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First published 1933 

Second Edition (Revised) 1935 

Third Edition (Revised) 1950 

Reprinted 1954 



my old and loyal friend 




PREFACE ....... ix 




















A. Cockney 149 

B. Public House. 159 

C. Workmen. 161 

D. Tradesmen. 163 

E. Commerce. "" 167 

F. Publicity. 172 

G. Journalism. 173 


H. Literary Criticism. 175 

I. Publishing and Printing. 179 

J. The Law. 184 

K. Medicine. 188 

L. The Church. 195 

M. Parliament and Politics. 198 

N. Public Schools and Universities. 202 

O. Society. 214 

P. Art. 221 

Q. The Theatre. 223 

R. Sports and Games. 231 

S. The Turf. 238 

Epsom's Attic Salt. 241 

T. Circus Life. 247 

U. Sailors. 249 

V. Soldiers. 252 

W. Yiddish. 264 

-^ Cant, ^26&. 

Y. Miscellaneous. 270 

IV. ODDITIES ...... . 273 

Rhyming, Back, Centre Slang ; Gibberish and Ziph ; 
Spoonerisms ; Blends. 


India, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Canada 


I. INTRODUCTORY ....... 295 

II. AFFILIATIONS. ....... 305 


. . . . . . .321 




V. PRACTITIONERS ....... 329 


....... . 42 



A FRIEND, when I told him that I was writing a book on dang, 
looked at me with surprise and exclaimed : " Splendid ! 
But what the devil can you find to say about it ? " 
Well, I would like it to be plainly understood that : 

(1) The historical sections, both the English and especially 
the American, are the merest sketches, and that as I couldn't 
keep saying " X used little, Y much slang ", I have here confined 
myself, in the main, to examples. To set forth the history of 
English or American slang would be to write the history of the 
language and the literature and the social development and the 
cultural development and . . . and . . . 

(2) The General Considerations are meant not to be exhaustive, 
but to give only the principal features of slang. 

(3) In the Particular Aspects I have laboured to be brief : 
if anyone complains that I have dealt far, far too briefly with his 
pet subject, all I can say is that I would have liked to treat of 
every single aspect far more fully than I have here done. There 
are limits to every book, however interesting its author may 
find it. 

(4) I do not claim to be an " expert " on American slang, 
nor have I met anyone rash enough to make such a claim. I am, 
however, something more than a dabbler : how little more, 
I leave to American critics. 

(5) I shall be disappointed if a single person is satisfied with 
even one of the three vocabularies, 

(6) And I do not pretend to have read every contribution to 
the subject of slang. I would even assert that, providing one 
has consulted the chief sources, one has no need to trouble with 
the non-valuable contributions ; nor do I, to give the book an 
appearance of erudition, cite every such writer on the subject 
(still less every such author that has used slang) as I have happened 
to read. 

Acknowledgments are made in the course of the book. If I 
have failed to admit absolutely every debt it is through 
inadvertence, and not because I wish to appear original where 
perchance I was merely derivative. ERIC PARTRIDGE. 

Postscript to Second Edition. Dates of birth, publication, and 
death have been checked by Sir Paul Harvey's admirable Com- 
panion to English literature; dates in the English vocabulary 
have been revised; those in the American vocabulary have been 
made much less conservative, thanks to the most generous help of 
Dr. Jean Bordeaux, of San Francisco and Los Angeles. I have 
also to thank Mr. R. Ellis Roberts for some valued corrections. 

Postscript to Third Edition. A brief postscript has been added, 
and the vocabularies "modernized'* at a few points. 





Winged words : ttrea irrepocvra. HOMER. 

Words are the very devil ! " (Australian officer on receiving, in August, 

1916, at Pozieres, a confusing message.) 

Slang is language which takes of its coat, spits on its hands, and goes 
to work. Carl Sandburg. 


Slang is easy enough to use, but very hard to write about 
with the facile convincingness that a subject apparently so 
simple would, at first sight, seem to demand. But the simplest 
things are often the hardest to define, certainly the hardest to 
discuss, for it is usually at first sight only that their simplicity 
is what strikes one the most forcibly. And slang, after all, 
"is a peculiar kind of vagabond language, always hanging on 
the outskirts of legitimate speech, but continually straying or 
forcing its way into the most respectable company/' 1 Circum- 
stance conspires to complicate the issue, for as we read in the 
Encyclopaedia Britannica " at one moment a word or locution 
may be felt definitely as slang, but in another set of circumstances 
the same word or locution may not produce this impression at all." 

In the Oxford English Dictionary, that monumentum cere 
perennius which is almost insolently cheap for the large amount 
of " brass " that it costs to buy, Sir William Craigie gives four 
separate headings to slang, and this is for the noun alone. He 
implies that these headings probably represent four separate 
groups and origins but adds that, in the one strictly relevant 
class, " some of the senses may represent independent words " ; 
on the other hand he does not rule out the possibility that certain 
of the many senses of slang may be interrelated either etymologic- 
ally or semantically. The five senses approximating to that in 
general use since about 1850 to the free and easy, " shirt- 
sleeves," essentially spoken language with which we are concerned 
are Cant (i.e., thieves' slang), other very low and vulgar speech, 

1 Greenough and Kittredge, Words and their Ways in English Speech, 1902. 
(An excellent, very readable book.) 


the jargon of a trade or profession, abuse or impertinence, and 
as in Foote's play, The Orators, 1762 humbug or nonsense. 
The Oxford definition of slang in our sense is, despite Professor 
G. H. McKnight's doubt " if an exact definition of slang is 
possible ", admirably clear : " language of a highly colloquial 
type, considered as below the level of standard educated speech, 
and consisting either of new words or of current words employed 
in some special sense." A rather different definition, which is 
also to some extent complementary, is that of Mr. H. W. Fowler : 
"the diction that results from the favourite game among the 
young and lively of playing with words and renaming things and 
actions ; some invent new words, or mutilate or misapply the 
old, for the pleasure of novelty, and others catch up such words 
for the pleasure of being in the fashion/' In this specific sense 
as indeed in that of a vocational jargon slang is not recorded 
before the early nineteenth century ; as meaning cant, whetner 
noun or adjective, .it occurs about 1750. The etymology of 
slang that prize-problem word is dubious, for whereas the 
Oxford Dictionary 1 considers any connexion with certain 
Norwegian forms in -sleng to be unlikely, Dr. Bradley and 
Professors Weekley and Wyld 2 think that cognates are furnished 
by slenja-ord, a new slang word, by slenja-namm, a nickname, 
and slenja-kjeften, to sling the jaw, i.e., to aouse. The " sling " 
sense gains probability from two sides : the O.E.D/s quotation, 
dated about 1400, 

But Eneas be war he abyes 

The bolde wordes that [he] dede sclyng ; 

and low colloquial 3 usage. The latter has sling language or 
words, to talk, and sling the bat, to speak the vernacular, especially 
to speak the language of that foreign country (the Tommy in 
1914-18 often used it for " to speak French, Arabic ") where one 
happens to be; but, although with both of these we should 
certainly compare the even more highly colloquial sling off at t 
to taunt, to jeer at a person, which approximates to the less 
familiar slang* to scold, to address very abusively, we must 
not allow ourselves to be will-o'-the-wisped into taking any 
notice of spin the bat, which, popular with the Tommies in India 
during the nineteenth century, represents a deliberate variant 
of sling the bat, but has a rather different meaning to speak with 

1 After this, referred to as O.E.D. The debt to the O.E.D., in my second 
and third paragraphs, is too obvious to be laboured. 

2 In future references, Weekley, Wyld. So with other authorities. 

3 Hotten, whose evidence from Crabb's Gipsies' Advocate, 1831, I find 
unsupported elsewhere, asserts that slang is pure Gipsy, whereas it was merely 
adopted by the Gipsies. Another theory is that slang is an argotic corruption 
of the FT. langue, language ; too ingenious ! 

* Dating, in this sense, from about 1840 ; sling off at from about 1880. Slang, 
to speak in slang, is first recorded in Lytton's Pelham, 1828. 


great gusto, considerable vividness, and remarkable vigour 
obviously analogous to spin a yarn, to tell a story. We can, 
however, indulge ourselves to the extent of finding the theatrical 
use, in the 'eighties, of slanging to mean singing, relevant to 
our purpose, for singing in music halls was so called because of 
the quantity of spoken slang inserted often by way of a " gag " 
between the verses of a song. 

Slang has, from about 1850, been the accepted term for 
" illegitimate " colloquial speech ; but even since then, especially 
among the lower classes, lingo has been a synonym, and so also, 
chiefly among the cultured and the pretentious, has argot. Now 
argot, being merely the French for slang, has no business to be 
used thus it can rightly be applied only to French slang or 
French cant : and lingo properly means a simplified language 
that, like Beach-la-Mar and Pidgin-English, represents the 
distortion of (say) English by coloured peoples speaking English 
indeed but adapting it to their own phonetics and grammar. 
Jargon, originally as in Chaucer used of the warbling of 
birds, 1 has long been employed loosely and synonymously for 
slang, but it should be reserved for the technicalities of science, 
the professions, and the trades : though, for such technicalities, 
shop is an equally good word. An earlier synonym is flash, which 
did duty from 1718 until 1850 or so, but even in the eighteenth 
century it was more generally and correctly applied to the slang 
of criminals (i.e., cant), not to slang in our wider sense. Before 
1850, slang meant all definitely vulgar language except cant, 
or at least this was its prevailing acceptation after 1800; before 
which (as Grose's invaluable dictionary shows) it served as an 
alternative to flash in the sense of cant. Nor, after 1850, was 
slang accepted with general good grace, for in 1873, we find 
Hotten protesting against the restriction of the term to " those 
lowest words only which are used by the dangerous classes and 
the lowest grades of society". As slang is used by every class, 
and as this fact is now everywhere recognized, the stigma once 
attached to the word has long since been removed ; in 1911, 
indeed, a foreign research-student at Cambridge could rightly 
say : " It is impossible to acquire a thorough knowledge of 
English [or of any other language, for that matter] without being 
familiar with slang and vulgarism. Whoever is uninitiated . . . 
will be at a loss to understand many of the masterpieces of 
English literature. Nay ... he will scarcely be able even to 
understand an English newspaper." 2 

1 WeeHey, An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English, 1921 ; a happy 
hunting-ground for the etymologizing brave. 

8 Olof E. Bosson, Slang and Cant in Jerome K. Jerome's Works, 1911. 




Slang, being the quintessence of colloquial speech, must always 
be related to convenience rather than to scientific laws, 
grammatical rules and philosophical ideals. As it originates, so 
it flourishes best, in colloquial speech. " Among the impulses 
which lead to the invention of slang/' Dr. Bradley remarked 
some years ago, " the~wpjtnostj^^ desire 

;fco~^et]Te-4&aased^ and the^esir^^se^f^increased 

ense-e4aiir^ Tfiejnost favourable 

conditions^ and artificial 

life. . . . Any sudden excitement or peculiar ""orcumsfance is 
quite sufficient to originate and set going a score of slang words", 
as John Camden Hotten, a publisher and lexicographer, more 
sinned against than sinning, noted in the excellent Short History 
that prefaces his valuable collection of mid- Victorian and other 
slang. Its origin and usage are lit with interest if we remember 
one of the primary laws : slang is not used^mei^lyjas a means 
resj^^ ' * jtj>_ cpiiiageuand 

of J:he individual to 

j^ * Another 

presented by Mr. Earle Wdb^^wEeliTie says : " Some 
slang originates in an honourable discontent with the battered 
or bleached phrases in far too general use," this fresh slang being 
further described by him as " the plain man's poetry, the plain 
man's aspiration from penny plain to twopence coloured ", 

But the most interesting pronouncements on the origins 
and uses of slang are those of Mr. Mencken and M. Niceforo. 
The former is so illuminating that to paraphrase him were an 
impertinence. " What slang actually consists of," he says, 8 
" doesn't depend . . . upon intrinsic qualities, but upon the 
surrounding circumstances. It is the user that determines the 
matter, and particularly the user's habitual way of thinking. 
If he chooses words carefully, with a full understanding of their 
meaning and savour, then no word that he uses seriously will 
belong to slang, but if his speech is made up chiefly of terms 
poll-parroted, and he has no sense of their shades and limitations, 

1 Greenough and Kittredge, op. cit. 

2 The Week-end Review, 25th April, 1931. 

8 The American Language, 3rd ed., 1923, p. 374. 


then slang will bulk largely in his vocabulary. In its origin it is 
nearly always respectable [comparatively !] 

[what about the Cockneys ?], Jmt_ 

mdiyich^^ ; as Whitney says, it 

of an * exuberance^)! mentd^activifa^ 

of language-making '. Butjw^^ jtrike 

worn threadbare and so lose all piquancy and significance, and 
STWhitney's words, become ' incapable of expressing anything 
that is real '. This is the history of such slang phrases as ... 
' How's your poor feet ?'.,,' Have a heart ! ', ' This is the 
life V 

M. Alfredo Niceforo, a widely travelled Italian, notes that, 
as in general speech, so inevitably in slang, one speaks as one 
judges and one judges according to how one feels. His opinions 
on this subject, together with its relation to the influence of 
groups, are of first-rate importance. 1 " Every social fact and 
the language of a group is a social fact," writes Niceforo, " is 
the result of two classes of cause : personal (or biological) causes, 
represented by the physiological and psychological characteristics 
of the individual ; and external (or mesological) causes, repre- 
sented by the great accumulation of the social pressures, economic 
and geographical and other factors, which so powerfully influence 
mankind/' He shows how language varies in passing from one 
social group to another and even in the different situations in 
which any one person may find himself. 


speech, whether it be standard or unconventional. For instance, 
cKIHren and lunatics speak very much as their emotions dictate ; 
soldiers have a multitude of words and phrases that reflect their 
daily existence in barracks, on the march, in bivouac, or in the 
front line. The specialization that characterizes every vocation 
leads naturally to a specialized vocabulary, to the invention of 
new words or the re-charging of old words. Such special words 
and phrases become slang only when they are used outside the 
vocational group and then only if they change their meaning 
or are applied in other ways. Motoring, aviation, and the 
wireless have already supplied us with a large number of slang 
terms. BujL-JS^^ 

^cial oroc^^ 

, as they are of language in general and of style. 
hy is slang used at all ? That question, like a small child's, 
is a natural one to ask, but a difficult one to answer. Reasons 
have occurred to the writer, who, however, is not quite so fatuous 

i Le G<nie de 1'Argot, 1912. 


as to consider that they account for every slang expression used 
in the past, much less every slang expression that will be used 
by the bright lads, sprightly lasses, and naughty old men of the 
future. That all the following reasons why slang is used are 
either actually or potentially operative he is nevertheless as sure 
as a mere man can be, and he would like to add that the order 
in which they are set down is not so haphazard as it may seem. 
Slang, he believes, is employed because of one (or more) of 
fifteen reasons : 

- (i) In sheer high spirits, by the young in heart as well as 
by the young in years ; " just for the fun of the thing " ; in 
playfulness or waggishness. 

Jfa) As an exercise either in wit and ingenuity or in humour. 
(The motive behind this is usually self-display or snobbishness, 
emulation or responsiveness, delight in virtuosity.) 
^^3) To be " different ", to be novel 

(4) To be picturesque (either positively or as in the wish to 
avoid insipidity negatively). 
_,(5) To be unmistakably arresting, even startling. 

(6) To escape from cliches, or to be brief and concise. 
(Actuated by impatience with existing terms.) 

(7) To enrich the language.' (This deliberateness is rare save 
among the well-educated, Cockneys forming the most notable 
exception ; it is literary rather than spontaneous.) 

(8) To lend an air of solidity, concreteness, to the abstract ; 
of earthiness to the idealistic ; of immediacy and appositeness to 
the remote. (In the cultured the effort is usually premeditated, 
while in the uncultured it is almost always unconscious when it 
is not rather subconscious.) 

(90) To lessen the sting of, or on the other hajid to give 
additional point to, a refusal, a rejection, a recantation ; 

(96) To reduce, perhaps also to disperse, the solemnity, 
the pomposity, the excessive seriousness of a conversation (or 
of a piece of writing) ; 

- (go) To soften the tragedy, to lighten or to " prettify " the 
inevitability of death or madness, or to mask the ugliness or the 
pity of profound turpitude (e.g., treachery, ingratitude) ; and/or 
thus to enable the speaker or his auditor or both to endure, to 
" carry on ". 

-(10) To speak or write down to an inferior, or to amuse a 
superior public ; or merely to be on a colloquial level with either 
one's audience or one's subject matter. 

(n) For ease of social intercourse. (Not to be confused or 
merged with the preceding.) 

(12) To induce either friendliness or intimacy of a deep or a 
durable kind. (Same remark.) 
^ (13) To show that one belongs to a certain school, trade, or 


profession, artistic or intellectual set, or social class ; in brief, 
to be " in the swim f or to establish contact. 

(14) Hence, to show or prove that someone is not " in the 
swim ". 

"""""(15) To be secret not understood by those around one. 
(Children, students, lovers, members of political secret societies, 
and criminals in or out of prison, innocent persons in prison, 
are the chief exponents.) 

