Period Slang

APPLE LADY - hard cider


BARK JUICE - a slang term for liquor or strong adult beverage.


BULLY - a slang term which, when used as an expletive (Bully!), was an expression of approbation or strong encouragement; a hurrah of sorts.


BUST HEAD - a slang term for home-brewed or camp-brewed beer or other alcoholic beverages.


CABBAGING - a slang term for stealing.


CHIN MUSIC  - slang term for conversation.


CLINK, THE - a slang term for jail or prison, the terms origin came from the name of a prison of the same name which was on Clink Street in the Southwark area of London.


COOSH - a slang term used to describe hard tack or hard crackers (military- issue food made of flour and salt and water, baked in squares much like modern-day saltine crackers, and carried dry) when the hard tack was soaked in water and fried in bacon grease to render it soft and reasonably edible.


DIGGINGS - a slang term for the soldiers' camp.


DONE TO A TURN - a slang term meaning that something had been completed or accomplished satisfactorily, the term came from the kitchen. Meat was roasted until cooked on an upright spit which had to be turned by hand, and when it was ready to be removed from the spit, the meat was said to be done to a turn, requiring no more turning or cooking. 


DURANCE VILE - Prison foul.


FANCY GIRL - a euphemistic term for a prostitute.


FAST TRICK - a slang term for a woman reputed to be morally loose.


FIRE AND FALL BACK - a slang term meaning "to vomit".


FORLORN HOPE - a slang term for a party selected to begin an attack.


FRESH FISH - a slang term for a new recruit.


GIVE THE COLD SHOULDER - to snub another person. Itcame from times when a guests would overstay their welcome as house guests. To communicate that to their now-unwelcome guests, the host would not feed their guests a good, hot meal. Instead, they would serve their guests the least appetizing part of the animal - the shoulder - and serve it cold; hence,the "cold shoulder"


GOING DOWN THE LINE - a slang term meaning to pay a visit to a brothel.


GOOBER PEAS  - peanuts.


GREY BACK - a slang term used among the Federal troops to denote either a Confederate soldier or a louse.


HARD CASE - a slang term for someone who is rough or tough.


HOOF IT - a slang term meaning "to march", or to be herded in the manner of cattle.


HORIZONTAL REFRESHMENTS - a slang term meaning to have sexual relations; normally used in the context of sexual relations with a prostitute.


HORNETS  - a slang term for bullets, particularly with reference to bullets fired, given the name because of the angry, buzzing sound they make as they speed past or around the person at whom they are fired.


HORSE COLLAR - slang term for a soldier's blanket roll.


HOW COME YOU SO - a slang term for home-brewed or camp-brewed beer or other alcoholic beverages.


HUNKEY DOREY - a slang term meaning "great" or "terrific".


IRISH SHANTEE - An outhouse


Jayhawked - Obtained without the knowledge or permission of the rightful owner.


JONAH  - a slang term for a person who is perceived to be a jinx, or who brings bad luck with him.


MIND YOUR BEESWAX - a slang term that directs one to pay attention to his or her own affairs, it came from a time when smallpox pock marks were a common disfigurement. Ladies found that they could fill in the pock marks with beeswax. However, a lady who filled in her pock marks with beeswax would find that her beeswax would melt if she stayed too close to the fire (the reason that fire screens were made) or her beeswax would melt when the weather was too hot and she was in the sun too long. Since makeup was frowned upon in the Victorian era, and since no real lady would call attention to another lady to go fix that which she was not supposed to be wearing in the first place, the admonition to "mind your own beeswax" came into general use.


NOB  - a person who is superior, or superior-acting. The term is believed to derive from the term used to describe the jack of the same suit as the starter in cribbage that scores one point for the holder.


NOKUM STIFF - a slang term for liquor or strong adult beverage.


OH-BE-JOYFUL - a slang term for home-brewed or camp-brewed beer or other alcoholic beverages.


OIL OF GLADNESS - a slang term for home-brewed or camp brewed beer or other alcoholic beverages.


OLD SCRATCH - a slang term for the devil.


OPEN THE BALL - a slang term meaning to begin a battle.


PARLEY - a slang term for a conference; the word deriving from the French "parler", meaning "to speak".


PARLOR SOLDIER - a derisive slang term intended to suggest that the soldier to whom the term referred was no true soldier, but an imitation, dressed more for show than for practical use. There was also the suggestion that such a one was also effeminate.


POSSUM - a slang term for a buddy.


QUICK STEP - a slang term meaning that one has diarrhea.


RAG OUT - a slang term meaning to dress well.


RIDING A DUTCH GAL - a slang term, meaning to consort with a prostitute.


SAWBONES - a slang term for a surgeon. The expression originated with the practice of amputation in which the surgeon necessarily had to saw through one or more bones of a patient. 


