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Educational History Just For Fun

Love Bridgerton? This is the Regency lingo you need to know!

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’    

For example,
‘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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Educational History

A brief history of the written word.

Have you ever thought about writing? No, me neither, it’s just one of those things you do, isn’t it? You learn how to do it as a small child, and then it just sort of flows from there.

But if you did want to think about it…which I hope you do, so you read on a bit further… there are actually some interesting things to consider. Where did it all begin? Who ‘invented’ the written word? When did the first pen scratch words on the first paper? Why should I care?

All great questions, why don’t we find out?

Everything we know about the past is thanks to the written word. Without it, it would all just be verbal stories passed from person to person – we all know how that can turn out – missing the context that helps us piece together what happened 50, 500 and 5,000 years ago. It may sound a little bit melodramatic, but without writing, there would be no history. Not literally of course, but we certainly wouldn’t know what naughty deeds our ancestors were getting up to in ye olden times if it had never appeared.

Cave paintings, pictograms if you will, were the first instance of people recording their day to day life, the sort of ‘ah, my horse is so pretty, I’m going to smudge his likeness onto this wall’ or ‘mmm that bison was so delicious I’m going to draw it in this cave’. We’re talking the ancient hunter-gatherers here, between 40,000 and 14,000 years ago, drawn with crude ‘crayons’ made of natural rocks and charcoal. Not so much writing, but the first step on the path to the word.

When humans stopped roaming the land and began to cultivate it instead, growing crops, living in dwellings and being able to own more than just what they could carry, a counting system was needed. How else would you keep track of how many ears of corn you’d harvested, or whether there was actually an oxen missing or you’d just imagined you had four? The Sumerians of Mesopotamia came up with the counting token about 9,000 years ago, each of which was stamped with a picture that represented the item to be counted, and bingo, you’d always know if that pesky fourth bison had done a runner again. 

Fast forward to about 3,500 BCE and we’ve reached the rough time that what is considered the earliest form of writing came into being. Those busy Sumerians had developed counting tokens into ‘cuneiform’, what is catchily known as a logo-syllabic script. It’s probably not a big surprise to anyone that some of the earliest records that used this method were to do with beer and its sale. It’s good to know that the ancient people knew how to party. A ‘stylus’ made of reed was used to make marks that initially represented objects, a pictogram, but developed to represent sounds, phonograms, much closer to what we know as words today. This had a great many benefits for trading, as rather than four little stamped tokens that simply represented four cows, they could now convey what was happening to the cows – where they were going, what they were for and so on.  

Around the same time the Egyptians were using hieroglyphs (everyone’s favourite ancient writing of course) marked on papyrus. With over 1,000 distinct symbols, it was a formal writing system; each symbol representing a sound, a word or a concept, depending on the context. Further east in China, another distinct script was emerging with its roots in the art of divination (not just a subject at Hogwarts!). Oracle bones and shells were etched with marks and thrown in the fire until they cracked. The diviner would then ‘read’ them. Feels like a reach to me, but then these ancients were pretty smart. 

As symbols began to represent sounds, they were better able to capture the precise meaning of what people were saying. It was at this point that literature became possible.

The first known writer was a Mesopotamian priestess called Enheduanna (2,285 – 2,250 BCE) who wrote down hymns to the goddess Inanna. At the same time, the first epic tale, The Epic of Gilgamesh, a classic quest for the meaning of life, was also written in Mesopotamia. As writing became more prolific across the region, the Assyrian (Asssyria was a kingdom within the Mesopotamian region) King Ashurbanipal, collected as many works as he could into a great library in his capital Nineveh. It was the remains of this library, discovered by archaeologists in 1849, that has given us so much information about this time period. The tablets they found can be seen at the British Museum today.

The epic poetry of the likes of Homer and Virgil, the philosophical writings of Plato and Socrates and the fact that we know the Romans hung phalluses everywhere for good luck is all thanks to the Greek and Roman phonetic writing systems that built on what had been achieved in Egypt and Mesopotamia, and an alphabet that was developed by the Phonecians (ancient Mediteranean civilization, big into sailing and conquering). And from the Romans we got Latin, the root of many European languages. The rest they say, is history…

So next time you go to write something, especially if it’s something that records your thoughts and feelings, remember that thanks to the development of the written word, over thousands of years people just like you have done the same thing. That is what has given us such an epic and fascinating collective history of civilisation. Pretty cool huh?

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