Sudr critics as Hotten, Mencken, and Niceforo are almost 
genial in their attitude towards slang, but others are scornful. 
As early as 1825 J. P. Thomas, in My Thought Book, inveighed 
thus : " The language of slang is the conversation of fools. Men 
of discretion will not pervert language to the unprofitable 
purposes of conversational mimicry. . . . The friends of literature 
will never adopt it, as it is actively opposed to pure and 
grammatical diction." In our own century the authors of 
Words and their Ways condemn slang on the ground that, being 
evanescent, vague, and ill-defined, slang has a deleterious effect 
on those who use it often, for it tends to remove all those delicate 
shades of meaning which are at the root of a good style ; they 
point out that it is a lazy man's speech ; and assert that when 
a slang word becomes definite in meaning it has almost ceased 
to be slang. Perhaps a fairer conception is that of the Merton 
Professor of English Language at Oxford : " While slang is 
^ essentially part of familiar and colloquial speech, it is not 
necessarily either incorrect or vulgar in its proper place," which, 
as the Fowlers say, " is in real life." That is, in conversation, 
for, the Fowlers continue, " as style is the great antiseptic, so 
slang is the great corrupting matter ; it is perishable, and infects 
what is round it." The same thought is conveyed from a different 
angle by Professor McKnight, 1 who remarks that, " originating 
as slang expressions often do, in an insensibility to the meaning 
of legitimate words, the use of slang checks an acquisition of a 
command over recognized modes of expression . . . [and] must 
result in atrophy of the faculty of using language." This applies 
mainly to authors and orators. But no real stylist, no one 
capable of good speaking or good writing, is likely to be harmed 
by the occasional employment of slang ; provided that he is 
conscious of the fact, he can even employ it both frequently and 
freely without stultifying his mind, impoverishing his vocabulary, 
or vitiating the taste and the skill that he brings to the using 
of that vocabulary. Except in formal and dignified writing and 
in professional speaking, a vivid and extensive slang is perhaps 
preferable to a jejune and meagre vocabulary of standard 
English ; on the other hand, it will hardly be denied that, whether 
in writing or in speech, a sound though restricted vocabulary of 

1 English Words and their Background, 1923. (Whence all later quotations.) 


standard English is preferable to an equally small vocabulary of 
slang, however vivid may be that slang. 

The same contradictoriness applies to the various attempts to 
set forth the primary characteristics of slang. Greenough and 
Kittredge, at the beginning of their thoughtful if somewhat 
reactionary chapter on Slang and Legitimate Speech, say that 
" slang is commonly made by the use of harsh, violent, or ludicrous 
metaphors, obscure analogies, meaningless words, and expressions 
derived from the less known and less esteemed vocations or 
customs", and, twenty pages further on, admit that "it is 
sometimes humorous, witty, and not seldom picturesque ". 
A much neater thumb-nail sketch 1 is that of Niceforo : " concrete 
terms, vivid metaphors, brilliant turns of phrase, contrasts, 
ellipses, and abbreviations/' In fairness, however, to the two 
American professors, it is to bej-dd^thatJ!^ 
so far fromjDeingjLn^^ 

SifTon!^"^ in 

unrelnc|glaixiy ; as they remark, there is no primary 
difference between the processes of slang and those of standard 
speech. Slang may and often does fill a gap in accepted language ; 
as J. Brander Matthews had observed in 1893,* " in most cases 
a man can say best what he has to say without lapsing into 
slang ; but then a slangy expression which actually tells us 
something is better than the immaculate sentence empty of 
everything but the consciousness of its own propriety/' 

But there is a decided hint of " It isn't done " in a few of the 
general accounts of slang. After reading Hotten's famous 
justification " the^gu^amishnfs^ 

in the-prisoHS7-btt4-atJ^ 
thejIoT^^ and, 

oolhelihortest and safest means to an end, understood too " 
it is diverting to arrive at the opinion that th^w5f3Tassociations 
of this " pariah " branch of language are " low,, or at least, 
undignified, and perhaps disgusting " ; if they obtain the franchise 
of respectability by becoming accepted, for other than trivial 
or frivolous purposes, by the users of standard speech, then their 
lowly origins will probably be forgotten and they will become 
pure as driven snow. This view smacks of the year in which it 
was expressed 1902 ; but the Fowlers 3 are almost as severe. 
" Foreign words and slang are, as spurious ornaments, on the 

1 These opinions are recorded here in order to establish a point of departure 
for the ensuing consideration of the " components " of slang ; the real discussion 
of the essentials of slang is held over till Chapter IV. 

* In Harper's Magazine (reprinted in the collected essays, Parts of Speech, 
1901) : an important contribution. 

8 The King's English, 3rd ed., 1930. A mine, withal a trifle conservative 
here and there, of dicta on good writing and correct speaking. 


same level . . . The effect of using quotation marks with slang 
is merely to convert a mental into a moral weakness." But they 
are very sound on the quarters from which slang may come. 
Taking the averagely intelligent middle-class man as the norm, 
they show that he can usually detect with ease such words as 
come from " below " and add that these constitute the best 
slang, for many such terms assume their place in the language 
as " words that will last ", and will not, like many from " above ", 
die off after a brief vogue ; from the same direction, however, 
derive such colourless counters as nice, awful, blooming (this last, 
by the way, is on the wane). Words from above are less easily 
detected : phenomenal, epoch-making, true inwardness, psycho- 
logical moment, philistine " are being subjected to that use, at 
once over-frequent and inaccurate, which produces one kind of 
slang. But the average man, seeing from what exalted quarters 
they come, is dazzled into admiration and hardly knows them for 
what they are." The slang from " the sides " or from " the 
centre " consists of those words which, belonging at first to a 
profession or trade, a pursuit, a game or sport, have invaded 
general colloquial speech and very often the printed page. 
" Among these a man is naturally less critical of what comes 
from his own daily concerns, that is, in his view, from the centre/* 
These two lexicographers and grammarians acutely caution us 
that, in any collection of slang words and phrases, the degree of 
recognizabHity will depend largely upon whether the occupation, 
for example, is familiar or not, " though sometimes the familiarity 
will disguise, and sometimes it will bring out, the slanginess." 




Obviously (when, at least, one thinks about the matter), 
slang is on various levels, the grades being numerous ; innocent, 
cultured, vigorously racy, cheaply vulgar, healthily or disgustingly 
low ; thoroughly in the linguistic sense debased ; picturesque, 
claptrappingly repetitive, and (to be merciful !) so forth : and, 
for all levels and all kinds, the most serviceable criterion is the 
degree of dignity, or perhaps rather the degree of familiarity, 
casualness, impudence. S0ciallj[^^ to no one class, 

for it is an accumulation dfterms that, con^ 

inostjio^ "JLJ? 

composed olj:onoquialisnis^^ervwhere current . . . not refined 
enoughl:^^ l But there exist 

argotic grades and classes, as we see if we adopt a standard based 
on the values of different kinds of slang relative to the general 
speech and the general vocabulary. In 1893 his excellent 
observations hold good to-day Brander Matthews, 2 the famous 
American don, writes thus : " An analysis of modern slang 
reyealijQiejEac^ is possible tTTlGviB^^^ 
of which it is compost different 

origin and very varying value. TwcLJunworthy, two worthy. 
^ wfuclT includes, the 



survivals ^fj^thi^ ."T . Much of the distaste 

for 3ang" felt by people of delicate taste is, however, due to the 
second class, which includes the ephemeral phrases fortuitously 
popular for a season, and then finally forgotten once for all. 
ThS^mere catdiwords_ . . . arerarely foul, as the wwdsjand 
BhiasesjQ^ are^Eij2j3^^ 

foolish." E.g., where did you get that hat? 

" The other two classes of slang," he continues, " stand on a 
different footing . . . They serve a purpose. Indeed, their 
utility is indisputable, and it was never greater [-o~the remark 
is stifi valid ] than it is to-day. One of these consists of old and 
forgotten phrases and words, which, having long lain dormant, 
are now struggling again to the surface. The other consists of 
new words and phrases, often vigorous and expressive, but . . . 
still on probation " : these two classes help to feed and refresh 

1 Professor E, W. Bowen in The Popular Science Monthly of February, 1906. 

2 In the essay already quoted. 



the vocabulary. " It is the duty of slang to provide substitutes 
for the good words . . . which are worn out by hard service." 
Of this fourth class vigorous new slang he adds that it is 
" what idiom was before language stiffened into literature ", 
and quotes another and somewhat earlier American scholar of 
deserved repute, Lounsbury, as describing slang to be "the 
source from which the decaying energies of speech are constantly 
refreshed ". 

There is almost a hierarchy of slang, as Greenough and 
Kittredge implicatively show when they say that ((S to mortgage 
one's reputation' is as essentially a slang phrase as to be knocked 
out in an examination [? exam.], but there is a considerable 
difference in the vulgarity of the expressions. ' To come a cropper ' 
may be said to stand midway between the two. ' At fault ' 
(from a dog that loses the scent) is a dignified idiom." 

This last example illustrates a very frequent and important 
characteristic of slang : the tendency of slang words to rise in 
the world (ennobling, it may be called), for at fault has, within 
thirty years, become standard English. This ascent is recognized 
by most writers on English, but we may ignore all save those 
who have dealt very pertinently with the subject. In Weekley's 
Etymological Dictionary, many slang words and phrases ignored 
by previous lexicographers are historically explained, for the 
excellent reason that " in the past the slang of one generation 
has often become the literary language of the next, and the 
manners which distinguish contemporary life suggest that this 
will be still more frequently the case in the future ", a fact that 
H. T. Buckle phrased somewhat differently : " Many of these 
[slang] words and phrases are but serving their apprenticeship 
and will eventually become the active strength of our language." 
As John Brophy * tersely remarks, " most idiom is well-proven 
slang . . . Idiom is the most distinctively English (or American) 
constituent of the language, and . . . idiom is fed by the tested 
inventions of slang." Current slang, being full of the most humble 
locutions, slyly insinuates these upstarts and outcasts into the 
accepted language, so that those purists who forget the plebeian, 
even the vulgarian, origin of so much of our pithiest slang betray 
a defective knowledge of the life and the soul of vital speech and 
vivid style. Even Dr. Johnson, who inveighed often enough 
against cant and low slang, anyone who glances through his 
delightfully " personal " dictionary will quickly notice the jovial 
gusto with which he labels a word as " low," admitted that, 
historically, linguistically, philologically, " no word is naturally 
or intrinsically meaner than another ; our opinion, therefore, of 
words, as of other things arbitrarily and capriciously established, 

1 Not in his arresting essay in Songs and Slang of the British Soldier (3rd ed., 
1931), but in his lively English Prose (1932). 


depends wholly upon accident or custom." The following 
passage from Greenough and Kittredge's highly readable book 
has a double value, for not only does it give examples of slanginess, 
but being written in 1902, it affords a striking proof of the rapid 
changes prevalent in the social standing of slang terms : " Take 
... the expression start in 1 for begin. It is only a metaphor 
derived fr&m -lumbering operations, when men start into the 
woods in late autumn to begin the winter's work . . . On the 
stocks ( 2 ), for ' in preparation ', a metaphor from ship-building, is 
in good colloquial use. Down to bedrock ( 1 ) and peter out (*) are 
natural expressions among miners, but they become slang when 
they are transferred to others circumstances and used as figures of 
speech. So with the poker terms ante up ( 3 ) and it is up to you(*) 9 
with come a cropper (*), to be in at the death (*), come to the scratch ( 1 ), 
toe the mark ( 1 ), well-groomed ( 2 ), knock-out blow ( 1 ), below the belt ( 1 ), 
cock of the walk (*) . . . None of these phrases is accepted at present, 
though they differ much in their slanginess, but it is impossible 
to predict their standing a hundred years hence." No comment 
is necessary, unless it is that we should note that come to the 
scratch is American for come up to (the) scratch. The same authors 
made a good point when they said that notable orators and 
writen3_9^ feel that 

Itilajptness excuses its lowlines^, especially iflFTsremployed as 
an actual or vlirtual quotation. Since the great British public 
(and this applies even more forcibly to the United States) rarely 
asks how a slang word or phrase gets into respectable company, 
slang profits by the fact that there is almost complete freedom 
in quoting, whether the source be lofty or lowly, and from the 
further, yet closely related, fact that the use or neglect of inverted 
commas is so much a matter of the degree of familiarity, that the 
public soon forgets whether there is a quotation or not. , * 

But while linguistic parvenus slowly ascend even unto the 
throne of utter respectability, there are ancient aristocrats 
passing them in a sad descent to the literary depths ; as Mr. Logan 
Pearsall Smith, 2 aphorist and literary word-lover, has exemplified, 
" words like pate t cocksure, huggermugger, and . . . guts, which 
was once in dignified use, and was employed by Sir Philip Sidney 
in his translation of the Psalms. Among other tragic downfalls 
from high to the lowest place, the unfortunate and familiar 
adjectives blooming and bloody are deserving of a sympathetic 
mention." Such dire descents are usually caused by a too 
enthusiastic adoption by the distributors of vivid phrases ; tk 


1 In this passage the words marked (*) have risen from slang to ordinary 
colloquialism, while those marked (*) are now standard, though not Hterary 
English ; ( 8 ) signifies that, though still slang in England, they are now colloquial 
in America. 

2 In his essay on Popular Speech in the vol. entitled Words and Idioms, 1925. 


Some of the terms concerned (though, none of those quoted 
above) find themselves regarded as, therefore actually are, slang 
within a year or two. A somewhat different aspect of this 
linguistic " come-down " is presented by Professor McKnight, 
who belongs to the Greenough and Kittredge rather than to the 
Logan Pearsall Smith school of writers on language. " There 
have/' he says, " been pointed out as instances of the early 
appearance of modern slang, phrases and expressions such as 
' their skipten out ' (Wycliffe), ' come off * (Chaucer), ' skin of 
the teeth ' (Job), ' I will fire thee out of my house ' (' Ralph 
Roister Doister '), ' not in it ' ('Winter's Tale '), ' let me tell the 
world ' (' Twelfth Night '). In such cases the anticipation of 
modern slang is more apparent than real. The earlier meaning 
of the expressions quoted did not offer the quality of suggestion 
that gives the slangy character to their modern equivalent. What 
was once legitimate," he penetratingly observes, "has later 
become slang." 

There is, however, another kind of descent. As M. Niceforo * 
has so illuminatingly said of slang in general, " tout ce qui est 
abstrait doit se materialiser ; tout ce qui est materiel et animd doit 
se materialiser encore, se degrader et se deprecier en descendant d'un 
degr ou de plusieurs degres." And as a famous French philologist, 
M. Albert Dauzat, 2 has particularized, "le ravalement le plus frequent 
dans tous les argots [slang and cant] est celui de I'homme a I' animal, 
qu'il s'agisse des parties du corps, de I'equipement [generalize to 
'appurtenances'], de la nourriture." In the same order are 
pejorative formations, depreciatory irony, violent reprobation. 
The last needs no further mention at this point, but word- 
formation or, as generally, word-change of an unfavourable 
kind is less obvious. In many such terms, Dauzat remarks, one 
can distinguish three successive operations : (i) an inferior 
object (or a series or group of mainly inferior objects) is designated 
according to its defect ; (2) the designation extends to every 
object whether inferior or good in that series, that group, 
or of the same kind ; (3) finally this designation that is to say, 
this word loses its unfavourable associations and becomes a 
synonym, often exactly co-terminous, for the term current in 
standard English or American English or French or whatever 
language it may be. In this process the first stage is sometimes 
missing ; no great loss to slang, for it is the last two stages 
which are essentially argotic. As will appear in a later section, 
rhyming slang provides the best examples of this operation. 
Depreciative irony, which to the hurt caused by the ironical 

1 In this work, I have left many French quotations untranslated ; nearly 
everyone has some French nowadays ! And academic French when employed 
on such subjects as philology is exceedingly easy to read. 

* L* Argot de la Guerre, revised ed., 1919. 


reference, adds the acid of contempt, is morally most effective 
when it is just, but, in the most significant examples, intellectually 
most satisfying when unjust for unjust irony is equivalent to 
a single-worded or single-phrased epigram. Dauzat gives some 
delightful examples from the argot of the Poilu, but the slang of 
the British soldier will serve us better. English military, like 
English civilian slang prefers its irony to be either understated 
or pointed with ridicule or both understated and pointedly 
ridiculous. " Some of the terror disappeared, together with the 
pomp, from war and military glory," writes John Brophy, 1 
" when the soldier decided to call his steel helmet a tin hat, his 
bayonet a tooth-pick, his entrenching-tool handle a piggy-stick, 
and a murderous bombardment a strafe or hate." A second 
Frenchman, M. Lazare Sainean 2 (the greatest of all authorities 
on thieves' slang, general and French), has justly observed that 
the downfall of certain expressions, like the windfall of others, 
is ultimately due to changes in social environment : to take an 
extreme case, French cant understands faire, to do or to make, 
to mean to steal (precisely as make in the slang of the British 
soldier in 1914-18 had the same meaning, to which win 
paralleled by the general French cant gagnerto acquire illicitly, 
is analogous) and travailler, to work, to signify to kill. To continue 
the Gallic tradition, 3 Professor A. Carnoy 4 has written what is, 
however, the profoundest account of " pejoratizing " the process 
and the practice not only of speaking ill of persons and things, 
but of making them out to be worse than they are. Dysphemism, 
as he calls it in opposition to euphemism, " is a reaction against 
pedantry, stiffness, and pretentiousness, but also against nobility 
and dignity in language. It seeks to keep language (especially 
the spoken language) at a low level, suitable to vulgar and 
commonplace sentiments. On the other hand, it shows good 
humour in poverty and in adversity, and while maintaining 
language at the level of the popular mind, it renders it piquant, 
* tasty ', and comfortable. Dysphemism, therefore, is principally 
an attempt to free itself from the respectful and admiring attitude 
which weighs heavily on average humanity. It consists, above 
all, in the substitution for dignified or simply normal terms, of 
expressions borrowed from spheres more vulgar, familiar, and 
joyous. In that there is a certain ' projection ', for it is a way 
of regarding serious and important things as realities that, for 
all their triviality, are reassuring/* Sometimes dysphemism 

1 In his note to the Glossary : in Songs and Slang of the British Soldier, 

2 Le Langage parisien au xixe siecle, 1920. 

3 The French excel in semantics no less than do the Germans in the philosophy 
of language, or the British (Englishmen and Scotsmen) in both monumental and 
readable often entertaining lexicography (witness Dr. Johnson, the Oxford 
dictionary-makers, and Professor Ernest Weekley). 

