Friday 14 October 2016

Bad Language Catherine Johnson

Jack Shephard and Edgeworth bess escaping from Clerkenwell Jail
Don't worry! This is a pre watershed blog. All above board. Well mostly.  In between everything else I've been lucky enough to read an advance copy of  a truly brilliant new novel, The Fatal Tree by Jake Arnott. It's set in the early 18th century and is the story - mostly - of Edgeworth Bess, lover of cracksman extraordinaire Jack Sheppard.

This period of London history is ripe for stories, and the slang, known as flash, was the language of the street. I fell in love with it myself writing A Nest of Vipers, my novel about a gang of coney catchers (conmen) in London (Romeville). But there's only so much you can get away with in a story for 12 year olds. Jake Arnott lets rip with the flash (otherwise known as St Giles' Greek).  And it is exhilarating.

I think if you're writing historical fiction slang is are a marvellous way into the time. I think lots of us writers rely on speech rhythms and patterns to get under our characters skins and slang dictionaries including the contemporary A New Dictionary of the Terms Ancient and Modern of the Canting Crew first published in 1698 is invaluable. I like Jonathan Green's Slang Dictionary too.

These are some of my favourites;

moon-curser   a criminal link boy Who would offer to guide you round the streets of 18th century London at night, then mug you.

glim stick  is rather lovely and means a candle

wrap-rascal  is a red cloak

cover -me decent  is merely a coat

cacafuego  is someone who talks, well caca, and may properly be applied to one such as Mr Trump

slabberdegullion is as it sounds, a flithy, slobbering fellow

rides the horse foaled of an acorn  is simply being hanged, after which you might be...

put to bed with a shovel

I could go on.

What are your favourites?

Catherine's latest book is Blade and Bone from Walker Books


Joan Lennon said...

Those are luscious - all that rhythm and richness! I have no 18th century contributions, but I do love what Joss Whedon does with language in the Firefly series.

Mary Hoffman said...

I think Cacafuego should mean "fire-shitter."

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

I love the term 'Beggar's Velvet' which is the term for the silvery filaments of feather down stuffing in pillow and mattresses which is left to gather in layers by 'sluttish housemaids.'

Susan Price said...

I'm just reading O'Brian's 'Master and Commander' and one of the enemy ships is called 'Cacafuego.' I didn't quite know what to make of it, as I know 'fuego' means fire and I suspected 'caca' meant shit.
So, was it O'Brian's little in-joke? Or is it a likely name for a warship?

Loved the blog. 'Riding the oak horse' is great.

Catherine Johnson said...

Mary and Susan it is fire shitter literally, but was used like bull shitter - or so I read.

Mary Hoffman said...

Sue, it was the name of one of Sir Francis Drake's ships!

Penny Dolan said...

I can certainly imagine that ship's cannons, in action, might look as if they are sh- fire! A very direct name for such a ship indeed. Must practice saying "slubberdegullion" for when the words needed.