17 Job Titles in Victorian Slang
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a trend emerged in English slang for bestowing mock “titles” on people employed or engaged in various jobs or pursuits. So an "admiral of the blue" was a publican, so-called because of the color of his apron. A "queen of the dripping pan" was a cook. A "lord of the foresheet" was a ship’s cook. And a "knight of the cue" was a billiard-player, a "knight of the thimble" was a tailor, a "knight of the lapstone" a cobbler, and a "knight of the brush" an artist. So what would your job title have been in Victorian slang?
1. WAITERS & WAITRESSES
Barmen were known as "aproners" and waiters were known as "knights of the napkin" in Victorian slang—although if you waited tables in a pub or tavern you were more likely to be called a "dash" (derived either from your habit of “dashing” from table to table, or serving a “dash” of liquor). Any waiter lucky enough to work outside during the summer months, at garden parties or in beer gardens and tea gardens, was called a "grasshopper."
2. COOKS & CHEFS
A "dripping" was a (usually fairly poor-quality) chef or cook in 19th-century slang, as was a "lick-fingers" and a "spoil-broth." "Gally-swab" was another name for a ship’s cook, and a "Jack Nasty-face" was a naval cook or cook's assistant, probably derived from the earlier use of "jack" to mean a newly recruited deckhand or sailor.
3. SHOPS & SHOPKEEPERS
If you were a general tradesman or shop-worker in Victorian England, then you were a "blue-apron" or an "aproner," although a disreputable shopkeeper who cheated his or her customers was known as a "tax-fencer." Nicknames for specific shopkeepers included "cleaver and kill-calf" (a butcher); "strap and scraper" (a barber); "crumb-and-crust-man" or "bapper and burn-crust" (a baker); "figgins" and "split-fig" (a greengrocer); and "stay-tape" and "steel-bar flinger" (a tailor). The word "shopkeeper" itself was also used as a nickname for an item of stock that remained unsold for a long time.
Because Shakespeare was “The Swan of Avon,” a "swan-slinger" was a Shakespearean actor in 19th-century English. Elsewhere, actors were also called "tags" (from the character names that “tag” the speeches in a script), "agony-pilers" (particularly those who took on weighty roles), and "cackling-coves" (literally “chattering-men”).
5. JOURNALISTS & WRITERS
While a "quill-driver" or a "pen-driver" was a clerk or secretary in 19th-century slang, a hack journalist who would take on any work for cash was called an "X.Y.Z." after an anonymous writer who used the pseudonym “XYZ” in a mid-1880s Times of London ad offering to work on any project going. Journalists were also known as "screeds," "pencil-pushers," "adjective-jerkers," and "chaunter-coves," while a "yarn-chopper" was a journalist who made up the stories they wrote about.
6. THE POLICE
Because the London police force was established in 1829 by then-Home Secretary (and later Prime Minister) Sir Robert Peel, Victorian police officers became known as "peelers" and "bobbies," terms still in use in Britain today. The peelers’ dark-blue uniforms were also the origin of the old nicknames "blue-belly," "bluebottle," "gentleman in blue and white," and even "unboiled lobster."
Derived from the earlier use of “snap” to mean a "snare” or “noose,” a "brother-snap" was an unscrupulous lawyer or shyster in 18th- and 19th-century slang. Lawyers were also known as "sublime rascals," "tongue-padders" and "split-causes" (because of their habit of going into lengthy explanatory discourses and nit-picking over every detail), "Tom Sawyers" (in London rhyming slang), and "snipes"—because they typically presented you with a very long bill.
While magistrates were known as "beaks" in 18th-19th century English (no one quite knows why), judges were "nobs-in-the-fur-trade" among Victorian criminals. (A "nob" was a particularly high-ranking or important person, while “the fur trade” referred to the white fur or ermine used to adorn judges’ robes.)
"Learning-shover," "nip-lug" (because they pulled on unruly pupils’ ears or “lugs”), and "terror of the infantry" (infantry being a slang name for the pupils of a school) were all old nicknames for schoolteachers in 19th-century English, as was "haberdasher of pronouns." A schoolmaster was a "knight of grammar," while a Sunday-school teacher was a "gospel-grinder," or a "gospel-shark."
Probably derived from the Latin word for “ox,” bos, a "bosken" was a farmhouse in 19th-century slang, and so a farmer was a "bos-man" or a "boss-cockie"; a "Billy Turniptop" was a farmhand or agricultural worker.
11. PRIESTS & THE CLERGY
Priests were known as "devil-dodgers," "men-in-black," "mumble-matins" (derived from the Matins church service) and "joss-house men" in 19th-century slang—the latter derived from a pidgin English pronunciation of the Spanish word Dios.
12. DOCTORS, 13. PHARMACISTS, 14. SURGEONS, AND 15. DENTISTS
Both "clyster-pipe" and "squirt" are old nicknames for syringes that by the 19th century had come to be used as bywords for anyone employed in dispensing medication. "Water-scriger" and "water-caster" were 16th-century words, both still in use in the 1800s, for doctors who diagnosed their patients based on examinations of their urine. Surgeons were known as "bone-setters" and "castor-oil artists," while dentists were "fang-fakers" and pharmacists and chemists were "potter-carriers" (a pun on “apothecary”). A chemist’s assistant was a "bottle-boy," and a "loblolly-boy" was a doctor’s assistant.
16. BANKERS, 17. CASHIERS & ACCOUNTANTS
A "rag" was a banknote in early 19th-century English, and so a "rag-shop" or a "rag-box" was a bank, while a "rag-shop boss" was a banker and a "rag-shop cove" was a cashier, or someone whose work involved taking and counting money.