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Dickens Glossary

Index - A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Dickensian

Part of the lure of reading Dickens is finding out firsthand what everyday life was like in nineteenth century London. Some terms used in Dickens' works may be unfamiliar to today's readers and this glossary attempts to help readers better understand the times in which Dickens lived and described in such vivid detail.

All references to money are given as to what the denomination was worth in Victorian times. Britain adopted the decimal system in 1971.

For more information on places in London see the Dickens London Map.

If you come across terms in Dickens' works that are unfamiliar, let me know and I will attempt to find a definition and add them to this glossary.


A top

akimbo - having the hand on the hip and the elbow turned outward.

aldermen - local government official

ale - alcoholic beverage made from hops and malt, similar to beer, but heavier and stronger than beer.

almshouse - privately funded lodgings for the poor, as opposed to the workhouse, which was publicly funded.

apoplexy - a crippling stroke, sometimes fatal, usually associated with sudden loss of muscle control or paralysis.

apothecary - one who prepares drugs and medicines, sometimes made house calls, and gave advice concerning medical conditions; lowest order of medical man.

apprentice - one who is bound by agreement to work for another for a specific amount of time (usually seven years) in return for instruction in a trade, art or business. Since their hours were so long, apprentices usually lived in makeshift lodgings provided by their employers. The master was paid a fee. When one finished, they were a journeyman and able to hire themselves out to others for wages. Pip was apprenticed to Joe Gargary in Great Expectations.

articled clerks - young men who were apprenticed to lawyers for 5 years.

assizes - sessions held twice a year in areas outside London where law cases, too serious to be tried by local justice, were presided over by circuit-riding London judges. The assizes usually commenced with great ceremony.

Astley's - theatre operated by Philip Astley from 1774 located on the Surrey side of the Thames. Featuring several rings of action and horse riding displays, Astley's is considered the forerunner of the modern circus.

Austin Friars - monastery of Hermits of Saint Augustine in the heart of the City of London; founded, 1253, by Bohun, Earl of Hereford.

automaton - one mechanically going through the motions but without feeling or emotion

B top

bag wig - a black hair wig carried in a small silk bag.

bank notes - promissory notes of a bank; promise of a bank to pay upon presentation of such a note. The only form of paper currency in England.

banns - an announcement or notice of an intended marriage in a parish church. The banns were published on three consecutive Sundays. If no one "forbid the banns" the couple could get married.

Bar - the barristers of England; to be "called to the bar" meant that one had become eligible to practice as a barrister.

Bartholomew's Fair - huge fair held annually in Smithfield from the 1600's until an increase in crime and debauchery forced its closing in 1855.

bathing machine - a horse-drawn covered wagon used to haul swimmers into the sea. The swimmer would undress inside the wagon, be hauled into the sea, and exit the wagon through a whole in the bottom. Men and woman swam far apart due to the fact that men swam naked until the 1870s.

beadle - a minor parish official whose duties include ushering and preserving order at services and sometimes civil functions. Some parishes hired them to run the workhouse after the 1834 New Poor Law was passed as was the case with Bumble, the beadle in Oliver Twist.

Bedlam - contraction of the Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem, a London hospital for the insane. Used to describe a place or situation of noisy uproar and confusion.

beerhouse - a place where one could sell beer for payment of an annual fee of two guineas, promoted by the government in the 1830s to divert the poor from gin.

bender - sixpence

biffins - baked apples flattened into a cake.

bishop - high-ranking official in the Church of England.

blacks - flakes of soot

blacking - shoe or boot polish. As a child Dickens was employed at Warren's Blacking factory.

blind man's buff - popular parlor game in which the contestant is blindfolded and then must catch another player and then guess who he had caught. The game dates from ancient times. Blind man's buff is played by Samuel Pickwick and friends at the Christmas party at Dingley Dell in The Pickwick Papers, and at Christmas parties in A Christmas Carol.

bloodletting - act of reducing the amount of blood in the body accomplished either by opening a vein or by the application of leeches. Thought to restore health from ancient times through the nineteenth century.

bluchers - strong leather half-boots, named after Gebhard Leberecht von Blucher (1742-1819) Prussian field marshall at Waterloo.

bob - Cockney slang for shilling.

body-snatching - The act of digging up corpses to sell to medical men for research.

boned - stolen

boot - place in a coach where luggage was kept.

bootjack - device used to remove boots.

boots - a person who cleans shoes. Sam Weller is 'boots' at the White Hart Inn in Pickwick Papers.

borough - a town that had been granted certain rights of self government by the Crown. In London, Southwark was referred to as "the borough."

Bow Bells - The bells of the church of St. Mary Le Bow, Cheapside, in the City of London. A true Cockney was said to be born within hearing of the Bow bells.

Bow Street Runners - detective force organized by novelist Henry Fielding and his brother John in 1750. The Runners worked for fees and rewards. They went out of existence in 1829 when Robert Peel organized London's first police force.

box - the driver's seat on a coach

Boz - Dickens' pseudonym used early in his career. Boz came from Dickens' younger brother Augustus's through-the-nose pronunciation of his own nickname, Moses.

Bradshaw - Bradshaw's Railway Guide was published monthly from 1839-1961, founded by George Bradshaw (1801-1853).

