Regency Era Slang - Eh Wot?
Oh la, there are few things on this fine planet so divine as Regency-era slang. This period in history was distinguished by men obsessed with good form, women obsessed with flitting their fans, and a leisure class obsessed with keeping itself amused.
Imagine a sizable group of wealthy, landed English people. Now, imagine all of the social events they had. Imagine the London season, and all the related balls, visits, assignations, and copious amounts of conversation.
These are optimal conditions for slang creation.
tightly knit community
serial social gatherings +
Let's have a look at some of the Regency era's best hits, shall we? I've collected my personal favorites from classics such as The Scarlet Pimpernel, various Jane Austen masterpieces, and some contemporarily written, but well-researched, historical fiction novels set in the period.
I might delve into some terms and phrases that were popular before 1811 as well. Honestly, everything going on, culture wise, from 1790-1820 was pretty awesome, so let's not alienate anything simply because it was not in vogue when George IV was Prince Regent.
Eh Wot? / Eh... what?
This is one of my favorites.
Typically uttered by pompous, posh men, "eh, wot?" was the Regency era equivalent to "you know?" or "Right?" (the word "wot" means "to know") and is used in the same sort of conversational context.
Here are some modern use examples:
- The Colbert Report was hilarious last night, eh wot?
- He's got a fine backside, eh wot?
- Nasty cell phone reception out here, eh wot?
A word of caution to the enthusiastic: "eh wot" is highly addictive, and its users have a tendency to overdo it. Keep this term in check.
See it in action!
La! / La, Sir!
It seems like "la" was the Regency equivalent of the Valley Girl "like" - not in usage and meaning, but in the sense that it was often overused as a sort of verbal crutch by airheaded (or seemingly airheaded) or flirtatious young women.
La, simply put, is an exclamation. Close modern equivalents include god, jeez, dude, man, gosh, wow, and golly (and yes, I am trying to bring back golly, so it's totally modern!).
"La" can fit in splendidly with modern language. Observe:
- Oh la, Shirley, you are such a slut!
- La, Officer... I was just borrowing it.
- Oh la, don't be silly. It's not broken. It's just different!
See? Very modern! Though I do invite you to invoke the classic "La, sir, you are so droll!" whenever you like.
"Faith," used as an exclamation, plays a similar roll as "la," but is typically used to express a greater sense of wonderment. Similar modern equivalents include "my goodness" and "dang."
Here are some examples of "faith" in action:
- Faith, that dog is gassy.
- Faith, what a phone bill I've got this month.
Use your imagination! This is a relatively easy word to play with.
Zooks is a mild, exclamatory oath that emerged in the 17th century. It's the shortened version of gadzooks, which could be a word for God's hooks (e.g. the nails used to pin Jesus to the cross). So essentially, when one says "zooks," one is saying hooks. Which is hilarious.
Some examples to get you started:
- Zooks! Did you see how many sweaters he was wearing!
- Zooks! I hope you can get the rabies shots in time.
- Zooks! You paid how much for that watch??
The word "deuced" refers to rolling a two in dice, which is the lowest possible score one might get. For this reason, the word is used to refer to things of less-than-ideal luck and generally has the same meaning as "damned" or "cursed."
Here's the word in action:
- I couldn't get off that deuced buss soon enough. It smelled like armpit plus Abercrombie on a Friday night.
- That deuced idiot tried to give me a full fat latte. Like I couldn't tell.
- That deuced ferret had it in for me all along.
References to "bad form" are all colors of fabulous. They're the old timey equivalent of FAIL, which has become one of the most celebrated slang words of the late naughts!
"Bad form" is additionally the 19th Century equivalent of "not cool, dude" and "party fowl!" So feel free to use it in the exact same manner. You might also use it as a stand alone exclamation to express indignation!
- Bad form, dude.
- Oooooh. Bad form!
- He got mint chip ice cream all over my bed. Bad form.
Mix and Match!
Feel free to mix and match all the above slang words as you like. They go quite well together:
- La, shirley, that deuced cat of yours isn't a human! Faith! You need a hobby.
- Zooks, Chuck! You know it's bad form to pee in public, eh wot?
Be creative! You're more than welcome to add new, modern spins on these old gems. The most important thing is that you have fun. Get to it!