Scroll to Top
The Glossary

A brief explanation of words used in Kate’s adventures.

Please note, some of these words have evolved and their usage changed over the years. These definitions are correct for the mid 1800’s.

adventuress; the feminine form of adventurer, and sometimes used (particularly in the late 1800s) to describe clever, beautiful, dangerous women who took advantage of wealthy powerful men for societal and financial gain

bandolier, Egypt, 1884

bandolier, Egypt, 1884

bandolier; (bandoleer) a shoulder belt with pouches for carrying ammunition, from the French bandouliere for a similar belt for carrying coins, in use from the 1570s, as hard cased cartridges came into use in the 1850s bandoliers were developed with specific calibre sized loops

Barbary; a term for the lands of north Africa not including Egypt, derived from barbarian, the Barbary pirates raided southern Europe and Britain from the 16th to the 19th centuries to capture white slaves for the market in North Africa and the Middle East

barker; an individual who attempts to attract patrons to entertainment events

barking iron; a firearm, usually a pistol

Baron/Baroness; hereditary, the lowest rank in the peerage, occasionally awarded for service

Baronet/Baronetess; an honour awarded to commoners, often soldiers, occasionally hereditary

barrel; a cask of variable size but often with a 31 to 36 imperial gallon capacity (141 to 164 litres)

bashibazouk; Turkish for free headed, or leaderless, irregular soldiers of the Ottoman army, noted for their lack of discipline, brutality, and ruthlessness

batman; pronounced bawman, short for bat-horse man (bat being old French for packsaddle), a soldier servant who tends to all an officer’s equipment, uniforms, and kit

batsman; a hired brute with a cudgel for a weapon, perhaps drawn from the cricket term 

bazaar; a market place

bertha; a collar or trimming, worn about the shoulders and across the breast of a low cut bodice for decoration and modesty

bivouac; to camp in the wilderness


blast; gunpowder

blunderbuss; from the Dutch donderbus meaning thunder pipe, a muzzle-loading firearm with a short large calibre barrel, often flared at the opening

bodice; the body of a dress or blouse

bracers; armour covering the forearm, shortened from vambraces

breeches; riding trousers, often snug form fitting, laced, buckled or buttoned below the knee, generally made of tough material or leather, but sometimes fine fabric then reinforced with leather on the inside of the legs and bottom

Brown Bess

brougham; a light four-wheeled coach, two doors, one bench and a front window

Brown Bess; nickname, the British Army’s Land Pattern Musket, .75 calibre flintlock, saw service from 1722 until 1838, then sold in large volumes

burnoose; a hooded cloak, often with material to swathe the face

busby; hussar headdress, a cylindrical fur cap, having a bag of coloured cloth hanging from the top and down to the side, typically to the right within British regiments

butcher’s bill; a count of soldier casualties after a battle

calèche; French term for a hood, often wool with silk, satin, or velvet lining, and decorated with tassels and ribbons 

cameos, Queen Victoria wearing a few

cameo; jewellery, a relief carving, usually oval of conch shell, worn on a ribbon or pinned at the throat, they were also produced from gems and stones

camera obscura; the earliest form of projector, a simple mirror and lens

camisole; a small shirt, halter top-like undergarment

cannonade; continuous cannon fire, usually concentrated volleys

canter; a horse gait equalling ten to seventeen miles per hour (sixteen to 27 km per hour)

cartridge belt; a shoulder belt with a pouch for carrying bullets

charger; a powerful warhorse

cheroot; an inexpensive cigar with untapered open ends

chemise; an undershirt of varying lengths, a pull-over often with lace edging, not buttoned as it was worn under corsets

chiffon; a sheer fabric of silk in plain weave used for ribbons and lace

choke damp; an atmosphere so low in oxygen and high in other gases as to cause chocking, often fatal

corset advert

clandestine tasking; a secret mission

clarence; an enclosed four-wheeled coach with two benches and large windows including a front pane

coming out; an age when a young lady makes her first official appearance in society, usually after completing her education and training; fifteen to eighteen, but as young as twelve

commissionaires; retired soldiers, usually veterans of many battles, retained in service as reliable security guards, founded in 1859


coquelicot; French for poppy, during the 1800s it was used in fashion for bright red, generally applied to feminine clothing

corset; a formfitting undergarment enclosing the torso, often stiffened with baleen (whalebone), or similar material and capable of being tightened by lacing, by the early 1860s sprung steel was most common

costermonger; a street seller of fruit, vegetables, muffins, &c.