4 In his treatise on semantics, La Science du Mot, 1927. 


exhibits an unpleasant search for gross metaphors and disgusting 
allusions ; sometimes it arises from outright bad temper, but 
usually its attitude is rather mocking than indignant, for its 
primary aim is to ridicule everything in amusing and unexpected 
figures of speech. A minor species of the genus dysphemism is 
the pejorative suffix, that convenient ending to a word which 
turns the original into something rather different ; such as 
-aster (e.g., in poetaster, criticaster) in standard English, -ious 
(e.g., in robustious) in slang. 

To dysphemism, we see, the opposite is euphemism, which * 
is discreet, kindly, indulgent where the other is pitiless, mocking, 
and brutal : whereas dysphemism, aiming to be a stimulant, 
seeks to shock, to stir one's sensibility by irritating it with low, 
trivial, occasionally beastly allusions, euphemism acts as a 
sedative and avoids all such unpleasant reactions as might 
reasonably be expected to ensue on the evocation of certain 
ideas and generally assumed associations. Euphemism does not 
try to hide or to pass over painful or annoying or ugly or filthy 
facts (silence would be the most effective means to hide them); it 
tries only to minimize or to " prettify " the news, the opinion, 
the description in order to spare the feelings of the hearer and 
sometimes to guard the speaker against the possibly unpleasant 
results of a frankness stark, pitiless, abrupt, sometimes to improve 
the hearer's disposition towards the speaker. When disagreeable 
or painful news is to be given, euphemism enables the recipient 
both to adapt himself, as it were, by taking it in gradually, by 
assimilating it slowly, and to realize it more sentimentally, 
therefore less emotionally, therefore less violently. Often, 
however, it is respect, obsequiosity, self-seeking, cowardice, 
reticence, modesty, awe and reverence, superstition, or even an 
incurable sense of humour, which prompts or causes the employ- 
ment of euphemism. Examples of some of these various lands, 
which vary from the vague to the particular, from near connexion 
to remote association, from enigmatic affirmative to obvious 
litotes, from archaism or solemnity to the most recent neologism 
or ludicrousness, from the drollest slang to the most formal 
Ancient Classic, are presented by the following short list : By 
Golly and by Gosh (God), Gee-Whiz (Jesus), good gracious (goodness 
of God, gracious God), by Jove (by Jupiter), the deuce! and the 
dickens ! (the devil !), all-fired (hell-fired, hell and fire) ; the 
little house and my aunt's closet (water-closet) ; pinch (to steal), 
put to sleep (to kill), step into one's last bus, take an earth bath 
(to die) ; perfect lady (a loud-voiced prostitute) ; hop the bags 
(to leave the shelter of a trench, prior to attacking the enemy 
from across no man's land) ; barmy, 2 cracked, dippy, loopy (mad) ; 
go to you know where (go to hell !) ; Adam's and Eve's togs 

1 Carney, op. cit., the chapter entitled Euph^misme et Dysph&msme. * Or balmy. 


(nakedness) ; angel-makers (baby-farmers) ; leaden favour (a 
bullet) ; loose French (to swear violently in English) ; something 
in the city (of doubtful occupation, implying on the wrong side of 
the law). 

In dysphemism there is considerable pungency, in euphemism 
much human nature ; and for the last eighty or ninety years 
(since, in fact, literary Romanticism, as a movement, finally 
died) slang has been occasionally the only, often the most piquant, 
means of avoiding bombast, rodomontade, and pretentiousness, 
for slang, when not bluffly humorous or a palpable "playing 
about ", tends to contain an element often predominant of 
satire ; it hits the nail on the head ; eschews ambiguity and 
periphrasis, and is pointedly expressive ; without point of some 
sort ranging from quizzical kindliness to biting reprimand or 
scathing denunciation slang lacks a raison d'etre. The 
pointedness is usually either ironic or humorous. 

The irony need not be depreciative * : it ranges from simple 
joke to raillery ; farce, burlesque, comedy, tragedy-comedy, 
even tragedy ; mild satire, indignant philippic, fiery invective, 
rapiered prick, sabred slash, and bludgeoned blow. It varies 
from direct antiphrasis (saying the exact opposite of what one 
intends to convey), through euphemism, to ingenious mockery, 
the first as in you're a great pal /, a very poor sort of friend ; the 
second, do without (dialect in Yorkshire, slang in London), to 
dislike, as in " Well, I could do without him, you know ! " ; and 
the third, chevalier of industry in good English, snowball for a 
Negro in slang. Because it has to express two meanings, the 
superficial and the real, irony is at its best in compound words 
and in phrases. True, such terms as fairy, the lower-class, 
pre-war label for a hideous and debauched old woman, especially 
when drunk, and/airy, the hobo, post-war name for an effeminate 
man or boy, possess a brutal force that could hardly be excelled 
by compounds or phrases ; nevertheless, these compounds and 
phrases have qualities that cannot to the same high degree, 
at least belong to the single words, however forcible, pregnant, 
and significant the latter may appear ; qualities such as subtlety, 
burlesque, satire, extreme drollness, rollickingly Rabelaisian 
humanity. Examples ? Perhaps fairy-story, American and 
English tramps' slang for a " hard luck " tale ; Yankee paradise 
(since the War, Y. heaven), Paris ; that's a cough-lozenge for him, 
an 1850-1860 catch-phrase meaning punishment ; thinking part, 
theatrical slang (not heard quite so much in post- War days) 
for a silent part, that of a supernumerary that merely appears 
without speaking at all. Much irony, however, is less satirical 
than that ! Some is facetious, as in camel corps, an Australian 
soldiers' term for the infantrymen, who, because of the heavy 

1 For depreciative irony, see p. 13. 


pack " and all that ", were, by the Tommies in 1914-18, described 
as things to hang things on. 

With humour, the authors of the article in the Encyclopaedia 
Britannica (Dr. Henry Bradley, revised by Professor George 
Krapp) have dealt so pertinently that one were inhuman to resist 
the temptation of quoting them in full : " An element of humour 
is almost always present in slang, usually as humorous exaggera- 
tion. Thus to call a hat a lid is amusing because it puts a hat 
and a pot-lid in the same class. So when an alluring woman is 
called a vamp from vampire. Slang is rarely bitter in its implied 
judgments. [Since the War, as during it, the bitter element has, 
at least temporarily, been more conspicuous.] It sets things in 
their proper places with a smile. When a male charmer is called 
sheik and the sheik's female counterpart sheba [more American 
than English, that], this is obviously the language of a world 
that takes its passions lightly/ 1 Many slang 


drawn i TOm^pleasurable activities (games, sports, entertainments), 
from the ]oy of life^from, abandon :jFor this reason it has 
Been^TOUS}^ The Encyclopedia 

wfitefsTEen turn their attention to that type of humorous slang 
which consists of words that owe their appeal to a droll or echoic 
form, as in flummox, to disconcert, biff, a blow. A lower level 
is that of such mutilations (usually deliberate) as gust for guest, 
and picture-askew for picturesque ; this kind of slang, however, 
attains sometimes to wit, as m finance for fiance. 

Such mutilations are in some instances ascribable to what 
M. Francois Dechelette (the author of a lively and joyous glossary 
of Poilu slang), who instances the Turlupins of Moliere's time and 
country, calls "the instinctive desire to speak bad [English]". 
There is also the sometimes synonymous desire to speak slang 
of any kind, at any price. Nor is it much use to say that people 
ought to know better, for slang is not only very " human ", all 
too human, but very natural. Human characteristics, such as 
the love of mystery and a confidential air (a lazy freemasonry), 
vanity, the imp of perversity that lurks in every heart, the impulse 
to rebellion, and that irrepressible spirit of adventure which, 
when deprived of its proper outlook in action, perforce contents 
itself with verbal audacity (the adventure of speech) : these and 
others are at the root of slang, which is so personal, so individual 
that few will disagree with Frank Sechrist, 1 the author of the 
best study of unconventional language ever written, when, with 
a judicious and almost judicial deliberation and sobriety, he 
says : "On the whole, the use and prevalence of slang is not 
based on the influence of culture or of lack of culture at home, 
efficiency, or non-efficiency in the use of English, tut rather upon 

1 The Psychology of Unconventional Language (slang, cant, colloquialism, 
etc.) : in The Pedagogical Seminary, December, 1913. 


the individuality of the person who uses it." Following naturally 
from this basis in the very nature of men and women and" 
not least children, and linked with much forgivable perversity 
or perhaps it is man's natural distaste for perfection is another 
very general characteristic of slang ; the rarity with which it 
obeys propriety, the gamin joy it exhibits in breaking the 
canons of good taste. But then slang is a law unto itselt ! On 
this subject we may quote a verdict * natural in the year of 
virtuous grace, 1902, but more illuminating than accurate at 
the present day, though still endorsed by the more Draconian 
of the guardians of our self-prophylactic speech : " All human 
speech, even the most intimate, is intended for the ears of others, 
and must therefore have a certain dignity, a certain courtesy, 
out of respect to one's hearers if not to one's self. N^w^slang, 

^ the very currency of slang depends 

bn its allusions to things which are not supposed to be universally 
familiar or generally respectable ; and hence it is vulgar, since 
it brings in associations with what is for the moment regarded 
as unknown or of bad repute/' It need hardly be observed that 
the offensive proportion of slang is here represented as much 
larger than it is actually. A more fundamental view had, 
seventeen years earlier, been set forth by Walt Whitman, who 
holds that " slang, profoundly considered, is the lawless germinal 
element, below all words and sentences, and behind all poetry, 
and proves a certain freedom and perennial rankness and 
protestantism in speech . . . Slang, or indirection, an attempt 
of common humanity to escape from bald literalism, and express 
itself illimitably . , . Slang, too, is the wholesome fermentation 
or eructation of those processes eternally active in language, by 
which froth and specks are thrown up, mostly to pass away ; 
though occasionally to settle and permanently crystallize". 
That emotion, more than thought, lies behind and causes slang 
and determines most of the manifestations of slang, is hardly 
to be doubted. Moreover, in slang it is often emotion rather 
than idea which is to be communicated ; especially is this true 
of swearing and cursing, oaths and other profanities, exclamations 
and imprecations. Such is the drift of McKnight's admirable 
words : "So far is modern slang from being influenced by 
[considerations of propriety ; that propriety which, since about 
1780, has constricted the literary language], that one of the chief 
sources of its novelty lies in its conscious defiance of propriety. 
Its figures are consciously far-fetched and are intentionally 
drawn [very often] from the most ignoble of sources. J^lgsgly 
^ to gofan^^ 

1 Greenough and Kittredge, 1920 reprint, p. 72. 


It bids defiance tothe laws of decorum as profanity^bidsjlefi^nce 

The spirit ot slang is tEaiT of 

open hostility to the reputable. . . . This spirit . . . manifests 
itself in the number of slang words [e.g., cove, booze] recruited 
from the peculiar language of the underworld. The constantly 
renewed jargon of this class has continued to be a constant 
source of supply to the vocabulary of slang/' 

Some of the upstart qualities and part of the aesthetic (as 
opposed to the moral) impropriety spring from four features present 
in all slang, whatever the period and whatever the country : the 
search for novelty ; volatility and light-headedness as well as 
light-heartedness ; ephemerality ; the sway of fashion. In the 
standard speech and still more in slang we note that the motive 
behind figurative expressions and all neologisms is the desire to 
escape from the old, accepted phrase : the desire for novelty 
operates more freely, audaciously, and rapidly in slang, that is 
the only difference. The volatility of upper-class slang is notorious 
and need not be laboured. Its ephemerality is more important, 
for almost everyone has noticed that, of the numerous slang 
words taken up by the masses and the classes, most have only 
a short life, and that, when they die, unhonoured and unsung, 
they are almost immediately replaced by novelties equally 
transitory : the word is dead, long live the word ! Standard 
English consists of extraordinarily durable elements, " so that 
it remains continuously intelligible through long periods of time." 
But slang, as to the greater part of its vocabulary and especially 
as to its cuckoo-calling phrases and its parrot-sayings, is 
evanescent ; it is the residuum that, racy and expressive, makes 
the study of slang revelatory of the pulsing life of language. 
Spoken dang, partly because so much of it is cheap or second- 
hand wit, therefore short-lived, is unsuitable to become a means 
of very general inter-communication, for too many of its elements, 
extremely local or topical, are obsolescent, 1 and, much more 
important, too much freedom of interpretability attaches to so 
many of its recent accessions. Brand a slang word or phrase 
as a fashion, and it is doomed to rapid extinction ; call attention 
to its usefulness, and it will incorporate itself among the linguistic 
evergreens within a year. (Here it may be thus cursorily noted 
that in the country archaisms are preserved, in the town ever 
changing slang is used.) Yet the merely fashionable, the merely 
parroted part of slang has its value, even if that value only too 
often means that the relevant slang serves but to stress the 

1 Yet the obsolescence inherent in topicality and locality has perhaps been 
exaggerated. Redding Ware, in his word-mine, Passing English, uses the 
epigraph, " As forests shed their foliage by degrees, So fade expressions which 
in seasons please " ; but very many of the catch-phrases that he quoted over 
twenty years ago are still vaguely familiar, while quite a number are still current. 
(For these catch-words and -phrases, see later in this chapter.) 


fashion, the passing craze. Luckily, " the sway of fashion is 
easily detected both in literature and in our common talk. In 
literature, we signalize such habits of expression by calling them 
stylistic tendencies. When they attract our attention in colloquial 
speech, we stigmatize them as slang or affectation." This question 
of fashion in words, however, goes deeper than is sometimes 
asserted, as may be deduced from what William Sherwood Fox 
observed in his provocatively informative Greek and Roman 
Mythology (1930) : " Were we able to explain just why a fashion, 
a catchword, or a phrase of slang becomes popular, we should 
likewise be able to account for the initial acceptance of a myth. 
All we can say concerning such things is that they supply a 
need, or answer a craving, or arouse the interest of the majority 
of a social group." 

Of ephemerally popular slang, the most amusing and at the 
same time the most irritating kind consists of what Hotten calls 
" melodious and drum-like " words such as rumbumptious, 
rumbustious, slantingdicular, splendiferous, the obsolescent 
absquatulate, the obsolete ferricadouzer (a knock-down blow or a 
good thrashing). Other than philologists have often perceived 
that long words are often strong words : " full of sound and 
fury/' admittedly, but certainly not " signifying nothing ". 
One knows that in many, though not in most words, there is a 
close connexion between the phonetics and the semantics, the 
sound and the meaning. A slightly pretentious sonority is, in 
slangy and colloquial speech, apt to add a cubit or two to the 
stature of words. Splendid, in addition to splendiferous, has 
grown to splendid(i)ous and splendacious. Another aspect of the 
reproductive power of long words is seen in the way in which 
heavy and fantastic terms such as the at first sight unanalysable 
cantankerous and catawamptious (eager) have strong meanings, 
or it might be more logical to say that these words are long and 
grotesque precisely because of those meanings. It is also notice- 
able that this class of word, even if much used, has remarkable 
powers of endurance. Dickens and Lytton use catawamptious 
or its variant form catawampus so long ago as the eighteen-forties 
and fifties, nor has the word quite died out in its birthplace, 
America. Closely related is what has been called onomatopoeic 
or echoic slang, of which, from the very nature of the case, 
there are few instances. But the lack of quantity is redeemed 
by the excellence of the quality, as we see in tin-Lizzie (the cheap 
Ford motor-car) and whizz-bang (a German 77 shell). Mis- 
pronunciation is an analogous source of slang words among the 
less educated and even, though here the solecism is deliberate, 
among the educated ; loverly, for instance, has a sense slightly 
different from that of lovely; but 'cos, bimeby, rhumatiz, and 
their like, are vulgar errors, if they are unintentional, yet if 


they are used by those who know better, they are then pure 
slang. More closely related to the influence of sound than to 
that of mispronunciation as such is the practice among certain 
authors of introducing novelties into dialogue, a very cunning 
way of faking an imprimatur. In short, mispronunciation, 
misunderstanding, and even miswriting may give rise to slang : 
in the words of the perspicacious Niceforo, le mot mal compris 
ou mal interprdte bien desfois aussi mal ecrit suggere I' image, et 
celle-ci faisant oublier la veritable signification ordinaire du mot, 
fait surgir r interpretation toute nouvette. 

So may borrowings from foreign languages produce slang ; 
and every language borrows. Borrowings, indeed, have a way 
of seeming slangy or of being welcomed by slang before standard 
speech takes them to its sanctum. Many such words (e.g., lo&t) 
have been introduced by soldiers, who consistently pick up a 
few foreign words and use them with a richly slangy prodigality. 
Hospitality, whether to native coinages or to foreign arrivals, 
is the hall-mark of slang ; the constant contacts in trade and 
travel, the newspapers, the wireless, the touring theatrical 
companies, and other means have not only preserved and enriched 
the inter-relations of the Colonies, America, and England, but 
also drawn attention to the slang of other countries. 