Bramah - key to a lock invented by Joseph Bramah (1749-1814) famed for their resistance to lock picking and tampering.

brazier - large flat pan filled with coals, used as a heater.

bridewell - contraction of St. Bridget's Well in London, site of a prison until 1869. Bridewell came to mean any house of correction.

brimstone and treacle - sulfur and molasses. Mrs Squeers administers this nasty cure-all to the boys at Dotheboys Hall from a common wooden spoon "which widened each young gentleman's mouth considerably, they being all obliged, under heavy corporal penalties, to take in the whole of the bowl at a gasp" (Nicholas Nickleby).

bull's-eye - a large round peppermint sweet.

bull's-eye lantern - lantern with a round "bulls-eye" lens on one side which enabled light to be concentrated in that direction, to use like today's flashlight.

bumper - a generous glass of an alcoholic drink.

burgess - a town magistrate or government official.

C top

cab - short for cabriolet, a light two-wheeled carriage.

calico - a plain white cotton cloth, heavier than muslin.

Candlemas - church festival, observed February 2, celebrating the purification of the Blessed Virgin and the feast of the presentation of Christ in the Temple.

carter - driver of a cart or wagon.

case bottles - bottles, square in shape, to fit neatly in a case.

castor - small bottle or jar with a perforated top used for sprinkling pepper, sugar, etc. on food.

caul - membrane that surrounds a fetus, believed to protect against drowning. David Copperfield was born with a caul, which was then advertised for sale.

chairmen - men who carried a sedan chair.

chaise - any light horse-driven vehicle.

Chancery - English court of equity law, merged with common law courts in 1873. Dickens pointed out the absurdity of chancery cases in Bleak House. He had gained first hand experience when he won chancery cases against those who pirated editions of A Christmas Carol, and then lost more money in court costs than he was realizing from the book's sales.

chandler - originally a maker or seller of candles, later a small grocer.

charity boy - a student in a private charitable school for the very poor. Noah Claypool is a charity boy in Oliver Twist.

Chartism - working class movement that advocated reforms that went beyond the Reform act of 1832 including universal suffrage for men and eliminating property qualification for Parliament.

charwoman - a cleaning woman, from the root for "chore."

chemist - a pharmacist.

cholera - disease marked by symptoms of thirst, cramps, diarrhea, and death. Brought about by drinking water tainted with human waste. Beginning in the 1830s several epidemics of cholera hit London before sanitary conditions improved in the second half of the century.

choleric - irritable, hot tempered.

choused - cheated

cistern - an artificial reservoir for storing liquids and especially water (as rainwater).

City - term referring to the old portion of London within the medieval city walls. Later became the financial district as Londoners moved to the suburbs and commuted.

Claret - a dry red wine from Bordeaux France.

close - alleyway, also the area surrounding a cathedral.

coach and four - coach drawn by four horses.

coal scuttle - a metal pail for carrying coal.

cockade - a ribbon worn in the hat.

Cockney - resident of east London; more specifically, to be a true Cockney you had to be born within hearing distance of the bells of St. Mary Le Bow, Cheapside, in the City of London. Style of speech used by a Cockney. The best known Cockney in Dickens is Samuel Pickwick's servant Sam Weller in The Pickwick Papers.

Coketown - fictionalized name of the town of Preston in Lancashire.

collier - ship carrying coal.

constable - a British policeman appointed by the parish to keep the peace. Later incorporated into London's paid police force.

consumption - tuberculosis

cooper - a barrel maker

copper - large boiler, used to wash clothes in. Mrs. Cratchit uses the copper to boil her Christmas pudding in A Christmas Carol.

corn-chandler - a retail grain dealer

corn laws - laws enacted to raise the import tax on corn in order to protect domestic farmers. Corn, in England, referred to any cereal grain like oats, wheat, or barley in addition to corn. Hotly debated because of subsequent hikes in food prices and manufacturing costs. Finally repealed in 1846.

costermonger - a street peddler, usually selling fruits or vegetables. An estimated 12,000 costermongers vied for patrons on London streets in the 1850s.

cotillion - a ballroom dance for couples that resembles the quadrille.

counting house - a businessman's office. Bob Cratchit works at Scrooge's counting house in A Christmas Carol.

coupe - a carriage for 2 passengers

courier - a traveler's paid attendant, traveling ahead to make arrangements. Dickens employs a French courier for his travels in Pictures from Italy.

cove - A fellow; a chap

cramp-bone - the kneecap of a sheep, formerly thought to be a charm against cramps

crape or crepe - black silk worn as mourning garb

cravat - a fine scarf worn around the neck and tied in a bow

crinoline - stiff fabric of horsehair or cotton used to stiffen the lining of petticoats or hoop skirts.

crossing sweeper - one who swept manure from the streets at pedestrian's crossings. Jo is a crossing sweeper in Bleak House.

crown - monetary unit equal to 5 shillings or 60 pence.( * see note)

crumpet - a light muffin, usually served with tea.

cudgel - a thick stick used as a weapon.

curl papers - paper used to curl hair, old newspaper could be used in a pinch.

cuff - an open-handed or close-fisted blow.

D top

daffy - a medicine for children, named for a seventeenth-century clergyman. It consisted of senna (a laxative prepared from the roots of the cassia tree) and was commonly mixed with gin, thus daffy became slang for gin itself. Mrs. Mann gives the children daffy in Oliver Twist.

daguerreotype - early photographic process with the image made on a light-sensitive silver-coated metallic plate. Invented by Louis Daguerre (1789-1851).

damme - damn me. An oath.

daresay - venture to say : think probable, as in "I daresay you'll have a great time." Never used in conjunction with "that" as in "I daresay that...."

dauphin - eldest son of the King of France

day boarder - one who spends the day at school but lives at home.

deal - wood planks used to make furniture, as in "deal table"; usually denoted cheap furniture.

dear - expensive; the wine was excellent, but very dear.

