What "Twitter" meant in 1874

John Camden Hotten's The Slang Dictionary: Etymological, Historical and Anecdotal was published in 1874, and is available in Project Gutenberg's archive. It's a nice piece of work, as this post on EbookFriendly illustrates, with choice definitions from a bygone era for "Pin," "Twitter" and more.

pin: “to put in the pin,” to refrain from drinking. From the ancient peg tankard, which was furnished with a row of pins, or pegs, to regulate the amount which each person was to drink. Drunken people are often requested to “put in the pin,” from some remote connexion between their unsteadiness and that of a carriage wheel which has lost its linch-pin. The popular cry, “put in the pin,” can have no connexion with the drinking pin or peg now, whatever it may originally have had. A merry pin, a roysterer

twitter: ”all in a twitter”, in a fright or fidgety state

poll: a female of unsteady character; “polled up,” means living with a woman in a state of unmarried impropriety. Also, if a costermonger sees one of his friends walking with a strange woman, he will say to him on the earliest opportunity, “I saw yer when yer was polled up”

cool: to look

The Slang Dictionary from 1874 is hilarious (and you can download it for free) (Thanks, Piotr!)


  1. You mean to tell me that I’ve been using these terms incorrectly all this time?

    The mere notion has me in such a twitter that I feel the urge to pull out the pin.     

    1. Yeah, certainly people have heard a construction like “The ladies were all in a twitter.” before?  It’s not an everyday usage, but it’s one most people should know I think.

      1. Totally agree.  It was still very much in use in the 1960’s, as I recall, so anyone around 50 or older would certainly know it.

        Slightly OT: one time in the 1980’s I made a reference to myself as a “geek” to my parents, who both looked at me with the most quizzical expression.  Turns out, they only knew the old definition — someone in a circus sideshow who bites the heads off chickens — and I only knew the contemporary one.

    1. Still means that here in 2013.

      Not that Twitter users would enjoy having their use of the service described in that manner. But it is pretty accurate.

  2. Also of interest is the “cantphrases” portion of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of crowds.

    Archaic memes!

    1. Convention.

      The same one that should prevent us knowing what cool means ‘cos it’s Victorian, criminal back slang.

Comments are closed.