Burnt Toast Editorial

The #NoBullshit Publishing Consultancy

Category Archive:Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

Hugotontheonbiquiffinarians is this week’s #wonderword. Or is it? 

Having set myself the task of choosing a #wonderword of the week, I discover the hardest part is deciding which one?

In my search for this week’s little humdinger I stumbled across two very rich sources of the etymology of the English language – both focussing on the historical development of slang or indeed “vulgar”, “canting”, or what we might consider today to be “urban”. There are subtle differences.

These sources are The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Francis Grose, ¹ and the “Dictionary of Cant and English Slang. A Collection of the Canting Words and Terms, both ancient and modern, used by Beggars, Gypsies, Cheats, House-Breakers, Shop-Lifters, Foot-Pads, Highway-Men, &c;” in The Universal Etymological English Dictionary, by N. Bailey, London, 1737, Vol. II. ²

I was toying with the idea of selecting the word Hugotontheonbiquiffinarians which interestingly has the same number of letters as the alphabet, but decided rightly, I think, that as I can’t even pronounce the word adequately much less find any more information other than it was a Society that existed in 1748, it was best not to tread any further.

Nonetheless, it is interesting to know that Hugotontheonbiquiffinarians is mentioned in an academic paper entitled ‘Third Edition of Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue: Bookseller’s Hackwork or Posthumous Masterpiece?” given at a Lexicography conference at the University of Leicester in 2002. ³

What about the word I finally plump for? It’s Hum Box. Quite simply it was the slang word used in the eighteenth century (and possibly earlier) for the pulpit, and its origin is closely linked to the word “hum”, the plural of which (“hums”) was used to describe large numbers of people congregating in a church. 

The Pulpit © Dave Walker. 2019.

Therefore to describe a pulpit as a Hum Box was surely not just a description of the place from where sermons were delivered nor the sound emanating from it, but also, perhaps, a humorous or even derogatory swipe at the English clergy of the eighteenth century?

Nowadays, a Hum Box has a different meaning and application. Mostly connected to electronic sound equipment, alas.

¹ See here.

² See here.

³ Coleman, Julie, & McDermott, Anne, (eds), Historical Dictionaries and Historical Dictionary Research: Papers from the International Conference on Historical Lexicography and Lexicology, at the University of Leicester, (Walter de Gruyter), 2004. See here