Dickensian - relating or similar to something described in the books of the 19th century British writer, Charles Dickens, especially living or working conditions that are below an acceptable standard.

dickey - a folding outside seat at the back of a carriage.

diligence - a public stagecoach

dip - cheap candle made by dipping a wick into tallow.

docks - large docks located just east of London Bridge where large ships loaded and unloaded cargo.

Doctors Commons - area south of St. Paul's Cathedral where the ecclesiastical and admiralty courts were located. Dickens, in Sketches by Boz called Doctors' Commons "the place where they grant marriage-licenses to love-sick couples, and divorces to unfaithful ones; register the wills of people who have any property to leave, and punish hasty gentlemen who call ladies by unpleasant names."

double-knock - a double-knock was applied to the door by a more confident visitor, one who was comfortable with the purpose of his visit. A single-knock signified a more timid caller.

dowager - widow with a title or property derived from her late husband. A dignified elderly woman.

draught - a check or bill of exchange; an amount of liquid one could toss off in one swallow.

draughts - The game of checkers

dray - low, heavy cart without sides for hauling kegs and barrels of beer.

dreadnought - closely-woven thick woolen material.

dree - dreary

dustman - man who drove a cart used in emptying household trash and ashes. Also the owner of a dust yard, where the dust was stored in great mounds was called a dustman. Mr. Boffin is known as the "Golden Dustman" in Our Mutual Friend.

Dutch Clock - cheap wooden clock with brass wheels featuring a pendulum, invented by Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens in 1656.

Dutch Oven - a thick-walled (usually cast iron) cooking pot with a tight-fitting lid. During the late 17th century, the Dutch system of producing these cast metal cooking vessels was more advanced than the English system. The Dutch used dry sand to make their molds, giving their pots a smoother surface. Consequently, metal cooking vessels produced in the Netherlands were imported into Britain.

E top

East India Company - private company chartered by the British government to exploit trade with India. The Company also had political power in India until the Indians revolted against British rule in 1857.

ecod - a mild oath on par with, and probably derived from, "My God". This was a favorite expression of Jonas Chuzzlewit (Martin Chuzzlewit).

egg-hot - A warm drink made of eggs, brandy, sugar, and ale.

elbow-chair - a chair with arms to support the elbows; an arm-chair.

equipage - equipment used in relation to horse and carriage.

eight day clock - clock which required winding only once a week.

expectations - likelihood of coming into a large amount of money. Pip's 'great expectations' come secretly from the convict Magwitch.

F top

faggot - bundle of twigs or branches used as firewood.

farthing - monetary unit worth 1/4 pence. Sometimes used to denote anything worth practically nothing.( * see note)

fen - marsh

fender - a low metal frame before an open fireplace. In Dickens people are always putting their feet upon the fender.

fingerpost - road sign in the shape of a hand with fingers pointing the way.

flat candle - candle designed to be easy to carry, with a short stem and a broad base which fits into a flat holder.

flip - mixture of beer and spirits, sweetened with sugar, and heated with a hot iron.

florin - silver coin introduced in 1849 and worth two shillings.( * see note)

Foot Guards - infantry regiments that stood guard over the sovereign.

footman - a servant in livery who attends his master's carriage: a servant who serves at table, tends the door, and runs errands.

forenoon - period of sunlight before noon, morning.

forfeits - popular parlor games in which play goes round the room with each player needing to supply an answer and is penalized if an answer is not supplied.

fortnight - a period of 14 days : two weeks.

Fortunatus' purse - endless supply of money

frank - practice where members of Parliament were allowed to send letters for free (until 1840) by signing the bottom left corner of the envelope.

Furies - The Furies, in Greek Mythology, were spirits of punishment, so the phrase "as if he came attended by the Furies" would signify coming on at great speed and/or violence.

furlong - English unit of measurement equaling 660 feet, which was the length of the traditional furrow on English farms; from furrow long.

furze - thick, prickly shrub that bears yellow flowers in winter.

Fypunnote - contraction of 'five pound note'

G top

gaiters - a leather or cloth covering extending from the waist to the knee or ankle and buttons up the side.

gammon - a misleading or deceptive comment: nonsense.

gaol - jail

gas - gas, made from coal, lit the streets and shops of London from the 1830s. Gas lighting for homes came later, around 1860.

The Gazette - the London Gazette, founded in 1665, where formal announcements, including bankruptcies, are listed. Dickens uses appearance in the Gazette as synonymous with bankruptcy.

general post - mail that went out from the London Post office bound for other parts of England. Mail within London was sent penny or two-penny post, organized separately.

gibbet - an upright post with a projecting arm for hanging the bodies of executed criminals, clad in chains, as a warning to passersby.

gig - two-wheeled, one horse carriage.

gill - liquid measure equaling a quarter of a pint.

ginger and sal volatile - ammonium carbonate scented with ginger and sold as 'smelling salts' to revive ladies who had fainted.

ginger-beer - non-alcoholic beverage flavored with ginger.

gingham - a clothing fabric usually of yarn-dyed cotton.

Gog and Magog - Traditional guardians of the City of London

gout- disease occurring mainly in men causing the inflammation of the hands and feet, arthritic attack, and deformity. Dickens suffered from gout late in his life.

governess - a female teacher employed in a private household.

greatcoat - overcoat worn outdoors, often accompanied by a short cape worn over the shoulders.