All slang, whatever its origin, falls into the dichotomy of 
good and bad. A New York reviewer * tersely opines that good 
slang " says clearly or concisely or forcibly what the literary 
speech says obscurely or diffusely or feebly ", while another 
anonymous American 2 almost certainly J. Brander Matthews 
declares that " slang is the foe and the -friend of the English 
language. . . . The distinctive test of good slang ... is that 
it has a real meaning. Bad slang has no meaning ; it is simply 
a succession of sounds which, because they come trippingly from 
the tongue, impose upon the ignorant imagination of the reader. 
. . . Good slang is idiomatically expressive, and has a narrow 
escape sometimes from being poetical ". It was of such expressive 
slang that Henri Bauche 3 his remarks are applicable to any 
language writes that " plusieurs termes populaires conviennent 
si bien a V expression de certaines idees que les Francais cultives les 
emploient a tout instant. Et lorsqu'ils veulent parler en style noble 
ou simplement terire enfrancais correct, il leur arrive d'etre obliges 
de reflechir quelque temps avant de trouver le mot francais juste. 
Us ne le trouvent pas toujours, il leur faut parfois tourner la 
difficulte par quelque pfriphrase ou renoncer a la precision qu'ils 
d&iraient". These opinions are, in spirit, endorsed by one of 
the best stylists among our younger novelists : " Good slang," 

1 In the (New York) Nation, October, 1890. 

2 The Atlantic Monthly, March, 1893. 

3 Le Langage populaire, 2nd ed., 1928. (Not in 1st ed. f 1920.) 


says John Brophy, 1 " is that which gives new life to old or abstract 
ideas. . . . Bad slang lacks the precision of statement of good 
slang. It arises -from mental sloth instead of from mental 
acuteness. It desires to be witty but lacks the ability, and it 
puts the imagination to sleep instead of awakening^ it. It is 
usually cumbersome, where good slang is compact/' It may 
also be colourless instead of vivid, silly instead of sensible, 
unconvincing instead of inevitable, a re-hash instead of a creation 
or a re-creation. 

Not that many slang words are created in the sense that they 
are wholly invented : ex nihilo nikilfit. Nearly all slang consists 
of old words changed in form or, far more often, old words with 
new meanings or new shades of meaning. The latter tendency 
appears even in such common words as do, take, make, go, and 
out, which, in their slang sense, are just as much creations as 
new derivatives and compounds, however old the root-words ; 
similarly nicknames, like proper names used as common nouns, 
are also neologisms. Rarely does the neologism impose itself 
with magisterial calm or swashbuckling assurance upon a language, 
at least not successfully : in the aptly luxuriant figure of 
M. Dauzat, le nouveau venu s'insinue modestement, comme une 
superfetation accidentelle, voire comme un succedane plaisant. 
S'il prend ratine, il developpe pen a peu sa ramure au% depens de 
son voisin use par I' age et moins resistant, ilfait ddperir ses rameaux 
entendons ses acceptions diverses en accaparant pour lui le 
soleil du succes, et en tuant finalement son rival sous son ombre. 
But the new words obtained by a change of sense do not always, 
especially at first, appear parentless, relationless, or grandly 
independent, for a word no less than a person is a part of its 
environment, of its entourage, so that, as often as not, the newly- 
formed word, or the striking metaphor, or the lively simile 
presents itself as part of a phrase or even as a whole phrase, 2 
Nevertheless, these changes of sense which sometimes lead to 
a change in the basic meaning of a word belong to the living 
organism and to the dynamics of semantic study. The more 
alert a nation's culture, the more lively a person's sensitiveness 
to shades of meaning, the greater the number of angles, for 
instance, a fire gives light, produces heat, and also it destroys 
from which an object or an idea can be reviewed, the more tangible 
a thing or fluid the conception of anything whatsoever ; the 
more likely, indeed the more obliged, are we to understand the 
old words in new senses. The uncertainty of a meaning renders 
deviations from it the more probable. Where, too, there is such 
potential or actual change, there is a continual, though rarely 
a continuous "slipping of the dominant note/' as Professor 

1 English Prose, p. 63. 

2 This paraphrases, rather freely I admit, a passage in Dauzat, op. cit. 


Carnoy phrases it. From the mere superior durability of the 
accepted vocabulary, which, after all, contains thousands of 
words that once were slang, it would be very much easier to 
illustrate this gliding and this " general post " of linked sense 
from standard language (classique in French, Romantic in English 
are wonderful examples) than from slang, the best of which is 
always " commandeered " by its elder brother ; but the 
" unrecognized " senses of funny are to the point. (None of your 
funny tricks !, He looks very funny, I'll funny you /, He's the 
funny man of the show, where the correct words would be " dis- 
honest ", "ill" or "drunk", "teach not to play jokes", 
" comic " -funny man being the comedian or, in a circus, the 

A particularly interesting section of sense-changes is that in 
which vivid old slang, dulled to complete respectability by 
incorporation in the " official " vocabulary or dismissed among 
the obsoletes, is refurbished, its colour being renewed by 
branchings-off that are genuine creations. In the following 
passage English slang is nicely mixed with American. " Stop 
crowing" as McKnight observed, " becomes come off the perch ; 
in the face of the wind becomes in the teeth of the wind ; keep 
your eyes open becomes keep your eyes peeled [or skinned] ; 
numskull becomes bonehead ; tell the world becomes inform the 
pleiades ; give a boy the mitten becomes jipp a boy ; hot air 
becomes baked wind ; camel cigarettes become humps ; bluffer 
becomes four-flusher ; take the cake becomes take the Huntley 
and Palmer. ... In a number of instances thg^ jfreshening; 


GxpTe^sedJsy^break_non f which in turn has been 


succeeded by butt in, which in turnlias yielded in part to horn in. 
The successive names applied to the ' man of fashion ' run in 
chronological sequence somewhat as follows : trig blood 
macaroni buck incroyable dandy dude swell t off. ' ' The idea 
assumes new, oft-changing shapes and evokes new words of a 
sense changed much or little as the case may be. The idea 
wanders, as it were, from word to word and from one metaphor 
to another : sometimes the last, or even an intermediate sense 
becomes unrecognizably different from the first. Slang, more 
than accepted speech, here as elsewhere displays a most elusive 

The value of many of these creations is often destroyed, 
frequently lessened by the too obvious intent to surprise, to 
astonish, or perhaps to shock ; grotesque perversions of form 
and ludicrous twistings of meaning are the result of that intent, 
and they form a considerable proportion of the sum total of 
slang words. This is a pity, for it is only in the limbo and law- 
lessness of slang that word-invention finds unhampered liberty : 


it is a moot point whether that outlawry would not yield better 
results for the compulsion of a little restraint. Only a little 
better for since, in educated English, words and phrases and 
syntax are judged, not by their vitality or their expressiveness 
(this is much less true of American than of English), but by their 
conformity to " standard ", grammar tends to stagnation, the 
adoption of new words and fresh shades of sense is frowned 
upon, and, in short, the creative impulse is only too generally 
and only too frequently stifled. 

Metaphors, by which we understand the " application of 
name or descriptive term to an object to which it is not literally 
applicable/' spring from a lively fancy and furnish much of 
the life-blood of all language. In slang, they are particularly 
vital and (often startlingly, almost ridiculously) vivid. The 
domain of metaphor, 1 comprising the spiritual, mental, and the 
physical, Nature and human nature, the dead and the " live ", 
the actual and the possible, is, for all practical purposes, limitless 
and unlimited: it draws its examples from every sphere and 
phase of human and animal activity; from our knowledge of 
the inanimate, and from the imagination : every social activity 
supplies a multitude of felicitously accessible combinations and 
permutations ; every vocation gives concreteness if desired. 
Thejiietaphor is the most important factorji^^ 
Ifg^^ force and 

exaggeration, Mr. G. K. Chesterton, in one of the best essays in 
The Defendant, 1901, has said that " the one stream of poetry 
which is constantly flowing is slang. Every day some nameless 
poet weaves some fairy tracery of popular language ... All 
slang is metaphor, and all metaphor is poetry. . . . The world 
of slang is a kind of topsy-turvydom of poetry, full of blue moons 
and white elephants, of men losing their heads, and men whose 
tongues run away with them a whole chaos of fairy tales ". 
A very few examples additional to those so skilfully inwoven into 
that last sentence of Mr. Chesterton's will suffice ; they are all 
from soldiers' slang current in the Great War, some surviving : 
angel (or angel-face), a boyish-looking officer; bag of rations, a 
fussy person ; bantams, men belonging to battalions composed 
of men between 5 ft. i in. and 5 ft. 4 in. in height, this term 
became official ; birdliy^ ; 

joFEthe Base, 
lice. , 


Metonymy likewise accounts for much of the better kind of 
slang, but by its very nature the expression of the effect by the 
cause, the abstract by the concrete, the thing itself by an attribute 
it is at once less graphic and more subtle, therefore not quite 

1 A much developed paraphrase of para. 1 on p. 367 of Saine'an's op. cit. 
* Dauzat, op. cit. 


so popular with slangsters. Chink, money, and clink, gaol, are 
good examples ; it is to be admitted that they have affiliations 
with echoic slang, yet onomatopoeia implies attribute. Perhaps 
better examples are pie in the sky for paradise ; drop, the modem 
gallows ; say it with flowers. Akin is synecdoche, the figure 
whereby the part serves to designate the whole, or, vice versa, 
the whole designates a part, the latter as in Aussie pinched the 
bleedin' Ashes in 1934 (the Australian cricket team won the 
series of test matches played in 1934), and the former as in he lost 
the number of his mess (he lost his mess, hence his supplies of food, 
hence his life). 

- Very closely related to metaphor, metonymy, and synecdoche 
is figurativeness, the device whereby slang " replaces a common 
word by a figurative expression or by some word that is well 
known as a synonym (or a partial synonym) for the first, but 
in another sense ", as defined by Greenough and Kittredge, who 
instance cheek for face, impudence ; brass for effrontery, sky-pilot 
for preacher, bracelets for darbies envisaged as handcuffs, pickers 
and stealers for hands. Analogous is the process of extension, by 
which a specialized meaning becomes generalized; a technical 
sense, non-technical ; a dialect term, known to all. The 
philosophy of extension I leave it in French and give it in 
italics so that it can be skipped the more easily has been 
admirably conveyed by Carnoy, who suggests that extension is 
due mainly to I'insuffisance du langage par rapport a la pensee . . . 
Le nombre des experiences apercms s'accroit bien plus rapidement 
que ne peut le faire le vocabulaire, d'autant plus que le travail de 
differenciation n'est so^ivent pas assez actif pour faire apparaitre 
des I'abord, avec une nettett suffisante, les caract&res permettant de 
transformer en concepts durables des aperceptions nouvelles, differant 
peu des anciennes. Chaque fois done, on voit s'appliquer a ces cas 
nouveaux les mots dont le sens se rapproche le plus de ce genre 
d'idees. II est a noter que meme chez celui qui poss&de un vocabulaire 
etendu, le nombre des notions a denommer depasse toujours les dis- 
ponibilites en mots, et que, du reste, soit par defaut de memoir e, soit 
par pur negligence de pensee, on omettrafrequemment de recourir au 
mot propre pour utiliser quelque terme plus ordinaire, se presentant 
plus naturellement a I 'esprit et suffisant a circonscrire Videe dans 
V occurrence. Examples are bawbee, a half-penny ; char, work 
of any kind; lift (from shop-lift), to steal; huckster, a sharp 
fellow ; step on the gas, to hustle. Slang likes also to elaborate 
a single word or a short phrase ; bobby-dazzler for dazzler, some- 
body or something dazzling ; as cross as a bear with a sore head 
for as cross as a bear ; fan with a slipper for to fan (to spank). 
The process opposite to those of extension and elaboration 
is that of restriction, to which overlapping is a first cousin, 
curtailing and phrase-composition (or telescoping) are second 


cousins, and deformation is sometimes a distant cousin. Restric- 
tion is of two kinds : specialization 1 and ellipsis. The former 
is the particularization of the (more) general, as in cackle, to tell 
a secret, clout a handkerchief, heave, to rob, jolly, to tease, nob, 
the head. Ellipsis, though more interesting, is not quite so 
easy to illustrate, but as good an example as any is theirs, which, 
in the slang of the British soldier in 1914-18, meant That is theirs, 
short for That is their shell, allusive for That is the enemy's shell 
(that has burst) ; the French used arrivee for theirs, depart for 
ours. Yet the process is so important that Dauzat must be 
quoted. U ellipse est, he says, parmi les instruments qui proc&dent 
au renouvellement du langage, la grande emondeuse qui ampute les 
vegetations trop luxuriantes, qui taille, rogne et alUge la parole, 
en lui rendant a chaque pas la concision nerveuse qu'elle risque 
de perdre, en condensant dans un ou deux mots toute la fiens&e 
eparse a travers une locution. Tous les organes de la phrase, quelle 
que soit leur position, risquent d'etre fauches dans cette oeuvre 
depuration salutaire. 

In the world of meanings and especially in the region of shades 
of meaning, there is much overlapping, for such words as have 
certain senses in common tend to be used indifferently the one 
for the other. This overlapping two words for one meaning 
arises either from the appearance of new words or from the 
effacement and subsequent destruction of verbal nuances. The 
resulting rivalry between the now competitive, because 
synonymous, words acts in one of two ways : it causes the less 
vital twin to die off untrumpeted or it sets up a differentiation 
in the sense of the rivals. For instance, the slang word for head 
has long been nob ; in the nineteenth century, nut was introduced 
as a synonym ; then filbert was occasionally substituted for nut ; 
later, owing to nut being used to mean a swell or dude or toff, 
we hear of 


The filbert, 

Colonel of the nuts, 

and, soon after the War, except for being deliberately resuscitated 
by an educated slangster as a synonym for toff, it disappeared 

Slang delights to curtail (clip, abbreviate, shorten) words, 
as in monk for monkey, loony for lunatic, 'flu for influenza, biz 
for business, 'varsity for university, vert for convert or pervert. 

1 Carney's " philosophizing " always deserves more than a footnote, but here 
a note must suffice : une signification trop large est exposee a des restrictions, 
Celles-ci se produisent tout naturettement par Vemploi repute d'un mot dans des 
circonstances assez semllables. Beaucoup d' aspects occasionnels qui ne faisaient 
pas partie du sens se reproduisent de la sorte et en arrivent a tire associes avec 
I idee principale. Elles Vencombrent alors et ne lui permettent plus de s'appliquer 
aux parties de son ancien domaine, oft ces connotations ne se rencontrent plus. 


Many such clippings have passed into standard English, as with 
cab for cabriolet, 'bus for omnibus (itself originally slang). 1 In 
the stimulating and exceedingly reliable Dictionary of Modern 
English Usage, Mr. H. W. Fowler, before giving a very useful 
list, pointedly notes that some curtailed words, while they do 
not wholly replace the originals, make them seem pedantic, as 
in viva for viva voce. Phrase-composition is of two kinds, of 
which one is seen in such words as nincompoop (non compos 
mentis), carouse (gar aus !), and hoax (hocus pocus), which, 
slang in the eighteenth century, were colloquial until about 
1890, and have since attained to the dignity of standard English, 
and the other in chevy or chiv(v)y (Chevy Chase), jingo (by jingo !). 
Deformation is the adding of a suffix presumed to disguise the 
original and is much more common in children's and student's 
slang than in ordinary slang. 

Allied, though with a humorous instead of an anti-social 
purpose, is the playing on words, usually in the form of puns 
unashamed. (Foote, the playwright's anti-queer-uns for 
antiquarians, and the East London pre-war drinketite, thirst, 
following bite-etite, appetite.) Like folk-etymology, it sometimes 
changes the form of the words, but while punning is usually 
the conscious (even the conscientious) amusement of partly or 
wholly cultured persons, folk-etymology is the result of the 
unconscious operations of the ignorant, not necessarily the stupid. 
Of genuine playing on words as distinguished from mere punning, 
the American canned music, for that produced by mechanical 
means, is a fairly good example ; dead above the ears, American 
for brainless, is a better. Definitely, though often more 
factitiously humorous, also, is the macaronic phrase in which 
the foreign element in slang, at least is rarely other than 
French : twiggy-vous the chose (do you twig it ?) and ah, que je 
can be bete ! (Oh, how stupid I can be !) are pre-War instances, 
and the well-nigh classic Madame, Madame ! dulay promenade 
(Oh, missus, the cow's got loose) a War instance. 

Far from humorous is one aspect of some kinds of slang, the 
slang of the various trades and professions. (We do not mean 
professional jargons, 2 collections of technical words that, never 
or rarely passing beyond the group, are freely used within the 
group.) In most of these cases there are a few words employed 
less to be novel or funny than to be secret. Every group or 
association, from a pair of lovers to a secret society however 
large, feels, at some time or other, the need to defend itself 
against outsiders, and therefore creates a slang designed to conceal 
its thoughts : and the greater the need for secrecy, the more 
extensive and complete is the slang : V argot est essentiellement 

1 The examples are taken from Greenough and Kittredge. 

2 See above, in the paragraph on slang, lingo, argot, jargon, and flash. 


une arme dans la lutte pour la me du groupe qui le parle, et il est 
construe par un langage special qui nait ou qui reste intentionnelle- 
ment secret. 1 This applies, with any force, only to the slang of 
criminals and lawless vagabonds, although lovers and children 
and young people often devise a system of " camouflaging " 
their speech, either by inventing a short and artificial vocabulary 
or by using deformatory prefixes and suffixes or even additional 
syllables or letters repetitively intercalated in the body of the 
words. Such deforming and grafting are, however, comparatively 
rare among criminals, who rely chiefly on " secret " words for 
all words that are significant nouns, verbs, and revelatory 
adjectives : they do not bother themselves with puerile disguisings 
of a, the, of, for, at, when, if, etc. Theoretically, such 
vocabularies are changed whenever it is suspected that they have 
become too generally known, but in practice one changes only 
the actual words that are known to be no longer secret. 

Groups, whether criminal, merely disreputable, or normal, 
whether minors or adults, occasionally use catch-words or -phrases 
in a special sense of which they alone are aware, but all the ordinary 
catch-words and repeated phrases originate with some group 
before gaining the approval of other, often far-removed groups. 
Our nice and wonderful were, in the eighteenth century, elegant 
and, in the seventeenth, fair. The phrases are even more 
exasperating : Have a banana ! ; So is your old man ; Ginger, 
you're barmy ; What do you know about that ? ; How's your 
poor feet ? ; Get your, hair cut I ; Rave a heart ! ; The answer is 
a lemon ; This is the life ! For some strange reason these phrases 
("blank checks of intellectual bankruptcy/' Oliver Wendell 
Holmes calls them), like tunes one hears the dogs howling at, 
catch the public's fancy and are repeated until they produce 
nervous prostration in the less imitative. " Here is a kind of 
shorthand language which enables the group to express and to 
realize its experiences without elaborate analysis/' the too facile 
responses to a familiar situation or occurrence. 

