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Like many period TV series, Bridgerton grounds itself in the manners and fashions of the period known as the Regency era. This decade lasted from 1811 to 1820, the years when George III was alive but not actively ruling. In his stead, the Prince Regent, the eventual George IV, was in charge, hence why it’s called the “Regency” era. But it’s not just the clothing and social structure specific to this decade. There’s an entire set of slang terms that may also puzzle fans. Most notable of the vocab phrases used in Bridgerton is “the ton,” and its meaning may not be exactly what you think.
Some of the unfamiliar words used in Bridgerton become obvious from context clues. When Lady Featherington holds out a clean white sheet and says Marina has not “had her courses” yet, despite having been in residence for over a month, it’s obvious she’s talking about menstruation. The show takes great pains to subtly define “swooning,” with an entire conversation between Simon and Daphne over the art of it. And the “modiste” might have been confusing, except Mme. Delacroix has the word plastered above the door of her dress shop. But some terms are less clear. For example, “rake,” for a man might leave fans picturing garden tools. But no, a rake, as Lady Whistledown all but explains at the top of Season 2, is a gentleman who enjoys seducing women before abandoning them.
And then, of course, there’s “ton,” which, if you don’t have the subtitles on while watching, you might not even realize that’s what everyone is saying all season long. The word “ton” is thrown around a lot in Bridgerton. Daphne and Edwina are “the talk of the ton” as diamonds of the first water. Simon’s single status and Lady Violet’s announcement Anthony is looking for a wife are all that the mothers of the ton can gossip about. The Queen’s wedding for Edwina and Anthony is the event of the season, and all the ton will be there. And, of course, the whole ton has their eyes on Lady Whistledown’s Society Papers and what she’ll print next.
From these examples, one could easily assume the word “ton” just means “town” — but, no. Like the slang terms “modiste” and “trousseau,” “ton” is borrowed from the French and then abridged. The original phrase is le bon ton, which directly translates to “good form” or “etiquette.” In this case, “good etiquette” means “good breeding,” aka the upper crust of high society.
“Ton” was an actual term used for this society set during the Regency era for those considered intensely class-conscious. There were rigid social hierarchies to observe within the ton and a calendar to follow. The “London season,” for instance, was a significant facet of ton life. It ran from the end of January, when Parliament reopened, until July, when it shut down for the summer. Every titled peerage was, at the time, a member of the House of Lords, so they would come en masse into the city to do the business of governing. Meanwhile, their wives held balls and parties to network, with an eye toward advantageous marriages for their children within the social set.
Fans can look forward to more life in the ton when the next season of Bridgerton rolls around and a new London season begins.
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