List of 19th-century English language idioms

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This is a list of idioms that were recognizable to literate people in the late-19th century, and have become unfamiliar since.

As the article list of idioms in the English language notes, a list of idioms can be useful, since the meaning of an idiom cannot be deduced by knowing the meaning of its constituent words. See that article for a fuller discussion of what an idiom is, and what it is not. In addition, the often-obscure references or shared values that lie behind an idiom will themselves lose applicability over time, although the surviving literature of the period relies on their currency for full understanding.

A[edit]

B[edit]

  • bidding prayer – an exhortation to prayer in some special reference, followed by the Lord's Prayer, in which the congregation joins
  • blue-gown – a beggar, a bedesman of the Scottish king, who wore a blue gown, the gift of the king, and had his license to beg
  • bonnet-piece – a gold coin of James V of Scotland, so called from the king being represented on it as wearing a bonnet instead of a crown
  • Brown, Jones, and Robinson – three middle-class Englishmen on their travels abroad, as figured in the pages of Punch

C[edit]

  • Circumlocution Office – a name employed by Charles Dickens in his serial novel Little Dorrit (1855–1857) to designate wearisome government bureaucracy
  • Cockney school – an epithet, originally abusive, for the second generation of Romantic writers, centred around Leigh Hunt, of whom John Keats is the most famous, as centred in London, and by implication lower-middle-class; revived by a school of London working-class writers in the 1890s)
  • comity of nations – the name given for the effect given in one country to the laws and institutions of another in dealing with a native of it; see extraterritoriality
  • corn-cracker – the nickname of a Kentucky man; pejorative
  • corpuscular philosophy – the philosophy which accounts for physical phenomena by the position and the motions of corpuscles
  • Cincinnatus of the AmericansGeorge Washington, after the original Roman Cincinnatus
  • Conscript Fathers – translates from the Latin Patres Conscripti, a term for members of the Roman Senate

D[edit]

F[edit]

G[edit]

H[edit]

  • hectic fever – a fever connected with tuberculosis, and showing itself by a bright-pink flush on the cheeks
  • horn gate – the gate of dreams which come true, as distinct from the ivory gate, through which the visions seen are shadowy and unreal

I[edit]

J[edit]

  • Jack Brag – a pretender who ingratiates himself with people above him

O[edit]

  • The Open Secret – the secret that lies open to all, but is seen into and understood by only few, applied especially to the mystery of the life, the spiritual life, which is the possession of all (Thomas Carlyle)

P[edit]

  • passing-bell – a bell tolled at the moment of the death of a person to invite his neighbours to pray for the safe passing of his soul; see death knell
  • penny wedding – a wedding at which the guests pay part of the charges of the festival
  • persiflage – a light, quizzing mockery, or scoffing, especially on serious subjects, out of a cool, callous contempt for them
  • Peter Bell – a simple rustic (William Wordsworth).
  • petite nature – a French loanword applied to pictures containing figures less than life-size, but with the effect of life-size
  • pot-wallopers – a class of electors in a borough who claimed the right to vote on the ground of boiling a pot within its limits for six months
  • pourparler – a diplomatic conference towards the framing of a treaty
  • Punic faith – a promise that one can put no trust in. From Latin punica fides, alluding to Roman mistrust of Carthage

R[edit]

T[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainWood, James, ed. (1907). "article name needed". The Nuttall Encyclopædia. London and New York: Frederick Warne.