I like good strong words that mean something.

Louisa May Alcott



The term explanation 

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z


afore    Surrey dialect for ‘before’

agone    ago, in the past

anker    a barrel used for transporting spirits; it carried about 8.5 gallons. A half-anker, containing about 4 gallons, was used when men were carrying the load instead of packhorses or carts.

arrack   a distilled alcoholic drink originating in Asia. The East India Company imported large quantities of it from India, where it was made from fermented coconut liquid. It was often used as an ingredient in punch.


bagman    a pedlar, traveling vendor

bannicking    thrashing, beating (Surrey dialect)

bantling a young child

bargeboard    an ornamented board concealing roof timbers that project over gables

barker   a pistol

batman    in smuggling circles, and armed guard. For a military officer, a batman was his personal servant.

beazled   Sussex dialect for ‘tired out’

betony   also called common hedge nettle or bishop’s wort, a native perennial herb

bilious   in 1800, a portmanteau term for any intestinal complaint

black harvest  in 1799, it rained so much during the summer and fall that the crops rotted in the fields and turned black

blackthorn winter  a frost in late March, when the blackthorns were in bloom

boffled Sussex dialect for confused, bewildered

brake   bracken, ferns

breast beam   a strong crossbeam on which rests the shaft of a windmill, which protrudes from the top floor of the windmill and to which the sails are attached



calumniation   slander

carriage folk   Surrey dialect for the gentry, or anyone wealthy enough to own a carriage

Catlick   Sussex dialect for Roman Catholic

cattle pound   a fenced enclosure in a town where cattle were impounded if found wandering, so their owners could collect them

chaise   a travelling carriage that was usually covered but open to the air and drawn by one or two horses. A hired post-chaise was usually painted yellow and the driver, known as a postillion, rode on one of the horses.

chalk-plat   Chalk was dug from the North Downs, and the area around Darking produced some of the finest. It was brought into town and processed at the chalk-plat into lime, which was in demand both for agriculture and for the masons and bricklayers of London.

chancy   risky, uncertain

chandler   a maker and seller of candles and other lighting materials such as spermaceti oil

cheroot   a cheap cigar cut square at both ends

clay-diggings   By 1800 Darking’s pottery industry had largely vanished, but all over Holmwood Common there were signs of where clay had been dug for the pottery works. The holes left behind filled with water and made crossing the common often treacherous at night.

coachwheel   a coin worth a crown

cockloft   slang for ‘head’

comely   attractive

commonable   Arcane rules going back to the Middle Ages governed the use of common lands. An animal was considered commonable if it was allowed to graze on the common; the type of animal and time of year were strictly regulated. See also estovers, pasture, piscary, turbary.

coney (plural conies)   a rabbit

coppice or copse   a thicket, usually of trees growing up as suckers from a stump. The wood was usually only useful as firewood.

coping   an angled cap running along the top of a wall

copyhold   a form of land tenure in which the land was leased from the manor, subject to restrictions and terms laid out in the manorial court roll. Copyhold property could typically be inherited by a member of the copyholder’s family by renewal of the lease, so tenants could remain on the same land for many generations. Copyhold often came with certain rights to use common lands; see estovers, pasture, piscary, turbary.

cordwainer   a shoemaker or, more broadly, a worker in leather

cove   a fellow; the term carries the connotation of a rogue

crottle   droppings or dung, usually but not always from a hare

cully   a bloke

curricle   a fashionable two-wheeled carriage seating up to two people, open, drawn usually by a pair of horses

curtilage   the enclosed (walled or fenced) area of land around a house, especially one in the country, including its gardens and some outbuildings

cutpurse   a thief, especially a pickpocket



dragoon   a mounted British soldier, less well trained and equipped (and thus paid less) than a cavalry soldier. Starting in 1746 the British army demoted all its cavalry soldiers to dragoons.

draw one’s cork   punch in the nose, drawing blood

dray   a large cart or waggon without sides; also, a squirrel’s nest

drover   one who drives cattle or sheep

dust one’s jacket   give someone a beating



earthing   burial

esh   stubble in a field after harvest

estovers   the traditional right to take branches from smaller trees or bushes for use in a commoner’s house

