footnotes - The Slang Dictionary


THE READER’S HANDBOOK OF ALLUSIONS, REFERENCES, PLOTS, AND STORIES. By the Rev. E. C. Brewer, LL.D. Crown 8vo, cloth, 3s 6d net.

A DICTIONARY OF MIRACLES: Imitative, Realistic, and Dogmatic. By the Rev. E. C. Brewer, LL.D. Crown 8vo, cloth, 3s 6d net.

WORDS, FACTS, AND PHRASES: A Dictionary of Curious, Quaint, and Odd Matters. By Eliezer Edwards. Crown 8vo, cloth, 3s 6d.

FAMILIAR SHORT SAYINGS OF GREAT MEN: with Historical and Explanatory Notes. By Samuel A. Bent, A.M. Crown 8vo, cloth, 7s 6d.

FAMILIAR ALLUSIONS. By William A. and Charles J. Wheeler. Demy 8vo, cloth, 7s 6d net.

THE SLANG DICTIONARY: Etymological, Historical, and Anecdotal. Crown 8vo, cloth, 6s 6d.

A DICTIONARY OF THE DRAMA. By W. Davenport Adams. Vol. I (A to G). Demy 8vo, cloth, 10s 6d net.

London: Chatto & Windus, 111 St. Martin’s Lane, W.C.


“Swarms of vagabonds, whose eyes were so sharp as Lynx.”—Bullein’s Simples and Surgery, 1562.


Probably from the Gipsies, who were supposed to come from Germany into Spain.


From Roter, beggar, vagabond, and wälsch, foreign. See Dictionary of Gipsy language in Pott’s Zigeuner in Europa und Asien, vol. ii., Halle, 1844. The Italian cant is called Fourbesque, and the Portuguese Calao. See Francisque-Michel, Dictionnaire d’Argot, Paris, 1856.


Richardson’s Dictionary.


Description of England, prefixed to Holinshed’s Chronicle.


The word Slang, as will be seen in the chapter upon that subject, is purely a Gipsy term, although nowadays it refers to low or vulgar language of any kind, other than cant. Slang and Gibberish in the Gipsy language are synonymous; but, as English adoptions, have meanings very different from that given to them in their original.


“The vulgar tongue consists of two parts; the first is the Cant language; the second, those burlesque phrases, quaint allusions, and nicknames for persons, things, and places, which, from long uninterrupted usage, are made classical by prescription.”—Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1st edition, 1785.


“Outlandish people calling themselves Egyptians.”—1530.


Jabber may be, after all, only another form of gabber, gab, very common in Old English, from the Anglo-Saxon, Gæbban.


This very proverb was mentioned by a young Gipsy to Crabb, some years ago.—Gipsies’ Advocate, p. 14.


Gipsies in Spain, vol. i. p. 18.


Shaks. Henry IV., part ii. act ii. scene 4.


It is but fair to imagine that cheat ultimately became synonymous with “fraud,” when we remember that it was one of the most common words of the greatest class of impostors in the country.


We are aware that more than one eminent philologist states that the origin of “queer” is seen in the German quer, crooked,—hence strange and abnormal. While agreeing with this etymology, we have reason to believe that the word was first used in this country in a Cant sense.


Booget properly signifies a leathern wallet, and is probably derived from the low Latin, bulga. A tinker’s budget is from the same source.


Which, freely translated into modern Slang, might read—especially to those who know the manners and customs of the Dialites—thus:

“Good girls, go out, and look about,

Good girls, go out and see;

For every clout is up the spout,

The bloke’s gone on the spree.”


Who wrote about the year 1610.


Gipsies in Spain, vol. i. p. 18. Borrow further commits himself by remarking that “Head’s Vocabulary has always been accepted as the speech of the English Gipsies.” Nothing of the kind. Head professed to have lived with the Gipsies, but in reality filched his words from Decker and Brome.


The modern meanings of a few of the old Cant words are given within brackets.


This is a curious volume, and is worth from one to two guineas. The Canting Dictionary was afterwards reprinted, word for word, with the title of The Scoundrel’s Dictionary, in 1751. It was originally published, without date, about the year 1710, by B. E., under the title of A Dictionary of the Canting Crew.


Bacchus and Venus.—1737.


London Labour and the London Poor.


