Sunday, 10 December 2017

The A to Z of Sex (again)

A few years ago I looked at slang for sex and thought it was about time we delved again in the seedier side of the English language and look at some of the other terms coined thoughout history to describe the sexual act and things related to same. Enjoy! (And when I say "enjoy" I mean this and not that, if you see what I mean.)

A is for ALMANACH, a late 19th and early 20th century term for what the dictionary refers to as 'the female pudend' (and for balance).....

B is for BALD-HEADED HERMIT, the male member.

C is for CHAFER, the act of copulation.

D is for DEMIREP, a woman whose chastity is called into question, and a term first seen in print in Fielding's Tom Jones published in 1749.

E is for EARLY DOORS which, while soccer pundits might use it to mean 'early on', originated as rhyming slang for 'whores'. Hence we'll all titter when hearing Joe Manager speaking of how "The lads did good early doors".

F is for FIRE-PLUG, a young man with veneral disease.

G is for GETTER, a male with great capacity for fertilization.

H is for HANDFUL OF SPRATS, best way to describe this is 'groping'.

I is for IMPALE used to mean to possess (as in being with) a woman.

J is for JIGGLE, the sexual act.

K is for KEEPING-CULLY, a man who thinks he is keeping a mistress in a home for his own personal use, when in fact he's keeping her for anyone she chooses to be with.

L is for LAP-CLAP, conception.

M is for MEDICINE, the sex act (as in take one's medicine).

N is for NUTMEGS, testicles.

O is for OLD ADAM or the male member.

P is for PARSLEY-BED, again the dictionary refers to this as 'the female pudend'.

Q is for QUEER ROOST, maybe 'living over the brush', 'living in sin', co-habiting?

R is for RAMBLER, a woman of ill repute.

S is for SEALS, testicles again.

T is for THRUM, the sexual act.

U is for UPPER WORKS, the female breast.

V is for VIRGINS BUS, the last bus from Piccadilly Corner which, contrary to the name, was largely populated by prostitutes.

W is for WAP, the sexual act.

X, Y and Z had me beaten once again!

Sunday, 3 December 2017

No Cure for a Headache

So everyone has opened advent calendars, at least thought about Christmas shopping, cards, presents or decorations, and a general feeling of joy begins to grow. Well let's put a stop to all that and turn thoughts back to 1900 and 2nd February.

Councillor George Green, meat contractor of Boston House, Walsall Road, Lichfield. His body was found at 7am on Thursday, the top of his head completely blown away, body lying on his carbine, and the bullet stuck in a window frame behind him. He was still wearing his dressing gown (reported the local press).

Aged 39 he left a widow and five children. He had given weekly gifts of meat to the families of reservists sent to the front. He had large outlets at Lichfield and London and shops at most towns in the Midlands. He was quartermaster of the Lichfield Troop of the Staffordshire Yeomanry, popular with comrades and citizens alike. In November elected to represent the south ward of Lichfield. Two years previously he and Mrs Green had been out driving a trap when the horse took fright and both were seriously injured when the trap crashed into the window of the George Hotel. He never fully recovered from his injuries and had been unwell for a time prior to his death. His rejection on medical grounds must have disappointed him when he volunteered for duty in South Africa.

Inquest the following week reported how he rose at 6:48am, telling his wife he was due to meet Mr Johnson to discuss accounts and bring her a cup of tea. She never saw him alive again. Top of his head removed from the bridge of his nose. Both halves of his brain lying on the floor. Accident had seen him suffer a fractured skull. He suffered from indigestion, fatigue and would constantly overwork to the point of exhaustion. Rejected as he had a weak heart and could not tolerate heat. He is buried at Christ Church, Lichfield.

The relief of Ladysmith came the same day as the inquest.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Scottish place names in the USA

In another unashamedly blatant plug for my book English Place Names Transferred to the USA, I thought it might be nice to look at some of the examples from Scotland. Less of a challenge than last week's Welsh names as many of these come from Old English, although I did need help with the Gaelic.