Excise   the government agency responsible for dealing with smuggling on the domestic front (Customs policed international trade). At the coasts, prevention was handled by the Landguard and Waterguard, but excisemen enforced the law inland.

exciseman   an officer of the Excise



false pair o’ jaws   a liar

farradiddle   an implausible story

flat   boring; also, a gullible person

flitch   a side of cured meat, especially bacon

floated   Surrey dialect for ‘flooded’

fluttermouse or flittermouse   a bat; Sussex dialect

forrards   Surrey dialect for ‘forwards’

fortnight   two weeks

freehold   a form of land tenure that owes nothing to the manor. The owner of a freeheld farm can dispose of it at will and is known as a yeoman.

free-trader   a popular term for ‘smuggler’. People using the term were generally those who had no objection to smuggling.

furlong   a unit of distance measuring 220 yards or 201 metres



gainsay   contradict or deny

gig   a small, low-end open carriage carrying no more than two people and drawn by one horse. It was one step up from a cart by virtue of having springs.

glims   eyes; also, in Sussex dialect, either a glimpse or a ghost

glint   glimpse

gollymoggled   senile

gooming   Surrey dialect for ‘daydreaming’

gormless   Surrey dialect for ‘half-witted’

graces   a game played mostly by young girls; in 1800 it was very recently introduced from France. Two people stand facing each other holding out sticks crossed like a pair of scissors; they toss a small hoop back and forth, trying to catch it atop the sticks.

gudgeon   a freshwater fish easily caught by beginners; hence its slang usage, meaning a gullible person, one who easily swallows the bait

hay-wain   a heavy waggon used to bring in the harvested hay from the fields

heave-jar   a nightjar, a bird that hunts for insects between dusk and dawn

hedgebird   a criminal

herbage a hereditary right to graze livestock on common lands

higgler   This term is used in different ways in different regions of England. In Sussex and Surry it is generally an itinerant pedlar going door to door in rural areas; elsewhere it is more broadly a seller of wares or poultry.

High Toby   highway robbery

hollands   gin from the Netherlands



inglenook   a recess to the side of a large fireplace

inholding   private property carved out of waste or common land. By early custom, if a man could build a dwelling with a roof in the course of a single night and have a fire burning on the hearth by morning, he was entitled to live and farm there. The property he thus claimed was an inholding.



japery   pranks



ken   as a verb, to know; as a noun, knowledge, understanding

killsome   prone to violence

King’s Road, take to the   become a highwayman

King’s shilling, take the   volunteer for the army or navy

knacky   clever



lackwit   a half-wit

lamentable   an intensifier meaning ‘very’

lanthorn   obsolete spelling of ‘lantern’. There were various types: a close or dark lanthorn had panels that could be closed to hide the light; a spout lanthorn looked a bit like a watering can, with a long spout that directed a beam of light like a modern flashlight or torch.

leasehold   a form of land tenure that was less common in rural areas than copyhold. With a leasehold, the tenant held the land for a fixed term of years without the potential for passing it on to an heir.

leveret   a juvenile hare. Different laws governed the killing of juvenile and adult hares at various times of year.

lief   wish, prefer

lonesome   Surrey dialect for ‘lonely’ or ‘solitary’

lych-gate   a roofed gateway to a churchyard, also called a resurrection gate

lying-in   giving birth




magistrate   a gentleman appointed to administer the law, usually in rural areas or small towns. The magistrate would triage cases that came before him, either settling them out of hand or referring them to the court system for adjudication, depending on severity.

manor   dating from feudal times, an area of land granted to a lord that he could rent to tenants (see copyhold, freehold, leasehold). Also, the house the lord lived in on the manorial estate.

mast   the nuts of a beech tree

meedless   fruitless

menjous   an intensifier in Surrey dialect, meaning ‘extremely’

meuse   an opening through a hedge made by a hare repeatedly using it to pass through

middling   Surrey dialect for ‘somewhat’

mog   a snob, or a person acting above his station

mullion   a usually vertical divider between panes of a window



necessary, the   an outhouse

niffy   offended

nipperkin   a young boy; in Sussex dialect, a small measure

nobbut what   Surrey dialect for ‘not but what’