Such repetition implies exaggeration, but the usual exaggera- 
tion is that known technically as hyperbole. Violent terms, so 
common in slang, require less imagination and less delicacy of 
perception and taste than do the adequate and sober expressions 
and the carefully wrought figures of literary style. Being thus 
within the reach of all, violence is frequently abused, especially 
in the choice of adjectives and adverbs. We all have noticed 
and used terrible, terribly, awful, awfully, horrible, horribly in 
the most careless and illegitimate manner, and we begin to 
suspect how indefensible they axe when we realize that even 
now, after at least forty years of currently colloquial use, these 

1 Niceforo, op. cit. Niceforo is suggestive and stimulating, but he overdoes 
the role of secrecy in non-criminal slang. 


terms are still regarded as slang. A little known story 1 will 
illustrate one of the dangers of such indiscriminate intensives, 
A connoisseur of wine, entertaining some friends, was expatiating 
on the merits of various vintages. " This," he said, " is delicious, 
this one is exquisite, and this other marvellous." Coming to a 
fourth, " this time, gentlemen, we have well, this is a good 
wine." The opposite of hyperbole is understatement, which 
one rarely finds in slang : examples 2 are whistle for a flute and 
kiss the eye-teeth (an Americanism) for hit in the mouth. 

Slang is also noted for its artistic possibilities and for the 
abundance of its synonyms. The artistic potentialities have 
been fully realized in Britain only by The Pink Un, but America 
has had at least four masters of its use for literature : Artemus 
Ward, O. Henry, George Ade, and Walter Winchell. 

The primary necessities of life, the commonest actions and 
functions, the most useful objects, the most useful or the most 
secret parts of the body, the most frequently occurring adjectives 
these have a veritable synonymy of their own in cant, in 
slang, and in colloquialism. And in a general way it may be said 
firstly that the strength of the original word or idea determines 
the number and the success of the slang synonyms and secondly 
that theJ^ss--lLjcepiita]^ 

synonyms : thus to drink, & drmKT^d drunk have given rise to 
rartnofe synonyms than have to eat, edibles, and over-eating ; 
to run away far more than to run ; to go stealthily away than to 
go away ; stomach than face ; good and bad than e.g. narrow, and 
bad more than good. In the three most copious bodies of slang 
the French, the English, and the American the relevant 
synonyms are no less picturesque than they are numerous. There 
are, in fact, thematic (sometimes called semantic) series 3 that 
repay study, for they represent the responses and the ideas of 
men and women to the basic facts and the most ordinary things. 
Squeamishness is responsible for many of these; unconscious 
or deliberate virtuosity for more. 

In English, the ideas most fertile in synonyms are those of 
drinking, drunkenness, money, and the sexual organs and act. 
Hotten lists 130 for His Majesty's coin, collectively or separately, 
and notes that next in fertility comes drink, " from small beer 
to champagne," and then " intoxication and fuddlement generally, 
with some half a hundred vulgar [i.e. slang] terms." In the 1874 
edition of Hotten's Slang Dictionary we find the following 
illuminating account of the intoxication terms current at that 

1 Adapted from the invaluable M. Carnoy. 

* From Me Knight ; see above, at the section on depreciative irony, for other 

3 These series, if extended to include parallelisms and analogies, would become 
very imposing indeed. 


date and note that nearly half x of them are still, some much, 
others occasionally used. ' ' The slang synonyms for mild intoxica- 
tion are certainly very choice, they are 'beery', 'bemused', 
'boozy', 'bosky', ' buffy ', 'corned', 'elevated', * foggy ', 
' fou ', ' fresh ', ' hazy ', ' kisky ', ' lushy ', ' moony ', ' muggy ', 
'muzzy', 'on', 'screwed', 'stewed', 'tight', and ' winey.' 
A higher or more intensive state of beastliness is represented 
by the expressions, ' podgy/ ' be-argered,' ' blued,' ' cut/ 
' primed/ ' lumpy/ ' ploughed/ ' muddled/ ' obfuscated/ 
'swipey/ 'three sheets in the wind/ and 'top-heavy/ But 
the climax of befuddlement is attained only when the ' disguised ' 
individual ' can't see a hole in a ladder ', or when he is all ' mops 
and brooms ', or ' off his nut ', or with his ' main-brace well- 
spliced ', or with the ' sun in his eyes ', or when he has ' lapped 
the gutter ', and got the ' gravel rash ', or is on the ' ran-tan ', 
or on the " ree-raw ', or when ' sewed up ', and regularly 
' scammered/ then, and not till then is he entitled, in vulgar 
society, to the title of ' lushington ', or recommended to ' put in 
the pin ', i.e. the linch-pin, to keep his legs steady." But a 
glance at Farmer and Henley's Slang and its Analogues will 
show that the tabooed words run those others very close ; because 
of the need for euphemism or the desire to invest them with a 
different complexion by means of using some other word, these 
taboos naturally result in synonyms more ingenious and, at the 
least, equally picturesque. As Niceforo, with an easily discount- 
able exaggeration, has said : lorsqu'on peut appeler un objet par 
son veritable nom clair, ce nom . . . se cristallise et ne produit 
pas de doublets ; mais si on est oblige de trouver differ entes f aeons 
indirectes, euphemiques et metaphoriques de remplacer la parole 
interdite, les doublets jaillisent de tous cdtes et se multiplient ; Us 
font meme quelquefois oublier le nom interdit, le nom clair, writable, 
ordinaire, de la chose. 

That the subject need not be disagreeable or indelicate 
may, however, be seen from the two facts that the American 
underworld, which comes very rarely into contact with clerics, 
has at least seven synonyms for a clergyman or a priest : 
Bible ranter, fire-escape, Galway, 'hallelujah-peddler, heaven- 
readier, holy roller, and mission squawker, and that in England 
in 1796 there were at least these others, for the same (actually, 
for the clergyman only) : amen-curler (cf . the Regular Army's 

amen-wallah), autem bowler, b ks,, black fly, body of divinity, 

cushion-duster or -thumper, devil-catcher, finger-post, glue-pot, 
Jack at a pinch, Levite, mess-john, one in ten, patrico, postillion, 
prunella, pudding-sleeves, puzzle-text, shod all round, Sir John, 
snub-devil, soul-doctor, spiritual flesh-broker, spoil-pudding, tickle- 
text, tub-thumper, turnpike man, ungrateful man, wet parson. 

1 Including those which have more or less changed in sense and application. 


With this selected list, compare the following terms for a lawyer, 
solicitor, attorney, barrister : Black box, green bag, jet, latitat, 
limb of the law, Newgate solicitor, pettifogger and son of prattle- 
ment, puzzle-cause and split-cause, six and eightpence (all current 
in the eighteenth century ; the fifth, seventh, and last in the 
nineteenth) ; other nineteenth century terms are landshark, 
mouthpiece, qui tarn, snipe, sublime rascal and, in India, vakeel ; 
the Americans also have mouthpiece, to which they add the 
equally significant fixer, springer and lip. 

At this point we may note a very different characteristic of 
slang : that of the difficulty in assigning a correct etymology 
to so many of its units, for slang, usually indirect, depends upon 
metaphor and allusion (often very far-fetched) and irresponsible 
mutilation. The metaphors and allusions are generally connected 
with some temporary phase, some ephemeral vogue, some 
unimportant incident ; if the origin is not nailed down at the 
time, it is rarely recoverable. As Greenough and Kittredge so 
sagely observe, " slang delights in fantastic coinages and in 
grotesque combinations or distortions of existing words. When 
a whimsicality of this kind establishes itself as a permanent 
colloquialism, or gets into the accepted vocabulary, the 
etymologist has a hard nut to crack ... If the word is at all 
old, its history is likely to be obscure, for slang seldom gets 
into print [or, more specifically and importantly, into a good 
dictionary] until it has been in circulation for some time." And 
Professor Weekley has, after much experience, affirmed that 
" phonetic laws have no control over argotic formations ". The 
following words still present more or less unsolved etymological 
puzzles : sham, 1 banter, bamboozle, doggerel, Cockney, Yankee, 
tizzy (sixpence), all of which were originally slang, the last still 
is. One of the linguistic processes that make these and analogous 
etymologies very difficult to establish is " popular or folk 
etymology ", whereby an isolated word is attached with the 
help of a distortion small or great to another word, better 
known, and of an approximately similar form though perhaps a 
quite different meaning. The same problem is present in the 
slang and colloquial words drawn from, or appearing to be drawn 
from, the familiar Christian names, especially from William, 
Thomas, Robert and, above all, John. A good example is upon 
my sam, which has nothing to do with Samuel and is probably 
" a shortened form of Salmon, i.e., Salomon or Solomon, described 
in early works on slang as the ' beggars' oath V 2 Even surnames 
become slang : muggins and juggins were surnames for hundreds 
of years before they passed into slang. Muggins, the older of the 
two, was perhaps chosen as allusive to mug, in the sense of simpleton, 
while "juggins was a riming variation of the same theme/' 3 

1 Perhaps ex shame. 2 Weeklev, Words and Names, 1932. 3 Ibid. 


Some of these words, whether baptismal or surnominal, are 
diminutives, on which subject the two American professors that 
I have so often quoted offer a very pertinent passage. " A kind 
of slang," they write, " occurs in various languages which has 
great influence on common speech. The tendency to use 
diminutives for the names of familiar objects or customary tools 
has often been remarked, and there are diminutives in Greek, 
Latin, and other languages which must have had this origin. 
English examples are jimmy (jemmy] and betty for burglars' tools, 
jack (as in bootjack), a spinning jenny, billy for a ' club ', or (in 
Australia) for a ' bushman's kettle/ . . . Here may be mentioned 
such jocose names as ... Jeames for 'footman'; 'Arry for 
' a London rough ' ; ... Biddy for an ' Irish maidservant '. . . 
The use of ' his ' with familiar words, as ' he knew his Homer 
from beginning to end ', is purified slang . . ., and it is common 
to use little of anything familiar, in a kind of baby-talk, prompted 
by the same feeling. ... In some languages, as the Lithuanian, 
almost any noun may thus take a diminutive form, in other 
words, this kind of slang has become the ordinary speech." 

Such diminutives and nicknames are often applied, originally 
as slang, to various nationalities : John Bull, Aussie, Yankee, 
Paddy, Sawney (Sandy), Taffy (David), and Dago. This last, 
a corruption of Spanish Diego (James), was at first applied to a 
Spaniard as type, Dekker in 1613 has " the Diego was a dapper 
fellow", and afterwards to a Portuguese, and then to an Italian 
as well. 1 All of these words, except perhaps Aussie, are now 
colloquial rather than slang, but only John Bull is admitted 
not always, either into literary English. 

1 Weekley : An Etymological Dictionary. 


In the preceding pages some scattered and desultory hints 
have been given of the essence of slang. It is now advisable to 
attempt (for with such a subject can one do more than attempt ?) 
to state the essentials of slang. 

Two writers have been particularly successful, Carnoy and 
Sechrist. " L 'argot" writes Professor Carnoy, " est constitue 
par un vocabulaire particulier dans lequel la fantaisie intentionnelle 
joue un rdle dominant. II tend a produire une sensation de 
nouveaute, d'imprevu t d'ingeniosite en donnant a certain mots un 
sens inusite et ' piquant '. Les precedes employes a atteindre 
a ce but sont analogues d ceux qui president en general a devolution 
du sens, ceux notamment qui produisent le langage ' image ', 
' expressif et ' affectif. Toutefois dans V argot, la part de la 
conscience est plus grande, et toujours se fait sentir un effort pour 
parler autrement que la fagon naturelle, pour etre drolatique, con- 
tourne ou ironique. U argot correspond a un etat d 3 esprit dedaigneux 
ou bon enfant qui ne prend pas trop au serieux les choses dont on 

Mr. Sechrist, in the long article already mentioned, deals 
with unconventional language in general, and with slang in 
particular. In the following synopsis of his views, I permit 
myself, where I have good reason so to do, to modify 1 his state- 
ments. " Slang/' he says, " ignores [nearly] all that belongs 
to the routine duties of ordinary life ; it does not [often] 
characterize the humdrum and commonplace. There is [com- 
paratively] little in the vocabulary to suggest naivete, innocence, 
and spontaneous playfulness. It is [almost] purely unsenti- 
mental. It castigates every kind of excess of sentiment or 
[though not always] sensual indulgence." It " deifies " money 
and the pleasures procurable with money ; it is hard on physical 
defects, stupidity, idealistic tendencies, and it exaggerates 
perfections as well as imperfections. " It prefers the abrupt and 
the shocking. It is superior to accepted use through its emotional 
force." It flays " the forms and the features of conventionalism ", 
as might, in certain directions at least, be expected for slang 
is " a spontaneous manifestation of unconscious processes ". 

1 But I show clearly where and how those modifications have been made ; 
in ^dotations, here<as elsewhere, I use square brackets to indicate the 

33 D 


" It makes light of suicide, hanging, and death ... In [its] 
attitude to death . . .[there] is an individualism of the most 
undaunted type . . . perhaps a pretence of indifference. . . . 
It may be an exaggerated philosophical attitude toward the 
inevitable." For suicide, it may be noted, slang has few terms, 
for death many, for hanging perhaps even more. Here are a few 
of the slang terms, of the last three centuries, for "to die " : 
cash in, check out, pass in one's checks, cock one's toes, go to grass, 
hop the twig, kick the bucket, lay down the knife and fork, pull a 
cluck, be rubbed out, sling one's hook, snuff it, turn up one's heels, 
wake on the other side. Characteristically eighteenth century 
are give the crow(s) a pudding and go out with a wooden habeas ; 
with the latter, which was said of a man dying in prison, 
it is instructive to compare the eighteenth to nineteenth 
century dialectal terms wooden breeks or cloak or dress or 
jump or sark or shute or singlet. Now, be rubbed out has 
been mentioned. This is a significant term, for it also means 
to have died, i.e., to be dead, for which the eighteenth 
century slang synonyms several still survive were be a dustman, 
be put to bed with a mattock and tucked up with a spade ; be in a 
ground sweat ; be in the grand secret, which is now, like to have 
joined the majority or left the minority, a colloquialism well on its 
way to acceptance by standard English ; be gone to Peg 
TrantuwCs ; be gone to kingdom come ; the very clever be gone 
to the Diet of Worms, and the much less clever begone to Ratisbonne 
(i.e., Rot-his-bone). Death has produced many evasions and 
euphemisms, which have a fascinating psychology of their own 
best read about in Frazer's Golden Bough at Tabooed Words ; 
briefly, in Niceforo's Genie de 1'Argot, at Le Langage de la Mort ; 
and in Hertz's Representations Collectives de la Mort, in that 
suggestive periodical, the Annee Sociologique (1907). 

A totally different aspect is touched in Sechrist's acute 
remark that " slang phrases often possess a greater wealth of 
association than others because they appeal to recent experiences 
rather than to dim memories ". This quality does not always 
so sweeten slang as to make it wholly acceptable. " The effect ot a 
well-constructed story in slang," that writer continues, " is not 
unpleasant. The reader . . . assumes an attitude of expecta- 
tion for the unexpected, and the striking things follow ... in 
kaleidoscopic succession . . . [But] the emotional tension 
produced by slang is greater than that of more customary and 
conventional language, and the mind in time seeks a relief from 
it/' This prompts the opinion that " our feeling-reactions to 
slang words may be due to the word as such, to the use it 
is put to, to the individual using it, to the thing tabooed to 
which it applies, or ... to the context in which the word is 
found ". 


In many ways " slang is radical. It looks to the present, puts 
off restraint, and does not concern ,tself with limits in speech ". 
Antaeus-like, it " keeps close to the objective world of things . . . 
It is the language of reality as common sense conceives it ". 
Moreover, " dang will often be clear, even though it must be 
distasteful ; it will be familiar, even though it must be coarse . . 
It is realistic, naturalistic, [all in all] unromantic. It produces 
the impression of [an almost] too great nearness . . . Slang 
imagery is [frequently] too intimate." 

AnthropomorphicaJly considered, slang "is the individual 
speaking from the racial stibstratum, while conventional language 
is the language of expediency, of social deference, and reverence 
for the past ". In certain respects, slang " is for depth of appeal ; 
it is individual and intimate, It is also unstable and temporary. 
But however fitful, irregular, and protean it maybe, the impulses 
that inform it are permanent ". 

Sechrist holds that slang, which he considers due to " the 
play impulse, to the desire for secrecy, for economy of effort, 
for accuracy and for reality'*, 1 is either artificial as in the 
" sparrow-languages " of children or in back and medial slang, 
or natural as when it reflects an environment ; the best natural 
slang, he adds, is that of " the home, and the privacy of a few 
friends in social intercourse ". 

