Duels at dawn, heaving bosoms, feather headdresses and glances that speak a thousand words – what’s not to love about the Regency Era? And with Netflix’s Bridgerton bringing it to life for us right now, there’s no better time to sharpen up your 19th century vernacular.
Firstly, though, what, when and where was the Regency Era? Obviously, it was in the UK. Where else could formality have got quite so ridiculous. The when is slightly more complicated. Formally, the Regency was 1811 to 1820 when the Prince of Wales ruled by proxy for his father, George III (also known as ‘Mad King George’). The Regency Era also describes the mini-Renaissance of art, architecture, music, fashion and society in the UK from 1795-1837. So, as well as the setting for Bridgerton, Jane Austen was also doing her thing at this time. That’s right, Elizabeth Bennet, Emma Woodhouse et al were all Regency ladies, although not in the upper echelons of society that the Bridgerton ladies promenade through. That would have made for quite different books!
As we know from books, films and television shows, having a social life during the Regency era was pretty complicated (will someone write that about 2020/2021 in 200 years?!). There were set rules for who could call on who, what time you could go visiting, how many times you could dance with someone at a ball, what women could say/do/read/hear/wear. But it was also a time when the wealthy invested heavily in the arts, when architects like John Nash and Decimus Burton were creating beautiful parks and buildings and, with the adoption of the steam press in the early 1800s, books and novels were becoming more accessible to a wider section of society.
All in all, it was a very elegant and exciting time to be alive, you know, if you ignore the poverty, disease, lack of women’s rights, racism… Well it was, if you were rich.
So, if you were to find yourself magically time travelling back to 1813 (work with me here, we’ve all wished for a bit of time travel recently), once you’d found yourself a corset or tailcoat, what sort of language would help you blend in with the likes of the Bridgerton family? Well, you’ll use quite a lot of euphemism, some fantastic slang and plenty of French…
Here are a few of the best Regency words and phrases to use amongst ‘The Ton’:
The Ton – from ‘le bon ton’, high society
To cast up one’s accounts – to be sick, vomit
Adventuress – a prostitute
Sprained her ankle – to get pregnant
Bond Street beau – a well-dressed man who shops on Bond Street
Cucumberish – to be in debt
Dandy – fashionable, charming and witty gentleman
Incomparable – a woman of the ton who has no rival or peer
Nonesuch – the male equivalent of the Incomparable
Swoon – a graceful faint
London Season – coincided with the sitting of parliament, to keep all of the aristocrats and their families who came to Town from their country seats entertained
Town bronze or Town polish – learning the culture and manners needed for Town (Town with a capital T is London)
Rake – shortening of ‘Rakehell’, a libertine, a carefree aristocratic man who loves a ‘good time’
‘Uh-oh Jeffrey has just cast up his accounts over that adventuress’
‘Lady Charlotte sprained her ankle dallying with a Bond Street beau’
‘He may be a dandy but he’s also the rake of the ton!’
Is it time to bring back some of these phrases into our everyday lives? Definitely. There is a fantastic subtlety to some of these older words and phrases that makes them so much more fun to say. Though perhaps we should start practicing those lingering meaningful looks too, to make sure we’re getting the message across.
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