Three Of The Gang

In the days when butter was sold unwrapped, it was always advisable to look for a follicly challenged grocer as bald-headed butter was something to be cherished. J Redding Ware defined it in his Passing English of the Victorian Era, published in 1900, as butter free from hairs. As well as selling more wholesome goods, it saved them a trip to the barber’s.

The customary sign of a barber’s shop was a standing pole, bearing red and white stripes, and two wash balls. Inevitably, a barber’s pole was slang for the male genitalia. There has always been something a little risqué about a hairdresser where gentlemen went for a trim and to pick up something for the weekend. A slang expression to describe a popular sex worker was as common as a barber’s chair in which a whole parish has sat to be trimmed. I am sure it must have been abbreviated to a barber’s chair.

Vicars were always the subject of invective through the ages. The Lexicon Balatronicum, subtitled A Dictionary of Buckish Slang from 1811, records that a Ballacks was a vulgar name for a parson. Autem was slang for a church and so an autem-bawler was a clergyman, an autem-diver a Churchwarden or a Baptist – interestingly, a term also used to describe a pickpocket who operated in a church – and an autem-goggler was a false prophet, particularly from France.

According to Jon Bee’s Slang: A Dictionary of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, the Pit, of Bon-Ton and the Varieties of Life from 1823, a backgammon player was a fellow whose propensities lie out of the natural order of things in England. Whether those propensities included sleeping at the Inn of the Morning Star, a rather poetic piece of slang to describe the open air, is anyone’s guess.      

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