Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue – Day 278, 279 and 280

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…. And to catch up after getting behind with these posts, and because I’m getting towards the end of the book, I’m doing three days at once now. How lovely….


Rabbit Catcher

There is very little that I can add to this definition, but it seems to have been quoted by Grose before any other source and doesn’t seem to have ever been used that widely. Anyway, it’s simply defined as “a midwife”. I think that’s rather lovely…..


Rack Rent

This is defined by Grose as “rent strained to the utmost value. To lie at rack and manger; to be in great disorder”. Firstly, this makes me wonder about the phrase ‘rack rate’, which is the hotel’s full-price room rate. Nearly every source on-line claims that this phrase originates from when the hotel would place its price by the rack behind the hotel reception. I suspect they’re all possibly wrong, it perhaps comes from the same phrase origin as Grose refers to.

Incidentally, there are a few pubs which have been known as the ‘Rack and Manger’, a phrase that is mentioned in the description. A pub name which means ‘to be in great disorder’ sounds exciting.

But, back to the main phrase, which originates from the rack that was used to torture people, which was in use from the seventeenth century (the phrase, not the torture device). The phrase used to be relatively common, but has now mostly fallen out of usage over the last century as can be seen from the above Ngram from Google.


Rag Water

Grose is back to alcohol with this definition, which is “gin, or any other common dram: these liquors seldom failing to reduce those who drink them to rags”. The phrase evolved from poor quality alcohol of any type and the terminology was used from the end of the seventeenth century to somewhere in the middle of the nineteenth century. The reason Grose focused on gin is that this was the common drink that was abused at the time, leading to the Gin Craze which caused such problems during the eighteenth century. I wonder if the phrase might be repurposed today to describe certain types of lager…..