There are, however, other aspects of slang : and it may be as 
well to draw brief attention to some few of these. If imitative 
of a higher order of society, slang is apt to be affected, insipid, 
inaccurate, and malapropistic ; if imitative of a lower, the sense 
is often weakened : but if it is free of social apery, it is usually 
spontaneous, although the initial impetus may come from abroad 
or, as generally happens, from a national or local incident (heroic, 
scandalous, ludicrous, or in some other way funny or arresting). 
The lower the social class in which a slang term originates, the 
more concrete and "immediate" it tends to be though all 
slang what5evcr-4^s--4a--be. objective. Among those who 
cannot speak good or, at the least, expressive English, slang 
may be a passe-partout, a short cut, or perhaps an indication of 
laziness ; among half-wits (morons is the technical word), it is 
usually vague and repetitive; among those who speak either 
vivid or merely direct and pertinent English, as among those 
who speak ordinary accepted English, it is generally composed 
of short words, neat turns of phrase easily comprehensible yet 
attractive, picturesque, arresting, or apposite. As employed 
by this third group slang " gets there " with notable economy or 
laughter-arousing connotation. It may, among the educated, 
be highly allusive ; among all, common-sensical in form, content, 
and purpose. 
1 Compare my reasons (in the first chapter of this part) for why slang is used. 


Slang, too, is racy of the national soil, saturated with the 
prejudices, vices, and virtues of a people or city or a country 
district, of a social or vocational environment (here it links up 
with proverbs and proverbial sayings), or it may be charged with 
the idiosyncrasies of a person normally, occasionally, for the 
nonce, " on the top of his form " ; much of the best wit, the 
most delectable humour is couched in slang, for slang offers no 
compulsion to think how the happy thought is phrased or, perhaps, 
tabloided into an expressive adjective, a second-sighted noun, 
an unravelling or illuminating verb. Yet slang is undoubtedly 
concerned quite as much with the presentation of the idea as 
with the idea itself, in the most graphic slang, indeed, the 
presentation is much more important than the idea (or at least 
the idea qua sense). 

Slang tends to be " Saxon " rather than " Latin " ; (except 
among the very cultured and the naturally supple) simple rather 
than insinuatory or concealed ; to reduce the peculiar and the 
particular (in which, nevertheless, it rejoices) to the level of the 
general comprehension ; to abridge rather than to develop or 
elaborate ; to omit the incidental and the contingent rather than 
to " pad " ; to render pictorial and metaphorical rather than to 
divest of colour ; yet except in humour and wit to divest 
of sentimental hyperbole and philosophical high-falutin' ; to 
take nothing too seriously, yet to imply very faintly imply 
a moral or an intellectual standard (usually on the level of good 
sense or, at the lowest, of common sense) ; to universalize rather 
than snobbishly to restrict to any one social class or even to any 
one nation ; " to refer itself to human nature rather than to 
Nature ; to dispel hypocrisy and humbug ; in short, to be 
catholic, tolerant, human, and, though often tartly, humane. 

Slang, inherent in human nature, is indicative not only of 
man's earthiness but of his indomitable spirit : it sets him in 
his due relation to other men, to Nature, and to the universe. 

From yet another angle, slang is much rather a spoken than 
a literary language. It originates, nearly always, in speech. 
To coin a term on the written page is almost inevitably to brand 
it as a neologism which will either be accepted or become a 
nonce-word (or -phrase) ; but, except in the rarest instances, 
that term will not be slang. 

The fact that slang is not a language but a rather neglected 
aspect and a beyond-the-law part of language has, so far, 
prevented English and American scholars from observing it 
closely or studying it seriously. 






It is probably safe to assume that at first there was speech, 
then speech formal and informal ; then formal, informal, and 
slangy ; finally, formal, informal, slangy, and canting. 

Slang, therefore, is almost as old as connected speech itself ; 
and, knowing the characteristics of urban life, we may assume 
that slang dates from the massing of population in cities. Since 
it represents a mainly spontaneous indication and manifestation 
of processes that are for the most part unconscious, and since 
the " human, all too human " impulse towards the unconventional 
has always existed (with the natural result that unconventionality 
in language would not lag far behind), slang must, in any country, 
have arisen almost as soon as there was a colloquial speech at all. 
" It is," writes Sechrist, 2 " a universal impulse which tends to 
manifest itself when a vernacular becomes crystallized in a 
literature and more especially when a literature becomes classic " : 
not that it waits for either of these lengthy processes to begin ! 

As Hotten 3 has remarked, "if we are to believe implicitly 
the saying of the wise man, that ' there is nothing new under 
the sun ', the ' bloods * of buried Ninevah, with their knotty 
and door-matty-looking beards, may have cracked slang jokes 
on the steps of Sennacherib's palace ; while the stocks and stones 
of ancient Egypt, and the bricks of venerable and used-up 
Babylon, may be covered with slang hieroglyphs, which, being 
perfectly unknown to modern antiquaries, have long been 
stumbling-blocks to the philologist." And as Charles Mackay 
suggested, "if we had correct and copious vocabularies of the 
slang of the Greeks, the Romans, and the Phoenicians . . ., 
what floods of light might be thrown for us on [their] inner life 
and manners." 4 

But I have not the erudition to discuss the slang element in 
Phoenician, Sanskrit, Chinese, or Aztec, and it is with childish 

1 This is precisely what it says : no more than the merest sketch. 

2 Op. cit. 

a A Short History of Slang in his Slang Dictionary ; whence all other quotations 
from him in this part. 

4 Blackwood's Magazine, May, 1888. 


satisfaction that I record my belief that there is very little to 
be known on these hazily distant subjects. With Classic slang, 
however, we are on rather surer ground, which holds much more 
of Latin than of Greek. 

The Homeric <t'Ao<r (dear), when used as a familiar and 
affectionate diminutive, may in certain instances have been 
originally slang. Solecism, o aoAot/acr/^oV, from the offensive 
corruption of the Attic dialect as spoken by the Athenian colonists 
at 27oAot, Soli, in Cilicia, a province of Asia^ Minor, was almost 
certainly slang at first, as was the adjective aoAot/cos, given to the 
use of barbarous speech, i.e., of solecisms. Indeed, the offence 
so smelt to the Athenian heaven that there were at least two 
other derivatives, aoAowaorifc, a notoriously incorrect speaker, 
and <roAoiAav, to speak badly, and one could even say </><*>vfj 
SKv6iKfi aoXoiKi&iv, to speak wretched Scythian. With solecism 
we may compare the Stratford French of Chaucer's Prioress, who 
knew not Parisian French, and the obsolete French of Norfolk for 
tiie Norfolk dialect. Probably slang in origin were IV $ /c6>a*:a<, 
go to blazes (literally, to the crows), Swxp/xxyeiv^, may you bust, 
and Theocritus's " All safe inside, as the bridegroom said when 
he shut himself in with the bride ". If sardonic derives from 
oupSoVtov, that plant of Sardinia (ap8a>) which, so it was 
reputed, caused the eater to pucker up his face, then aapSoVtoy 
(ye'Acura) ycAav, to laugh a bitter (laugh), to laugh bitterly, was 
authentic slang. 1 Perhaps the most slangy of all accepted 
authors is the great comic writer, Aristophanes, as even one play 
will show. In The Frogs, patient Xanthias tells pompous 
Dionysus that he's afraid the latter is cracked. Dionysus himself 
speaks of grit, and Heracles, of poetry containing the grit that 
gives poets " heart to risk bold things ", admits that it's devilish 
tricky. 2 In the extant plays of this ribald jester and very 
colloquially spoken satirist, there are many slangy words and 
phrases, some of which would " land " the present writer where 
Aristophanes ran no risk, on moral grounds at least, of going. 

In Latin literature there are numerous slang words and 
phrases in dramatists like Plautus, poetical satirists like Horace 
and Juvenal, and fashionable writers like Petronius. The last, 
arbiter elegantiarum to Nero, introduced into Trimalchio's Dinner 
many of the choicest slang terms of the Roman smart set : the 
setting was apt, being that of a Christmas dinner-party. As 
Professor Mackail has observed, "it is full of solecisms and 
popular slang ; and where the scene lies ... in the semi-Greek 
seaports of southern Italy, it passes into what is almost a dialect 

1 These examples axe drawn from Greenough and Kittredge's invaluable 
book (I have elaborated their remarks) and from my friend Mr. J, H. Mozley, 
lecturer in Classics in the University of London, who has been most helpful. 

* Gilbert Murray's translation. 


of its own, the lingua franca of the Mediterranean under the 
Empire, a dialect of mixed Latin and Greek." 1 

The more civilized became the Roman Empire, the more 
general became the use of slang : but this holds of every European 
country, as indeed it does of North America, Australia, New 
Zealand, South Africa, and British India. In the time of Marcus 
Aurelius, says Walter Pater, in his strange and beautiful novel, 
Marius the Epicurean, "while the learned dialect was yearly 
becoming more and more barbarously pedantic, the colloquial 
idiom, on the other hand, offered a thousand chance-tost gems of 
racy or picturesque expression, rejected or ungathered by what 
claimed to be classical Latin." Of this passage George H. 
McKnight 2 pertinently says it is nevertheless clear that classical 
Latin had, at an earlier stage, seized upon some of those racy 
expressions, for reputable English words are taken direct from 
a Latin that, before its acceptance by the literary language, was 
quite obviously slang. " It has more than once 3 been pointed 
out/' this American professor reminds us, " that recalcitrant 
in its origin was equivalent to modern ' kicker ', apprehend to 
' catch on *, assault and insult to ' jump on ', impose to ' put 
over on ', excoriate to ' take the hide off '. In the same way 
polite, in its origin, was equivalent to ' smooth ' [or ' such a little 
gentleman ! '], diatribe to 'rub in' ; fool [literally, 'bellows'], to 
' wind bag ' or ' blow hard J , effrontery to ' face ' or ' cheek ', 
interrupt to ' break in on ', perplexed to "* balled up * [Anglice, 
'tied in a knot'], precocious (literally, 'early ripe') to 'half- 
baked ', delirious (literally, ' out of the furrow ') to ' off one's 
trolley ' [Anglice, ' off one's rocker '], supercilious to * high brow ', 
depraved to ' crooked ' [or ' crook ']." 

There are instances in which we are almost surer of our 
ground. One of the most famous of all Latin slang words is 
testa, & favourite among the soldiers of the late Empire ; literally 
a brick, later a- pot, it first found its way into literature in the 
Epigrams of the fourth century poet, Magnus Ausonius, who has 
testa hominis, nudum iam cute calvitium, " (the) man's head already 
bald on the top." It is thus closely analogous to the English 
slang nut, conk (properly conch), and block. Equally famous 
and likewise due to the soldiery are paganus (pagan) and salariiun 
(salary), and from the same source comes the less famous vasa 
colligere, to gather up the pots and pans, hence to pack up, hence 
to break camp, so used later in Classical Latin by Cicero and Livy, 
while Caesar, the greatest military writer of all antiquity, has 

1 Latin Literature it is one of the masterpieces of criticism 6th impression, 

* English Words and their Background, 1923, a very useful and readable 

3 Especially by Greenough and Kittredge, op. cit. 


vasa conclamare?- to give the signal for packing up. Salarium, 
besides other things, meant salt-money, the soldier's allowance 
for the purchase of salt (sal), and this sense was soon extended 
to his wage, latex in post-Augustan times to salaries in general : 
"compare our colloquial 'earn his salt' and '^m-money '." 2 
Paganus from pagus, the country or a country district, was used 
by the Roman soldier to signify yokel, by way of contempt for a 
civilian (compare Kipling's lousy civilian and^the 1914-18 military 
slang civ(v)y) or for an incompetent soldier, " and, when the early 
church adopted miles (Christi) in the figurative sense of soldier 
(of Christ), paganus was also taken over from colloquial Latin, 
as its natural opposite, to connote one who was not a good soldier 
of Christ/' 3 The locus classtcus on the etymology is that in the 
historian Paulus Orosius (early fifth century) : ex locorum 
agrestium compitis et pagis pagani vocanlur, they are called 
pagans from the cross-roads and districts of the rural areas. 
Our dignified chivalry comes, through the French, from the 
Roman soldier's slang name for his horse, caballus. 

The religious association of paganus is particularly interesting, 
because it has been pointed out * that much Latin phraseology 
as used by the early Christians is nothing but the slang of those 
humble classes who, almost exclusively, made up the quiet 
Christian communities in Rome. Among the words cited as 
being the terms of particular trades and occupations transferred 
to the life of a Christian community are opus, opercdio, applied 
to an act of faith ; eradicatio ; cedificatio ; figulatio, not only 
of potter's work, but of the creation of mankind (cf. the Potter ; 
God) ; pascua ; piscina ; piscicuti, of persons newly baptized. 
When St. Augustine employed ossum, the " town slang " for os, 5 
a bone, that great writer who dedicated to religion what he 
might so notably have given to literature remarked : " Better 
that grammarians blame me than that the people fail to under- 
stand me/' Ossum was Low or Vulgar Latin, as were the other 
words mentioned in this paragraph. Low Latin (obviously !) 
is not slang, but it becomes slang when transferred to other 
uses, as these lowly Christians transferred it ; it also becomes 
slang when it is used as St. Augustine employed it, its very self- 
consciousness made it such. 

Other notable Latin slang words are quadrupes, a man trussed 
neck and heels (so as to look like a quadruped) ; umbra, an 

1 Of the greatest assistance, obviously, is Lewis and Short's Latin Dictionary, 
impression of 1927. 

2 Greenough and Kittredge. 

* Weekley's Etymological Dictionary, 

* J. Schrijnen : Charakteristik des altchristlichen Latein (fasc. 1 of the series 
Latinitas Christianonim Primaeva), pub. at Nymegen, 1932. I owe this to the 
kindness of Mr. J. H. Mozley. 

& Vulgar Latin disliked monosyllables. 


uninvited guest, as in Plautus and Horace ; improbus, also in 
Plautus, who applies it to two girls that are " bad lots " ; anim- 
advertere, to consider, also meant, as does the English attend to, 
to punish, a sense that found its way into Terence, Cicero, and 
Tacitus. Either slang or low colloquial were *- pellis, an animal's 
hide, for cutis, the human skin ; gamba, a hoof, for cms, a leg, 
as in French jambe and in English cant, gam(b) ; gula, the gullet, 
for os, the mouth ; gabata, a platter (as in Martial), for gena, the 
cheek ; manducare, to chew, for edere, to eat ; barbatus, the 
bearded one, for pater and avunculus (or patruus), father and 
uncle ; suculare, make a mess of, for maculare, to soil ; and 
parabolare, to tell fibs, for loqui, to speak. 

The Middle Ages are for us the dark ages. The history of 
European slang begins in the thirteenth century, when we find 
the word Rotwalsh, now Rotwelsch, the name for the slang of 
vagabonds. It is a significant fact that the earliest records, 
whether for Germany, France, or England, are of thieves', not 
of general slang. A glossary of Rotwelsch appeared about 
1490 ; some twenty years later we come on the famous Liber 
Vagatorum, in which Martin Luther had a hand 2 and which 
John Camden Hotten published in his own translation in 1859, 
as The Book of Vagabonds and Beggars ; the German sub-title 
was Der Betler Orden. " The most remarkable feature of the 
jargon represented in these early glossaries," remark the 
Encyclopaedia Britannica writers, " is the large number of 
Hebrew words that it contains. There are some words from 
Italian, as bregan, to beg, from pregare, and barlen, to speak, 
from parlare. The language of the gipsies seems to have con- 
tributed nothing, nor are there any words from Latin or Greek. 
Some of the words are ordinary German words used metaphoric- 
ally like wetterhan (weathercock) for hat, zwicker (twitcher) for 
the hangman, brief (letter) for a playing card. Others are 
descriptive compounds such as breitfuss (broad-foot) for a duck or 
goose, or derivatives formed by means of the suffixes -hart (or -art) 
and -ling. ..." 

In France, the earliest records of slang again it is cant 
occur 3 about the middle of the fifteenth century in the vocabulary 
of the Coquillards, Les Compagnons de la Coquille, and in some 
of the poems of Francois Villon, himself a Coquillard and a 
bohemian of the bohemians. These ballades, apart from a few 
words, remain a mystery. ' ' Paroir and Montjoye (for which latter 4 
the less ironical monte a regret was substituted) are nicknames 

1 All the following examples are taken from Carney's Science du Mot. 

* ]He wrote the preface to the 2nd edition, 1529. This vocabulary is sub- 
stantially that of the earlier book by Gerold Edilbach. 

8 Lazare Sain^an : Les Sources de F Argot ancien, two vols., 1912. 

4 See Geoffrey Atkinson's edition (the best in England) of Villon's Works, 


for the scaffold. Acottez, hanged, corresponds to the English 
[cant] scragged ; the synonymous gru seems to be an onomatopoeic 
formation suggestive of choking. There are some derivatives 
formed with the suffix -art : riflart is a police officer, abronart, 
fog. A few words from foreign languages occur : audi nos, 
prayer, is the Latin audi nos of the litanies ; arton, bread, is 
obviously Greek . . . Matter, to eat, may perhaps be the Latin, 
molar e> to grind. Ansa, the ear, is no doubt the Latin ansa, 
handle/' * This thieves' slang of Villon's is known as Jobelin, 
and it is worth noting that le jargon, cant, is found twice in the 
thirteenth century. 2 

There are early records of slang also in Italy and Spain : 
these, too, are of thieves' slang. 

1 Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2 Sain^an, op. cit. 


