The Slang Dictionary_ Etymological, Historical and Andecdotal
|EXPLANATION OF THE HIEROGLYPHICS.|
|No good; too poor, and know too much.|
|Stop,—if you have what they want, they will buy. They are pretty “fly” (knowing).|
|Go in this direction, it is better than the other road. Nothing that way.|
|Bone (good). Safe for a “cold tatur,” if for nothing else. “Cheese your patter” (don’t talk much) here.|
|Cooper’d (spoilt) by too many tramps calling there.|
|Gammy (unfavourable), likely to have you taken up. Mind the dog.|
|Flummuxed (dangerous), sure of a month in “quod,” prison.|
|Religious, but tidy on the whole.|
HISTORICAL AND ANECDOTAL
A NEW IMPRESSION
Slang, like everything else, changes much in thecourse of time; and though but fifteen yearshave elapsed since this Dictionary was first introducedto the public, alterations have since then been many andfrequent in the subject of which it treats. The first issueof a work of this kind is, too, ever beset with difficulties,and the compiler was always aware that, thoughunder the circumstances of its production the bookwas an undoubted success, it necessarily lacked manyof the elements which would make that success lasting,and cause the “Slang Dictionary” to be regarded as anauthority and a work of reference not merely amongthe uneducated, but among people of cultivated tastesand inquiring minds. For though the vulgar use ofthe word Slang applies to those words only which areused by the dangerous classes and the lowest grades ofsociety, the term has in reality, and should have—asevery one who has ever studied the subject knows—amuch wider significance. Bearing this in mind, theoriginal publisher of this Dictionary lost no opportunity[vi]of obtaining information of a useful kind, which couldhardly find place in any other book of reference, withthe intention of eventually bringing out an entirely newedition, in which all former errors should be correctedand all fresh meanings and new words find a place.His intention always was to give those words whichare familiar to all conversant with our colloquialismsand locutions, but which have hitherto been connectedwith an unwritten tongue, a local habitation, and toproduce a book which, in its way, would be as useful tostudents of philology, as well as to lovers of humannature in all its phases, as any standard work in theEnglish language. The squeamishness which tries toignore the existence of slang fails signally, for not onlyin the streets and the prisons, but at the bar, on thebench, in the pulpit, and in the Houses of Parliament,does slang make itself heard, and, as the shortest andsafest means to an end, understood too.
My predecessor, the original compiler, did not live tosee his wish become an actual fact; and, failing him,it devolved upon me to undertake the task of revisionand addition. How far this has been accomplished,the curious reader who is possessed of a copy of eachedition can best judge for himself by comparing anycouple of pages he may select. Of my own share inthe work I wish to say nothing, as I have mainlybenefited by the labours of others; but I may say[vii]that, when I undertook the position of editor of what,with the smallest possible stretch of fancy, may now becalled a new book, I had no idea that the alterationwould be nearly so large or so manifest. However, asthe work is now done, it will best speak for itself,and, as good wine needs no bush, I will leave it, in allhope of their tenderness, to those readers who are bestqualified to say how the task has been consummated.
In conclusion, it is but fair for me to thank, asstrongly as weak words will permit, those gentlemenwho have in various ways assisted me. To two ofthem, who are well known in the world of literature,and who have not only aided me with advice, but haveplaced many new words and etymologies at my service,I am under particular obligation. With this I beg tosubscribe myself, the reader’s most obedient servant,
December 20, 1873.
Note.—The reader will bear in mind that this is a Dictionary of modernSlang,—a list of colloquial words and phrases in present use,—whether ofancient or modern formation. Whenever Ancient is appended to a word,it means that the expression was in respectable use in or previous to thereign of Queen Elizabeth. Old or Old English, affixed to a word, signifiesthat it was in general use as a proper expression in or previous to the reignof Charles II. Old Cant indicates that the term was in use as a Cantword during or before the same reign.
The Publishers will be much obliged by the receipt of any cant, slang, orvulgar words not mentioned in the Dictionary. The probable origin, oretymology, of any fashionable or unfashionable vulgarism, will also bereceived with thanks.
|THE HISTORY OF CANT, OR THE SECRET LANGUAGE OF VAGABONDS||1|
|ACCOUNT OF THE HIEROGLYPHICS USED BY VAGABONDS||27|
|A SHORT HISTORY OF SLANG, OR THE VULGAR LANGUAGE OF FAST LIFE||34|
|DICTIONARY OF MODERN SLANG, CANT, AND VULGAR WORDS||71|
|SOME ACCOUNT OF THE BACK SLANG||347|
|GLOSSARY OF THE BACK SLANG||353|
|SOME ACCOUNT OF THE RHYMING SLANG||358|
|GLOSSARY OF THE RHYMING SLANG||365|
|THE BIBLIOGRAPHY OF SLANG||371|
“All ridiculous words make their first entry into a language by familiar phrases; Idare not answer for these that they will not in time be looked upon as a part of ourtongue.”—Spectator.
“Rabble-charming words, which carry so much wild fire wrapt up in them.”—South.
