Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue – Day 216

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….

Mumble a Sparrow

This is another one of Grose’s particularly unpleasant definitions and although I hope it’s derived from a niche practice, I fear that it wasn’t. Anyway, it’s “a cruel sport practised at wakes and fairs, in the following manner: A cock sparrow whose wings are clipped, is put into the crown of a hat; a man having his arms tied behind him, attempts to bite off the sparrow’s head, but is generally obliged to desist, by the many pecks and pinches he receives from the enraged bird”.

I was puzzled why this would be performed at wakes, but I’ve now realised that ‘wake’ was a word used in some parts of the country at the time for a festival or fair. I’m glad that Grose considered this as cruel in the late eighteenth century, I’m moderately surprised that this was ever seen as a exciting game to play.