Five Of The Gang

Slang is often characterized by the mangling of foreign phrases, abbreviating phrases, and dropping aitches, the latter for long periods being associated with a lack of education or belonging to the lower orders. You can imagine that an ‘appy dosser was not too concerned about the sanctity of their aitches, being so poor that they did not have sufficient to rustle up the money for a bed in a common lodging-house.

In the early 1880s someone running for a bus may have been encouraged by their fellow passengers with the cry of “Archer up”. This became a popular form of congratulations and meant that you were sure to win. Its origin, Passing English of the Victorian Era informs us, came from the celebrated exploits of a jockey of that name who rose from nowhere to prominence in 1881. His riding style was considered to be the height of recklessness, a trait he carried on into his private life, shooting himself dead. An abbreviation of Archer’s up on the saddle, it fell out of use, almost immediately after the jockey’s demise.

Arer is a fascinating word, being an emphatic version of the common verb, are. It was used in phrases like “we are, and we couldn’t be any arer”. Time for a revival, methinks.

To have an argol-bargol was to have a row. Argol was derived from argil, used by one of the gravediggers in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Bargol was a nonsense word, introduced to rhyme with argol and to give the phrase a little more character. It is almost certain that the more modern argie-bargie is a further abbreviation of this Victorian term. One of the wonders of the English language is its ability to change subtly and imperceptibly.

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