In England, too, the earliest documents are of thieves' slang, 
but in England the earliest vocabularies belong to the sixteenth 
century. The chief are Copland's The Hye Waye to the Spyttel 
House, somewhere between 1517 and 1537 ; John Awdeley the 
printer's Fraternitye of Vacabondes, 1561, and especially Thomas 
Harman's Caveat for Common Cursetours (i.e., vagabonds), 1566 
or 1567, with a fourth edition in 1573. This last was pillaged 
by Robert Greene and used by Nashe in the sixteenth century ; 
" borrowed " by Dekker, Samuel Rowlands, and Head in the 
seventeenth century, when dramatists like Brome, Jonson, 
and Middleton used him freely, much as eighteenth century 
writers drew on B.E. and nineteenth century novelists on 

Almost from the beginning of modern English we notice 
" this extraordinary tendency to degenerate into slang of every 
kind 'V a fact that becomes less alarming to purists if they 
remember that French, German, and American exhibit the same 
tendency : and this applies, though not quite so forcibly, to the 
other European languages. One of the earliest writers on our 
language indirectly touched on a very important aspect of this 
fondness for slang when, in his treatise On the Excellency of the 
English Tongue, written about 1595, Richard Carew 2 remarks 
on the richness in synonyms. " For example/' he says, " when we 
would bee rid of one, we use to saye bee going, trudge, pack, be faring, 
hence, awaye, shifte and by circumlocution, rather your roome 
than your companye, lett's see your backe, come again when I bid 
you, when you are called, sent for, intreated, willed, desiered, invited, 
spare us your place, another in your steade, a shippe of salt for you, 
save your credit, you are next the door, the door is open for you, 
there's noe bodye holdes you, no bodie tears your sleeve, etc/ 1 
Some of these terms are certainly slang. When, two centuries 
earlier, Chaucer 3 wrote There been mo sterres, god wot, than 
a paire, he suggests the modern English there's more than one 
pebble on the beach or the American there's more than one tin 
can in the alley, and the analogous set of proverbial sayings 

1 Is English Destined to Become the Universal Language ?, by W. Brackebusch, 
G6ttingen, 1868 ; as quoted by Mencken, pp. cit. 

2 As cited by the Encyclopaedia Britannica. 

3 Ibid. 


represented by there are as good fish in the sea as ever came 
out of it. 

In comparison with twentieth century slang, if we except 
that employed in 1914-18 by those sad dogs the sailors and those 
mad dogs the soldiers, old English slang, we see, " was coarser, 
and depended more upon downright vulgarity ... It was a 
jesting speech, or humorous indulgence for the thoughtless 
moment or the drunken hour/' as Hotten l says, " and it acted 
as a vent-peg for a piece of temper or irritability, but it did 
not interlard every description of conversation as now. It was 
[in the main] confined to nicknames and improper subjects and 
encroached but to a very [? very] small extent upon the domain 
of authorized speech. Indeed, it was [so far as we know] 
exceedingly limited when compared with the vast territory of 
slang in general favour and complete circulation at the present 
day. Still, although not an extensive institution, as in our time, 
slang certainly did exist in this country centuries ago, as we 
may see if we look down the page of any respectable History 
of England." 

As a link between Middle and Modern English, Chaucer may 
be chosen. In the Canterbury Tales, mine host says of an old 
poem, The Tale of Sir Thopas, that " This may well be rym 
dogerel ", i.e., doggerel in rhyme. The term doggerel is probably 
slang (Chaucer, it may be added, is the first to use it) and, though 
the case is unproven, the word perhaps 2 comes, like dog-Latin, 
from dog, which often has a pejorative meaning as in dog-cheap 
and dog-logic. 

Current, for the most part, in the fifteenth and sixteenth 
centuries, is the following synonymy for a miser, which McKnight, 
quoting that etymologizing bishop, Trench, selects as aptly 
illustrative of the richness of English before Shakespeare's plays : 
chinch, clutch-fist, gripe, huddle, hunks, kumbix, micher, nip-cheese, 
nip-farthing , nip-screed, penny-father, pinch-fist, pinch-penny, 
and snudge. On the sixteenth' century, the same American pro- 
fessor 3 has an excellent passage. "Native vigor/ 1 he writes, 
" was held less in check than in modern times by artificial 
considerations of propriety, The less critical attitude of that 
period, which recognized the pun as a legitimate figure of speech, 
tolerated other modes of expression which the more exacting 
standard of modern times excludes as cheap wit. In profanity, 
too, a form of speech akin in spirit to slang, the Elizabethan 
gallant was master of a variety richer than modern English can 
offer. The vigor of this form of speech was not confined to the 

1 Loc. cit. 

2 My cautious " perhaps " is due to Professor Weekley's erudite and well- 
argued derivation from Latin doga, a cask-stave. 

* G. H. McKnight, op. cit. 


cultivated speech of men, but was also a mark of caste among 
women, as we may infer from the admonition of Hotspur to his 
wife : 

Swear me, Kate, like a lady, as them art, 

A good mouth-filling oath ; and leave in sooth 

And such protests of pepper-gingerbread 

To velvet-guards and Sunday citizens. 

Henry IF, Part i, iii, 2." 

Passing by Copland's and Awdeley's glossaries of thieves' 
slang, the first dictionaries in our language of any kind of slang 
whatsoever, we arrive at honest Harman. The work of these 
three men, as of Greene in his Coney-Catching pamphlets, met 
with enthusiasm, and a fashionable affectation, like that led by 
Bulwer Lytton, Disraeli, and Ainsworth two and a half centuries 
later, caused many of these cant words to be incorporated in the 
fashionable slang, a fashion that lasted until the Civil War. 
Barman's Caveat or Warening falls into three parts : a list, 
with definitions, of the various kinds of thieves and vagabonds ; 
a short vocabulary ; and a cant dialogue, with translation. The 
undesirables are listed as Rufflers (beggars disguised as wounded 
soldiers), Upright Men (with feudal rights like those of the French 
aristocrats), Hookers or Anglers (thieves), Rogues and especially 
Wild Rogues (beggars), Pfiggers of Pmncers (horse-thieves), 
Palliards (those whose fathers were beggars born), Praters (with 
false documents), Abraham Men (the term survived into the 
nineteenth century), Freshwater Mariners, Counterfeit Cranks 
(crank = ill), Dommerars (the pretended dumb), Drunken Tinkers, 
Swadders or Pedlars, Demanders for Glymmar (i.e., light, fire), 
Patricos (strolling priests), Kinchen Coves ; and : among the 
women, Kinchen Morts (orphan girls being educated in thieving, 
cf, k. coves), Bawdy Baskets (who live mainly by stealing), Dells 
(buxom young wenches), Doxies (beggars' trulls). 

In the vocabulary we find the following words that have 
become general slang : nab, later nob, the^head ; duds, clothes ; 
boose, drink (noun and verb) ; stow you I later stow it /, hold your 
peace ; niggle, which Harman admirably defines as "to have 
to do with a woman carnally " ; make, a halfpenny ; cofe, later 
cove,^ with variant coe, a man, a fellow, a chap ; while prig, 
to ride, is but the cant form of to prick as used by Spenser at 
the beginning of The Faerie Queen, "A gentle Knight was 
pricking on the plaine," as found in Milton, and as revived by 
that^most felicitous of all word-resuscitators, Sir Walter Scott. 
The dialogue 1 is between a Rogue and an Upright Cove 
(or Upright Man) and it begins : 

Upright Man. " Bene lightmans to thy quarromes, in what libken hast 
thou libbed in this darkmans, whether in a libbage or in the strummel ? " 

1 I permit myself a few changes in the spelling, for in old cant it is extremely 

(Good morning to you [lit., light to your body]. In what house have you 
lain this night in bed or in straw ?) . . , , / T i 

Rogue. " I couched a hogshead in a skipper this darkmans. (I lay 
down to sleep in a barn last night.) 

U. Man. "I towre the strummel trine upon thy nab-cheat and 
togeman." (I see the straw hanging from your cap and coat.) 

Rogue. "I saye by the Salomon I will lage it of with a gage of bene 
bouse. Then cut to my nose watch." (I swear by the mass, I'll wash it 
off with a quart of good drink. Then say [what you like] to me !) 

And so it goes on, this curious thieves' slang : and only an 
expert can read it without wearing out the dictionary. 

Before passing to several writers that, both directly and 
indirectly, owed much to Copland, Awdeley, and, above all, 
Harman, it might be well to record two words of a less dubious 
origin. Cockney, one of the most debated words in any language, 
began as something to eat, became " spoilt child ", then " milk- 
sop ", and, by way of " pampered citizen ", it ended about 1600 
as " Londoner " : in the last two senses it was almost certainly 
slang. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, blackguard 
denoted collectively the scullions of a great house or the hangers-on 
of an army, and the word remained slang till the nineteenth 

Robert Greene, best known as a playwright and a contemner 
of the youthful Shakespeare, wrote pamphlets denouncing the 
sharks and tipsters of the London underworld, which, he regrets 
to say, he knows at first hand. In his Art of Coney -Catching 
(a coney is a " mug "), 1591, he gives " a table of the words of 
art used in the effecting these base villanies ", disclosing " the 
nature of every terme, being proper to none but the professors 
thereof ". First he lists " the eight lawes of villanie, leading 
the high waye to infamie ". 

1. High law, robbing by the highway side. 1 

2. Sacking law, lecherie* 

3. dieting law, play at false dice. ' * 

4. Cros-biting law, cosenage by whores. 

5. Coneycatching law, cosenage by cards. 

6. Versing law, cosenage by false gold. 

7. Figging law, cutting of purses, & picking of pockets, 

8. Barnards law, a drunken cosenage by cards. 

Greene proceeds to set forth the names 2 of the essential 
actors in each " law " or illegal practice. 

In High Law, 

The theefe is called a High Lawier. 

He that setteth the watch, a Scrippet. 

He that standeth to watch, an Oake. 

He that is rob'd, the Martin. 

When he yeeldeth, stouping. [Stouping, verbal noun.] 

1 For clarity, I increase the punctuation. 

* I regularize the spelling and capitalling and modernize the punctuation. 
Text used, that of the admirable Bodley Head Quarto edition by G. B. Harrison. 


In Sacking Law, 

The bawd, if it be a woman, a Pander. 
The bawd, if it be a man, an Apple Squire. 
The whore, a Commoditie. 
The whore-house, a Trugging Place. 

On Cheating Law, he is reticent : 

Pardon me, Gentlemen, for although no man could better than 
myself discover this law and his [its] termes, and the names of their Cheats, 
Bar'd-dice, Flats, Forgers, Langrets, Gourds, Demies, and many other, 
with their nature, & the crosses and contraries to them upon advantage, 
yet for some speciall reasons, herein I will be silent. 

He resumes with Cross-Biting Law : 

The Whore, the Traffique, 

The man that is brought in, the Simpler. 

The villaines that take them [him], the Cros-biters. 

In the specific Coney-Catching Law, he defines thus : 

The partie that taketh up the cony, the Setter. 

He that plaieth the game [leads on the victim], the Verser. 

He that is cosened, the Cony. 

He that comes in to them, the Barnacle. 

The monie that is wonne, the Purchase. 

In Versing Law, 

He that bringeth him [the victim] in, the Verser. 1 

The poor countrie man, the Cosen. 

And the Dronkard that comes in, the Sumer. 2 

Figging Law is the richest in terms : 
The cutpurse, a Nip. 
He that is halfe with him, the Snap. 
The knife, the Cuttle-boung. 
The picke-pocket, a Foin. 

He that faceth the man [the victim], the Stale [i.e., StaU]. 
Taking the purse, [the] Drawing. 
Spying of him, Smoaking. 
The purse, the Boung. 
The monie, the Shel[l]s. 
The act doing, Striking. [Striking, verbal noun : = theft.] 

And finally he treats of Barnard's Law : 
He that fetcheth the man, the Taker. 
He that is taken, the Cosen. 

The landed man [the man of landed property], the Verser. 
The dronken man, the Barnard. 
And he that makes the fray [acts the ruffling bully], the Rutter. 

Influenced by Greene and in part opposed to him, that even 
finer publicist Thomas Nashe, besides many other pamphlets, 
wrote Pierce Pennilesse, His Supplication to the Divell, 1592. 
Though he uses comparatively little slang, he is highly colloquial ; 

1 This term is used yet again in Barnard's Law. 

2 Cf . the barnacle and the barnard. 

a passage from Pierce Pennilesse indicates how vigorous and lively 
was the occasional writing of the late Elizabethan period. ^His 
picture 1 of an upstart will aptly serve the purpose. "All 
malcontent sits the greasie son of a Cloathier, & complains (like 
a decaied Earle) of the ruine of ancient houses : whereas the 
Weaver's looms first framed the web of his honor, & the lockes 
of wool that bush[e]s and brambles have tooke for toule [toll] 
of insolent [simple, inexperienced] sheep, that would needs strive 
for the wall of a fir bush, have made him of the tenths of their 
tar, a Squier of low degree : and of the collections of their 
scatterings, a Justice tarn Marti quam Mercurio, of Peace & of 
Coram [quorum]. He will bee humorous, forsooth, and have a 
broode of fashions by himself. Sometimes (because Love 
commonly weares the livery of Wit) hee will be an Inamorato 
Poeta, & sonnet a whole quire .of paper in praise of Lady Swin[eJ- 
snout, his yeolow fac'd Mistress, & weare a feather of her rain- 
beaten fan for a favor, like a fore-horse [foremost horse, tl leader" 
of a team]. Al[l] Italionato is his talke, & his spade peake [spade- 
shaped beard] is as sharpe as if he had been a Pione[e]r before 
the walls of Roan [Rouen]. He will despise the barbarisme of 
his own Countrey, & tel a whole legend of lyes of his travailes 
[travels] unto Constantinople. If he be challenged to fight, for 
his delatorye excuse hee objects, that is not the custome of the 
Spaniard or the Germaine to looke back to every dog that barks. 
You shall see a dapper Jacke, that hath been but over at Deepe 
[Dieppe], wring his face round about, as a man would stir up 
a mustard pot, & talke English through ye teeth like Jaques 
Scab'd-hams, or Monsieur Mingo de Moustrap : when (poor 
slave) he hath but dipt his bread in wilde Boare's greace, and 
come home again : or been bitten by the shins by a wolfe : 
and saith, he hath advertured upon the barricadoes of Gurney and 
Guingan [Guingamp] , and fought with the yong Guise hand to hand. ' ' 
Not only in vigorous pamphleting of men like Greene, Nashe, 
and Gabriel Harvey, but in the dramatists' prose of the sixteenth 
century, and how excellent in its modernity, its terseness, its 
objectivity and directness, its adequacy and its clarity, that 
prose can be and so often is, has never been sufficiently recognized 
by scholars and students in general or studied by researchers in 
particular, could we find vivid examples of slang and 
colloquialism. Much of the slang of the last two Henrys' and 
Elizabeth's reigns has been incorporated in the work of Shake- 
speare and his contemporary dramatists, especially Ben Jonson, 
Middleton, and Dekker. As Colonel Arthur Lynch 2 once phrased 

1 I retain, except for writing n and v in the usual way, the spelling of the 
Bodley Head Quarto edition by G. B. Harrison, and I insert any necessary 
glosses in square brackets. 

2 In the July, 1919, issue of English. 


it: " Among the Elizabethans . . . slang was, like the dramatists, 
. . . encouraged but not honoured. Shakespeare revelled in 
the latest words strutting about the Town, at least [in the comedies 
and] in those little episodes which came as a relief from situations 
whose tragic significance demanded a corresponding nobility of 

As McKnight l has pointed out, an examination of even a 
couple of plays by Shakespeare yields such examples of slang as 
" board, [to] ' address ' [or ' accost '] ; dry, ' dull ', ' stupid ' 
[as applied to jokes and jests] ; kickshaw (quelque chose) [of a 
trifle, as in Twelfth Night] ; sink-a-pace 2 (cinq pas) [a bright 
and lively dance whose steps are based on the number 5] ; gaskins 
[short for galli-gaskins'], ' breeches ' ; bawcock (beau coq) [a fine 
fellow] ; praise, ' [to] appraise [or value] ' ; tend (attend) ; 
tester, testril t ' sixpence ' ; sneck up, ' go hang ' ; beagle (term of 
praise), 'true-bred'; rascal, 'lean deer' or, figuratively, with 
the modern meaning (the latter only is slang) ; sheep-biter (term 
of contempt) ; bum-baily [ = sheriff's officer] ; clod-pole [ = a 
blockhead] ; gorbellied [fat-paunched] knaves ; fat chuffs [ = rich 
misers] ; clay-brained [= stupid] ; knotty-pated [=the same]." 
Certain other slang terms 8 in Shakespeare have considerable 
interest. Assinego, in Troilus and Cressida, means an ass, 
figuratively (like ass-head in Twelfth Night) a blockhead, and it 
occurs in a passage that is rich in colloquialism and imprecation, 
in familiarity and slang : that railing scene between Ajax and 
Thersites of which only a part is quoted here. 

Ajax. Mistress Thersites ! 

Thersites. Thou shouldst strike him [i.e., Achilles']. 

Ajax. Cobloaf ! [Literally, a small round-headed loaf.} 

Ther. He would pun [pound] thee into shivers [fragments'] with his 
fist as a sailor breaks a biscuit. 

Ajax (beating him). You whoreson [whore 1 s-sonnish] cur I 

Ther. Do, do. 

Ajax. Thou stool for a witch ! 

Ther. Ay, do, do ; thou sodden-witted lord ! Thou hast no more 
brain than I have in my elbows : an assinego may tutor thee : thou 
scurvy-valiant ass ! Thou art here but to thrash Trojans ; and thou 
art bought and sold among those of any wit, like a barbarian slave. If 
thou use to beat me, I will begin at thy heel, and tell what thou art by 
inches, thou thing of no bowels, thou ! 

Ajax. You dog ! 

Ther. You scurvy lord ! 

Ajax. You cur ! 

Ther. Mars his idiot ! Do, rudeness ; do, camel ; do, do ! 

But to continue the list 4 of particularly significant slang words 

1 Op. cit, 

a I doubt if this is slang or even a colloquialism. The square-bracketed 
glosses, by the way, owe much to Dr. C. T. Onions's wholly admirable Shakespeare 
Glossary, revised ed., 1919. 