Great Exhibition - 1851 celebration of technology housed at the Crystal Palace built in Hyde Park by Joseph Paxton. The exhibition was the idea of Prince Albert, who conceived it to celebrate the Industrial Revolution. Dickens visited the Exhibition in 1851. The Crystal Palace was moved to Sydenham, in south London, in 1854 and accidentally burned down in 1936.

Great Fire - fire which destroyed much of central London in September 1666. (Read contemporary account in the London Gazette)

greengrocer - seller of fruits and vegetables

griffin - fabled monster with the head and wings of an eagle, and the hind quarters of a lion.

grog - mixture of rum and water. Named for Edward Vernon, called "Old Grog", an English admiral responsible for diluting the sailors' rum.

gruel - cheap food made by boiling a small amount of oatmeal in a large amount of water. Dietary staple in the workhouse, this is what Oliver Twist asks for more of.

guinea - monetary unit equal to 1 pound 1 shilling.( * see note)

H top

haberdasher - seller of small personal items.

hackney coach - a coach for hire

half-a-crown - a British coin equal to 2-1/2 shillings, or 30 pence.( * see note)

half and half - alcoholic beverage: half ale and half porter.

hansom cab - two-wheeled carriage invented in the 1830s where the driver sat in back, giving the passengers a clear view of the road.

ha'penny - slang for halfpenny, worth ½ pence.( * see note)

hedgerow - a row of shrubs or trees enclosing or separating fields.

Hilary - a term or session of the High Court beginning in January.

hob - metal insert in a fireplace where the kettle could be kept warm.

hogshead - a large cask or barrel, equal to 52 ½ imperial gallons.

Horse Guards - cavalry who protected the monarch.

hosier - maker of socks and stockings.

hostler - one who tends horses at an inn; sometimes ostler. Hugh is hostler at the Maypole in Barnaby Rudge, Mark Tapley is hostler at the Blue Dragon in Martin Chuzzlewit.

hulks - old ships, many relics of the Napoleonic Wars, their masts removed, anchored in the Thames and the Medway and used as prisons from 1776-1857. The practice started in 1776 when the American war prevented the transporting of convicts to America and conventional prisons were full. Abel Magwitch escapes from a prison ship in Great Expectations.

In Great Expectations Pip describes the hulks: "By the light of the torches, we saw the black Hulk lying out a little way from the mud of the shore, like a wicked Noah's ark. Cribbed and barred and moored by massive rusty chains, the prison-ship seemed in my young eyes to be ironed like the prisoners."

humbug - nonsense, rubbish; used to express disbelief or disgust; something intended to deceive; a hoax or fraud. This was Ebenezer Scrooge's favorite word in A Christmas Carol.

I top

Inimitable - nickname given to Dickens by his early schoolmaster, Mr. Giles. The term means 'impossible to imitate, unique'. Dickens later referred to himself as 'The Inimitable'.

Insolvent Debtors Act - Act passed in 1816 which allowed imprisoned debtors to apply for release providing they surrendered all their property and made provision to satisfy their debts. Mr. Micawber (David Copperfield), as well as Dickens' father, invoked this Act to gain release from debtor's prison.

Iron Bridge - Popular name for Southwark Bridge, its three arches were made of cast iron.

ironmonger - seller of metal goods, hardware

J top

Japan candle - candle made from plant wax such as Japanese wax tree, rapeseed, rice bran and palm oil. The wicks are made of Japanese paper and soft rush that make a strong flame that is not easily blown out.

journeyman - one who has finished an apprenticeship and is now able to hire himself out by the day. Joe Gargary hired the journeyman Orlick to work in the blacksmith shop in Great Expectations.

K top

kennel - gutter in the street

kith - friends, neighbors, or relatives

knaves - the jacks in a deck of cards. Pip calls the knaves "jacks" in Great Expectations and is scoffed at by Estella.

knee-breeches - trousers extending to, or just below, the knee.

knight - lowest of the titled ranks in England. A knight has Sir before his name and his wife is addressed as Lady.

knock up - to bang on someone's door in order to wake them up.

L top

larder - food storage area

lath and plaster - thin strips of wood with plaster covering to form walls.

laudanum - mixture of opium and alcohol used as a tranquilizer, pain-killer, or to induce sleep.

let - rented or hired

Liberties of the City of London - Liberties are an area controlled by the city though outside its boundaries.

Limehouse - waterside section of east London. Rogue Riderhood is a waterman in Limehouse in Our Mutual Friend.

limekiln - kiln used to heat limestone to produce quicklime.

link - torch used to light the streets.

link-boy - a boy for hire carrying a torch to light a traveler's way in the dark streets.

livery -uniform worn by servant; knee breeches and powdered wig worn by footmen.

L.L. - Literary Ladies

London Season - In London society, the Season traditionally began after Easter and ended with the "Glorious Twelfth" (August 12), the start of the shooting season for red grouse.

long vacation - summer, between Trinity and Michaelmas term

loom - device for weaving thread into fabric. Stephen Blackpool operates a steam-driven power loom in Hard Times.

Lowestoft - seaside town in Suffolk. David Copperfield goes to Lowestoft with Mr. Murdstone to meet Mr. Quinion.

lucifer - a match made of a sliver of wood tipped with a combustible substance, and ignited by friction. First manufactured in the 1830's.

lumber room - a room for storing old furniture and other unused odds and ends ready for the Victorian garage sale. It would probably be a musty, moldy, spider-webbery kind of place.

