Aldiboronti at Wordorigins has been posting so many fine links lately I thought I’d do a roundup of a few of them. English Slang in the Nineteenth Century “aims to provide a conspectus, if not comprehensive then at least covering a wide range, of nineteenth-century English slang”; as aldi says: “It includes general works such as Hotten’s The Dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant and Vulgar Words by a London Antiquary, 1859, as well as more specialized books.” Dictionaries Published in the United States, 1703-1832 (pdf) is just what the name implies; aldi cites “a few of the more intriguing entries.” You can read Chapter 1 of The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity: A Study in Sociological Semantics and the Sociology of Science, by Robert K. Merton and Elinor Barber, here (“From the names of cruise lines and bookstores to an Australian ranch and a nudist camp outside of Atlanta, the word serendipity—that happy blend of wisdom and luck by which something is discovered not quite by accident—is today ubiquitous. This book traces the word’s eventful history from its 1754 coinage into the twentieth century—chronicling along the way much of what we now call the natural and social sciences…”); towards the end of the chapter are two “examples of the use of a kind of private language”:

The first is “Glynnese,” created by William E. Gladstone’s
in-laws, the Glynnes. Writing of Glynnese, Gladstone’s biographer
Philip Magnus says:

The Lytteltons and the Gladstones [Lord Lyttelton and Gladstone married the Glynne sisters] were so numerous and devoted, so quick, eager and vital, that for many purposes they felt themselves to be self-sufficient. They invented a kind of language for themselves, which was formally embodied by Lord Lyttelton in 1857 in a glossary which was privately printed. It was entitled Contributions Toward a Glossary of the Glynne Language by a Student (George William, Lord Lyttelton) . . . Gladstone, who loved to hear Glynnese spoken, did not often use the language himself. But Mrs. Gladstone used it on every possible occasion.[…]

The other family with a language of its own creation was the Barings, and they too were well established as members of the social elite. Sir Edward Marsh, a great friend of Maurice Baring, describes the language in his autobiography: “I have mentioned the Baring language, or to speak more idiomatically, ‘The Expressions.’ It was started, I believe by Maurice’s mother and her sister, Lady Ponsonby, when they were little girls, and in the course of two generations it had developed a
vocabulary of surprising range and subtlety, putting everyday things in a new light, conveying in nutshells complex situations or states of feeling, cutting at the roots of circumlocution. Those who had mastered the idiom found it almost indispensable.” Among those who had mastered it were high officials in the Foreign Office, members of the literary elite such as Desmond MacCarthy, and many others. In this circle, the “Expressions,” far from being frowned upon, were used as a symbol of unquestioned membership and helped mark off the boundaries of the group.

Finally, there’s the Festus Lexicon Project:

The Lexicon of Festus (de uerborum significatu) is a Latin dictionary compiled in the Roman imperial period which preserves a great deal of priceless information about the history, society, religion and topography of Rome and Italy in earlier centuries… The objectives of this project are:
● to make this mass of information available to researchers in a usable form;
● to stimulate debate on Festus’ own work, on the antiquarian tradition from which he was drawing and on the subsequent history of the text in the Renaissance and thereafter; and
● to enrich and renew studies on the many particular areas of Roman life on which Festus provides such essential information.

Well done, aldi, and keep ’em coming!


  1. Off topic but we don’t have “ranches” in Australia. We have “stations”. It’s probably less confusing (and sounds better) to say “cattle station” (but there are also sheep stations).
    Aussie words are worth loving too (-:

  2. Hey, I’ve given lots o’ love to Aussie words — just put “australia” into the search box and see!

  3. I googled, and apparently “serendipity” really was, in fact derived from “Serendib”, and old name for Sri Lanka.
    The story of the Merton Serendipity book is pretty sad. Apparently he never published it, because it would have upset important people in the sociology biz (in which he became a big name). Academics can be such hopeless jerks. (I don’t mean Merton). His “On the Shoulders of Giants” is great fun too.

  4. Yes, I love that book.

  5. The other family with a language of its own

    The Mitfords had no less than two such languages: Jessica and Unity had Boudlidige, and Jessica and Deborah had Honnish. Jane Welsh Carlyle seems to have had quite a number of phraseologies for use with different people, most notably her husband Thomas.

    Off topic but we don’t have “ranches” in Australia. We have “stations”.

    I first learned this reading about the Station of Doom in Norstrilia. It’s a sheep station, although the sheep are chronically ill, weigh about twenty tons each, and emit the raw form of a drug from which (near-)immortality is obtained.

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