Twenty-Three Of The Gang

Got a clock was a piece of slang describing the act of carrying a handbag. It owed its origin to a terrorist incident, ascribed to the Fenians, according to James Ware in his Passing English of a Victorian Era. London’s first serious explosion by dynamite, he notes, occurred at Victoria terminus on February 26, 1884, caused by a device in a bag which was denoted when the hammer of an American clock struck the trigger of a pistol whose charge fired the explosion. No one was injured but it forced its way into the vocabulary of the time.

We are familiar with the term Grandfather clock, a high eight-day clock. It gained its attractive name in 1868 from an American song, popular at the time, My Grandfather’s Clock.

Half-a-foot o’ port described a glass of that beverage, served at Short’s, just opposite Somerset House, in a distinctive glass, the size and shape of a champagne flute. Alternatively, you could try half-go, three pennyworth of spirits, for mixing with hot or cold water. Either way, too much could make you half-a-brewer, drunk, or at best, half-rats, partially intoxicated.  

Perhaps, though, it would be preferable to placing half-a-yennork, a half-crown, on half a ton of bones done up in horsehair, a sporting term for a thin, ill-conditioned young horse, perhaps the nag of choice for a half-hour gentleman, someone whose breeding was only superficial, similar to a halfpenny-howling-swell, a pretender.

More colourful phrases next time.

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