The Guide to Victorian Slang on Ripper Street

Take a look at our handy guide for understanding your “Pinkertons” from your “toffers”. How many can you spot while watching?

Ripper Street Slang

You'd be forgiven for getting confused at some of the slang used throughout Ripper Street - after all we haven't had the chance to walk the streets of Victorian Whitechapel.

Snide? What on Earth does that mean?

So, to avoid confusion here's our run-down of some of the most baffling words that you may have heard muttered by the men of H Division.

Ripper Street Slang Words And Their Meanings

  1. Pinkerton

    Homer Jackson, the dashing surgeon who helps Whitechapel police solve crimes, is a Pinkerton, or as one local copper sneers, a "mercenary with a badge". The word comes from the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, a very real organization whose army of agents worked as security officers and even protected Abraham Lincoln. Which could explain why Homer Jackson is as good with a gun as he is with a scalpel.

  2. Scratch

    In boxing parlance, a scratch is the line drawn in the ring where boxers stand before each round. It's a word that DS Bennet Drake is very familiar with. One of the hardest men in the East End, and the "bad cop" alongside DI Edmund Reid's "good cop", Drake always gets his hands dirty in the pursuit of the law. And that has included going undercover in the dingy world of bare-knuckle boxing.

  3. Hacker

    A hacker... in Victorian England? Yes, but the word means something very different in the world of Reid, Drake and Jackson. It's a slang term for journalist, although that's probably too grand a term for local scribbler Fred Best. A sly, smirking scandal-monger, Best is a thorn in the side of the police force and more than ready to tamper with crime scenes and spread fear just to flog more papers.

  4. Rookery

    The world of Ripper Street is dirty, soiled and seething with corruption. Especially in the rookeries, which are the slums of the East End where the poorest citizens scrape by in constant threat of violence and death. Keeping stiff upper lips despite everything, Reid and his men do their best to maintain order amid darkness and chaos.

  5. Dead room
    Dead room

    Forensics is a fledgling science in Victorian London. But Homer Jackson is a pioneering man of science (as well as a drinker, womanizer and brawler). His talent for cutting up corpses earned him his very own autopsy lab, or dead room, where he can gain "more intimate studies" of murder victims. Not that Jackson always needs to: the man can make on-the-spot deductions that would put Sherlock to shame.

  6. Toffer

    Ripper Street has a large population of prostitutes. The decadent Homer Jackson even lives in a brothel, and makes the very most of it. While most working girls are known as "tarts" in the parlance of the time, the higher end ones are called "toffers" and can often be found reclining on chaise-longues and intoxicated on opium.

  7. Street Arab
    Street Arab

    The coppers of Whitechapel have to deal with all kinds of scampering miscreants, from young street urchins to garishly tattooed thugs running extortion rackets. As Drake says, "There have been gangs on this street as long as there's been horse muck on 'em." These gangs are dubbed "Street Arabs" by local vigilante mobs, who can be every bit as violent themselves.

  8. Molly house
    Molly house

    In an era when homosexuality is an arrestable offence, molly houses are secret rooms where gay and transgender people, as well as casual crossdressers, can meet, make merry and form relationships away from prying eyes. "Playing backgammon" is an associated term used by Reid as slang for gay sex.

  9. Snide

    Not all of DI Reid's cases involve dissecting corpses and mingling with street gangs and murky smut dealers. He's also good at sting operations designed to take down other kinds of criminals, including those dealing in "snide". That is, counterfeit cash, which flows as freely in the East End as the blood and sweat of the locals.