Friday 4 September 2009

This is jam!


More Victorian slang culled from the first novel (novella, really) of W. Somerset Maugham Liza of Lambeth (1897). Maugham had worked in the Lambeth slums, so he had first-hand experience of the way people talked. He explicitly notes that he does not give the 'unexpurgated' words of his characters (ie. we may safely assume that, in Lambeth, there was a good deal more swearing of a kind that never appeared in Victorian fiction) but it seems fairly accurate to me, looking at other sources and the OED.

Beeno (normally 'beano', elsewhere, I think) – party, spree

Boozed – drunk

Brake (noun) – OED gives ‘break’; waggon/coach for outing

Bust it – this one is not clear; may be 'bust' or Maugham's approximation of characters saying 'burst'; – 'make a great success of it', I think; also as exclamation, seemingly like ‘damn it’; not obviously in the OED

Cheese it! – leave it out!

Cock, old cock, cocker – mate, pal, familiar form of address to a man

Corker (Maugham writes as 'cawker') – a stunner, something astonishing

Dossy – stylish, smart, of a woman's clothing

Drag ­– waggon/coach for outing

Heel-tap – liquour left at bottom of a glass, dregs

This is jam! – this is great fun, this is a fine thing!

On my own hook – on my own

Mash – sweetheart, boyfriend

Got the needle – annoyed

Ooftish – money, cash

Pill – contemptible person, bore

Slobber (noun) – kiss

Still (noun) – a still birth

Whack (noun) – portion, share


  1. I am going to make a concerted effort to get 'this is jam!' into common parlance. It's too great. One could say that the phrase itself is jam!

  2. On an unrelated matter, I've probably noted it before on the blog, but my favourite piece of old slang is shooting the cat. Somehow strangely evocative (and gross).

    See for an explanation.

  3. Oh, you're right. 'Shooting the cat' is even better!