Count/Countess; a hereditary title of large land owners, occasionally awarded for outstanding service

crepe; fabric of silk or cotton, with a finely crinkled or ridged surface and woven so no shine is produced

daguerreotype; a photographic process invented in 1839, in which an image formed on a silver surface prepared with iodine and exposed to mercury vapour

despatch/dispatch rider; a cavalry messenger, usually a small excellent horseman on a superior mount

drawers; an undergarment, shorts, both sexes, for women crafted in two halves with an open crotch, button closures and sewn crotch seams developed through the mid to late 1800s

East India Co. Ensign

dray; a low strong heavy cart

drill; a tough, long lasting, twilled cotton fabric

Earl; the English equivalent of a Count

East India Company; an English joint-stock company that traded mainly in cotton, silk, indigo dye, saltpetre, tea, and opium, and ruled large areas of India exercising military power and assuming administrative functions

egad; a mild expletive, from ‘my God’

engageantes; under sleeves, often of delicate material, worn with elastic at the elbows or tacked into the bulky sleeves of a gown or jacket, removed for laundering

estafette; French for a military courier or despatch rider

Factories; a term particular to business markets in China, an agent’s office to act as factor (accountant)

farthing; one quarter of a penny

fez, Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II, in an early form of the hat, 1830

fez; a stiff felt hat in the shape of a truncated cone, produced in many colours but most commonly red, adopted as the official headdress of the Ottoman Empire in 1826

florin; two shillings, or 24 pence

fortnight; two weeks

functionals; tests, to determine if something works properly

galloon; a braid used as trim, rather like rope, often woven with silver or gold thread, used on military tunics as decoration but also designed to protect the wearer from wounds

gallop; a horse gait equalling 30 to 40 miles per hour (48 to 64 km per hour)

gentry; wealthy landowners, knights and baronets

gesso; a mixture of gypsum and glue used to prime canvas

goggles; padded strapped protective eyeglasses, a term first recorded in 1715


grapeshot; anti-personnel ammunition used in cannons providing an effect similar to a shotgun, the balls were loaded in canvas bags and resembled a cluster of grapes, also known as canister

green sickness; chlorosis, a form of anemia named for the greenish tinge of the skin, it was thought to be related to celibacy

guinea; 21 shillings, or 252 pence


hack; a horse for hire

half a crown; two shillings and six pence, or 30 pence

hansom; a two-wheeled one horse covered carriage for two passengers with the driver mounted on an elevated seat behind

harlot; a prostitute

Hessian heel; a high strong heel originally designed for stirrups

hobby/dandy horse

hobby horse; aka dandy horse, an early form of bicycle, moved by merely paddling the feet along the ground, first produced in London by D. Johnson, 1818

hogshead; a cask with a 54 to 79 imperial gallon capacity (about 245 to 360 litres)

hose; sheaths for feet and legs, the best of which were tailor made (knitted) of silk or worsted wool  for the purchaser, layers of stockings could be worn over them for warmth and to protect the silk from wear

hoy; an exclamation, a shout or hail, used to attract attention

hoyden; a tomboy, an unfeminine or boisterous carefree girl

irons; pistols

kubanka, a Caucazian soldier in the 1860s

japanned; covered with layers of varnish, polished

knacker; a person who buys up old horses for slaughter

knocker; a person employed to wake others, before alarm clocks became common hundreds of these individuals would fan out across a city in the morning usually claiming a certain district

kubanka; a cylindrical fur hat, often with a brightly coloured felt top, from which busbys evolved

landau; a four wheeled convertible social carriage (with facing seats), the soft folding top is divided into two sections, front and rear, latched at the centre, invented in the 1700s but not produced in England until the 1830s

lappet; a small flap or piece of lace, trim, &c, crafted to hang from a headdress, sleeve, hemline, &c.

