1785 - Grose's Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

Banner image of The Vulgar Tongue


Francis Grose's 'Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue' was first published in 1785, and is a dictionary of slang words. Grose was one of the first lexicographers to collect slang words from all corners of society, not just from the professional underworld of pickpockets and bandits. So while 'The Vulgar Tongue' includes many of the words found in earlier 'scoundrels'' dictionaries (such as Head's 'Canting Academy'), it also lists a whole range of mundane slang words such as sheepish (for bashful), carrots (for red hair), or sweet (for expert, dexterous, clever). He records many rude words, such as bum fodder (for toilet paper), or double jugg (for a man's bottom). And he includes many nicknames for food and drink - words for gin (an enormously popular drink at the time) include: blue ruin, cobblers punch, crank, diddle, frog's wine, heart's ease, lightening and drain.

Collecting rude words

Grose and his assistant Tom Cocking took midnight walks through London, picking up slang words in slums, drinking dens and dockyards and adding them into their 'knowledge-box'. 'The Vulgar Tongue' was recognised throughout the 19th century as one of the most important collections of slang in the English language, and it would strongly influence later dictionaries of this kind.

About Grose

Grose, born in 1730, liked to eat rich foods and to drink port. He also liked to tell stories. A very fat man, he took pleasure in the pun linking his name to his size. He had a classical education before going on to study drawing. He was a member of the Society of Antiquaries and was made a captain in the Surrey Militia in 1778. However, he is best known for his work as a lexicographer.