Word of the Week: Southern necessities

Southern necessities (n): A pair of gentleman’s trousers. I am indebted to Horrible Histories for this delightful High Victorian euphemism. HH is a BBC show for children, aimed at teaching them real history through sketches, songs, gory details, and lots of poo. I heartily recommend it. For a taster, here’s a compilation of the best songs from series 3.

Euphemisms are great fun and offer a revealing glimpse into their coiners’ minds. Southern, for instance. Southern, as opposed to the northern clothescapes of shirt, waistcoat, jacket, obviously, but what did it really mean for respectable Victorians? Could it be the hot, fruiting landscape of rampant Mediterranean lust, so “very different from the home life of our own dear Queen,” as an audience member observed on seeing Sarah Bernhardt in the role of Cleopatra.

Hence the necessities, to prevent the Victorian gentleman from running amok at the sight of an exposed ankle – another very rude word. Or possibly to allow the expression without incurring censorious public gaze. Either way, it doesn’t say much for the perceived self control of these self appointed guardians of morality.

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