These Were Actual Memes In Victorian London
Thanks to the internet, you can now read online the entire text of an 1852 book called "Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds" - which is basically just a long way of saying Twitter, before Twitter was a thing.
Our favourite chapter is "Popular Follies of Great Cities", which is kind of like "London (UK) Trends". Here are the best memes that went viral on the streets of Victorian London...
1. "What a shocking bad hat!"
Victorians loved nothing more than pointing out the poor quality of another persons's headwear, and everyone seemed to be on the look out for a victim:
"The obnoxious hat was often snatched from his head, and thrown into the gutter by some practical joker, and then raised, covered with mud, upon the end of a stick, for the admiration of the spectators, who held their sides with laughter, and exclaimed in the pauses of their mirth, 'Oh! what a shocking bad hat!' 'What a shocking bad hat!'"
We're probably lucky this trend died out or we'd never hear the end of it on Vine.
2. "There she goes with her eye out!"
The author doesn't seem to know what this one means, but describes it as "most preposterous" nonetheless:
"The sober part of the community were as much puzzled by this unaccountable saying as the vulgar were delighted with it. The wise thought it very foolish, but the many thought it very funny, and the idle amused themselves by chalking it upon walls, or scribbling it upon monuments."
Basically it's what people would have written under videos if they'd had YouTube.
3. "Flare up!"
This one started up around the time of the "Reform riots", and was used to describe something that had got out of hand:
"The man who had overstepped the bounds of decorum in his speech was said to have flared up; he who had paid visits too repeated to the gin-shop, and got damaged in consequence, had flared up. To put one's-self into a passion; to stroll out on a nocturnal frolic, and alarm a neighbourhood, or to create a disturbance in any shape, was to flare up."
The phrase got so popular that one man established a newspaper titled 'Flare Up', but found that the phrase went out of fashion almost immediately, which is a warning to all of us. We're looking at you, chip shop named #Hashtag.
4. "Has your mother sold her mangle?"
This one doesn't even need an explanation, because it's exactly the kind of thing you imagine Victorians were wandering around saying anyway. Either that or it's a rejected line from a Fast Show sketch.
Not so much a word as a sound, with "boundless meaning". Sort of like bollocks, forget it and piss off mate rolled into one:
"When a disputant was desirous of throwing a doubt upon the veracity of his opponent, and getting summarily rid of an argument which he could not overturn, he uttered the word Quoz... When a mischievous urchin wished to annoy a passenger, and create mirth for his chums, he looked him in the face, and cried out Quoz! and the exclamation never failed in its object."
6. Who are you?
Still a favourite on football terraces, this one appears to have come out of nowhere: "One day it was unheard, unknown, uninvented; the next it pervaded London; every alley resounded with it; every highway was musical with it." From the description, we're pretty sure the kind of people who say it today are the exact same people who would have said it back then:
"Every new comer into an alehouse tap-room was asked unceremoniously, "Who are you?" and if he looked foolish, scratched his head, and did not know what to reply, shouts of boisterous merriment resounded on every side."
7. Does your mother know you’re out?
This one was so popular, it even made it to Sweden by the 1980s. Back in 1840s London it was usually addressed at "young men of more than reasonable swagger, who smoked cigars in the streets, and wore false whiskers to look irresistible". So... 19th century hipsters?
8. Cherry ripe!
The author doesn't elaborate on what this is supposed to mean. But whatever it was, it seemed to be around for ages:
"About twenty years ago London resounded with one chorus, with the love of which everybody seemed to be smitten... This plague lasted for a twelvemonth, until the very name of cherries became an abomination in the land."
Basically it's Happy by Pharrell.
You can get the whole chapter here for free. It's a shocking good read.
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