outlaws. Three officers were shot to death in the saloon and a fourth was fatally wounded while trying to escape.

There’s even a Texas saloon story involving Jesse James. The brass ball 9outlaw lived for a time in the area of Granbury Texas. He fell in love with an 18 year old saloon girl and began to settle down. In those days if a saloon patron was upstairs with a saloon girl when his wife came to drag him home, the barkeep would send the man down the husband escape, which was the outside stairs. The saloon girl Jesse loved had to run down the husband escape one night but she wasn’t fast enough to escape a bullet in her back. Some people say the saloon girl still haunts the empty up stair rooms around the square in Granbury.

I’m glad to report the Brass Ball at Mims was old fashioned fun and great music without any wild west shenanigans or shootouts but there were some card tricks.

  ~          ~         ~

Maeve Alpin, who also writes as Cornelia Amiri, is the author of 19 books. She creates stories with kilts, corsets, fantasy and happy endings. She lives in Houston Texas with her son, granddaughter, and her cat, Severus.

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When I sit on panels, I get asked questions all the time about how to make a story “sound” steampunk. The answers are as diverse as the authors who sit on the panels and the stories they create. Everyone has a different process and everyone’s stories have different needs (not to mention different editors will have different expectations.)

Some people try to recreate the feel of literature from the era. Other’s go for “steampunk lite” – sprinkling in Victorian slang like seasoning, or simply trying not to use any words that weren’t used then.

I really struggle with getting “sound” right (which is very different from voice). Getting the right blend of period language and accessibility can be tricky. YA, which is what I write, can especially be a difficult balance to strike. Where you want your story to feel like it’s from that time period you also don’t want it to feel like it’s an English class assignment.

Language and dialogue is important in Steampunk since it adds so much to your characters, aesthetic, and world building. Your characters don’t need to sound like they escaped from a period novel. However, their language should work for your world, while being accessible to your audience.  Depending on what you’re writing you may not want to sound like Dickens or Verne.

With Innocent Darkness and Charmed Vengeance I try not to make my teen characters overly formal while avoiding modern words, though they are from the upper class so it’s a fine line I really struggle with. Also, if your story is not set in England or some place under English rule, avoid making them sound too British—which can be easy to do (I’m guilty of this.) Also, don’t fixate one or two words and use them to death (I also do this unintentionally.)

Sometimes you may want to use the correct word for an era and it just doesn’t work for the story. For example — Innocent Darkness has a heavy Victorian influence, though it’s set in America not England. At the time, even in American, legs were referred to as “limbs.”  When I tried to reflect this in my story I got major giggle fits from my teen beta readers who either didn’t get it or thought it was so funny they couldn’t stop laughing.  So, I use “leg” even though it’s not correct because it is more accessible.

In Innocent Darkness, because my kids are upper class teens, I ended up making up the silly swear “flying figs.” Even though my main girl character fixes cars and hoverboards, she’s still a Victorian lady at the core, so I was looking for something that not only she would say, but V and James might let slip in mixed company.

In Charmed Vengeance I introduce some characters that are rougher around the edges, yes, air pirates. They speak differently from my kids, use different words—and swears (though they tend to watch their tongues when Noli is present, partially because her brother is aboard the ship and he’s a bit protective). One of my favorites of these phrases is “I don’t give a gear.” It’s fun and colorful, even if it’s not that strong.

Sometimes I re-purpose pre-existing words.  For example, where “dollymop” is an actual Victorian word, Noli uses it more colloquially to mean something  closer to “skank” or “ho” than “amateur prostitute.”

If you choose to use period slang in your story (and you don’t have to) there’s plenty of resources out there.  But don’t overload the story with slang–just use a few words here and there for flavor (though be careful not to overuse them).

Slang changes a lot based on class and even area. The way someone from a lower class will speak, and the words they’ll use, will differ from those of the upper class. So keep in mind that if you have classes, the socialites will sound different from your air pirates.

Also, different characters will have different vocabularies. For example, your scientists and inventors may use more technical language.

Here’s a link for British lower-class/underworld slang:

Old west slang for those of you writing Weird West

Here’s some more dictionaries and such:

Also, naughty words:

Good luck!

Suzanne Lazear is the author of the YA Steampunk fairytale series The Aether Chronicles. INNOCENT DARKNESS is out now. Book 2, CHARMED VENGEANCE, releases from Flux 8-8-13. Visit the series site at www.aetherchronicles.com.



