From the Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue: Soldiers

 I have to admit, all the research on the army, officers, militia and war has left me rather down, so I thought I would post something a little more light hearted on the subject today.

I am captivated by language and how it relates to a culture. With three teen aged sons living at home with me I get to hear a lot of the slang they encounter and I never cease to be fascinated by the terms that come up.  Since every era has its own unique slang, I thought it would be interesting to share some Regency era slang with you as it pertains to soldiers.

Terms for soldiers:

  • Bad bargain: a worthless soldier. Usage: One of his majesty’s bad bargains
  • Bloody Back: A jeering name for a soldier, for his scarlet coat.
  • Brothers of the blade: A soldier
  • Fogey or Old Fogey: A nickname for an invalid soldier.
  • British unforms circa 1812

    British red coat uniforms, circa 1812

    Foot wabbler: A contemptuous name for a foot soldier, commonly used by the cavalry.

  • Light bob: A soldier of the light infantry company.
  • Lobster: A nickname for a soldier, from the color of his clothes.
  • Parish soldier: A militiaman, from substitutes being frequently hired by the parish for those who do not wish to serve.
  • Skulker: A soldier who by feigned sickness evades his duty; a sailor who keeps below in time of danger
  • Swad or Swadkin: A soldier.

Interesting terms related to the military:

Act of parliament: A military term for five pints of beer. An act of parliament had formally obliged a landlord was formerly to give to each soldier this amount free.

 Black Guard: A shabby, mean fellow; derived from a number of dirty, tattered roguish boys, who attended at the Horse Guards and Parade in St. James’s Park, to black the boots and shoes of the soldiers, or to do any other dirty offices.

Blue plumb: A bullet.

Brown Bess: A soldier’s firelock.

Brown Bess musket

Brown Bess musket

Camp candlestick: A bottle, or soldier’s bayonet.

Halbert: A weapon carried by an infantry sergeant.

He carries the halbert in his face: a saying of one promoted from a sergeant to a commission officer.

Lumber: Live lumber; soldiers or passengers on board a ship are so called by the sailors.

Messmate: A soldier who eats at the same mess, companion or comrade.

Nightingale: A soldier who sings (cries) out at the halberts.

-It is a point of honour in some regiments never to cry out under the discipline of the cat of nine tails; to avoid which, they chew a bullet.

 Rag fair: An inspection of the linen and necessaries of a company of soldiers, commonly made by their officers on Mondays or Saturdays.

Sank, Sanky, Centipees: A tailor employed by clothiers in making soldier’s clothing.

A series of pole mounted weapons called halberts

Various Halberts

To be brought to the halberts: to be flogged. Soldiers of the infantry, when flogged,being commonly tied to three halberts, set up in a triangle, with a fourth fastened across them.

To boil one’s lobster— for a churchman to become a soldier: lobsters, which are of a bluish black, being made red by boiling.

To get a halbert: to be appointed a sergeant.

To hug brown Bess: to carry a firelock, or serve as a private soldier.

Smart money: Money allowed to soldiers or sailors for the loss of a limb, or other hurt received in the service.

Soldier’s mawnd: A pretended soldier, begging with a counterfeit wound, which he claims to have received at some famous siege or battle.

Surfeited with a blue plumb: wounded with a bullet.

Tattoo: A beat of the drum, of signal for soldiers to go to their quarters and for ale to stop being served.

Finally, in the category of not exactly slang but still pretty interesting:

Cold burning. A punishment inflicted by private soldiers on their comrades for trifling offences, or breach of their mess laws; it is administered in the following manner: The prisoner is set against the wall, with the arm that is to be burned tied as high above his head as possible. The executioner then ascends a stool, and having a bottle of cold water, pours it slowly down the sleeve of the delinquent, patting him, and leading the water gently down his body, till it runs out at his breeches knees: this is repeated to the other arm, if he is sentenced to be burned in both.

Quoted from:

Grose, Captain (Francis). (2004)  Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1811 ed. Ikon Classics

by Maria Grace Copyright 2013, all rights reserved


Volume 2 Edits

Several of you have asked about the status of Volume 2, so I thought I would share. This:

notes trewn across the counter top

Plot notes for Vol 2


is what it looks like right now.  It looks insane, but it is actually in pretty good shape.  A color for each story arc and a timeline for each event.   It may not seem like much, but this was the first BIG hurdle to the project.  Now I’ve got the road map and the journey is underway.

Thanks for all the inquiries and good wishes.  I’ll keep you posted!


