'Amorous Congress': Lurid Nineteenth-Century Sex Terminology

Fancy some blanket hornpipe? [*wink, wink*]

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While shoe-horning these into conversation today might prove difficult, these 17 synonyms for sex were used often enough in 19th-century England to earn a place in the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, a book for upper-crust Britons who had no idea what the proles were talking about.

  • Amorous congress: To say two people were engaged in the amorous congress was by far the most polite option on the list, oftentimes serving as the definition for other, less discreet synonyms.
  • Basket-making: "Those two recently opened a basket-making shop." From a method of making children's stockings, in which knitting the heel is called basket-making .
  • Bread and butter: One on top of the other. "Rumor has it he found her bread and butter fashion with the neighbor."
  • Brush: "Yeah, we had a brush once." The emphasis here is on brevity; just a fling, no big deal.
  • Clicket: "They left together, so they're probably at clicket." This was originally used only for foxes, but became less specific as more and more phrases for doing it were needed.
  • Face-making: Aside from the obvious, this also comes from "making children," because babies have faces.
  • Blanket hornpipe: There is probably no way to use this in seriousness or discreetly, but there you have it.
  • Blow the grounsils: "Grounsils" are foundation timbers, so "on the floor."
  • Convivial society: Similar to "amorous congress" in that this was a gentler term suitable for even the noble classes to use, even if they only whispered it.
  • Take a flyer: "Flyers" being shoes, this is "dressed, or without going to bed."
  • Green gown: Giving a girl a green gown can only happen in the grass.
  • Lobster kettle: A woman who sleeps with soldiers coming in at port is said to "make a lobster kettle" of herself.
  • Melting moments: Those shared by "a fat man and woman in amorous congress."
  • Pully hawly: A game at pully hawly is a series of affairs.
  • St. George: In the story of St. George and the Dragon, the dragon reared up from the lake to tower over the saint. "Playing at St. George" casts a woman as the dragon and puts her on top.
  • A stitch: Similar to having a brush, "making a stitch" is a casual affair.
  • Tiff: A tiff could be a minor argument or falling-out, as we know it. In the 19th century, it was also a term for eating or drinking between meals, or in this case, a quickie.


A version of this post originally appeared on Mental Floss, an Atlantic partner site.

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Adrienne Crezo is a writer based in Oklahoma.

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