• billingsgate •
bi-lingz-gayt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. Abusive language, scathing profanity applied with a vengeance. 2. An impudent woman who uses scathing profanity with a vengeance.
Notes: The Billingsgate Fish Market in London is the only fish market I know of that is the eponym of an English word. Historically, Billingsgate has been known as much for the salty language of its fishwives as for its scaly wares. Today it is located in a modern new building where most of the sales staff speak a more palatable idiom. Still, billingsgate is a word that ties us vividly to our history. It is no longer capitalized when used in the sense above.
In Play: You, my dear reader, of course, would never indulge in billingsgate, but the word does provide an ear-catching, homespun alternative to such words as cursing and profanity: "If I ever hear that kind of billingsgate emerge from your mouth again, you will be grounded for life!" (Apparently a family that rules out the death penalty.) If billingsgate is anything, it is an attention-grabber: "I'd love to watch football with you guys Saturday, but three hours of billingsgate from Constance Waring is more than I can take."
Word History: Billingsgate originally referred to one of the two water-gates from the Thames into London. It is located just below London Bridge. Elizabeth I (1533-1603) declared it "an open place for the landing and bringing in of any fish, corn, salt stores, victuals and fruit . . . ." In Vanity Fair, Thackeray wrote "Mr. Osborne . . . Cursed Billingsgate with an emphasis worthy of the place." By 1799 even Thomas Jefferson was writing: "We disapprove the constant billingsgate poured on them officially." Your turn.