lascar; a sailor from the East Indies

le bon ton; the beautiful two thousand, referring to Britain’s high society, especially during the Regency period (1811 to 1820)

league; three land miles (4.8 km), or 15840 feet, or three nautical miles (5.6 km), or 18228 feet


Lord; a form of address for Earls, Counts and Viscounts

l’outrance; French, translated as “to excess” or “to the uttermost” and used in reference to a fight or duel, meaning no rules or mercy, to the death, evolved and shortened from “joust a l’outrance” or “attaque a l’outrance”

lucifer; a friction match invented around 1830

macassar oil; coconut or palm oil, with ylang-ylang oil, and schleichera trijuga, used as a hair conditioner

mantelet; a short cloak covering only to the waist

mantle; a loose sleeveless cloak or cape

mews; a term peculiar to London meaning a row of stables, originally referring to falcons and mew time (moulting)

mourning dress advert

mizzling; a light rain of very fine droplets

mourning dress; lustreless black clothing, including buttons and trim, a veil for widows, and often a black armband

mulatto; a person with one black parent and one white parent

muster; to gather or parade, in military parlance, usually a morning meeting to check troop numbers and availability

nonchalante; a travelling corset, made with elastic to provide free movement, appeared around 1850

octoroon; the offspring of a quadroon and a white, a person having one-eighth black ancestry, in use by the 1840s (see quadroon)

odds zounds; a mild expletive, from God’s wounds, similar to gadzooks or odzooks, from God’s hooks

opium trade; the sale of opium from India to other countries, and opium smuggling into countries where it was illegal

ordnance; a military term for munitions

panchtar; a five stringed lute most commonly associated with Afghanistan

pantalettes; (also pantelettes, pantalets) drawers, usually a term used for children, an undergarment in the form of shorts, most commonly cotton, linen, silk, and often lacy

parley; a discussion or meeting, from the French parlez; to talk

a typical penny dreadful illustration

pawky; tricky

peerage; members of the nobility ranking from dukes to barons

pelisse; a cavalryman’s small jacket that evolved into a cape (but retained the sleeves), fur trimmed with much braiding and buttons, worn on the off shoulder to act as protection from sword slashes, also referred to as a slinging jacket

pence; plural for penny

penny dreadful; a serial of sensational illustrated booklets of adventure, usually including crime and violence, which first appeared in the 1830s, also known as penny horrible, penny awful


pepperbox; a broad term to describe a pistol with several barrels, two to eight, some designed to fire all at once, others one barrel at a time through a rotating mechanism

petticoat; a bulky skirt (trimmed, flounced, ruffled) worn under a dress to provide volume, often several worn together of varying lengths made of different fabrics from silk to flannel

pince-nez; French for pinch nose, a small pair of spectacles without arms, dating back several centuries

pinchbeck; not genuine, a cheap imitation, named after Christopher Pinchbeck, an English watchmaker, who invented an imitation gold of copper and zinc around 1700 

pipe; a large cask of up to 126 imperial gallons (573 litres)


plançon; a medieval infantry weapon for smashing and thrusting, a long cudgel with a spike protruding straight from the top

pony; a small horse, less than 14.2 hands at the top of the withers (58 inches, 147cm)

quizzing glass

porte-cochère; a French term for a carriage porch, meaning a covered driveway with an entrance door to an inn or grand manor, evolved into car port

pound; 20 shillings, or 240 pence

quadroon; from the Spanish word cuarterón, the offspring of a mulatto and a white, a person having one-fourth black ancestry (see mulatto)

quizzing glass; a sort of monocle with a handle

reticule; a small handbag

rookery; an overcrowded slum, often with buildings falling down around the inhabitants

