Former Riskies,  Reading,  Regency,  Research

Flash – The Sporting Set

As I’m working on finishing up Lucy and Thrale’s story (Sinclair Sisters, Book 2) I’m researching boxing and the like. I came across this interesting article: Hazlitt’s Prizefight Revisted, Pierce Egan and Jon Bee’s Boxiana-Style Perspective by David Snowdon posted at Romantic Textualities. Make a note, because it’s a fascinating article.

Which is not what my post is about. My post is about this book by John Bee:

Sportsman’s Slang, a New Dictionary of Terms used in the Affairs of The Turf, The Ring, The Chase, and The Cock-Pit; with Those of the Bon-Ton and The Varieties of Life, Forming the Completest and Authentic Lexicon Balatronicum et Macaronicum, particularly Adapted to the use of The Sporting World for elucidating Words and Phrases that are Necessarily, or Purposely, Rendered cramp, mutative, and unintelligible, outside their respective Spheres. Interspersed with Anecdotes and Whimsies, With Tart Quotations, And Rum-Ones; With Examples, Proofs, And Monitory Precepts Useful and Proper for Novices, Flats, and Yokels. Editio altera.

Let’s call it Sportsman’s Slang for short, eh?

Here’s a definition that answered a long-held question of mine (In the text, this is all one paragraph, but that’s too visually dense so I have added paragraphs for readability:

Bon ton: highflier Cyprians and those who run after them; from Bon–good easy–and ton or tone; the degree of tact and tension to be employed by modish people; frequently called ‘the ton’ only. Persons taking up good portions of their hours in seeking pleasure are of the Bon-ton, as stage actors and frequenters of play houses, visitors at watering-places officers &c. &c. See Haut ton.

In Paris they are both called Le bon genre. The appellation is much oftener applied than assumed. High life, particularly of whoredom: he who does not keep a girl or part of one, cannot be of the Bon ton; when he ceases, let him cut. Bon ton is included in haut-ton, and is French for that part of society who live at their ease, as to income and pursuits, whose manners are tonish, and who, like other divisions of society, employ terms of their own, which rather sparingly they engraft on the best King’s English. Mascul. et Fem.

Terms which denote the ton: ‘The go, the mode, or pink of the mode; bang-up, the prime of life, or all prime; the thing, the dash, and a dasher; quite the Varment–a four-in-hand, a whip, a very jarvy; a swell, a diamond of the first water.’ None can expect to attain perfection in all these unless he could obtain the same assistance that Faustus had, viz. Leviathan; and then he could not begrudge to meet the same end.

OK, so the phrase I have often wondered about is “Diamond of the First Water” as applied to a person. This is the first time I’ve seen the phrase in period literature. Mind you, here it’s used with a definite note of, shall we say ironic contempt? But here, we do not see the term specifically applied to a woman, and if it were, we might be excused for thinking Bee meant to imply a whore.

At any rate, I’ve wondered if the phrase might be a Heyer-ism, but if it is, she had some period authority for it. In fact, as I’ve been scanning through this, there are so many phrases I recognize from Heyer and her successors that I began to think she must have had this book in her library.

Are there phrases you’ve often wondered about?

Edited to Add!

There are dozens of uses of “Diamond of the First Water” with respect to jewelry and many that, in the same breath, mention giving that jewelry to a mistress who expects such a gift, but also many that apply the term to things that are not diamonds– and from there it’s really not hard to imagine applying the phrase to a woman. And, there are some. In the one below, we see a rather racy application of the term from dialog in a play which I include here because it made me laugh.

From Dissipation: A Comedy in Five Acts. As it is Performed at the Theatre-Royal, by Miles Peter Andrews, 1781.

EPHRAIM: What ish impossible! There ish your friend Lady Rentless that I wash more intimate with than you are Maisher Alderman, for all you are my Lord’s captain.

ALDERMAN: You intimate with my Lady? Why she’s the very pink of the mode, makes fashions for the whole town, gives entertainments to the whole town, sits up all night. Why, drill me, but she’s a diamond of the first water.

EPHRAIM: Aye; I love the diamond of the first water and have got the possession of most of them.

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8 years ago

I suspect Georgette Heyer did own or have access to this book, or one like it. She often includes sportsmen’s slang (much as she often uses thieves cant, which I suspect she found in one or other of the dictionaries of slang published at the time.

I find it interesting that the word “ton”, which Heyer used so frequently and which is a mainstay of Regency romances generally, was associated with “highflier Cyprians and those who run after them”. And that the phrase associated with them is “bon ton”! Heyer always used the word “ton” and indeed “good ton” to apply to the aristocracy, and “highflier Cyprians” were most definitely not “good ton”!

Would I be right in thinking that “haut-ton” comes closer to the way she used the term “ton”? – although I see that according to Bee “bon ton” is included in it!

Carolyn jewel
8 years ago
Reply to  HJ

It’s hard to determine how much of Bee’s ‘definition ‘ is sarcastic , satiric and/ or ironic. More research and documentation us in order.

8 years ago

These are some of the Heyer terms which I haven’t seen elsewhere. Although I think I know what they mean from their context, they are a trifle obscure, if rather fun!

gape seed; rum touch; toad eater; Friday faced; and squeeze crab.

Carolyn jewel
8 years ago
Reply to  HJ

Toad eater is definitely not a term invented by Heyer. That goes back many many years. The others I’m not sure about.

Beth Elliott
8 years ago

In Heyer’s ‘Venetia’, Damerel tells Venetia that when she goes to London, the men will say she is a diamond of the first water, and he means she is beautiful and charming – nothing pejorative .

8 years ago

Fascinating to see that someone else is interested in ‘Jon Bee’.
I, also, use the short title of ‘Bee’s Sportsman’s Slang’ in the recently published book ‘Writing the Prizefight: Pierce Egan’s Boxiana World’ (2013).
Bee features substantially, especially as he was responsible for editing the fourth ‘Boxiana’ volume in 1824.
Certainly, many of his slang dictionary entries are ‘playful’ (i.e. sarcastic, humorous etc.). Bee was antagonistic towards Egan, and his rival lexicographical publications. Constantly sniping.
Egan and Bee were under-rated and somewhat neglected writers, and the metropolitan / sporting jargon interspersed in their writing helps to make them different (in a good way).

Carolyn Jewel
8 years ago
Reply to  David


Thank you so much for your comment!! I really appreciate you stopping by. Your article was extremely helpful, and it’s what led me to Sportsman’s Slang. And somewhere you asked whether I’d seen the Thurtell account, and yes! I blogged about it in January :

I bought your book, by the way. It’s going to be very helpful as I finish this book!

8 years ago
Reply to  Carolyn Jewel

That’s good news.
I’ve put a link to Risky Regencies Flash blog on my own Eganesque website blog page.
Good luck with your forthcoming book.

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