Andrea/Cara here, No, it’s not a fudge or a Banbury tale! Today I’m going to prose on a bit about Regency cant all the delightful top-of-the-trees expressions that color the era. (I’ll try not to be a windsucker, or to make a cake of myself.)
Like many of you, I fell under the spell of Regency romance on reading Pride and Prejudice. For me, Austen created an endlessly fascinating world—her sharp and slyly witty views on society, family and the elemental tensions of falling love really captured my fancy (honestly, who can resist balls at Netherfield or Mr. Darcy?)
But it was reading Georgette Heyer’s delightful novels that really made me want to write Regency romance. I think part of it was the wonderfully evocative cant she sprinkled so liberally throughout her pages. Expression like “ape-leader,” “under the hatches” or “in his cups” were such fun! They added wonderful color and texture to the stories and helped whisk me away from the ordinary, everyday world to a more exotic—and magical—place.
My early Regencies were peppered with cant, as I loved learning all the slang of the era, both from Heyer (who occasionally made up words—supposedly taking amusement at seeing them copied in the works of other authors) and from my contemporaries. Dee Hendrickson, a legendary Signet author, graciously put out a compendium of terms that many of us used as the bible of cant. (FYI, there's a fun list here.)
But it’s interesting. I’ve noticed that the use of cant has really died down in today’s Regencies. I know I’ve cut back a lot on it, even though I still find the expressions bang up to the mark. Why? There are, in my opinion two primary reasons: these days, most editors are unfamiliar with the Regency and keep questioning the use of the terms. “What does this mean? I think it will confuse readers, so can we take it out” is the gist of what many of us hear from traditional publishing houses. And much as I want to disagree, it’s given me pause for thought. It’s true that more and more readers have little background in the era, and if there are too many unfamiliar terms in a book, it can be a turn-off. So I find myself self-editing.
Many of us authors talk a lot about this among ourselves, not just in terms of language, but also in general history and the little details that bring the era authentically alive. Do we “dumb down” by cutting back on more obscure references to people, events or other real-life textures? We call them “wallpaper” Regencies, meaning books that have dukes and balls and fancy carriage, but little else that really captures the full depth and richness of the time.
But let’s digress for a moment and look at a few examples of some of the terms that tickle my fancy (it truly does make me a little miffy that they’re disappearing) . . .
Mr. Darcy was quite rich, and in cant there are a number of ways to say so: plump in the purse; stump the pewter; swimming in lard; tip the brads, well-inlaid.
And as gentleman of the era were very fond of their port and claret, there are a number of colorful terms for various degrees of overindulging: in his cups, a trifle bosky, jugbitten, foxed, tap-hackled.
A few other favorites of mine include terms for someone slow on the uptake: jingle-brained, slow top, beef-witted, rattlepate and chucklehead. Terms for a lie are equally amusing: bouncer; farrididdle; plumper. Then there’s blue-deviled, meaning depressed; dirty dish, meaning a cad; and barking iron, meaning a pistol.
Now, reverting back to more conventional talk, what’s your feeling on Regency cant in a book? Do you like it, or find it distracting? And lastly, let’s have a little fun! What’s your favorite bit of Regency slang?