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There are lots of similar genres and terms for Steampunk and things that are Steampunk-esque. Here’s a *very* brief summary of some of the really neat things I found. This is by no means definitive or exhaustive.

Alternate History—This is a really broad category because alternate histories are infinite and Steampunk is only a small part. This is when you actually explain how and why your Steampunk world got to be this way which could range from rebuilding after WWW III to portals to hell to earthquakes to aliens and beyond
Fireside Science Fiction–“Cozy” Sci-Fi where Victorian gentlefolk end up doing god-knows-what, god-knows-where, but it all ends well and laugh about it over brandy and cigars in the study afterwards
Gaslamp Fantasy–Set in a Victorian-esque fantasy realm these stories have tight bodices, slapstick, mayhem, mad science, and paranormal elements
Gaslamp Romance—same as above, but with more sex and a happily ever after and could be set in either a fantasy realm or the “real” (ish) world
Neo-Victoriana–Recreating Victorian life using modern tools, materials, and methods (most “traditional” Steampunk works have advanced technology but use Victorian materials not modern ones)
Retro-Futurism—Combining elements of the past with future technology but can be applied to any era not just Victorian
Scientific Romance–An early, primarily British, term for science fiction, also used to describe Verne’s works. Now used for Victorian based-science fiction
Steampulp–What if I was stuck in a bodice ripper and had to fight my way out before the brass robots ate me? Also another name for Steampunk, since the “punk” leads people to think stories are dystopian or anarchist (like cyberpunk) where in actuality they usually aren’t
Victorian Science Fiction–Gentrified name for Steampunk though often denotes fiction actually written in Victorian era, as opposed to stories set in Victorian times
Voyages Extraordinaire –Larger than life Victorian adventures, a la Jules Verne
Wild/Weird West–Steampunk meets the 19th Century American West. Lots of mad scientists, saloon girls, cowboys, and giant mechanical beasts


Do you have any other neat Steampunk terms to share? Cool linkys? Any of these inspire you? Or is this information overload, lol?

I have *one* tiara left (I’m going to have to go back and see if they have more. I bought them all out last time I was there, lol.) These are really beautiful art-deco style mini tiaras. This one is black with stones in shades of gold and yellow. Perfect for a Steampunk princess. One lucky poster will snag it…I’ll post the winner on Friday. 

Have a great week!

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You’ve got to love Victorian slang.  Who doesn’t love the idea of calling a leg “a limb”?

Recently I was trying to find out the racier slide of Victorian slang for a work-in-progress and thought I’d share a few of my favorite “naughty” Victorian slang and euphemisms.    Some of these are phrases that could be used between loving couples, others were used by polite gentleman looking for a romp separate from marriage, others were used by the lower class—who were much freer with their sexuality.  

Prostitutes—dollymop (an amateur or part-time prostitute), dancer, actress, entertainer, tail, great horizontal (high-class prostitute to the rich), night flower, harlot, toffer (posh prostitute), femme galante, covey (a collection of them), three-penny-upright (cheap and up againt a wall)

Woman of dubious moral virtue/forward girl— mollisher ( a villain/gangster’s woman), tart, bobtail/bangtail/wagtail, dirty puzzle (nasty slut), athanasian wench, quicunque vult, cockish wench, biter, cleaver

Mistress—one’s convenient, tackle, sweet heart (also a girl’s lover), wife in water colors (engagement easily dissolved), left-handed wife

Madam—Abbess, dame de maison, Aunt

Brothel maison de tolérance, bordello, coffee house, cab

Man who cheats—Abbot (favorite client of an Abbess), Corinthian (man who frequents brothels), Dark Cully (keeps a mistress and only visits her in the dark of night)

A woman’s privates—bite, cock alley/cock lane, fruitful vine, (old) hat (frequently felt), laycock (miss or lady), madge, muff, quim

Breasts—dairy, dugs, kettle drums

A man’s privates— arbor vitae, ballocks, bawbels/bawbles, lobcock (large and relaxed), plugtail, tallywag, tools, whore pipe

Backside—blind cupid, cooler, nancy

Sexual acts—beast with two backs (couple in the act), bedfordshire (going to bed), to dock, dog’s rig (to copulate until you’re tired then turn in), melting moments (a large couple engaged in sexual congress), prigging, roger, to ride rantipole (to do it with a tart), wap, tip the velvet (go down on a woman)

~What are your favorite historial slang words?   I have another tiara to give out to one lucky poster.  Who doesn’t need a sparkly tiara?~

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