Royal Society; a learned society for science, founded in 1660, based in London

rundlet; a small cask with a capacity of 15 imperial gallons (68 litres)


sabretache; originally similar to a sporran and serving as a pocket, by the late 1700s it was a flat stiff leather case hung from a belt, ranged from plain to fancy, some functional others purely decorative, worn by cavalry regiments, often to carry despatches on the battlefield, contained paper and pencils, maps, ruler, &c, and served as a portable little writing surface

satchel; a bag of various sizes with a shoulder strap

scullery; where dishes were washed and stored

scullion; used as a term of abuse referring to the bottom of the servants, the scullery maid

scurf; small particles of epidermis which exfoliate from a person’s skin

shabrack/shabraque; a large cloth made to cover a cavalry saddle for parades, crafted of regimental colours, rounded front corners and pointed rear corners, regimental crest or royal cypher on the rear corners, upon the shabraque would be placed a sheepskin, bearskin, &c.

shagreen; an untanned leather with a granular surface, prepared from the hide of a horse, shark, seal, &c, and commonly used to cover the grip/handle of sabres

shako; a cylindrical hat, in military parlance, usually stiffened and with a visor, designed to withstand a sabre slash from above

shampoo; to massage, from the Hindi word champu, by the mid 1800s it was used as a wash and massage, as in shampoo your teeth, shampoo your scalp

sherryvallies; thick winter riding trousers or overalls, fastened on the outside of each leg with buttons, from the Polish word szarawary

shilling; twelve pence

Sir; a form of address for Knights and Baronets

slinging jacket; see pelisse

solar; usually a sitting room with many windows for sunshine


sovereign; re-introduced in 1817, a gold coin equal to a guinea

spatterdashes; also spatterdashers, gaiters, leggings of canvas, sailcloth or leather, buttoned up the outside, of varying lengths from mere anklets to full leg

spencer; a short close fitting jacket, frequently trimmed with fur, worn by women and children

spread broads; play cards

steeplechase; a horse race through the country from church to church without a set path

stone; fourteen pounds (6.35 kg)

street Irish; the desperately poor Irish immigrants who filled English cities during the “Hungry 40s” (1840s) and formed much of the gangs and criminal class through the 1850s to 70s

tabouret; an artists portable kit, often including a folding stool, easel, and case of supplies

taffeta; silk, usually smooth, crisp, and lustrous, plain-woven, and with a fine crosswise rib effect

tantivy; a wild gallop, and used as a hunting cry

taskings; military term, plural for specific duties assigned to an individual that require action

tight-lacing and toothbrush

tight-lacing; the use of a corset to constrict a woman’s torso for an hourglass figure

tippet; a scarf-like garment, usually of fur or wool, covering the neck and shoulders with ends hanging down the front

toff; a member of the upper class

toffer; a prostitute with upper class clients

toothbrush; mass produced by 1840, the finest with a silver handle and badger hair bristles

topper; a top hat

tragacanth gum; a paste from Persia generally made of goat’s thorn weed

trot; a horse gait equalling eight to ten miles per hour (thirteen to sixteen km per hour)

tucker; a strip of material or lace sewn to the inside of a bodice neckline, serving as a modesty piece

turfite; any member of the horse racing community, whether a breeder, owner, trainer, gambler, &c.

valise; a small or medium sized shapeless leather case similar in style to a modern duffel bag

Viscount/Viscountess; hereditary, the rank between Count and Baron, also the eldest son or daughter of an Earl or Count, occasionally awarded for outstanding service

waistcoat; a sleeveless buttoned garment, a vest

walk; a horse gait equalling three to four miles per hour (five to six and a half km per hour)

yawning; intercourse

Yid; short for Yiddish, derogatory term for Jewish, not commonly used until the 1870’s

yobs; boys


If you encounter a word in the Adventures that isn’t familiar, or used in today’s parlance unlike what your dictionary defines, please send the editor a note and it will be added here with an explanation, and perhaps an image.