The slang in Elizabethan London

Pronunciation of words in Elizabethan English is a complicated matter, since linguistically it rests between the “say what you see” rules of Middle English and the more esoteric pronunciations of Modern English.  It is unreasonable to have the term ‘cider’ pronounced ‘zoiderr’, ‘farmer’ as ‘varmerr’; ‘house’ as ‘hoos’; ‘tea’ as ‘tay’; ‘grass’ as ‘grace’ or ‘graz’; ‘creek’ as ‘crik’.  Also there are regional things to keep in mind, for instance in the East and North counties.

There are some things to keep in mind. “Y” does not always mean in 16th Century English the same thing that it does in modern English. For example, the words ‘Ye’ and ‘You’ would be pronounced ‘the’ and ‘thou’, while the words ‘foyre’ and ‘yard’ are,  pronounced “fire” and “yard”. In other words, this is a very tricky subject and you should be cautious.

Here is a short list of words and expressions used in Elizabethan’s London.

Argent, bit, cross, lowre – coin, cash

abroad – out of doors

amulet – omelette

artificer – skilled workman

Barbary – North Africa

bellman – nightwatchman

blue-coat – a servant

brabble – quarrel

bong, bung – purse, pocket

broadsword – heavy old-fashioned sword for slashing

cant, peddler’s french – criminal slang

cullis – meat broth

cuttle – knife

derrick – a hangman

foister – a pickpocket

french marbles – venereal disease

garnish – a bribe given to a prison officer

green goose – goose under four months old

higgler – pedlar

jakes – a privy

kickshaw – fancy snack, from French quelquechose (something)

laystall – a dung-heap or midden

napery – table linen

nipper – a cutpurse

nunchion – snack between meals

ordinary – eating house, with the fixed price, set meal

paled – fenced

pippin – apple grown from the seed

potboy – youth employed to clear away in a tavern

poor John – salted hake

rear-banquet – late night snack

sack – sherry

shoulder-clapping – arrest

stew – a brothel

sucket – sweet e.g. sugar-plum

traffic – whore

trull – person of low character

ware-bench – shop counter

winchester goose – whore

zany – a clown