bil·​lings·​gate ˈbi-liŋz-ˌgāt How to pronounce billingsgate (audio)
 British usually  -git
: coarsely abusive language

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Billingsgate Has Origins in a London Fish Market

From its beginnings during the time of the Roman occupation, the Billingsgate fish market in London, England, has been notorious for the crude language that has resounded through its stalls. In fact, the fish merchants of Billingsgate were so famous for their swearing centuries ago that their feats of vulgar language were recorded in British chronicler Raphael Holinshed's 1577 account of King Leir (which was probably William Shakespeare's source for King Lear). In Holinshed's volume, a messenger's language is said to be "as bad a tongue … as any oyster-wife at Billingsgate hath." By the middle of the 17th century, billingsgate had become a byword for foul language.

Choose the Right Synonym for billingsgate

abuse, vituperation, invective, obloquy, billingsgate mean vehemently expressed condemnation or disapproval.

abuse, the most general term, usually implies the anger of the speaker and stresses the harshness of the language.

scathing verbal abuse

vituperation implies fluent and sustained abuse.

a torrent of vituperation

invective implies a comparable vehemence but suggests greater verbal and rhetorical skill and may apply to a public denunciation.

blistering political invective

obloquy suggests defamation and consequent shame and disgrace.

subjected to obloquy and derision

billingsgate implies practiced fluency and variety of profane or obscene abuse.

directed a stream of billingsgate at the cabdriver

Examples of billingsgate in a Sentence

the intemperate billingsgate to which the staff in customer service were sometimes subjected

Word History


Billingsgate, old gate and fish market, London, England

First Known Use

1652, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of billingsgate was in 1652


Dictionary Entries Near billingsgate

Cite this Entry

“Billingsgate.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Apr. 2024.

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