Thursday, 19 July 2007

Gundiguts Grose

by Thaddeus Sholto

Francis Grose

Whilst the "most dangerous tool in the hands of any girl is a book", any self-respecting schoolboy reacts with horror or bewilderment when confronted with a "big papery thing" with words printed on it. This reluctance to sully their eyes with the written word has long irritated politicians, who have tried to remedy the problem with eccentric or patronising suggestions such as filling shelves with spy novels and other "masculine" stories, forgetting that even Melvyn Burgess's attempts to shock are pretty dull compared to the attraction of firing up Grand Theft Auto on the Playstation and getting down to some serious murdering, raping and blow jobbery.

Worse still is the idea that, if you provide young boys with positive role models they will, somehow, be filled with an insatiable desire to read. Frankly, most boys don't give a mongoose dropping what Monty Panesar is reading: they want to know how he handles his balls.

The problem is, of course, that politicians shy away from promoting the books and role models that really would appeal to young boys. There is no boy (or man) in the country who has not spent many happy hours looking for rude words in the dictionary, nor one who was disappointed at how few he could find. Likewise, instead of castigating young fellows for being overindulged, foul mouthed, obese slobs who fritter away their cash, we need to put forward as role models older men of this kind who also happen to have a love for the fundamentals of all great literature: fine words, lewd deeds and dark humour.

That's why Little Man, What Now is campaigning for every secondary school pupil in the country to be given a copy of Captain Francis Grose's 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, a compendium of buckish slang, university wit and pickpocket eloquence. No boy would ever find reading dull if he owned a book which, when opened several times at random, would provide him with invaluable words and phrases like these:

BITCH BOOBY. A country wench. Military term.
HASH. To flash the hash; to vomit. Cant.
INDORSER. A sodomite. To indorse with a cudgel; to drub or beat a man over the back with a stick, to lay cane upon Abel.
WHIRLYGIGS. Testicles.
WINDMILLS IN THE HEAD. Foolish projects.

Indeed, after the boys had fallen about arsy varsey with laughter, they would surely wonder what genius had produced such a dictionary and, indeed, how they could aspire to be more like him.

Luckily Francis Grose's habits and mode of living are easy to emulate. A heavy drinker, his method of book-keeping when Paymaster of the Surrey Militia was to keep "two books of accounts,viz. his right and left pockets". He was also extremely fond of rich foods and, due in part to this and his overindulgence in port, was extremely fat (he enjoyed the apt fact he was called Grose). But best of all, he researched his dictionary by spending evenings in the slums, drinking dens and dockyards of London whist in the company of his improbably-named assistant, Tom Cocking.

A character to aspire to and one that, even today, could inspire fat, pleasure-seeking, spendthrift young wastrels to develop a love of language and reading. Put Grose in every school: our boys have been cork-brained and pudding-headed for too long.


Edwin Hesselthwite said...

Welcome to the team Thaddeus...

Cracking first post.

Charles Pooter said...

Welcome Little Man initiate Thad.

The modern version of the Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue is of course Roger's Profanisaurus. I am sure Grose would approve!

Ted Hoffman said...

Welcome Thaddeus.

barefootliam said...

You might also like the more accurate version of Grose's dictionary of thieving slang that I have online, as I also split it into individual entries (so you can link to them!), added cross-references, and did a couple of rounds of proof-reading.