SECESH - A Southern sympathizer


SHEBANG - a slang term for a shelter tent. Also known as a PUP TENT 


SHEET IRON CRACKER - a slang term for HARD TACK.


SHIN PLASTERS - a slang term for paper money


SKEDADDLE - a military slang term of the War Between the States, it probably originally described or suggested a fanciful military formation. It quickly came to mean to run off or run away, or to leave in a hurry. 


SLEEP TIGHT - a slang term meaning to "sleep well" that came as a reference to the bed itself. Rope beds were the predecessors of today's mattress and foundations. Wooden frames held ropes strung from side to side, end to end, in a continuous run of rope that served as the foundation. Straw or feather mattresses were laid on this rope network. With time and certainly with use, the ropes would loosen, and the bed would become increasingly incomfortable; the bed then required the attention of a person with a "bed key" or "rope key" that was used to put tension back into the ropes - to tighten them. Thus came the term sleep tight.


SOLDIER'S DISEASE - Opium addiction was not generally known or understood until the War. Due to its prevalence among soldiers of the period who had been wounded, given opium to relieve the pain, and subsequently become addicted to opium, the sobriquet "soldier's disease" was attached to either opium addiction or the withdrawal symptoms of an opium addict.


SON OF A GUN - an expletive that has a muddled history whose direct application (that of one being a bastard, arguably) is indeterminate. As the story of its origin is told, we are given to understand that after sailors had crossed the Atlantic to the West Indies, they would take the native women on board the ship and have their way with them in between the cannons. Some of the women the sailors left behind would have boys, who were called sons between the guns. Others hold that in the early days of the British Navy, women were allowed to join up in what were ostensibly non-combative roles. The voyages long and feelings of loneliness growing resulted in babies being born while the mothers were still at sea in their capacities as sailors. If the woman concerned would not name the father, the Captain would log the birth as being the son of a gun - the gun deck(s) being the only place where a reasonable degree of privacy could be had for such an event. 

Still others hold that the term "son of a gun" actually referred to irresponsible sailors, a version that could either pre-date or post-date the origins noted above. They maintain that a soldier or common seaman was called a "gun" (for much the same reason that a woman used to be called a "skirt", or a beatnik was a ""beard" or an "eared beard" - association with a distinctive characteristic; soldiers carry guns and seamen manned guns on shipboard). Consequently, a "son of a gun" was understood to be the son of a sailor. 

Yet another version says that desertion from a ship was so common when ships would put into their home port that the seamen would not typically be allowed shore leave. Their wives and girlfriends, though, were allowed to board on the gun decks with their mates or lovers. On the rare occasion, women would begin labor while visiting her husband on shipboard. For those who had a difficult labor, it's said, the cannons on either side of her were fired as an "aid" in the process. Male children born under these circumstances were referred to as "sons of a Gun". 


SOW BELLY - a slang term for bacon.


TAR WATER - a slang term for liquor or strong adult beverage.


TEETH DULLER  - a slang term for HARD TACK.


TO SEE THE ELEPHANT - an expression which dates to the Mexican-American War period, meaning to not receive what you were hoping to get; to be short- changed or cheated; a disappointment. Unfortunately, many today in re- enacting have come to assume wrongly that it means to see the excitement or to view a novelty, often applied to men going off to the War. It became a popular term during the California gold rush when many gold prospectors who had come in search of easily gained wealth found that almost all of them had to work extremely hard for little return. It is believed that the term originated from bogus circuses which came into being during the 1840s.


TOAD STICKER - a slang expression for a knife, bayonet, or sword.


TRAPS - a slang term for a soldier's belongings or equipment.


UP THE SPOUT - a slang term, "up the spout" was sometimes used to indicate that a round was ready to be fired from any weapon; typically a piece or a battery, when ready to fire, is considered "in battery," and when all cannons were ready to fire, they were said to be "up the spout". "Spout" was a lift use long ago in pawnbrokers' shops up which the articles pawned were taken for storage. This evolved so that "spout" was slang for a pawnshop; the term dates at least to 1834. "To put (or shove) up the spout" was to pawn; "up the spout" meant to was pawn or pledge; and that changed until "up the spout" meant something or someone who was in a bad way, in a hopeless condition, or out of the question. The latter definition dates at least back to 1829. "Up the spout" was frequently applied to the Confederacy toward the end of the war, as well as to individuals. In the early twentieth century the phrase came to mean "to make pregnant, especially out of wedlock."


UPPITY - a slang term for someone who is conceited or believes himself to be above his true "station in life".


VAN - VANGUARD - In the front row of advancing troops 


WORM CASTLE - a slang term for HARD TACK.


ZU-ZU - a slang term for a Zouave. 




Print | Sitemap
© Third U.S. Regular Infantry Reenactors