Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Collection of Insults, Care of Captain Mirvan

Our favorite century was, by no means, well behaved.  Yet the language and culture of the time put a certain panache on describing things of a bawdy or crass nature.  Take for example this small except from Rambler's Magazine, 1823 about discovering two people in compromising positions: "What he did behind the lady, we do not pretend to know; but this we know, that he had not any business there with his friend's wife."  Dare I proclaim that curses and insults were more works of art than they are now? Perhaps that is simply due to their exotic nature.

Those who are reading or have read Fanny Burney's Evelina know that the character of Captain Mirvan is not short of insults for the high-strung Frenchwoman Madame Duval.  Being a member of the British Navy one might expect the Captain to have a mouth on him, although the saying back then was He/She "swears like Lady Lade" rather than a sailor.  I've been quite enjoying his insults and name-calling so I thought I would arrange a collection here for everyone's enjoyment and use.

Frog- French. A term derived from impoverished people's habit of eating frogs. Letter 14
Spark- a boyfriend or suitor. Letter 16
Beldame- When used in condensation, an old witch. Letter 16
Trumpery- "Showy but unsubstantial apparel; worthless finery." (OED) Letter 16
Draggle-tailed- "A woman whose skirts are wet, and draggled, or whose dress hangs about her untidily and dirty; a slut." (OED) Letter 19
Mrs. Turkey-Cock Letter 21
Canaille- The mob, commoners. Letter 23
Dish-clout- dish cloth. Vol 2 Letter 2
Dangler- "One who hangs or hovers about a woman,; a dallying follower." (OED) Vol 3, Letter 15
Bantling- "A young or small child, a brat." (OED) Vol 3, Letter 18
Old Tabby- Old lady. Vol 3, Letter 21


  1. Interesting about Letty Lade -- I'd not heard of her before, but was just recently having a conversation about the plot of the book Justine, by the Marquis de Sade. The story begins with two orphan girls, one of whom (Justine) decides to be honest and virtuous and suffers miserably for it, and the other immediately signs up to become a prostitute and within a decade has worked her way up to the rank of a Duchess. There was some skepticism amongst my friends about the likelihood that such an improvement of rank was possible -- I'll have to show off Lade as an example.

  2. Lady Lade is my favorite tart! She is a perfect example for your argument. There is also the infamous Lady Hamilton and Lady Derby.

  3. Dan Cruikshank's book The Wages of Sin is a good one for reading up on the lives of ladies of the night. Another lady of dubious morality turned aristocratic grandee is Lavinia Fenton who because the respectable Duchess of Bolton. She starred as Polly Peachum in the Beggar's Opera and apparently the Duke installed the box he used to watch her from as his church pew!

  4. Funny how "Trumpery" can mean almost the same thing nowadays...probably for a different reason.

  5. Lady Lade features in my next book, Mistress of My Fate (published in the UK on the 7th of July) and in the US some time in 2012. It's historical fiction, however, I can confirm from my own research into the lives of 18th century ladies of the night (The Covent Garden Ladies, 2005) that the Marquis de Sade was not too far off in his assessment. Prostitution was pretty much the only was a low born girl could rise through the ranks. I list a number of those who suceeded in doing so in my last chapter. The fact that men did in fact marry their mistresses has been one of history's best kept secrets!

  6. buongiorno Im just reading Dan Cruickshanks book The secrect History oF Georgian London AND Ive just found your blog What joy ive suscribed and will follow with GREAT interst its an amazing period of time . Fay