Saturday, August 26, 2006

Avoiding Indelicacies

The wind of change was blowing towards the end of the Regency era and a reaction set in against immorality, bringing with it the need for new vocabulary and euphemisms. Venitia Murray, in her book, 'High Society in the Regency Period' explains that in 1818 a society lady wrote:

' No one can now say "breeding" or "with child" or "lying-in" without being thought indelicate. "Colic" and "bowels" are exploded words. "Stomach" signifies everything.'

According to Venitia it was around this time, too, that babies started to be found under gooseberry bushes or dropped by the stork, whilst trousers, if they had to be spoken of at all, were referred to as 'unmentionables', 'inexpressibles' or 'ineffables'.

A few years later Leigh Hunt observed: 'So rapid are the changes that take place in people's notions of what is decorous that not only has the word 'smock' been displaced by the word 'shift' but even that harmless expression has been set aside for the French word 'chemise', and at length not even this word, it seems, is to be mentioned, nor the garment itself alluded to, by any decent writer.'

On the whole I think I preferred the earlier days of the Regency. I suspect that they were a lot more fun!

Wendy Soliman

1 comment:

Stephen said...

I agree with Wendy that this sweeping away of the freedom and fun of earlier years is a bit disappointing, but it was driven by the same social movement which also swept away slavery. William Wilberforce may have been a tedious old prude, but he and his allies did make the world a better place for millions.