Mayhew (vol. i. p. 217) speaks of a low lodging-house “in which there were at one time five university men, three surgeons, and several sorts of broken-down clerks.” But old Harman’s saying, that “a wylde Roge is he that is borne a roge,” will perhaps explain this seeming anomaly. There is, whatever may be the reason, no disputing the truth of this latter statement, as there is not, we venture to say, a common lodging-house in London without broken-down gentlemen, who have been gentlemen very often far beyond the conventional application of the term to any one with a good coat on his back and money in his pocket.


Mr. Rawlinson’s Report to the General Board of Health, Parish of Havant, Hampshire.


Vol. v. p. 210.


Vol. i. pp. 218 and 247.


See Dictionary. (Pal, Patterer, Work)


Sometimes, as appears from the following, the names of persons and houses are written instead. “In almost every one of the padding-kens, or low lodging-houses in the country, there is a list of walks pasted up over the kitchen mantelpiece. Now at St. Albans, for instance, at the ——, and at other places, there is a paper stuck up in each of the kitchens. This paper is headed, ‘Walks out of this town’ and underneath it is set down the names of the villages in the neighbourhood at which a beggar may call when out on his walk, and they are so arranged as to allow the cadger to make a round of about six miles each day, and return the same night. In many of these papers there are sometimes twenty walks set down. No villages that are in any way ‘gammy’ [bad] are ever mentioned in these papers, and the cadger, if he feels inclined to stop for a few days in the town, will be told by the lodging-house keeper, or the other cadgers that he may meet there, what gentlemen’s seats or private houses are of any account on the walk that he means to take. The names of the good houses are not set down in the paper, for fear of the police.”—Mayhew, vol. i. p. 418. [This business is also much altered in consequence of the increase in the surveillance of the kens, an increase which, though nominally for sanitary purposes, has a strong moral effect. Besides this, Mr. Mayhew’s informants seem to have possessed a fair share of that romance which is inherent among vagabonds.—Ed.]


See Dictionary. (Screever, Traveller)


Mr. Rawlinson’s Report to the General Board of Health, Parish of Havant, Hampshire.


Snowden’s Magistrate’s Assistant, 1852, p. 444.


An outgrowth of this latter peculiarity consisted in anyone with a high or prominent nose being, a few years back, called by the street boys “Duke.”


This term, with a singular literal downrightness, which would be remarkable in any other people than the French, is translated by them as the sect of Trembleurs.


Swift alludes to this term in his Art of Polite Conversation, p. 14, 1738.


See Notes and Queries, vol. i. p. 185. 1850.


He afterwards kept a tavern at Wapping, mentioned by Pope in the Dunciad.


Sportsman’s Dictionary, 1825, p. 15.


This introduction was written in 1859, before the new edition of Worcester, and Nuttall’s recent work, were published.


Introduction to Bee’s Sportsman’s Dictionary, 1825.


The Gipsies use the word Slang as the Anglican synonym for Romany, the Continental (or rather Spanish) term for the Cingari or Gipsy tongue. Crabb, who wrote the Gipsies’ Advocate in 1831, thus mentions the word:—“This language [Gipsy] called by themselves Slang, or Gibberish, invented, as they think, by their forefathers for secret purposes, is not merely the language of one or a few of these wandering tribes, which are found in the European nations, but is adopted by the vast numbers who inhabit the earth.”


The word Slang assumed various meanings amongst costermongers, beggars, and vagabonds of all orders. It was, and is still, used to express “cheating by false weights,” “a raree show,” “retiring by a back door,” “a watch-chain,” their “secret language,” &c.


North, in his Examen, p. 574, says, “I may note that the rabble first changed their title, and were called the “mob” in the assemblies of this [Green Ribbon] club. It was their beasts of burden, and called first mobile vulgus, but fell naturally into the contraction of one syllable, and ever since is become proper English.” In the same work, p. 231, the disgraceful origin of sham is given.


I am afraid my predecessor was of a somewhat satirical turn of mind, or else he had peculiar notions of melody.—Ed.


This latter is, as I take it, an error, as the sign was originally intended to represent the king’s head and cross guns, and may still be seen in parts of the country.—Ed.


Savez-vous cela?—[I fancy this is from the Spanish sabe. The word is in great use in the Pacific States of America, and is obtained through constant intercourse with the original settlers.—Ed.]


At page 24 of a curious old Civil War tract, entitled, The Oxonian Antippodes, by I. B., Gent., 1644, the town is called Brummidgham, and this was the general rendering in the printed literature of the seventeenth century.—[This must have been the first known step towards the present vulgar style of spelling, for properly the word is Bromwich-ham, which has been corrupted into Brummagem, a term used to express worthless or inferior goods, from the spurious jewellery, plate, &c., manufactured there expressly for “duffers.”—Ed.]


