Friday, August 12, 2011

Talkin' the Talk

One of the more entertaining reads surviving from this period is the Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Capt. Francis Grose.

First printed in 1785, it is a curious document. Much of it seems to be cribbed from the Nathan Bailey's Canting Dictionary of 1736, a collection of thieves' and underworld slang. Controversy exists as to how many of those early terms were still in use fifty years later when Grose's book first hit the streets, but many of the terms and phrases he uses are surprisingly modern and are still in use today. And I maintain that some are long overdue for a comeback. The book can be a neat way to salt a historic impression with authentic period slang.  Below are a few entertaining examples:

Act of Parliament: A military term for small beer, five pints of which, by an act of parliament, a landlord was formerly obliged to give to each soldier gratis. [And one hopes the innkeeper would be reimbursed for his expense. The term "it would take an Act of Parliament," meaning something all but impossible, is still in use today.]

Beau-trap: A loose stone in a pavement, under which water lodges, and on being trod upon, squirts it up, to the great damage of white stockings... [One of my favorites, the Georgian equivalent of a cross-town bus on a rainy day.]

Fly-by-night: You old fly-by-night; an ancient term of reproach to an old woman, signifying that she was a witch, and alluding to the nocturnal excursions attributed to witches, who were supposed to fly abroad to their meetings, mounted on brooms. [Another one that's still with us, now meaning something shady or illegal. It seems obvious, but I have to admit, I had no idea where the term comes from.]

Heighty Toity: Dancing the wicked
waltz in 1801.
Heighty Toity: A hoydon or romping girl. [Elsewhere Grose defines "hoyden" and "romping" as a girl who is forward in her behavior. One can already see the transition to the modern "hoity toity," though with a very different definition to our modern one as pretentious or putting on airs.]

Huckle my butt: Beer, egg, and brandy, made hot. [OK, so I added this one just because the name made me laugh. Seriously, when was the last time you ordered this in a bar or restaurant?]

Leaky: Apt to blab; one who cannot keep a secret is said to be leaky. [I want to see this one make a comeback. I know some rather leaky people.]

Rigamarole: Roundabout, nonsensical. He told a long rigamarole story.

Well, that's enough rigamarole for one session. I have to pad the hoof and yam, but there'll be more next time.

Friday, July 22, 2011

You Say Ridicule And I Say Reticule...

Recently, I've been thinking about the reticule, so often included as a little extra in reproduction sewing patterns...a little bonus to complete your period look.  Yet, how many of us actually know anything about this supposedly ubiquitous 19th century fashion accessory? 
First, let's start with the name.  I've heard it said and seen it written that the term reticule was derived from the word ridicule and were thus interchangeably called ridicules and reticules. The story goes that reticules were seen as an impractical fashion accessory and were as such deemed ridiculous and given the moniker of  a ridicule.  Well, being an inquisitive sort I decided to embark on a little research expedition.  A search of any online dictionary reveals that the word reticule has its roots in the Latin word reticulum, meaning "netted bag" with the origin of reticule being placed in 19th century France.  Further investigation traces the first known printed usage of reticule to Katherine Wilmot who wrote of the "little workbag" in a letter dated 1801 (An Irish Peer on the Continent 1801-1803).  Interestingly, a reticulum in ancient Rome was a netted hair accessory much like a snood and according to Karen K. Hersch, The Roman Wedding: Ritual and Meaning in Antiquity, inspired both the name and form of the reticule (Footnote 192, pg. 108). 
Portrait from Pompei in which the subject wears a reticulum.
Now to look up the definition of ridicule and we find the word is most likely based on the Latin ridiculum and originated in France during the 17th century (1690 in print).  As you might guess the definition seems to have always meant to subject someone or something to mockery and derision.  The Latin ridiculum actually means "to neuter"...ouch. The use of ridicule as a noun began around 1700 and here are two examples of the word's use as such and seemingly by these prints to mean someone that is an object guessed it...ridicule. 

So, now we know what our words mean.  In my mind, this tells me that the term reticule was derived from the very logical Latin term reticulum, meaning "netted bag" and most likely any interchange between the two terms arose from the perfect opportunity for a little humorous word play.  Also, keep in mind both the British and American ability to mispronounce French words...perhaps the interchange comes from an honest mistake of hearing the word wrong.  Try it for yourself...pronounce ridicule and reticule in's much harder to tell them apart when only listening to the, imagine those words passing between French and English and a mistake in hearing seems very likely.   



