Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue – Day 139

The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue was first published at the end of the eighteenth century, and given that the current health crisis is giving too much time to read books, I thought I’d pick a daily word from it until I got bored….


The dictionary defines this as “the abbreviation of Gillian, figuratively used for woman. Every jack has his gill; ie every jack has his gillian, or female mate”. The phrase of ‘every jack has his gill’ was used by Shakespeare and so is at least from the sixteenth century. It’s also where the nursery rhyme comes from, which was initially:

“Jack and Gill
Went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water
Jack fell down
And broke his crown,
And Gill came tumbling after.”

The changing of Gill into Jill came later, probably around the middle of the nineteenth century. The word ‘gill’ is also used to describe a female ferret, but quite why this name was chosen I’m not sure is known, perhaps it just fits in with Jack quite well.