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A Scold’s Cure, Carrion Hunters and Going to Peg Trantum’s – Speaking of Death in Colonial Times

In colonial times, there was the King’s English, and then there was the slang, which was much more fun and colorful. And the language was never more colorful than when it applied to death. Here’s a collection of slang expressions that the lower classes might have used when talking about death in colonial times.

colonial insults

Tavern Scene by Flemish artist David Teniers c. 1658

Carrion Hunter was a name for an undertaker who performed funerals for a fee. Cold Cook was another name for an undertaker, as was Death Hunter.

Churchyard Cough was one that sounded very serious, likely to put a person in the churchyard – underground. And if someone suffering a Churchyard Cough were particularly gaunt, he would be described as Death’s Head Upon a Mop-Stick.

Dustman was a dead man.

Kingdom Come – Someone who was Kingdom Come or Kickerapoo was dead.

Gone to Peg Trantum’s also meant you had died.

Resurrection Men. When budding scientists or students of anatomy needed a body to study, they called a Resurrection Man to steal it for them from the cemetery.

The Grand Secret. If someone was cheated, he was let into the secret. If he was let into the Grand Secret, he was dead.

Stone Dead meant someone was undeniably dead, as in dead as a rock.

Then as now, people held a Wake to celebrate someone’s passing. A dead body was placed beneath a table that was mounded with food and drink for his friends.

Dining on Worms. To say a person is gone to the diet of worms meant he was dead and buried. To be put to bed with a spade, or Tucked up with a Spade, meant the same thing.

To die the Death of a Trooper's Horse meant you would die with your shoes on. In other words, you were to be hanged. The hangman called on to perform he execution was a Jack Ketch, and he would hang you from the Sheriff’s Picture Frame, also called the Three Legged Mare or the Acorn (As in, You will ride a horse foaled by an acorn.).

An Ape Leader was an old maid. Her punishment for failing to increase the population was to come in the afterlife when she would be a leader of apes in hell.

A coffin was also called A Scold’s Cure, or an Eternity Box, and a man who died in prison was buried in a Wooden Habeas.

Tenement to Let. Finally, a widow who had outlived her husband and was seeking a new one— or at least a companion–was said to have a tenement to let.

Thanks to: Grose's Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, By Francis Grose (1785) and Villainies Discovered: OR The Devil’s Cabinet Broken Open, By Richard Head (1673)

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