A Dashed Plummy Way of Speaking
Like most writers, I love words. And I especially love slang. It can instantly transport you to another place and time and make you feel like you are in a world much different than your own. Several of my first romances were set in the medieval era and I had great fun using using terms like tosspot and lout-headed, swive and futtering. The slang of the Regency era isn’t quite as crude and earthy, but it’s still delightfully distinctive.
The expressions used by lords and ladies often sought to make things sound better than they were. Instead of saying someone was drunk, you would say they were foxed, disguised or lurched. A loose woman was a fashionable impure or a Cyprian, and the establishment where she worked wasn’t called a brothel but a house of Venus or even a nunnery. If someone was on a higher social level, they were above one’s touch.
You didn’t speak of someone as depressed, but as blue-deviled. If they did something foolish, they made of a cake of themselves, or they might be called henwitted, addle-pated or bacon-brained. Gossip was the rattle, the hum, the on-dit or tittle-tattle.
A gentleman who was good at handling a team of horses was known as a tulip of the goers, a crack whip or a dab hand with the ribbons. A poor one was called cow-handed. A fine team of horses might be described as a bang-up pair, fast trotters, sweet-goers or prime cattle.
The era’s passion for gambling resulted in many colorful gaming terms. To cheat was to gull or gammon. If you had plenty of money, called the ready or blunt, people would say you had deep pockets or were a high flyer. When you bet more than you could afford, as my heroine’s cousin and guardian does in the beginning of Wicked Wager, you are playing deep. And when you lost more than you could afford, as he does, you were done up, dished up or deep in dun territory.
Women of this era didn’t have much power or independence. All their status was derived from the males in their lives. As a result, many of the terms for females were condescending. A young woman might be referred to as a chit, an article, a bit of muslin or even baggage (as in, “she’s a cunning baggage”). If she was tall, she was a long meg or, serious and well-educated, a bluestocking. A false woman was a jade or jilt. A stupid one, a milk and water miss or wet goose.
If no one offered for a young woman after a Season or two, she was said to be on the shelf. If she was boisterous or wild, she was called a hoyden. Because she’s tall and a tomboy, Penny’s cousin Adrian refers to her as both a long meg and a hoyden. Getting married was snidely called getting leg-shackled. For a man, it was clearly a fate to be avoided, although my hero Marcus has no dread of marriage since he believes it won’t affect his life in any significant way.
Slang enlivened the speech of the upper classes, but for the lower classes it became almost another language, called cant. Later in the book Marcus encounters a group of children living on the street, and they converse with him using some of these expressions. They call him guvnor, refer to Penny as a mort, another man as a cove and a bloke. They also discuss paying a penny for a noggin of ruin, which turns out to be a container of gin.
Even though I didn’t use a lot of the terms I discovered in my research, immersing myself in the words and expressions used in the Regency era made it real for me and helped me bring my characters to life. I could imagine myself in the glittering ballrooms where the quality danced and flirted and grew foxed and disguised. Among the diamonds of the first water and the dandified nibs dressed in fine twig, and the wags and old tabbies sharing the latest tittle-tattle.
Mary’s latest release is Wicked Wager:
When hardened gamester Marcus Revington wins Horngate Manor in a card game, he is delighted to finally own property. Even discovering he must marry the heiress of the estate doesn’t deter him. The heiress, Penny Montgomery, is happy with her life raising horses at Horngate and has no desire to wed anyone. When she learns about her guardian’s Wicked Wager, she schemes to convince Marcus she’s unsuitable as a wife so he’ll forget his plan to marry her. Who will win this battle of wits and wills? Or will they both discover the name of the game is love?
He might have known she’d take hours, Marcus thought with irritation as he waited in the drawing room. Offer to take a woman somewhere, and she fussed and fiddled half the day. He’d thought Penny was more practical than that, but it appeared she was as tardy as other members of her sex. A pity if she’d already been corrupted by Madame Dubonet and lost that ingenuous charm of hers. He rather liked the grubby hoyden he’d met in the drive of Horngate. She’d been a delightful change from the coy, manipulative women of the ton.
He paced across to the window to check on the phaeton and team. Hearing a faint sound, he turned.
For a moment, he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. His gaze moved down Penny’s slender form, then returned to the expanse of lush creamy flesh exposed by the low neckline of her dress. He swallowed hard, then choked out, “What the devil are you wearing?”
She gave him an innocent smile. “It’s my new daydress. Do you like it?”
Gone was the sweetly pretty young miss he’d brought to London. She’d been transformed into a sensual, sophisticated, breathtaking… goddess. It wasn’t only the lush décolletage the gown revealed, but the color of the fabric. Some subtle shade of pink that made her look edible. He longed to kiss and lick and nibble every inch of the silken, creamy skin the garment exposed. And then move on to the parts concealed by the soft, shimmery fabric. The very thought made him instantly aroused.
He took a deep breath and tried to focus on Penny’s face. “The dress is very fashionable, I’m certain. But if you don’t want to catch a chill, you’d best put on your pelisse.”
Penny hurried to do as he suggested. Despite having carefully planned this moment, when it actually came time to appear before Revington in the skimpy gown, she’d experienced an attack of nerves. It had taken all her willpower to walk boldly into the drawing room, despite feeling half-naked.
Revington’s expression had turned quite strange, almost savage. But then a moment later, his normal reserve had prevailed and he’d carried on in his usual impatient style.
She put on her pelisse and started for the door. Then she remembered the other part of her plan. Turning, she said, “I wondered if rather than driving today, you could have footman take the reins and sit in the carriage with me. That way you’ll be able to tell me about the sights as we travel through the city.”
Seeing a muscle twitch in his jaw, she wondered whether he disliked the thought of spending time with her. Too bad, she thought stubbornly. For her plan to work, she needed to force him into close proximity.
Mary Gillgannon is the author of fifteen novels, mostly set in the dark age, medieval and English Regency time periods. She’s married and has two children. Now that they’re grown, she indulges her nurturing tendencies on four very spoiled cats and a moderately spoiled dog. When not writing or working—she’s been employed at the local public library for twenty-five years—she enjoys gardening, reading and travel.
Mary is offering two give-aways:
One is for a gorgeous shamrock solar lantern. Contest ends May 31st.
The other, in conjunction with several other authors, is for a $500 gift certificate and ends June 21st.
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I’m currently working on Fire Storm, Book 2 in the Gathering Storm Series