Aberdeen - means 'at the mouth of the Don', even though the river Dee also flows here the early forms clearly show this is a later mistaken idea.

Angus - an old county of Scotland named after the 8th century King of the Picts Aonghus or Oengus meaning 'unique choice'.

Argyle - from Gaelic meaning 'land of the Gaels', these Scots were of Irish origin.

Bannockburn - a famous name, owing to the battle of 1314, meaning 'little shining stream'.

Bathgate - from Brythonic baedd coed or 'boar wood'.

Berwick - an Old English place name from bere wic or 'barley farmstead'.

Cheviot - of uncertain origin, but may be a Pre-Celtic tribal name or a derivative of Brythonic cefn or 'ridge'.

Clyde - a Brythonic river name meaning 'the cleansing one'.

Culloden - another name made famous by a battle, here that name likely means 'back of the pool'.

Douglas - the two Scottish Gaelic elements dubh glas combine to speak of 'the dark water'.

Dumbarton - another of Scottish Gaelic origin, dun Breatainn describing 'the fortified stronghold of the Britons'.

Dumfries - Scottish Gaelic again, here dun phris refers to 'the fortified stronghold of the woodland'.

Dunbar - and again, where Scottish Gaelic dun barr refers to 'the fort of the height'.

Dundee - is most often said to be 'the fort of Daig', a personal name of unknown context.

Dunfermline - of unknown derivation, other than the first element dun 'fort'. Some sources point to a likely Pictish personal name, but without suggesting any.

Edinburgh - a name from Scottish Gaelic aodann 'rock face' and Old English burh 'stronghold'.

Elgin - this part of Scotland was settled by Gaelic-speakers from Ireland, thus the idea this comes from Ealg with the diminutive in to mean 'little Ireland' makes perfect sense.

Fordyce - another Scottish Gaelic name, where faithir deas refers to 'the fortification of the south-facing slope'.

Galloway - a name meaning 'land of the stranger Gaels', for this part of the country had been settled by those of a mixed Irish/Scandinavian descent.

Glasgow - from Brythonic glas cau 'place of the green hollow'.

Glencoe - another of Scottish Gaelic origin and referring to 'the narrow valley'.

Gretna - a famous Scottish name and one of Old English derivation where greoten halh refers to 'the gravelly nook of land'.

Hamilton - named after Lord Hamilton, he coming here during the 15th century.

Harris - an Old Scandinavian name meaning 'the higher island'. The island is officially known as Lewis and Harris, although this is only one island and Harris is the higher mountainous region.

Hope - of Old Scandinavian origin where hop means 'sheltered place' and originally referred to the haven offered by the bay of the same name.

Houston - comprised of Old English tun and a Saxon personal name, this is 'the farmstead of a man called Hugo'.

Inverness - Scottish Gaelic inbhir means 'mouth of' and precedes the name of the river Ness, itself of unknown origin.

Iona - a small island seemingly derived from Old Irish for 'yew'.

Irvine - a Brythonic name meaning 'the white river'.

Kelso - Old English calc hoh refers to 'the ridge of chalk'.

Kinross - from Scottish Gaelic ceann ros 'the head of the promontory'.

Kirk - likely from Old Scandinavian kirkja rather than Old English cirice, although both simply mean 'church'.

Lanark - a Brythonic name where llanerc means 'forest glade'.

Leith - if this comes from Brythonic lleith 'moist' then this name is telling us it is a 'wet place'.

Lenox - named after the Dukes of Lennox, an ancient place name referring to 'the place covered in elms'.

Linwood - combining Brythonic llyn and Old English wudu means this began as 'the wood by a pool'.

Lomond - if this is Brythonic then this is from lumon 'beacon', or of Scottish Gaelic then leamhan 'elm trees'. Either way it refers to the land and not the more famous loch, itself taking the name from the hill of Ben Lomond.

