Where does the word “billingsgate” come from and What does it mean?

The gates in the old walled city of London were known by the names of those who had constructed them.

Thus the one below London Bridge has been known as Billingsgate since time immemorial, probably so called from a man named Billings, although a map of 1658 ascribes it to “Belen, ye 23th Brittish Kinge.”

A pier was built alongside this gate in 1558 as a landing place for provisions and, later, as an open market for fish. In each instance, the shops or stalls were conducted by women, wives of the sailors or fishermen.

Through the coarse tongues of these viragos the place became noted for its vituperative language, “the rhetoric of Billingsgate,” as one wag described it.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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