M top

magic lantern - optical device for projecting magnified images painted on glass onto a screen, like a modern slide projector.

magistrate - civil officer who enforces the law.

make love - to court or woo, a proposition for marriage.

maid-of-all-work - maid, usually a young girl, hired as the only servant in the house. Charlotte is maid-of-all-work for Sowerberry, the undertaker, in Oliver Twist.

mail coach - reliable carrier of the mail and a limited number of passengers, replaced mid-nineteenth century by the railroad.

mangle - a machine consisting of a crank attached to two rollers, used to wring water out of clothes.

marchioness - wife or widow of a marquis; Dick Swiveller gives the under-stairs maid in The Old Curiosity Shop the honorary title of marchioness.

market day - the day when country folks would bring their livestock and produce to town to sell, always a bustle of activity.

market town - a town that regularly held a market.

marquis - a member of the British peerage ranking below a duke and above an earl.

marrow-bones and cleavers - the shin-bone of an ox striking a butcher's cleaver was used to make music at weddings and other humble gatherings.

mead - a fermented beverage made of water and honey, malt, and yeast.

Medway - Kentish river near Rochester and Chatham. Dickens lived in this area as a child and late in life when he resided at Gad's Hill Place.

miasma - noxious, air-carried germs. In the first half of the nineteenth century it was widely held that diseases like cholera were transferred miasmically. It was only when proved that these diseases were water-born, and proper elimination of sewage was constructed, that these diseases were conquered (see Dickens' London - Bazalgette).

Michaelmas - festival honoring the archangel Michael celebrated on September 29. It is one of the four quarters of the English business year.

milliner - maker of women's hats

minor canon - one who helped with the choir at a cathedral. Canon Crisparkle was minor canon at Cloisterham Cathedral in The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Monmouth Street - location of many second-hand clothing shops in London.

mother-in-law - your spouse's mother, in Dickens sometimes used to indicate your father's new wife (stepmother)

mourning clothes - black garments worn after a relative died, to which strict rules of etiquette applied. The length of mourning depended on your relationship to the deceased. Widows generally wore mourning clothes for two years. Queen Victoria, after the death of her husband Prince Albert in 1861, wore mourning until she died in 1901. In A Christmas Carol, when the death of Tiny Tim is shown to Scrooge by the Ghost of Christmas Future, Mrs Cratchit and the girls are sewing their mourning clothes.

Mudie's Circulating Library - largest circulating library in the nineteenth century. Started by Charles Mudie in 1842 , Mudie favored the triple-decker method of publishing, publishing novels in three volumes so that three subscribers could read a book at one time. Dickens published his works serially, which did not conform to Mudie's method, therefore readership of Dickens' works did not significantly increase despite Mudie's popularity. Mudie's continued in business until 1937.

mutton - lamb meat

N top

Nankeen - A pale yellowish cotton cloth, also trousers made from this cloth.

N.B. - nota bene - note well, take notice

negus - liquor made from wine, water, sugar, nutmeg, and lemon-juice.

Newgate Calendar - stories about sensational crimes committed by inmates of Newgate Prison. The first edition came out in 1773 and the last in 1826. Dickens used the term "Newgate Calendar" to refer to crimes of every sort.

nib - point of a pen

nose-bag - feeding bag for horses

nosegay - small bouquet of flowers

notions - small personal items

O top

oakum - loosely twisted hemp fibers, impregnated with tar, used in rope. Picking oakum apart was common busywork in the prison or workhouse. The separated oakum was then used to caulk ships. Oliver picked oakum at the workhouse in Oliver Twist.

octavo - the size of a piece of paper cut eight from a sheet; also : a book, a page, or paper of this size.

Old Clem - St. Clement, one of the earliest Popes, regarded as the patron saint of blacksmiths. Pip and Joe sing Old Clem in the forge, later Pip sings it with Miss Havisham (Great Expectations).

old-fashioned - As Dickens uses it to describe Paul Dombey in Dombey and Son: unusually mature, precocious, intelligent, knowing.

omnibus - large four-wheeled carriage capable of carrying many people; horse-drawn bus.

opium - addictive narcotic drug made from the dried juice of the opium poppy. John Jasper was an opium addict in The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

outdoor relief - charity given to the poor which did not require them to become inmates of the workhouse. The New Poor Law of 1834 eliminated outdoor relief in an effort to stem the abuse of the system.

P top

palsy - a medical condition producing uncontrollable shaking.

parliamentary train - by an Act of Parliament (1844) every railway company was required to run at least one train each week day with at a fare of a penny a mile. These became known as parliamentary trains.

parlor - a room used primarily for conversation or the reception of guests.

pattens - device attached to the bottom of lady's shoes to keep them elevated out of the mud and muck in the streets. Sometimes consisting of circular metal rings which caused a distinctive sound on the pavement.

peach - Inform on or give accusatory information against an accomplice or associate.

pea-coat - short double-breasted navy blue or black overcoat worn by seamen.

peelers - nickname given members of the new London police force organized by Sir Robert Peel in 1829, also known as bobbies (also after Peel).

pence - penny; 1 pound equaled 240 pence.( * see note)

penn'orth - a pennies worth

petticoat - full skirt worn by women as an undergarment.

pew-opener - one who opens the door of a pew in church and was usually tipped.

phaeton - open four-wheeled carriage

phosphorus-box - box containing matches tipped with chlorate of potash, with phosphorus on which to ignite them.

physic - drug prescribed by a physician

pianoforte - a piano. Learning to play piano was considered an acceptable pastime for young ladies.

pickled brown paper - brown paper soaked in vinegar, used as an antiseptic.

pic-nic - before it was an outdoor meal, a pic-nic was any social gathering for which each guest provided a share of the food. The Peerybingles, Plummers, Tackleton, May and her mother gather for a pic-nic in Cricket on the Hearth.

pint pot - vessel for drinking beer or ale, holding one pint.

plate - valuable tableware of gold or silver.

pleurisy - inflammation of the lungs producing a hacking cough and sharp chest pain.

