Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue – Day 226

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….


This is one of Grose’s more verbose definitions, which is “a ninny, or fool. John-a-Nokes and Tom-a-Stiles; two honest peaceable gentlemen, repeatedly set together by the ears by lawyers of different denominations: two fictitious names formerly used in law proceedings, but now very seldom, having for several years past been supplanted by two other honest peaceable gentlemen, namely, John Doe and Richard Roe”.

The interesting element here (and, yet again, I know that I need to get out more….) is the use of these names in the legal system. John Doe is used extensively in the US today, Richard Roe as well but much less frequently, whilst Nokes and Stiles seem rarely used anywhere.

Google Ngram shows the more recent regular use of John Doe, with the Nokes and Stiles names not even registering at all, which isn’t surprising, as they were more used in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Such is history though….