“Slang derivations are generally indirect, turning upon metaphor and fancifulallusions, and other than direct etymological connexion. Such allusions and fanciesare essentially temporary or local; they rapidly pass out of the public mind: the wordremains, while the key to its origin is lost.”
“Many of these [slang] words and phrases are but serving their apprenticeship, andwill eventually become the active strength of our language.”—H. T. Buckle.
THE HISTORY OF CANT,
SECRET LANGUAGE OF VAGABONDS.
Cant and Slang are universal and world-wide. By theirmeans is often said in a sentence what would otherwisetake an hour to express. Nearly every nation onthe face of the globe, polite and barbarous, has its divisionsand subdivisions of various ranks of society. Theseare necessarily of many kinds, stationary and wandering,civilized and uncivilized, respectable and disreputable,—thosewho have fixed abodes and avail themselves of therefinements of civilization, and those who go from placeto place picking up a precarious livelihood by petty sales,begging, or theft. This peculiarity is to be observed amongstthe heathen tribes of the southern hemisphere, as wellas in the oldest and most refined countries of Europe. InSouth Africa, the naked and miserable Hottentots are pesteredby the still more abject Sonquas; and it may be some satisfactionfor us to know that our old enemies at the Cape, theKaffirs, are troubled with a tribe of rascals called Fingoes,—theformer term, we are informed by travellers, signifyingbeggars, and the latter wanderers and outcasts. In SouthAmerica, and among the islands of the Pacific, matters arepretty much the same. Sleek rascals, without much inclinationtowards honesty, fatten, or rather fasten, like the insects in thefamous epigram, upon other rascals, who would be equallysleek and fat but for their vagabond dependents. Luckilyfor respectable persons, however, vagabonds, both at homeand abroad, generally show certain outward peculiarities whichdistinguish them from the great mass of law-abiding peopleon whom they subsist. Observation shows that the wanderingraces are remarkable for an abnormal development of thebones of the face, as the jaws, cheek-bones, &c., for high-crowned,stubborn-shaped heads, quick, restless eyes, andhands nervously itching to be doing; for their love of gambling;for sensuality of all kinds; and for their use of a Cantlanguage with which to conceal their designs and plunderings.
The secret jargon, or rude speech, of the vagabonds whohang upon the Hottentots is termed Cuze-cat. In Finland, thefellows who steal seal-skins, pick the pockets of bear-skin overcoats,and talk cant, are termed Lappes. In France, the secretlanguage of highwaymen, housebreakers, and pickpockets, isnamed Argot. The brigands and more romantic rascals ofSpain term their private tongue Germania, or Robbers’ Language.Rothwälsch, or foreign-beggar-talk, is synonymous withcant and thieves’ talk in Germany. The vulgar dialect of Malta,and the Scala towns of the Levant—imported into this countryand incorporated with English cant—is known as the LinguaFranca, or bastard Italian. And the crowds of lazy beggarsthat infest the streets of Naples and Rome, as well as the brigandsof Pompeii, use a secret language termed Gergo. In England,as we all know, it is called Cant—often improperly Slang.
Most nations, then, possess each a tongue, or series of tonguesmaybe, each based on the national language, by which not onlythieves, beggars, and other outcasts communicate, but which isused more or less by all classes. There is hardly any communityin this country, hardly any profession, but has its slang,and proficiency in this is the greatest desideratum of an aspirantto the pleasures of Society, or the honours of literature andart. The formation of these secret tongues varies, of course,with the circumstances surrounding the speakers. A writer inNotes and Queries has well remarked that “the investigation ofthe origin and principles of cant and slang language opens acurious field of inquiry, replete with considerable interest to thephilologist and the philosopher. It affords a remarkable instanceof lingual contrivance, which, without the introduction ofmuch arbitrary matter, has developed a system of communicatingideas, having all the advantages of a foreign language.”
“The terms Cant and Canting were probably derived fromchaunt and chaunting,—the whining tone, or modulation of voiceadopted by beggars, with intent to coax, wheedle, or cajole bypretensions of wretchedness.” For the origin of the otherapplication of the word Cant, pulpit hypocrisy, we are indebtedto the Spectator—“Cant is by some people derived from oneAndrew Cant, who, they say, was a Presbyterian minister insome illiterate part of Scotland, who, by exercise and use, hadobtained the faculty, alias gift, of talking in the pulpit in sucha dialect that ’tis said he was understood by none but his owncongregation,—and not by all of them. Since Master Cant’stime it has been understood in a larger sense, and signifies allexclamations, whinings, unusual tones, and, in fine, all prayingand preaching like the unlearned of the Presbyterians.” Thisanecdote is curious, though it is but fair to assume that thepreacher’s name was taken from his practice, rather than thatthe practice was called after the preacher. As far as we areconcerned, however, in the present inquiry, Cant was derivedfrom chaunt, a beggar’s whine; “chaunting” being the recognisedterm amongst beggars to this day for begging orationsand street whinings; and “chaunter,” a street talker andtramp, is still the term used by strollers and patterers. Thisrace is, however, nearly obsolete. The use of the word Cant,amongst beggars, must certainly have commenced at a veryearly date, for we find “To cante, to speake,” in