Pope Joan - a popular Victorian card game for three to eight players. Name derived from Pope John VIII who, legend has it, was actually a woman.

port - sweet red wine from Portugal

porter - see ticket-porter. Also the dark beer favored by porters and named for them.

portmanteau - large leather suitcase that opened into two compartments. Dickens reported in American Notes that his cabin aboard ship was so small that his portmanteau could "no more be got in at the door, not to say stowed away, than a giraffe could be forced into a flowerpot."

post chaise - a closed, four-wheeled, horse-drawn carriage, used to transport mail and passengers.

postern - back entrance

postilion - one who guides a horse-driven coach by riding on the left-hand lead horse.

pot-boy - employee at a tavern who serves beer to customers.

poulterer - butcher who deals in fowl, mainly chicken or turkey. After his conversion Scrooge, in A Christmas Carol, asks the boy in the street if he "knew the poulterer on the next street but one?"

pound - English monetary unit, equaling 240 pence or 20 shillings. Using this system the pound could be exactly divided into halves, thirds, quarters, fifths, sixths, eighths, tenths, twelfths, fifteenths, sixteenths, twentieths, twenty-fourths, thirtieths, fortieths, forty-eightieths, sixtieths, eightieths, and one-hundred-and-twentieths.

The decimal system, instituted by Britain in 1971, allows only halves, quarters, fifths, tenths, twentieths, twenty-fifths, and fiftieths. ( * see note)

Dickens, while visiting America in 1842, noted in a letter home to his friend John Forster that the salary paid to his traveling secretary, George Washington Putnam, was ten dollars a month, worth about two pounds five shillings in English money.

Privy Council - advisors to the sovereign

proctor - an officer of the court, paid a contracted salary to manage the affairs of others, answers to an attorney at common law, or to a solicitor.

pub - a tavern or inn

publican - owner or keeper of a pub

pudding - a sausage like preparation made with minced meat or various other ingredients stuffed into a skin or bag and boiled.

Punch and Judy - popular puppet show for children. Codlin and Short, in The Old Curiosity Shop, operate a Punch and Judy show.

purl - hot beer mixed with gin

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quadrille - card game played by four people.

quarter days - four days of the year when quarterly payments like rents were due. The four days were Lady Day (March 25), Midsummer (June 24), Michaelmas (September 29), and Christmas (December25).

quay - wharf or reinforced bank where ships are loaded or unloaded.

quick-lime - white, caustic alkaline substance consisting of calcium oxide, obtained by heating limestone.

quid - slang for pound

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rag-and-bone shop - shop that bought and sold rags to be made into paper and bones that were ground into manure. Krook, in Bleak House, was the proprietor of a rag and bone shop.

recusant - one who refused to attend Church of England services.

reel - Scottish dance requiring at least two couples and usually a figure eight.

Reform Act of 1832 - hard fought Act which sought to end under representation of the middle class in Parliament. Also to more evenly distribute parliamentary seats among the boroughs. Because of property qualifications included in the Act (voting in the boroughs was restricted to men who occupied homes with an annual value of at least £10) the bill still only gave the vote to one in seven.

Regency - period from 1810-1820. George III went insane in 1810 and his son ruled as prince regent in his stead. George III died in 1820 and his son became George IV.

repeater - a pocket watch which was capable of chiming on the hour or quarter hour, this made it easier to tell the time in the dark. Scrooge has one in A Christmas Carol which he checks when the first spirit is due.

resurrectionist - a body snatcher. Legally, only the bodies of criminals could be used for teaching anatomy but this did not meet demand, so resurrectionists took up the slack. Jerry Cruncher, in A Tale of Two Cities, was a resurrectionist.

ribald - characterized by or indulging in vulgar, lewd humor.

riband - ribbon

Riot Act - enacted in 1714, it forced crowds, riotously assembled, to disperse within one hour after the Act was read, or risk being shot. During the Gordon Riots, in Barnaby Rudge, the mob is read the Riot Act.

Robinson Crusoe - Daniel Defoe's most famous novel, published in 1719, was one of Dickens' favorite books. It is mentioned in 9 of Dickens' 15 major novels as well as in 2 of his Christmas books, A Christmas Carol and Cricket on the Hearth, and in his 2 travel books, American Notes and Pictures From Italy.

rookery - nesting place for rooks, birds that were related to the crow. David Copperfield's childhood home in Blunderstone was called the Rookery. Rookery was also used to denote an urban slum.

Rotten Row - horse path in Hyde Park where the rich would go riding and show off their finery. Peter Cratchit, proudly wearing his father's shirt in honor of Christmas, wishes to show it off in the fashionable parks.

rubber - A contest consisting of a series of matches.

rushlight - The light from a rush-candle, a candle made from the pith of a rush plant dipped in tallow.

