Victorian Slang of the Week – Tom and Jerry (and Daffy)

Tom and Jerry – a slang term that has made its mark, perhaps like no other, throughout popular culture. And one intertwined with The Slang Dictionary itself.

Tom and Jerry are now most famously the cartoon cat and mouse, of course, but the term was also used to refer to British and German soldiers in the Second World War – or the “Tommies” and the “Jerries”. In popular culture, it was the original stage name of Simon and Garfunkel and also the male characters in The Good Life.

But perhaps the phrase originated in 1821 from a journal called Life in London by Pierce Egan, which had a couple of flash characters called Corinthian Tom and Jerry Hawthorn who embarked on laddish sprees around London. They were also accompanied by another friend, Bob Logic, but he’s rather gone by the wayside in slang terms. Life in London ran until 1828 and was hugely popular. There was an offshoot stage show, and even a drink called “Tom and Jerry” devised by Egan to promote the show. This cocktail – a kind of hot eggnog and brandy concoction – is actually still around as a traditional Christmas seasonal drink in parts of the US.

Pierce Egan was also the editor of the 1823 slang dictionary Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. This preceded the slang dictionary I own, which was compiled by John Camden Hotten in 1865.

Corinthian Tom refers to the dictionary in Life in London,

“A kind of cant phraseology is current from one end of the Metropolis to the other, and you will scarcely be able to move a single step, my dear JERRY, without consulting a Slang Dictionary, or having some friend at your elbow to explain the strange expressions which, at every turn, will assail your ear.”

In more intertwining, John Camden Hotten himself brought out a reprint of Life in London in 1869. And by the time he had published his own slang dictionary in 1865, Tom and Jerry meant a lowdown drinking den, a gin palace (probably because these were exactly the types of places frequented by Corianthian Tom and Jerry Hawthorn). And, to add to the cartoony slang, Daffy meant gin.

The Slang Dictionary, 1865

The Slang Dictionary, 1865

Pictures of Life in London can be found on the brilliant Spitalfields Life blog –

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2 Responses

  1. July 7, 2017

    […] No, not the cartoon of the fighting cat and mouse, Tom and Jerry first appeared in 1821 in a publication called Life in London by Pierce Egan, it follows the story of two characters called Corinthian Tom and Jerry Hawthorn, who together with their friend Bob Logic embark on “rambles and sprees through the metropolis”. In the 1800s the men’s antics would inspire the phrase ‘Jerry Shop’ which was a ‘Low-down drinking shop’. Read more about this here. […]

  2. July 7, 2017

    […] In the 1800s the men’s antics would inspire the phrase ‘Jerry Shop’ which was a ‘Low-down drinking shop’. Read more here […]

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