So I have been known to read Regency romances, starting with my buddy Deb’s–aka Sabrina Jeffries–and leading on to various others like Liz Carlyle, Amanda Quick, and Georgette Heyer.

The slang vernacular in Georgette Heyer’s work is epic and breathtaking and eventually you get used to it and work out the context and can navigate large passages involving bluestockings giving Corinthians the cut direct, who then plant facers on Pinks of the Ton wearing mathematicals who drive neck or nothing in their high-perch phaetons with their cattle and tigers,* and it all makes sense, but one term I finally had to go and dig up because it was so weird.

The term was "ape-leader" and from context it was a mild derogatory referred to an older unmarried woman. (One who was "on the shelf")  Right, got that, but seriously, "ape-leader"? Where’s THAT from?

So I went to the internet, and discovered it was, in fact, a contraction of "ape leader in hell" (good god, this just gets better and better!) and refers to an old maid, who, for having failed to be fruitful and multiply in life, will be sentenced in hell to lead apes.

Um. ‘Kay.

Leaving aside all of what this says about views of spinsters in Regency England, it raises a great many more questions.

Sources are unclear as to where she leads the apes, or what she leads them in–revolt? A rousing chorus of the Irish Washerwoman? The conga?–a question that I was rather interested in, since I’ve failed and will continue to fail, Ganesh willing, to be fruitful and multiply myself and would like to know what I can expect in the afterlife as a result. Is this like being a dog-walker? Do demons favor pet gibbons and siamangs, which I will be kept on staff to exercise? Can you lead an ape to water and make him drink?

Will this be a salaried position?

*To translate roughly–an educated intellectual woman is a bluestocking (term occasionally somewhat derogatory), Corinthians were noblemen obsessed with sports, to give the cut direct is to pretend not to know/acknowledge an acquaintence, to plant a facer is to punch someone in the face, a Pink of the Ton is a dandy or fop (the Ton was high society) the mathematical was a way of tying one’s neckcloth, some of which were apparently epic and terrifying and involved the wearer not being able to move their chin, driving neck or nothing was very fast, a high-perch phaeton was the Regency equivalent of a sports car, cattle were horses and your tiger was the groom who rode on a small seat behind you. Whew. That was kind of exhausting.

Leave a Reply