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Saint Dunstan - former Archbishop of Canterbury (10th century). Legend has it that he tweaked the Devil's nose with red-hot tongs.

saveloy - a highly seasoned dried and smoked pork sausage, sold ready to eat.

sawyer - one who saws timber

scrivener - professional scribe or copier

scullery - dish washing area

sea-coal - mineral coal as distinguished from charcoal

sealing wax - wax used to seal letters, red for business letters, other colors for correspondence, and black for mourning.

sedan chair - means of transportation consisting of a covered chair to which two long poles were attached, carried by chairmen.

sepulchral - relating to the grave

serjeant - an English barrister of the highest rank.

shaver - small boy

Shepherd, Jack - (1702-1724) notorious London thief who escaped from confinement six times, including daring escapes from Newgate prison. Hanged at Tyburn in 1724.

shilling - monetary unit equal to 12 pence; 20 shillings equaled 1 pound.( * see note)

short-sixes - bundles of six short candles.

Sir Roger de Coverley - popular country dance named for a fictional character created by Joseph Addison (The Spectator-1711). The dance is known in the United States as the Virginia Reel. Sir Roger de Coverley is performed at Fezziwig's ball in A Christmas Carol.

skittles - Game played with nine wooden pins to be bowled down with a wooden ball or disc in as few attempts as possible.

slopseller - dealer in cheap or second-hand clothing.

sluice-gate - dam or water-gate used to control waterflow in a sluiceway.

sluiceway - artificial waterway used to carry off surplus water.

small beer - weak, low quality beer.

small clothes - knee breeches

smoking bishop - Christmas punch made from heated red wine flavored with oranges, sugar, and spices. So named because of its deep purple color.

snapdragon - popular Victorian parlour game, usually played on Christmas Eve, where raisins are placed in a bowl of flaming brandy. The object being to pluck the raisins out and eat them at the risk of being burned.

Snow Hill - busy route from Holborn to Farringdon Street in London.

snuff - fine powdered tobacco that is inhaled through the nose. Gentlemen carried theirs in elegant snuff boxes, poorer users, like Frederick Dorrit, may carry a small amount twisted into a piece of whitey-brown paper. Inexperienced users always sneeze when taking snuff.

snuffer - device used to extinguish a candle.

solicitor - lawyer who handled wills and estate problems and hired barristers to represent their clients in Chancery Court. Mr. Tulkinghorn was solicitor for the Dedlocks in Bleak House. Mr. Wickfield is solicitor for David's aunt, Betsy Trotwood, in David Copperfield.

sovereign - gold coin worth a pound, first issued in 1817.

spencer - a short, close-fitting coat worn by woman and children in the early 19th century.

sperm-oil - oil from the Sperm whale, used in lamps.

sponging-house - temporary debtor's prison. Dickens' father, John Dickens, was taken to a sponging-house before becoming an inmate at the Marshalsea prison. Harold Skimpole is taken to Coavinses sponging-house in Bleak House

spontaneous combustion - a phenomenon where the human body catches fire as a result of heat generated by internal chemical action. Scientist deny the existence of spontaneous combustion despite many supposed cases. Dickens has Krook, in Bleak House, die of spontaneous combustion.

squire - an English country gentleman, especially the chief landowner in a district.

srub (shrub) - drink made from orange or lemon juice, sugar, and rum or brandy.

Standard in Cornhill - water standard at the junction of Cornhill with Gracechurch Street, Bishopsgate, and Leadenhall Street. Although not used as a water standard since 1603, the standard remained for many years and was used as a point of measurement of distances from the city. In Barnaby Rudge, Dickens states that the Maypole Inn was twelve miles from London measuring from the Standard in Cornhill.

steward - head of all servants in a wealthy household. Barnaby Rudge Sr. was steward of the Warren, household of Reuben Haredale in Barnaby Rudge.

stile - steps in a fence over which people could pass but livestock could not.

stone - measure of weight equaling 14 pounds

strait-waistcoat - a strait jacket, used for restraining persons who may do harm to themselves or others.

street-door-scraper - mounted iron bar for scraping mud or manure from boots before entering a house.

surgeon - medical man who treated broken bones and other types of external injuries although sometimes pressed into the service of bloodletting or delivering children. Of lower social status than a physician.

surtout - double-breasted, full-skirted, close-bodied suit.

sweep - chimney sweep, ubiquitous in nineteenth century London. Sweeps often hired small boys that could fit in the chimneys, a very dangerous business. An 1842 law made it a crime to force anyone under 21 to enter a chimney, or to apprentice sweeps under 16. In Oliver Twist, which takes place before this law was passed, Gamfield, the sweep, tries unsuccessfully to apprentice Oliver from the workhouse.

sweetmeat - a sweet delicacy, such as a piece of candy or candied fruit.

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tallow - the fat of sheep or oxen, used for making candles or soap.

taper - small wax candle

taproom - room in an inn or tavern where working class people ate and drank. The more well-to-do used the parlor.

tar-water - an infusion of tar in water, formerly thought to be a cure-all. Mrs Joe steeps Pip in it in Great Expectations.

teetotaler - one who abstains from alcohol. The word originated with a stammering Lancashire temperence advocate who said in a speech that nothing would do but "t-t-total abstinence."

term - academic sessions at Cambridge and Oxford (i.e. Michaelmas term began Sept 29). Tied to the ecclesiastical calendar of the Anglican Christian year.

threepenn'orth - three pennies worth, as in "threepenn'orth rum."

thruppence - slang for three pence or 3 pennies; a three pence coin.