This was more especially an amusement with medical students, after the modern Mohocks had discarded it. The students are now a comparatively mild and quiet race, with very little of the style of a generation ago about them.


Edinburgh Review, October, 1853.


A term derived from the Record newspaper, the exponent of this singular section of the Low, or so-called Evangelical Church.


A preacher is said, in this phraseology, to be “owned” when he makes many converts, and his converts are called his “seals.” This is Cant in its most objectionable form.


“Swaddler” is also a phrase by which the low Irish Roman Catholics denominate those of their body who in winter become Protestants, pro tem., for the sake of the blankets, coals, &c., given by proselytizing Protestants. It is hard to say which are the worse, those who refuse to give unless the objects of their charity become converted, or those who sham conversion to save themselves from starving, or the tender mercies of the relieving officer. I am much afraid my sympathies are with the “swaddlers,” who are also called “soupers.”—Ed.


“All our newspapers contain more or less colloquial words; in fact, there seems no other way of expressing certain ideas connected with passing events of every-day life with the requisite force and piquancy. In the English newspapers the same thing is observable, and certain of them contain more of the class denominated Slang words than our own.”—Bartlett’s Americanisms, p. 10, edit. 1859.


When this appeared, “all serene” was one of those street phrases which periodically spring up, have their rage, and depart as suddenly as they come into popularity. These sayings are generally of a most idiotic nature, as their latest specimens, “I’ll warm yer,” “All serene,” and “I’ll ’ave your hi”—used without any premonitory notice or regard to context, and screeched out at the top of the voice—will testify. I suppose we shall soon have another of these “ebullitions of popular feeling.”—Ed.


The terms “leader” and “article” can scarcely be called Slang, yet it would be desirable to know upon what authority they were first employed in their present peculiar sense.


The Morning Herald was called “Mrs. Harris,” because it was said that no one ever saw it, a peculiarity which, in common with its general disregard for veracity, made it uncommonly like “Mrs. Gamp’s” invisible friend as portrayed by Dickens. But the Herald has long since departed this life, and with it has gone the title of “Mrs. Gamp,” as applied to the Standard, which is, though, as impulsive and Conservative as ever.—Ed.


This is rhyming slang, and is corrupted into “lord” only. “Touch-me,” a common term for a shilling, is also derived from the same source, it being short for “touch-me-on-the-nob,” which is rhyming slang for “bob” or shilling.


Since the first edition of this work a great alteration has taken place in this respect. Though topical ballads are now often sung, the singers confine themselves to low neighbourhoods, and as soon as a policeman approaches, if ever he does, they make themselves scarce. The practice is singular. One man gets as far through a line as he can, and when his voice cracks his companion takes up. For this reason the business is as a rule conducted by a man and woman, or sometimes by a woman and child. The writing of these ditties is generally work of a character for which even 7s. 6d. would be a high rate of pay.—Ed.


Eurasian is not a child of mixed race, but one born of European parents in an Asiatic clime. A similar error exists with regard to the word creole, which is generally supposed to mean a man or woman in whom white and black strains are mixed. I need not say how wrong this is, but the vulgar error is none the less current.—Ed.


There is something so extremely humorous and far-fetched about this explanation, that though it is utterly unworthy of its place in a dictionary, I, finding it there, have not the heart to cut it out.—Ed.


Of course by those who don’t know the scientific way used in “canine exhibitions” and dog-fights—of biting their tails till they turn round to bite the biter.—Ed.


This was written in 1858.


The famous printers and publishers of sheet songs and last dying speeches thirty years ago.


The writer, a street chaunter of ballads and last dying speeches, alludes in his letter to two celebrated criminals—Thos. Drory, the murderer of Jael Denny, and Sarah Chesham, who poisoned her husband, accounts of whose trials and “horrid deeds” he had been selling. Here is a Glossary of the cant words:—

Thick un, a sovereign.

Dowry of Parny, a lot of rain.

Stumped, bankrupt.

Bossman, a farmer.

⁂ Drory was a farmer.

Patter, trial.

Tops, last dying speeches.

Dies, ib.

Croaks, ib.

Burick, a woman.

Topped, hung.

Sturaban, a prison.

James, a sovereign.

Clye, a pocket.

Carser, a house or residence.

Speel on the Drum, to be off to the country.

All Square, all right, or quite well.
Whoops, looks like something went wrong.