Cherry-nose, I learnt, was also dubbed a whisky drinker, after the cartoon sot’s rosiness. Yellow Mondays also extend to a Tuesday variety, allegedly. This seemed plausible, but when Baker started listing lamplighters, Tom Thumbs, blue moons, squeakers, union jacks and Peter Peters, I started to doubt my own heritage. The past, as they say, is a foreign country.
Nor did the shocks abate, leafing from African (a tailor-made cigarette) to ziff (a beard). Both were conundrums, with no etymology given. Ditto for leprosy – a nickname for cabbage – in league with red: a flea. Time for a quiz: if you oozled a flagon – did you break it? Steal it? Or drink it solo? According to Baker, it’s (b), but I had my suspicions.
You see, in the dictionary trade, a mountweazel is a phony term a publisher adds to their database as pirate-proofing. One impostor is standard practice, but Baker had somehow insinuated a dozen mountweazels, or that’s how outlandish his collection seemed.
Beyond those surplus cicadas, the one-pound note bragged several nicknames (carpet, flag, frog, iron man) in cahoots with a sex-worker: band, belt, chromo, cake, lowheel and ferry. For every familiar entry (blind Freddy, blow-in, bludger) there were sporadic oddities like punisher (a chatterbox) and stew – a boxing match with a prearranged result.
Rorts continued in the shape of Fitzroy Yank (a false American) and scale (to ride without a fare). Meantime a bilge artist was liable to spout cowyard confetti or meadow mayonnaise, basing their intelligence on the bagman’s gazette (a non-existent newspaper) or the man outside Hoyts.
In Polish, to vomit is to release the peacock. At least that makes a vivid sense compared to our ancestors “making a sale” across the footpath, reserving peacock as a verb, meaning to pick the best property in a new district.
Other words I’d be keen to revive in 2021, such as blokery and hatrack (a scrawny cow), curl the mo (to win well) and jamberoo (a party). Or the concision of south (to put your hand in your pocket) and swamp (to spend most of your money on grog). Just as I’m relieved the worst of our bigotry has been shaken loose from the tree.
Since that was the effect of Baker’s chronicle, the verbal equivalent of cicada-hunting, swotting our vernacular riches, plucking stray terms from midair and letting them chirp in captivity. Airholes or not, I can report, many hostages have failed to survive the light of day.