Melrose - a Scottish Gaelic name where mael ros refers to 'the bare moor'.

Montrose - again Scottish Gaelic moine ros 'the peat moss of the promontory'.

Morton - here is Old English mor tun 'the farmstead of the moor'.

Nevis - an ancient name, probably nebh 'cloud' and a reference to the mountain and not a 'cloud' as we would speak today (indeed Old English clud meant 'mountain' and not 'cloud'). Alternatively Old Gaelic numheis meaning 'venomous' has been suggested, but just what is venomous is uncertain.

Paisley - from Brythonic pasgell llethr 'sloping pasture'.

Peebles - means 'the place of the shielings', ie pasture seasonally given over to grazing sheep.

Perth - a place name meaning '(place of) the thicket'.

Preston - from Old English preost tun 'the farmstead of the priests'.

Roxborough - an Old English place name meaning 'the fortified place of a man called Hroc'.

Sutherland - if defined as 'the place of the southern territory' it becomes obvious.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Welsh place names in the USA

In an unashamedly blatant plug for my book English Place Names Transferred to the USA, I thought it might be nice to look at some of the Welsh examples. This is unknown territory for me as I neither speak nor read Welsh, so I'm grateful for the help from those who do.

Bala - is a place name from bala and 'a place where a river enters a lake'.

Berwyn - another which has not changed at all since berwyn means 'snowy summit'.

Bangor - a delightful name for it describes what could be found in the early days as it describes this as the place of 'the wattled fence'.

Bryn Mawr - is Welsh for 'the big hill'.

Caernarvon - as many will know this is Welsh for 'the fort near Mon', this the Welsh name for Angelesey.

Cardiff - is the 'fort on the (river) Taff'. Origins of the river name are disputed but may mean 'craggy' or 'rocks' and describe the nature of the youthful river.

Flint - is named for the 'gravel' of the stony area on which the castle was built.

Lampeter - an Anglicised version of Llanbedr or 'church of St Peter'.

Gwynedd - is the 'land of the Venedotae', this the name of the Celtic tribe.

Montgomery - took the name of Roger de Montgomery, himself named after the town of Montgomery in the Pays d'Auge region of Normandy. THe Welsh name os Trefaldwyn means 'the town of Baldwin'.

Pembrey - simple Welsh for 'the top of the hill'.

Pembroke - is the Anglicised version of Penfro or 'amd's end'.

Radnor - is the English version and means 'red bank', while the original Welsh name of Maesyfed means 'Hyfaidd's field'.

Swansea - this is not English but an Old Scandinavian name meaning 'Sveyn's island', the Welsh version is Abertawe mouth of 'the river Tawe'

Sunday, 12 November 2017


Some years ago I posted the appalling story of the treatment of old photographs by someone I refuse to admit I'm distantly related to. You can read the Criminal Waste of History here.

For me old imagery is extremely useful when illustrating books and articles. Thus recently, having shown an interested party some of the images I had discovered, an interesting conversation followed which got me thinking when the other said how it was "amazing these photographs have survived". Well in the case of those rescued from the bonfire, this is true. But is this really the case? Remember images in those days were precious, few images were taken and those that were successfully developed cherished as these represented a significant investment. Furthermore, these images were often 'captioned' in the sense the names of those pictured were given on the reverse, often including the date and even the place. Such was the case with Maitland Kempson pictured below - indeed without the note on the reverse I would have had no idea who the man was.

Yet will old images be so easy to find in future? Will we have any notion as to who, where and when? Today's technology makes photography commonplace - we have images from cameras, mobile phones, tablets, and the many video cameras dotted around everywhere. Now 'when' is easy to as the digital record puts both the date and the time - assuming the equipment is set correctly, of course. But does anyone ever bother to caption images, except for those on social media? And are they saved and easily retrievable? No. Usually when the equipment dies the images die with them, and even those saved online will never be found again once the photographer's copyright has started to countdown from 70 years - unless passwords are known.

