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Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue – Day Two

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


An alderman is an elected, or indeed unelected, member of a county or borough council, but that isn’t what this dictionary defines. Instead, in the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, an alderman was also a roasted turkey which was garnished with sausages, with these representing the gold chain worn by the council member.

As an example (thanks to Greens Dictionary of Slang), in the book ‘The Life and Trial of James Mackcoull’, the line “Mackcoull suggested, that they should, in place of an alderman, have a goose and green pease for supper” appears. The word alderman in its original meaning has fallen out of favour in recent decades, now they’re referred to nearly entirely as mayors or councillors. That has also meant that this alternative name for a roasted turkey has fallen out of favour and has been rarely used since the nineteenth century. Which is perhaps a shame as I like the word…..