Cantering Through Cant (28)

To tip the velvet, Francis Grose informs us in his A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785), meant to put one’s tongue into a woman’s mouth. To be upon velvet was to have the best of a bet or match and a later edition reports that a popular toast amongst Irish Tories and Catholics at the time was to the little man in velvet. This was a reference to a mole which threw up a hill which caused King William’s horse, Crop, to stumble. Perhaps in a case of tit for tat Ireland was known as the urinal of the planets on account of the amount of rain that fell in that country.   

An ungrateful man was a euphemism for a parson, the reason being that at least once a week he abused his best benefactor, the devil. More grateful, we assume, were the boys of parishes in London who were given each Whit Monday by the churchwardens points in the form of tags. Made from different coloured worsteds, they were twisted together to form a thick cord and tagged together at each end with tin. They were then affixed to a pair oon account of the amount of rain that fell in that country. f trousers. To untruss a point was to “let down one’s breeches in order to ease one’s self”.  

When the truth is too uncomfortable to tell, we often resort to euphemisms. To have gone to visit his uncle was a phrase used to describe someone who, early on in his marriage, has left his wife. Goods left at your uncle’s or laid up in lavender were really at the pawnbrokers. Someone who had waddled out of Change Alley like a lame duck was a gamblerwho had been unable to pay their debts and so were forced to sell their shares at the Stock Exchange in Change Alley and no longer count as an investor. If the funds so raised were still insufficient, a trip to their metaphorical uncle was on the cards.

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