'Amorous Congress': Lurid Nineteenth-Century Sex Terminology

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

vulgartongue_main.jpg

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.

Presented by

Adrienne Crezo is a writer based in Oklahoma.

Saving the Bees

Honeybees contribute more than $15 billion to the U.S. economy. A short documentary considers how desperate beekeepers are trying to keep their hives alive.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Health

Just In