Perhaps we can best sum this up by consulting the quite awesome World Wide Words
"The reticule was indeed sometimes slangily called a ridicule during the early nineteenth century, but it was either an ignorant or a joking transformation of the older term. Charles Dickens used it in Oliver Twist in 1838."
There you have it...I blame Charles Dickens for this whole ridiculous reticule mess!  Ahh...but, I fear that Americans had some hand in this as well and that the dilemma existed long before Dickens put pen to paper.  The book,  Historic Dress In America by Elisabeth McClellan, gives mention of a Philadelphia magazine that in 1808 wrote, "no lady of fashion now appears in public without a ridicule - which contains her handkerchief, fan, card-money and essence-bottle" (pg.82).  This would appear to offer proof that the reticule was indeed known as a ridicule.  Yet, from this reference we can't know if the term ridicule was a mistake in writing, hearing or was truly known as such.  Whatever, the case it seems clear that the word ridicule well predates reticule and that the first written description of such an item refers to it as a reticule.  If the two terms came about to be used interchangeably then I'm led to believe that a reticule was first known as a reticule and only later a ridicule whether by mistake, humor or both.  So...what do you think? Now I wouldn't partake in all this talk of reticules and not give you lots of pretty pictures...stay tuned for the next installment...PRETTY PICTURES are promised!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Bastille Day Challenge

July 14, 1789: Democracy in action.
    Tomorrow marks the big 222 for one of the seminal moments that helped to bring about the Regency era. On 14 July 1789 a mob of several hundred stormed the infamous Bastille prison in Paris seeking to secure arms and ammunition for the revolt against King Louis XVI.  Since 1880, France has celebrated the fĂȘte nationale (national celebration) on the 14th, celebrating the end of feudalism that followed the storming of the fortress.
    For 130 years the people of France have welcomed the day with fireworks, feasts, a military parade, and taking pride in just being French. Traditionally, traffic offenses were pardoned on this date and the president held a state of the nation interview with the press, although the current president seems to be a bit of a spoilsport in this respect.

    In this country, July 14 usually passes unnoticed except as the day before payday for many. However, in some areas, there really is a throwdown to celebrate the occasion. And in some cases the celebration has become almost insanely elaborate.

    So, in honor of the date, REGAL issues this challenge: send your pictures of how you celebrated Bastille Day to the REGAL Facebook page, or comment below. Now's the time to get out your liberty cap and baguette and get out that copy of A Tale of Two Cities. If you happen to have the head of a royalist mounted on a pike in your closet, now would be a great time to get it out. Or go to the nearest hamburger joint and have a big cup of French fries. Big or little, elaborate or plain, just drop us a line and let us know how you got your Bastille on.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

What's In a Name?

George IV and his bling.
     With the Royals visiting California, it seems fitting to talk about the Crown. The "official" Regency is 200 years old this year. Great Britain defined the Regency as lasting from 1811 to 1820. This is the era in which George III was declared unfit to rule due to his mental illness and was replaced by his son George, Prince of Wales, who acted as Prince Regent under the "Care of the King During His Illness Act" of February, 1811. The Regency ended when the third George died in 1820, and his son was crowned George IV.

      The term "Regency" has come to be used very loosely, especially on this side of the Atlantic. It gets a bit confusing. If you're like me and you consult the great oracle Wikipedia hoping for clarity, all you get is static. And I quote:

        "The term Regency era sometimes refers to a more extended time frame than the decade of the formal Regency...If Regency era is being used to describe the transition between Georgian and Victorian eras, the focus is on the pre-Victorian period from 1811, when the formal Regency began, through 1837 when Queen Victoria succeeded William IV. If, however, Regency era is being contrasted with the Eighteenth century, then the period includes the later French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars." (

       Thanks for clearing that up. 

      Anyway, to simplify things, we as a group concentrate on the Georgian Period of history, which begins in 1714 with the coronation of George I and ends (confusingly) with the death of William IV in 1837. This long period includes not just the British Regency, but the French Ancien Regime, Revolutionary, and First Empire Periods, and the American Colonial, Revolutionary, Early Republic, and Jacksonian Eras.

       So since this whole shebang was covered by the Georgian Period anyway, why didn't we just call it the Georgian Aficionados' League?

       Because REGAL just sounded better. And the guys in the group didn't want to belong to GAL.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Launching REGAL!

      Welcome to the new blog for the Regency, Empire, and Georgian Aficionados' League. REGAL is a group for those with an interest in the history, clothing, arts, and culture of Europe and the Americas from 1720-1830. We will be posting here periodically on whatever subjects grab our interest about this fascinating era. So if this appeals to you, enjoy!
      Whether you think tail coats and empire waists are poised for a comeback...or you enjoy Jane Austen novels without the zombies...or you are a small man with an outsized ego and a large hat who ever thought how cool it would be to impose your will on all of western Europe...or you're just trying to kill a few minutes' downtime and trying to do something somewhat educational, welcome! Come on in and have a look around.

More to come. Stay tuned.