MOST of us use slang terms every day, but have you ever stopped to think about where they come from?
While many will be surprised to hear some common phrases are actually pretty culturally insensitive, there’s a whole host that have their roots in other surprising places.
Jonathon Green has written a book called The Stories of Slang, which details some of funniest stories associated with phrases.
From the true meaning of “tart” to just why people “hold court in the street”, here the author explains the strange origins of nine pieces of slang.
Slang deals with our human side. Which, as we know, doesn’t always mean nice.
Look at its favourite topics: sex, the body parts we do it with, drink and drugs, insults, racism, madness, stupidity, death, money.
So where do these slang terms come from? Here are nine words and phrases you’ve probably heard before – but how they came to be might surprise you.
First spelt bouse around 1300; from Dutch buizen, to drink to excess and buise, a large drinking vessel. Boozer, as drunkard turns up around 1800, as a pub a century later.
To have sex. Another veteran, first recorded in 1566. It sounds like whop, to hit, and fits the style but one expert claims the old wap, a mongrel, and thus a link to bitch, slang’s number one choice for a woman. These days it’s spelt wop, and still means sex.
A girl. An insult these days, it started off positive; the idea was colours: golden pastry, red jam, reflected in a pretty Cockney dona’s Saturday night finery.
4. no heel-taps!
An old toast which referred to a heel-tap, the fag-end of a drink still at the bottom of the glass. You drank it down and told the barman: no daylights! fill it right to the top.
Nonsense. The original meaning was frothy water, and it may have come from a barber dashing (stirring) his ball(a round piece of soap) in hot water. It also meant a mixed drink: brandy and water, milk and beer…
6. hold court in the street
To fight, usually with guns, in the true people’s court: the street.
7. bucket of blood
A tough pub. There was a real Blood Bowl House (properly the Red Lion off Fleet Street) around 1730, Hogarth drew it. Alternatives have been the bloody bucket and the blood tub, all as rough as a docker’s armpit.
A Brit Down Under. Probably not ‘Prisoner of Mother England’, but a bit of semi-rhyming slang: pomegranate and immigrant .
9. wife in water-colours
Mistress. The lawful spouse too ‘bright’? Find a soothing girlfriend.
The Stories of Slang by Jonathon Green is published by Robinson and is out now.
Previously, we revealed the sinister meanings behind popular nursery rhymes.