An Officer and a Gentleman pt. 2

The Militia-A Different Breed of Officer

In Austen’s Pride and Prejudice we encounter a military regiment temporarily stationed in Meryton. These men are members of the militia, not the regular army (discussed in the last post.) While at first blush, there may seem little difference between the regular army (the Regulars) and the militia, the differences are striking and significant.


What was the Militia?

The militia served as a peace keeping force on home soil. History had taught that a regular army could be a great threat to civil liberties, so the virtues of the militia were sometimes overstated. In theory, they suppressed riots,  broke up seditious gatherings and if needed, repelled invading enemy forces. Unfortunately, the militia was a dubious peacekeeper. It was not uncommon for its members to sympathize with their rioting neighbors they were sent to subdue. Moreover, their lack of training made them amateurish compared to the regulars.

Joining the militia 

Parliament controlled the size of the militia. Though considered a volunteer force, all Protestant males were required to make themselves available for militia service. The King required the Lord-Lieutenant,

Flag with union jack, crown and sword.

Flag of the Lord Lieutenant

usually a local nobleman, each county to gather a force of able-bodied men between 18 and 45 years of age to fill the quota for his area. Militia service required a five to seven year commitment to service on home soil with no chance of being sent overseas. Only clergymen were exempt from service. If a man did not wish to serve he could pay a substitute to serve in his stead. The going rate started at £25. (Keep in mind our comparison of a minimum wage job bringing in £50 a year.)

Most militia officers were drawn from the local gentry and were led by a colonel who was a county landowner. Officer’s commissions were not purchased as they were in the regular army. Officer ranks was directly related to the amount and value of property they or their family held. For example, to qualify for the rank of captain a man needed to either own land worth £200 per year, be heir to land worth £400 per year, or the son of a father with land worth £600 per year. A lieutenant needed land worth £50 a year.

In practice it was difficult to find officers, particularly lower grade officers, for militia service. So the property qualifications for lieutenants were often ignored.  It was in this way that George Wickham could become an officer despite not having a property owner in his family. While this leniency allowed many to join the ranks of officer who would not otherwise have such an opportunity, it did bring down the perceived status of the militia officer.

Life in the militia

Service in the militia carried little threat of front line duty. Officers had a great deal of leave and often enjoyed a busy social schedule provided by the local gentry. Since all officers were supposed to be property holders of some measure, they were all considered gentlemen and afforded the according status.

Brighton beach sketch

Brighton beach sketch from early 1800’s

 In summer the militia’s regiments went into tented camps in the open countryside to engage in training exercises. Camps were located throughout the southern and eastern coasts, the largest at Brighton.

Military reviews, held on open hillside or common land,  made thrilling entertainment for the local residents. They included displays of marching, drilling, firing at targets and even mock skirmishes often for the benefit of a visiting general. In the winter, the militia quartered wherever accommodation could be found for them in the nearby towns and villages. Accommodations were paid for by the soldiers themselves.


Public attitude toward the militia

All in all the militia was not popular. Inhabitants resented assessments of equipment and money to cover the needs of the militia. Men resented being drafted to serve and were apt to do everything they could to avoid their military training.

As a peacekeeping force, they militia had little to do but drill. With so much free time on their hands, they developed a reputation for a wild lifestyle of parties and frivolity. Since the militia moved often, officers had a great temptation to run up bills and leave without paying them. As a result innkeepers and tradesmen disliked them and often protested the militia quartering in or even passing through their town. Not surprisingly, parents often saw militia officers as a threat to their marriageable daughters since their families were unknown and might disappear from the neighborhood very quickly.


For more information see:

Collins, Irene. (1998)  Jane Austen, The Parson’s Daughter . Hambledon Press.

Day, Malcom. (2006) Voices from the World of Jane. Austen David & Charles .

Downing, Sarah Jane.  (2010). Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen.  Shire Publications

Holmes, Richard.  (2001).   Redcoat, the British Soldier in the Age of Horse and Musket

W. W. Norton & Company

Le Faye, Deirdre.  (2002).   Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels. Harry N. Abrams

Militia.  Regency Collection :<>

Southam, Brian  (2005). Jane Austen in Context.  Janet M. Todd ed Cambridge University Press

Tomalin, Claire.  (1999).  Jane Austen, a Life.  Random House

Watkins, Susan . (1990).  Jane Austen’s Town and Country Style. Rizzoli

by Maria Grace Copyright 2013, all rights reserved