A Little Colorful Language: Church and Clergy

Francis Grose, author of Dictionary of he Vulgar Tongue



I confess, I am a word nerd. I love language captivates me, especially in the way it relates to a culture. Slang, the speech of the common man, paints such a picture of the speaker’s world. I love it!

Since every place and time has its own unique slang, I thought it would be interesting to share some Regency era slang from time to time. Today’s offering a little colorful language related to the church.




  Colorful names for a Parson


  • Autem Bawler. 
  • Body Of Divinity Bound In Black Calf
  • Devil Catcher, or Devil Driver Snub Devil
  • Dominee
  • Parish-bull
  • Pudding Sleeves. 
  • Levite.  
  • Spiritual Flesh-broker. 


Sir John. The old title for a country parson

Postilion Of The Gospel. A parson who hurries over the service.

Turnpike-man. A parson; because the clergy collect their tolls at our entrance into and exit from the world.

Finger-post. A parson; so called, because he points out a way to others which he never goes himself. Like the fingerpost, he points out a way he has never been, and, probably, will never go, i. e. the way to heaven.

Mr. Prunella. parsons’ gowns being frequently made of prunella.

One In Ten. A parson: an allusion to his tithes.

Gluepot. A parson: from joining men and women together in matrimony.

Puzzle-text. An ignorant blundering parson.

…and his curate

Parson’s Journeyman. A curate.

Hedge Priest. An illiterate, unbeneficed curate, apatrico.


Colorful names for a Parish clerk

  • Amen Curler. 
  • Canticle. 
  • Chuck Farthing. 


The church

  • Autem. 
  • Gospel Shop.
  • Steeple-house. 

 …and its pulpit


  • Clack-loft. 
  • Hum Box. 
  • Prattling-box.


To look over the wood; to ascend the pulpit, to preach

Referring to the devil

  • Black Spy. 
  • Old Harry.
  • Old One.
  • Old Poger.
  • Ruffian. 
  • Old Nick.  from Neken, the evil spirit of the north.
  • Old Scratch. probably from the long and sharp claws with which he is frequently delineated.


Complaining about the preaching

Canting. Preaching with a whining, affected tone, perhaps a corruption of chanting

Spoil Pudding. A parson who preaches long sermons, keeping his congregation in church till the puddings are overdone.

Scraping. A mode of expressing dislike to a person, or sermon, practised at Oxford by the students, in scraping their feet against the ground during the preachment.

Long-winded. A long-winded parson; one who preached long tedious sermons.


Complaining about the tithe

 Black Fly. The greatest drawback on the farmer is the black fly, i. e. the parson who takes the tithe of the harvest.

Pinch On The Parson’s Side. To defraud the parson of his tithe.

Priest-craft. The art of awing the laity, managing their consciences, and diving into their pockets.


Interesting Expressions related to church and the clergy

Church Work. Said of any work that advances slowly.

Churchyard Cough. A cough that is likely to terminate in death.

Hums. Persons at church.

Japanned. Ordained. To be japanned; to enter into holy orders, to become a clergyman, to put on the black cloth; from the color of the japan ware, which is black.

Thorough Churchman. A person who goes in at one door of a church, and out at the other, without stopping.

To boil one’s lobster. for a churchman to become a soldier; lobsters, which are of a bluish black, being made red by boiling.

To cuckold the parson. to go to bed with one’s wife before she has been churched.

To dine with Duke Humphrey. to fast. In old St. Paul’s church was an aisle called Duke Humphrey’s walk, and persons who walked there while others were at dinner, were said to dine with Duke Humphrey.

To fly a blue pigeon. to steal lead off a church.


Quoted from:   Grose, Captain (Francis). (2004) Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1811 ed. Ikon Classics


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