Old Wykhamist   an alumnus of Winchester College. William of Wykeham, bishop of Winchester, founded the college in the fourteenth century.



pannage   the traditional right to allow one’s pig to forage in the wooded area of a common. Pigs would be fattened on acorns and other nuts in the late summer and fall.

pasture   the traditional right to let cattle, sheep, horses, and other animals graze on common land.

pattens   footwear for women in the form of  a wooden platform or clog set atop a metal ring, intended to lift the wearer’s feet above mud and muck

pease   peas or other leguminous crops

pewit   the lapwing

phiz   face, visage

picksome   Sussex dialect for hard to please, selective, picky

piscary   the traditional right to fish on common land

poor rates   a system of property taxes levied by parishes to provide for workhouses and other relief for the poor. Assistance depended on having established residence in the parish, so it was difficult for poor people to move out of their home parish. In the 1790s changes came to the poor rate system that partially mitigated the distress caused by bad harvests but also placed a heavy burden on the rate-payers.

pothery   a term originally used for sheep suffering from an illness that made them run around in circles, broadened to mean ‘crazy’

prad   a horse

prate   chatter



quarter   a unit of measure. A quarter of an agricultural crop was a quarter of a ton or eight bushels.



rabbit form   rabbit warren or den

reckon   guess or suppose; in Surrey dialect, pronounced ‘rackon’

regale   a banquet, especially one provided by a landowner to his farm labourers after harvest

resty   restive, restless

ribbons   reins

rush light   the cheapest form of illumination. A rush light was made by dipping a dried rush stalk in grease



sarmint or sarment   Surrey dialect for ‘sermon’

sartin   Surrey dialect for ‘certain’

scapegrace   a wild, dissolute fellow (one who has ‘escaped Grace’)

scarper   run away

scatheless   unharmed, unscathed

setter   slang for an exciseman

shaft (of a windmill)   the spar that protrudes horizontally from the upper storey of the structure, to which are attached the rotor blades for the sails

shag-rag   a person of tattered appearance

shaw   a small wood, in the Midlands known as a spinney

shuckish   Surrey dialect for ‘showery’

somewhen   Surrey dialect for ‘at some time’

spermaceti oil   a waxy substance taken from the heads of sperm and other whales and processed into a liquid to be used in cosmetics. It was very expensive and valued because it did not become solid in cold temperatures. The solids left behind in processing were also used as a type of wax.

spillikins   a game similar to jackstraws or pick-up-sticks

stays   strips of whalebone or other firm material used to shape a garment, most commonly one worn by a woman

stook   a cluster of sheaves of grain. During harvest, labourers would stack up sheaves vertically in a field into stoooks to make it easier to collect them and place them on a waggon for bringing in for storage.

stubble it   shut up



tail pole   a post mill like the one on Holmwood Common was built around a single post, allowing the entire structure to be turned so that the sails might best catch the wind. The tail pole was the device used to turn it.

talk his dog’s hind leg off   Surrey dialect for being overly voluble

tallow dip   a dried reed dipped in melted animal fat. As the fat cooled it became solid and formed a primitive candle. Tallow dip candles were cheap but smoked and smelled bad and were therefore considered inferior to wax candles.

thruppence   three pennies

toff   a swell, a wealthy person

tuppence   two pennies

turbary   the traditional right to collect turf for fuel on common land



waste lands   the open space on a common not generally suited for agriculture

water souchy   a freshwater fish stew that was a traditional speciality of Darking

whorts   Surrey dialect for whortleberries, sometimes also called ‘harts’. They grew wild and were often collected by children and poor people in season.

windhover   the common kestrel

worrit   Surrey dialect for ‘worry’



yaffle   Sussex dialect for the green woodpecker

yard of tin   slang term for a post horn. Drivers of Royal Mail coaches were issued a tin horn, three feet long, that they used to signal their approach to a toll gate so the gatekeeper could open the gate more quickly and not delay the mails.

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