Can You Tell Your Dandy From Your Tulip or Your Corinthian From Your Swell? (And what about Pinks, Gilliflowers, Kiddys and Dandyzettes?)

In 1823 Slang, A Dictionary of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, the Pit and of Bon-Ton and the Varieties of Life… by ‘Jon Bee, Esq.’ appeared in print.John Bee front

John Bee was actually the pseudonym of John Badcock, a sporting writer and contemporary of the much more famous Pierce Egan, for whom he appears to have felt intense antagonism.

This was an era of popular slang dictionaries, the most well-know of which was Grose’s The Vulgar Tongue, and in the same year as ‘Jon Bee’s’ effort Egan produced what he said was the third edition of Grose, although it was more of a straight lift with some additions.

Bee’s dictionary, as well as including a vitriolic attack on Egan in the preface, contains many quite discursive and highly prejudiced definitions and I was entertained by his descriptions of gentlemen of fashion.

At the pinnacle of well-dressed sporting gentlemen is the Corinthian:

A man highly togged was so termed, by reason of the supereminence of that order of architecture. In process of time (1761), the term was applied to superlative articles of dress… We would confine the word to nobility and gentry of education, who join heartily in the sports of the turf or the ring, the latterly particularly: but well-dressed prigs assume the envied name, or seedy sordid knaves, who have no soul for those things.

Corinthians must, by definition be Gentlemen:

None can be considered a true English gentleman by us, who has not stored his mind with English lore, spells every word rightly, and is capable of forming a sane off-hand judgment upon every subject that may come upon the carpet.

And they are undoubtedly Pinks:

One above the common run of mankind in his manful exertions is a pink.

morning

(left) A Corinthian in his many-caped greatcoat waits atop the mailcoach for an opportunity to take the ribbons and ‘wagon it’.

Rather less impressive than the Corinthian, but related, is the Swell:

A man highly dressed, in white upper tog* and lilly shallow**, (for example,) is a swell, however circumstanced in pocket; but to keep up the name he must lay out his blunt freely; bet, and swear ‘damme, Sir.’ If he does not fight, at least he ought to know how, and take lessons – or give them. No fighting man by profession can be a swell, he is a tulip, if he dresses thereafter, and looks swellish: – ‘tis esteemed the first grade towards Corinthianism, which he can never reach by any possibility whatever. No man who ever performed any duty or service for hire (except doctors, lawyers, parsons, and statesmen) can possibly be a real swell, certainly not a Gentleman, most indubitably not a Corinthian.

*Upper tog – a great coat ** Lilly shallow – a white, low-crowned driving hat

So who is this lesser-ranking Tulip?:

Fine habiliments of various colours and strong ones, compose the tulip… Tulips compared with Swells are what gilt gingerbread is to a gilded sign-board; the one fades soon, the other is at least intelligent to the last.

A variety of Tulip is a Gillyflower:

None can be a gillyflower, who does not wear a canary* or belcher** fogle*** round his twist****: if he put up many more colours, he becomes a tulip.

*Yellow ** yellow silk handkerchief with a little white & black. Named for Jem Belcher the pugilist *** a silk handkerchief **** neck

But what about Dandies?

Lord PetershamAn invention of 1816, and applied to persons whose extravagant dress called forth the sneers of the vulgar; they were mostly young men who had this designation, and they were charged with wearing stays – a mistake easily fallen into, their wide web-belts having that appearance. Men of fashion became dandy soon after; having imported a good deal of French manner in their gait, lispings, wrinkled foreheads, killing king’s English, wearing immense pleated pantaloons, the coat cut away, small waistcoat, with cravat and chitterlings* immense: Hat small; hair frizzled and protruding. If one fell down he could not rise without assistance. Yet they assumed to be a little au militaire, and some wore mustachios. Lord Petersham was at the head of this sect of mannerists.

*Shirt frills

Above: Lord Petersham and his eponymous trousers

Our Dandy may very well be seen with his female counterpart – the Dandyzette – on his arm:

Her characteristics were, a large poked bonnet, short petticoats much flounced, and paint. When she walked she kept the step with her Dandy, as if they had been drilled together in Birdcage-walk.

And finally those ancestors of the modern Kidult – the Kiddy:

Big bum 2Kid, Kiddy and Kidling implies youth; but an old evergreen chap may be dressed kiddily, i.e. knowingly, with his hat on one side, shirt-collar up on high, coat cut away in the skirts, or outside breast-pockets, a yellow, bird’s-eye-blue , or Belcher fogle*, circling his squeeze**, and a chitterling shirt*** of great magnitude protruding on the sight, and wagging as its wearer walks. These compounded compose the kiddy; and if father and son come it in the same style, the latter is a kidling.

*Yellow or blue-spotted or black-spotted yellow silk handkerchief ** neck or throat *** large shirt-front frills

 

11 Comments

Filed under Fashions, Gentlemen, High Society, Sport

11 responses to “Can You Tell Your Dandy From Your Tulip or Your Corinthian From Your Swell? (And what about Pinks, Gilliflowers, Kiddys and Dandyzettes?)

  1. annamagdalena

    I really enjoyed this, so interesting and informative. As someone not born with English as her mother tongue articles like this helps understanding both the language, the authors I love, and appreciating the minutiae
    of British English.

  2. Hilarious! Love it. Had not heard of this guy so find it fascinationg.

  3. Great fun, but it sounds awfully as if his tongue was firmly in his cheek the whole time

    • Oh absolutely tongue in cheek – it is the same with the political definitions – I could tell which were Tories and which Whigs from his description, but he treats both with the same tone – entertainment not reportage, I think!

  4. Lord Petersham appears to have a bosom. These fashions give new meaning to the term ..’squeeze’.

    • I suspect that is caused by the ‘chitterlings’ or ruffles down the front of his shirt – so-called because they looked like a partly-unravelled heap of small intestines. So romantic. Either that or Lady Petersham must have been severely taken in

  5. helenajust

    These dictionaries are fascinating, especially this one with no pretence at academic objectivity!

  6. Pingback: Cockaigne to Cyprian via Corinthian and Coster – Radio Days Music

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s