ticket-porter - porter wearing badges, or tickets, licensed by the city of London to carry goods, as well as documents and messages. They could be found in the streets and hired when needed. Trotty Veck was a ticket-porter in The Chimes.

tights - breeches or knee-breeches

The Times - London's most influential newspaper with a circulation of 60,000 in 1861. Founded by John Walter in 1785.

tinker - one who repairs pots and pans

toilet - to dress and groom oneself

Tory - conservative political party as opposed to the liberal Whigs. The Tories supported the king and the Anglican Church.

transportation - the practice of sending British criminals to the colonies as punishment. Criminals were sent to America until 1776, from then on to Australia. It is estimated that 140,000 criminals were transported to Australia between 1810 and 1852. Abel Magwitch, in Great Expectations, had been transported to Australia and was under a death penalty for coming back to Britain.

treadmill - kind of like today's StairMaster. Prisoners climbed steps along a rotating cylinder designed to keep them mindlessly occupied and wear them out physically. Outlawed in 1898.

Trinity - university or High Court term beginning after Easter.

triple decker - a novel published in three volumes; favored by Mudie's Circulating Library because three subscribers could read a book at once.

truckle bed - low bed usually kept beneath another bed when not in use.

trundling a hoop - popular Victorian child's game where a wooden hoop is pushed along with a stick.

tumbler - drinking glass with a pointed bottom so that they could not be set down until emptied. Later referred to any drinking glass.

tumbril - open cart which tilts backwards to empty its load. Used to carry prisoners to the guillotine during the French Revolution.

tuppence - slang for "two pence" or two pennies; also, a two pence coin.

turf-circles - Those who frequent horse races.

turnkey - a jailor. John Chivery was turnkey at the Marshalsea prison in Little Dorrit.

turnpike - toll road

twelfth cake - cakes made in celebration of Twelfth Night. They contained a pea or a bean, the finders of which were king and queen of the celebration.

Twelfth Night - January 5th, the night before the twelfth day after Christmas when Christmas festivities ended. The next day, January 6th, was Epiphany.

two pair back - room at the back of the house on the second floor. Two pair refers to two flights of steps with a landing in between.

twopenn'orth - two pennies worth

twopenny post - the ordinary postage within the city of London from 1801-1839 was 2 pence.

Tyburn Tree - place where public executions were performed until 1783 when they were moved to Newgate prison.

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union workhouse - after the 1834 New Poor Law parishes were required to join together into unions for the purpose of providing a workhouse.

usquebaugh - whiskey

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van - wagon for hauling goods or people which was covered.

vespers - evening prayers

Vesuvius - active volcano in southwest Italy near Naples. Dickens describes his visit to the summit of Vesuvius in Pictures from Italy.

viands - choice foods

vicar - parish priest who receives a stipend or salary but does not receive the tithes of a parish.

vintner - wine merchant

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wafer - thin wax disc, melted with a candle and used to seal a letter.

wafer stamp - hand-held (or set in a ring) stamp used to put an impression on the softened wafer, thereby identifying the sender of the sealed letter.

waistcoat - a vest

waits - member of a small body of wind instrumentalists maintained by a city or town. Redlaw hears the Christmas Waits "playing somewhere in the distance" in The Haunted Man.

Walker - an expression that expressed disbelief. In A Christmas Carol, when the reformed Scrooge asks the boy in the street to go and buy the prize turkey, the boy exclaims "Walk-er."

ward - minor under the control of a guardian

washhouse - building for washing clothes, sometimes shared by several families.

wassail - spiced ale served at Christmas

watch - men appointed by the parish to walk the streets at night, periodically calling out the time and making sure the streets were safe. They were generally ineffective and Dickens pokes fun at them in his novels.

water-butt - barrel placed under the eve of a house for the purpose of catching rainwater.

water-plug - fireplug or hydrant

water-rate - tax on the supply of water.

waterman - operated boats on the Thames carrying passengers for a fee.

wax-work - wax museum. Mrs. Jarley operates a wax-work in The Old Curiosity Shop.

wedding breakfast - Until the late 1880s weddings were required by law to be held in the morning. After the ceremony the wedding party would celebrate with a wedding breakfast.

weeds - mourning clothes

welsh (or welch) wig - woolen or worsted cap, originally made in Montgomery, Wales. Old Fezziwig, in A Christmas Carol, wears a welsh wig.

wet nurse - woman "in milk" hired to breast-feed the children of others.

Whigs - liberal party in English politics as opposed to the conservative Tories. The Tories generally supported things the way they were, the Whigs favored reform.

without - outside the place mentioned or implied as in 'It was so dense without...'. Opposite of within.

wonderful - an event, not necessarily pleasant, that arouses wonder or astonishment

workhouses - also known as the union, poorhouse, or simply "the house." Publicly supported institutions to which the sick, destitute, aged, and otherwise impoverished went for food and shelter. After the New Poor Law was passed in 1834 the workhouse became little more than a prison for the poor. Civil liberties were denied, families were separated, and human dignity was destroyed. The meager diet instituted in the workhouse prompted Dickens to quip that the poor were offered the choice of "being starved by a gradual process in the house, or by a quick one out of it."

whist - popular 19th century card game, evolved into today's bridge.

whitey-brown paper - paper, not fully bleached, used for wrapping and for toilet paper.

wicket-gate - small gate into a field

withal - in addition

worrit - worry

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Yarmouth - seaside town in Norfolk. Mr. Peggoty lives in Yarmouth in David Copperfield.

yeoman - small, independent farmer who cultivated his own land.

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