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Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue – Day 284, 285 and 286

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….


Red Lattice

One of Grose’s more concise definitions, simply “a public house”. This phrase was in usage from the sixteenth century until around the mid nineteenth century and it’s a descriptive term, as many pubs used to have red latticework at their frontage. There are no pubs today with this as their name, although Greens Dictionary of Slang notes that there was one at Butcher’s Row, located off of the Strand in London.

Google Ngram shows how the phrase fell out of usage, likely perhaps as pubs stopped have such red latticework and it all became less relevant.


Red Letter Day

Grose refers to this as “a saint’s day or holiday, marked in the calendars with red letters. Red letter men: Roman Catholics: from their observation of the saint days marked in red letters”. Although this practice has been happening since Roman times, the common usage has likely evolved from the late medieval religious manuscripts, with the phrase being used since at least the seventeenth century. The Wikipedia page on this subject also has a list of the days of the year when judges of the English High Court wear their scarlet robes, a concept that I hadn’t been aware of.

Despite a company being founded recently with the same name which got some media publicity for various reasons, Google Ngram suggests that the phrase was much more commonly used in the early twentieth century.


Remember Parson Melham

It’d be remiss of me not to mention something that Grose writes about Norfolk and his definition is “drink about: a Norfolk phrase”. Not that I can add much to it or establish who Parson Melham was, although ‘drink about’ just means to be rather drunk. A letter was written to the Illustrated London News in February 1857 asking for the origins of Grose’s definition, but it doesn’t seem that anyone was able to respond. Whoever this Parson Melham was though, he sounds an interesting character.