Cantering Through Cant (30)

Many of the entries in Francis Grose’s fascinating A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785) have left me in the wood. This phrase, he informs us, means to be “bewildered, in a maze of troubles, puzzled or at a loss what course to take in any business”. To look over the wood is to ascend a pulpit to preach while to look through the wood is to stand in a pillory. A wooden ruff Norway neckcloth is a pillory and a wooden habeas is a coffin. A man who dies in prison is said to go out in a wooden habeas.

To be wrapt up in warm flannel is to be drunk with spirituous liquors whereas to be wrapt in his mother’s smock is said of someone who has great success with the ladies. To be wrapt in someone is to have a good opinion of someone or to be under their influence.

Something to avoid is Womblety Croft, said to be to the indisposition of a drunkard after a debauch, no doubt after drinking by word of mouth, out of a bottle or bowl rather than a glass.

A word pecker was one who plays upon words and a word grubber is avocal critic or one who uses hard words in discourse”. In case I am accused of word grubbery, I shall close this insight into the world of 18th century slang.

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