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Slang Words Used during the American Civil War

essence coffeeWords and phrases have changed over the decades. The way someone expressed themselves could have been acceptable and understood a hundred years ago and not understood today. People change and so does the language.

Online is a listing “Civil War Slang” with meanings of some words and phrases, compiled by G. M. Atwater, that date back to the mid-1800s – especially around the time of the American Civil War.

Some of these phrases are still used today where others are not. The phrase ‘snug as a bug’ meant you were very comfortable. Then there is ‘pig sticker’ – this one is not used today, it referred to a knife. But if someone had an ‘Arkansas Toothpick’ it meant they had a very large and sharp knife. Another was ‘go boil your shirt’, which meant go away, get lost.


You might have come across some of these words and phrases especially if your ancestor kept a diary during the war. A common phrase for a food product used by soldiers was ’embalmed beef’ which was their meat supply in a can. There was ‘essence of coffee’ which was just a coffee favored paste – a form of instant coffee. There is ‘Lucifers’ – Civil War matches.


So as you scan down the list see how many you know are still used and others you never heard of before. Keep this as a reference or make a ‘copy/paste’ in a computer document for later reference. 

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