So, it is not surprising to find old images have survived from a century ago, but try finding an image of Jack or Lindsey a hundred years from now and recognising them when you do. Best of British!

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Health and Safety

On Tuesday 23rd November 1858, Eli Meakin had been working on his father's farm at Whitgreave. Employed as a waggoner's boy, whilst driving the horses he is thought to have stepped over the horizontal shaft between them and the threshing machine. His action caused him to slip and he fell between the cog wheels. Subsequently found by a passer-by who, seeing the horses stopped and unsupervised, investigated and found the lad held quite firmly. The man released him but his chest injuries were appalling and he died shortly afterwards. Eli Meakin was just twelve years of age.

At the subsequent inquest the threshing machine was deemed to be dangerous for any driver, for the rods were secured in an improper position and the wheels unprotected. The owner of the farm promised the equipment would not be used again until the improvements had been made. Too late for young Eli whose demise was recorded as Accidental Death.

It seems unlikely the same verdict would be reached today. Further stories like this can be found in my Bloody British Histories: Stafford.

Sunday, 29 October 2017


Trees are comprised of wood, yet a wood is made up of trees. A linguistic quirk? No. If we go back far enough we find Proto-Germanic widu and Proto-Indo-European widhu, each used to refer to the both the 'timber' and also 'tree'. Hence the anomaly is the word 'tree', itself odly derived from the root (no pun intended) drew-o meaning 'be firm, solid' and for obvious reasons.

But what about the different names given to various kinds of trees? Where do these originate?

Oak - a name which is Germanic but that is where the trail ends and the etymology is a mystery. However the Indo-European root of deru, which is also the Greek and Celtic word for 'oak', is also the source of the English word 'tree'. And if that isn't confusing enough, when the Vikings arrived in Iceland and brought with them the Norse word eik or 'oak', they discovered no oaks whatsoever and thus used eik to mean simply 'tree'.

Broom - the tree gets its name from the Proto-Germanic braemaz 'thorny bush' and derived from Proto-Indo-European bherem 'to project, a point'. Such lumps and points characterise the broom tree, this also making them most suitable for being tied together to produce what we would call a besom but which is effectively still a broom for sweeping.

Elm - quite easy to trace this back to Proto-Indo-European el meaning 'red, brown'. It is also the origin of the word 'elk' and 'eland'.

Yew - a similar origin to that of the elm (see above), where Proto-Indo-European ei-wo also suggests 'reddish'.

Maple - a name of surprisingly recent origins, indeed it seems to have simply appeared in Germanic languages around 1,500 years ago. It is highly improbable to think all Germanci languages suddenly began using the name, hence there must be a common origin but that root is unknown.

Lime - or linden tree is derived from Proto-Indo-European lent-o meaning 'flexible', this a reference to the trees pliant bast, this the inner fibrous bark.

Beech - all forms across the Proto-Indo-European languages, these all from Proto-Indo-European bhago and all simply refer to the tree. The same word is also the source of the word 'book' and thus the smooth bark of the tree would be seen as being a black metaphorical page on which to make marks to send messages.

Pine - ultimately from Proto-Indo-European pi-nu and derived from peie 'be fat, to swell' and liely referring to the sap or resin pouring from the tree when it is damaged.

Alder - has exactly the same origins as the elm (see above) and simply means 'red, brown'.

Ash - a Germanic term and, while the origin is far from certain, seems to come from it being the preferred wood used in the making of spear shafts. Old English aesc plega may have been used to mean 'war' but it literally translates as 'spear play'.

Holly - easy to see why the Proto-Indo-European root here is kel meaning 'to prick'.

Willow - ultimately from Proto-Indo-European wel meaning 'to turn, revolve' and a reference to the young willow's usefulness as it is whippy and flexible.

Larch - thought to be a loanword from an Alpine Gaulish langauge which could be related to Old Celtic darik meaning 'oak' which may add to the information known for 'oak' (see above) to suggest the word 'oak' simply meant 'tree'.