17 Euphemisms for Sex From the 1800s

Whether you’re having a stitch or an extended game of pully hawly, these antique euphemisms for sex are suitable for polite society.
A classic example of amorous congress.
A classic example of amorous congress. / Culture Club/Getty Images

These 17 synonyms for sex were used often enough in 19th-century England to earn a place in the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, a book for upper-crust Britons who had no idea what members of the lower classes were talking about.

1. Amorous Congress

To say two people were engaged in amorous congress was by far the most polite option on the list. It often served as the definition for other, less discreet synonyms.

2. Basket-Making

As in, “those two recently opened a basket-making shop.” Apparently the phrase stems from a method of making children’s stockings, in which knitting the heel is called basket-making.

3. Bread and Butter

As the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue puts it, this refers to one person on top of the other: “Rumor has it he found her bread and butter fashion with the neighbor.”

4. Brush

“Yeah, we had a brush once”: the emphasis here is on brevity. Just a fling, no big deal.

5. Clicket

Painting in the style of the École Français of a man courting a woman
This is the kind of behavior that leads to a clicket. / Heritage Art/Heritage Images via Getty Images

“They left together, so they’re probably at clicket.” This term was originally used only for foxes, but it became less specific as more and more phrases for doing it were needed. One definition from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue maintains the term’s outdoorsy etymology: “the man and woman are copulating in the ditch.”

6. Face-Making

Aside from the obvious, this also comes from “making children,” because babies have faces.

7. Blanket Hornpipe

There is probably no way to use this in seriousness or discreetly, but there you have it.

8. Blow the Grounsils

“Grounsils” are foundation timbers, so this phrase means “to have sex on the floor.”

9. Convivial Society

Similar to “amorous congress,” this euphemism was a gentler term suitable for the upper classes to use, even if they only whispered it.

10. Take a Flyer

“Flyers” were shoes, so this phrase describes having sex while still dressed, or “without going to bed.”

11. Green Gown

Early 20th-century photo postcard of a man and woman courting in the forest
A green gown is imminent. / Culture Club/Getty Images

Giving a girl a green gown can happen only in the grass.

12. Lobster Kettle

A woman who sleeps with soldiers coming in at port is said to “make a lobster kettle” of herself.

13. Melting Moments

Those shared by “a fat man and woman in amorous congress.”

14. Pully Hawly

A game at pully hawly is a series of affairs.

15. Riding St. George

In the story of St. George and the Dragon, the dragon reared up from a lake to tower over the saint. Playing at St. George or riding St. George casts a woman as the dragon and puts her on top.

16. A Stitch

Similar to having a brush, making a stitch is having a casual affair.

17. Tiff

A tiff could be a minor argument or falling-out. But in the 19th century, it was also a term for eating or drinking between meals—or in this case, a quickie.

A version of this story was published in 2020; it has been updated for 2023.

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