Home Arts and Leisure Fambles, Giggs and Red Rags – A Guide to Early New England Physiology

Fambles, Giggs and Red Rags – A Guide to Early New England Physiology

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In the 1600s if someone offered you a Pult in the Munns, you probably didn’t want it. Colonial New Englanders had lots of expressions to describe physiology and they might surprise you. A broken ankle, for instance, had nothing to do with your ankle.


Lots of opportunities to describe physiology here

You’d want to know the following expressions  if you happened to talk to commoners in colonial New England.

  • A colquarron described a man’s neck, also known as a Nub. Your Noddle or your Nod was your head.
  • Fambles were your hands, also called your Mawley. “Tip us your Mawley” meant “shake hands with me.” If you burned your hand you got Badged.
  • Your eyes were your Glaziers or Ogles, and if you were blind you were a Groper. If you were so tired you could barely stay awake you were Peeping.
  • Beetle-Browed meant you had bushy eyebrows.
  • Prating Cheat was your tongue, also known as your Red Rag. Your lips were Gans and our mouth was a Potato Trap, also known as your Mummer. If someone told you to close your potato trap and give your red rag a rest, they had heard enough from you.
  • Park Pailing described your teeth, also known as Grinders. If you had a large Gigg, it meant you had a big nose.
  • They were all arranged as part of your Muns, or your face. And if you got a Pult in the Muns, it meant someone punched you in the face. If you basted someone, you gave them a beating.

More Physiology

  • Your arm was your Smiter and your feet were called Stampers. To Make Leg meant you bowed to someone.
  • Your Cracker was your backside, also sometimes called your Blind Cupid.
  • Your belly was your Tripe. If someone called you Mr. Double-Tripe it meant you probably should go on a diet. Puff Guts also described a fat man.
  • Your Nab was your head, and a Nab-cheat was your hat. And if you were Totty-Headed it meant you were hare-brained or giddy.
  • Your chest was your Heaver and a woman’s chest was an Apple Dumpling Shop. If she had particularly large-breasts, people called her a Bushel Bubby, or Mrs. Van-Neck.
  • And if you were Abraham it meant you were naked also wearing your Birthday Suit.
  • If a girl got pregnant unintentionally, she had Sprained Her Ankle and she better find a Rabbit Catcher (a midwife).
  • If you walked knock-kneed people said you had Baker-Knees. Your Stumps were your legs and if you were in a hurry you better Stir Your Stumps. If you had no horse to carry you and had to walk, you travelled on a Bayard of Ten Toes or rode Shanks Naggy.
  • And if you fell down you went Arsey Yarsey.
  • A pretty girl was an Article and a homely girl was a Mopsey. A handsome boy was a Rum Duke; an awkward boy was a Duke of Limbs and a horse-faced man was Lenten Jawed. And if you were Bracket-faced you were just plain ugly.

Thanks to: Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, By Francis Grose (1785) and Villainies Discovered: OR The Devil’s Cabinet Broken Open, By Richard Head (1673). This story about physiology expressions updated in 2022.


1 comment

Jilts, Flams and Jibber the Kibber - The Art of Lying in Colonial Times - New England Historical Society July 17, 2017 - 6:51 am

[…] existed in the 1600s, just as it does today. And there were many slang expressions to describe liars and […]

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