3 Based on H. Baumann : Londonismen, Slang und Cant, pub. at Berlin, 1887. 

4 With thanks to Dr. Onions, op. cit. 


in Shakespeare. Basta ! (enough), an Italianism to be found in 
The Taming of the Shrew ; blue-bottle, a beadle, from his blue 
uniform, to be compared with the nineteenth-century term, 
blues, for the police ; broker, a " love "-agent ; callot^ a trull ; 
capon (cf. French poulet), a love-letter, appropriately in Love's 
Labour's Lost a title that, by the way, is often miswritten ; 
carry-tale, a tale-bearer, in the same sparkling comedy ; 
catastrophe, the posteriors ; clack-dish, a beggar's wooden dish 
tapped smartly to attract alms ; conveyer, a thief ; Corinthian, 
a gay, high-spirited fellow, a sense that was revived in Regency 
days ; comuto, a cuckold ; costard, originally a large apple, 
applied in The Merry Wives of Windsor to the human head ; 
crush a cup, to empty a glass of wine ; fap, drunk ; geek, a fool ; 
King Urinal, literally a large chamber-pot, is used figuratively 
and pejoratively of a man in The Merry Wives ; lifter, a thief ; 
limbo patrum, a prison, a term that may explain the mysterious 
soldiers' slang limbered, arrested ; lob, a country bumpkin ; 
malt-worm, a toper ; meacock, whose etymology we had better 
leave undiscussed, means effeminate or cowardly ; miching 
malicho, underhand mischief ; nut-hook, a constable ; pickers 
and stealers, as in Hamlet, hands ; red-latticed, an adjective as 
in red-latticed phrases, pothouse or bibulous talk ; sconce, perhaps 
jocular rather than slangy for a head ; shoulder-clapper, both as 
a robust friend and as a constable ; silly cheat, petty theft ; 
snipe and woodcock, a fool ; tag and tag-rag, rabble ; tame cheater, 
a professional card-sharper or false-dicer ; tear a cat, to rant on 
the stage ; tickle-brain, strong liquor ; and tub-fast, syphilis, the 
reference being to the powdering-tub, which was a sweating cure. 
Not that this exhausts the list : far from it ! 


In Ben Jonson as in Shakespeare, the slang element has most 
of the characteristics of nineteenth and twentieth, and indeed 
of eighteenth century slang : the curtailed words and the 
perversion of importations from abroad ; the richness and the 
vigour of metaphor ; the eloquence and the variety of cursing, 
swearing, sly depreciation, outright contempt, and forthright 
invective ; the picturesque callousness in the face of imprison- 
ment, suicide, and hanging ; the healthily frank, unmorbid, and 
cursory attitude towards death ; the humorous fortitude 
displayed in poverty ; and the piquancy as well as the consider- 
able proportion of the cant (thieves' slang) element. The low- 
comedy scenes, naturally, afford the most material. Here are a 
few l of the slang words from Jonson's comedies, his tragedies 
offering almost nothing : Bale, a pair (of dice) ; bid-stand, 
a highwayman, or as the writer once heard an Oxford under- 
graduate describe him, a money-or-your-lifer ; bob, a jest or a 
taunt ; buck, wash ; bullions, trunk-hose ; burgullion, bragga- 
docio ; buzzard, a simpleton ; by-chop and by-blow, a bastard ; 
carwhitchet (catechism corrupted), a pun ; circling boy, a sharper ; 
city-wives, women of fashion ; clap, clatter ; clem, to starve, 
the word survives in dialect in the sense, to endure privations ; 
coffin, the raised crust of a pie ; cog and coney-catch, to cheat ; 
crimp, a game of cards, the phrase to play crimp later meaning 
to lose deliberately in a game of cards in order to share in the 
winner's profit ; hay in his horn, ill-tempered ; huff, to play the 
braggart, the Hector ; kit, a fiddle ; main, the main concern ; 
provant, soldiers' allowance ; puckfist, a boaster ; shot-sharks, 
tavern-waiters ; spittle, perhaps a pun on the earlier spital, a 
hospital ; smelt, a simpleton ; suck, to obtain money from ; 
swad (an early form of swaddy, a soldier), a boor, a country clown ; 
trig, a dandy. Most of Jonson's cant is in The Gypsies Meta- 
morphosed, but many of his numerous slang terms are in that 
wonderful broad comedy, Bartholomew Fair, 2 which is full of 
such speeches as that of the rogue Knockem (familiar with the 
low slang of horse-copers and horse-thieves) : " How now ! my 
galloway nag the staggers, ha ! Whit, give him a slit in the 
forehead. Cheer up, man ; a needle and thread to stitch his 

1 All are drawn from George H. McKnight, op. cit. 

2 First acted on 31st October, 1614. 

ears. Yd cure him now, an I had it, with a little butter and garlic, 
long pepper and groins. Where's my horn ? I'll give him a 
mash presently, shall take away his dizziness," or that of the 
amoral Ursula : "An you be right Bartholomew birds, now 
show yourselves so : we are undone for want of fowl in the Fair 
here. Here will be Zekiel Edgworth, and three or four gallants 
with him at night, and I have neither plover nor quail for them : 
persuade this between you two, to become a bird o* the game, 
while I work the velvet woman within, as you call her." 

Thomas Dekker, who began to have his plays produced at 
about the same time as did Ben Jonson, is known best for The 
Shoemaker's Holiday and The Honest Whore. In the former, 
published in 1600, he draws a sterling character in Simon Eyre, 
the shoemaker, who, surrounded by his journeymen, presents 
a petition thus ; " Peace, Firk ; peace my fine Firk ! Stand by 
with your pishery-pashery twaddle, away ! I am a man of the 
best presence ; I'll speak to them, an they were Popes. Gentle- 
men, captains, colonels, commanders ! Brave men, brave leaders, 
may it please you to give me audience. I am Simon Eyre, the 
mad shoemaker of Tower Street ; this wench with the mealy 
mouth that will never tire, is my wife, I can tell you ; here's 
Hodge, my man and my foreman ; here's Firk, my fine firking 
[given to caressing women} journeyman, and this is blubbered 
[tearful] Jane. All we come to be suitors for this honest Ralph. 
Keep him at home, and as I am a true Shoemaker and a gentle- 
man of the gentle craft, buy spurs yourselves, and I'll find ye 
boots these seven years/' 

A contemporary of Jonson and Dekker, Thomas Middleton 
wrote both comedies and tragedies. One of his most famous 
pieces is The Roaring Girl, based on the life of Mary Frith, usually 
called Moll Cutpurse, who, a " lusty and sturdy wench ", 
abandoned domestic service for male attire and manly, if illegal, 
exploits : it is reported x that once she " robbed and wounded 
General Fairfax on Hounslow Heath". She was the female 
version of the Roarers or Roaring Boys, a set of " roughs and 
toughs" (compare Chaucer's rore, a tumult). Apart from the 
many examples of thieves' slang, there is much that is slangy and 
colloquial, and some idea of the nature of this briskly 
unconventional play may be had from such a passage as 
the following: 

Jack Dapper. Here's three half pence for your ordinary [food, meal], 
boy ; meet me an hour's hence in [St.] Paul's. 

GulL How, three single half pence ? Life, this will scarce serve a 

man in sauce, a ha'p'orth of mustard, a ha'p'orth of oil, and a ha'p'orth 

of vinegar, what's left then for the pickle herring ? This shows like some 

small beer in the morning after a great surfeit of wine o'er night : he could 

1 See Havelock Ellis's edition of selected plays in The Mermaid Series. 


spend his three pound last night in a supper amongst girls and brave 
bawdyhouse boys : I thought his pockets cackled not for nothing : these 
are the eggs of three pound, 111 go sup *em up presently. (Aside and Exit.) 
Laxton. Eight, nine, ten angels [gold coins that he is counting] : good 
wench, i' faith, and one that loves darkness well ; she puts out a candle 
with the best tricks of any drugster's wife in England : but that which 
mads [angers] her, I rail upon opportunity still, and take no notice on't. 
The other night she would needs lead me into a room with a candle in 
her hand to show me a naked picture, where no sooner entered, but the 
candle was sent of an errand ; now, I not intending to understand her, 
but like a puny [a university freshman] at the inns of venery, called for 
another light innocently ; thus reward I all her cunning with simple 

A little further on, Laxton, seeing large Moll Cutpurse, 
cries with a spate of innuendo : 

" Heart, I would give but too much money to be nibbling * with that 
wench ! life, sh'as [she has] the spirit of four great parishes, and a voice 
that will drown all the city ! Methinks a great captain might get all 
his soldiers upon her, and ne'er be beholding to a company of Mile End * 
milksops, if he could . . . : such a Moll * were a marrow-bone before an 
Italian ; he would cry buona roba * till his ribs were nothing but bone, 
I'll lay hard siege to her : money is that aqua fortis [acid] . . ./' 

the rest being unquotable here. 

A few years later, John Fletcher published The Beggar's Bush, 
a joyous comedy containing many cant and still more general- 
slang words : naturally enough, for it deals with thieves and 
vagabonds. In it there is a song by Higgen, who prigged the 
prancers (stole the horses) : this is in cant, which Fletcher 
obligingly translates : the translation is highly colloquial : 

I poure on thy pate a pot of good ale, 

And by the Rogue's oath [i.e., by the salmon or Salomon], a Rogue the[e] 


To beg on the way and rob all thou meets, 
To steal from the hedge both the shirt and the sheets, 
And lie with thy wench in the straw till she twang, 
Let the Constable, Justice and Devil go hang ! 

Fittingly noticed here, though his book, The Canting Academy, 
" A compleat history of the most eminent cheats," did not appear 
until 1673, is Richard Head, for his glossary contains little not 
already present in Harman, Greene, Dekker, and Rowlands. 

Writing at this time was that jolly character, John Taylor, 
" The Water Poet." Though he was not much of a poet, he had 
a talent for rollicking, frolicking verses and he knew many famous 

1 A play on niggle, to know carnally. 

* Mile End Road in East London (now E. 1), where the city's trained bands 
were exercised and drilled. 

3 Punning moll, a lewd woman. 

* Literally, a good dress (cf. modern bit of skirt), in Italian. The Elizabethans 
used it of a showy prostitute. 


men. To the antiquarian and the historian, his writings are 
valuable ; John Taylor was indeed so literary a bargee that he 
became known as The Water Poet, He wrote many pamphlets, 
mostly in verse or worse. In 1630 he collected them (sixty- 
three in all) into one volume, which is dedicated to " the most 
high, most mighty, and most ancient Producer, Seducer, and 
Abuser of Mankind : the World ". Though there were many 
slang terms in both his poetry and his prose, it is difficult ^ to 
quote a short passage containing much slang, full as his writing 
is of easy colloquialisms. But his familiar style, in which slang 
obviously fits without a jar, may be illustrated from his Penniless 
Pilgrimage, commemorating a long journey made on foot in 
1618 :~~ 

I that have wasted Months, weeks, Dayes, and houres 

In viewing Kingdomes, Countries*, and small tow'rs, 

Without al measure, measuring many paces, 

And with my pen describing many places, 

With few additions of mine own devizing, 

(Because I have a smack of Coriatizing 1 ) 

Our Mandemll> Priwaleon, Don Quixoi> 

Great Amadis, or Huon traveld not 

As I have done, or beene where I have beene, 

Or heard and scene, what I have heard and seene. 

More lively is his spirited poem, A Kicksey Winsey, or A Lerry 
Gome-Twang, wherein he " hath Satyrically suited seven hundred 
and fifty of his bad debtors " ; but the best parts (from the 
viewpoint of slang) are also the grossest ! 

The Civil War did nothing to check slang. " Cromwell," 
remarks the irrepressible Hotten, " was familiarly called ' Old 
Noll ' in much the same way as Bonaparte was termed ' Boney ', 
and Wellington ' Conkey ' or ' Nosey * . . . His legislature, too, 
was spoken of in a high-flavoured way as the ' Barebones * or 
' Rump * Parliament, and his followers were nicknamed Round- 
heads . . . The Civil War pamphlets, and the satirical Hits of 
the Cavaliers and the Commonwealth Men, originated many 
slang words and vulgar similes in full use at the present moment. 
. . . Later still, in the court of Charles II, the naughty ladies 
and the gay lords . . . talked slang ; and very naughty slang 
it was too. Fops in those days, when ... in continual fear of 
arrest, termed their enemies, the bailiffs, ' Philistines ' or 
' Moabites V 

But before that gay period, Richard Brome, who had been a 
friend of Ben Jonson, wrote a number of plays devoid of genius 
but rich in stage-craft. A Jovial Crew has the apt sub-title, The 
Merry Beggars. Here again, however, it is thieves' slang, which 
requires much annotation : especially does this hold of the two 

1 From Coryat, a famous English traveller. 


lively ^ songs, Here safe in our skipper let's dy off our peck and 
This is Hen bouse, this is bien bouse. 

Early in Charles IFs reign Samuel Butler brought out the 
First Part of his satirical poem, Hudibras, of which the Third Part 
appeared in 1678. Much of the force and the popularity of the 
poem were due to the slangy and often vulgar language : people 
thought him "a jolly good fellow ", for they Kkedihis lilting, 
swinging verses, his robust phrases and picturesque vocabulary, 
and his undoubted courage. But if Butler is difficult, except 
at considerable length, to quote aptly the trouble with 
" Hudibras " Butler is that his best wit is either anatomical or 
scatological (" excretory ", if you prefer it) we find others 
more suitable for our purpose. For instance, Wycherley, who, 
though not the earliest, was the earliest of the greater among the 
Restoration dramatists. His two best comedies are The Country 
Wife and The Plain Dealer, though Love in a Wood and The 
Gentleman Dancing Master would have sufficed to make a lesser 
man famous. In The Plain Dealer the language is so easy and 
colloquial that it often slips into slang, as we see in the first scene 
of the second act (though almost any other scene would do as 
well). Mrs. Pinchwife, ignorant, from the country and married 
to a very jealous fellow, speaks with her sister, who knows 
London well. 

Mrs. Pinch. Pray, sister, where are the best fields and woods to walk 
in in London ? 

AUthea (aside). A pretty question ! (Aloud) Why, sister, Mulberry 
Garden and St. James's Park ; and, for close walks, the New Exchange. 1 

Mrs. Pinch. Pray, sister, tell me why my husband looks so grum 
[glum and surly] here in town, and keeps me up so close, and will not 
let me go a-walking, nor let me wear my best gown yesterday. 

Alith. O, he's jealous, sister. 

Mrs. Pinch. Jealous ! What's that ? 

Alith. He's afraid you should love another man. 

Mrs. Pinch. How should he be afraid of my loving another man, when 
he will not let me see any but himself ? 

Alith. Did he not carry you yesterday to a play ? 

Mrs. Pinch. Ay ; but we sat amongst ugly people. He would not let 
me come near the gentry who sat under us, so that I could not see 'em. 
He told me, none but naughty women sat there, whom they toused 
[tousled] and moused [kissed amorously]. But I would have ventured 
for all that. 

Alith. But how did you like the play ? 

Mrs. Pinch. Indeed I was weary of the play ; but I liked hugeously 
the actors. They are the goodliest, properest men, sister ! 

Alith. O, but you must not like the actors, sister. 

Mrs. Pinch. Ay, how should I help it, sister ? Pray, sister, when my 
husband comes in, will you ask leave for me to go a-walking ? 

Alith. A-walking ! ha ! ha ! Lord, a country-gentlewoman's pleasure 
is the drudgery of a footpost [foot-messenger] ; and she requires as much 

1 " On the south side of the Strand, and nearly opposite Bedford Street . . . 
it became a fashionable lounge after the Restoration." W. C. Ward in The Mermaid 


airing as her husband's horses. (Aside.) But here comes your husband : 
I'll ask, though I'm sure he'll not grant it. m 

Mrs. Pinch. He says he won't let me go abroad lor fear of catching 

*Alith.' Fie ! the small-pox you should say. [Then, as now, " the pox " 
meant syphilis.} 

Enter Pinchwife. 

Mrs. Pinch. O my dear, dear bud, welcome home ? Why dost tnou 
look so fropish [peevish} ? Who has nangered l thee ? 

Pinch. You're a fool. (Mrs. Pinchwife goes aside, and ones.) 

Alith. Faith, so she is, crying for no fault, poor tender creature. 

Pinch. What, you would have her as impudent as yourself, as arrant 
a jill-flirt [a professional flirt of few morals], a gadder, a mag-pie ; and 
to say all, a mere town-woman ? 

Contemporary with and quite as popular as Wycherley, 
Thomas ShadweE had his heyday 2 in 1670-1690. His best play is 
Bury Fair, but from the angle of slang his most interesting is 
The Squire of Alsatia. 3 We will ignore the list of cant terms 
prefacing the play and take a scene in which ordinary slang 
predominates over thieves' slang: as in all such quotations, 
however, it is well to remember that merely colloquial speech 
forms the basis, the standard, against which slang stands out 
the more by its comparative infrequency, for it is only in 
professional slangsters like Pierce Egan and " Dagonet " Sims 
and " Pitcher " Binstead, or George Ade and Harry Witwer, 
that we find slang holding the centre of the linguistic stage. 
The Squire of Alsatia, produced in 1688, opens thus in London 
with Belfond Senior, the repressed eldest son of a morose country 
gentleman, and Shamwell, cousin to the Belfonds but now ruined 
and employed as a decoy-duck to that " Alsatian " shark, Cheatly. 

Belfond. Cousin Shamwell, well met ; good morrow to you. 

Shamwell. Cousin Belfond, your humble servant ; what makes you 
abroad so early ? Tis not much past seven. 

Bel. You know we were boosy [drunk} last night ; I am a little 
hot-headed this morning and come to take the fresh air here in the Temple 

Sham. Well, and what do you think of our way of living here ? Is 
not rich, generous wine better than your poor hedge 4 -wine stummed 
[renewed] or dull March beer ? 6 Are not delicate [fastidious], well-bred, 
well-dressed women better than dairymaids, tenants 1 daughters or bare- 
foot strumpets ? Streets full of fine coaches better than a yard full of 
dung-carts ? A magnificent tavern than a thatched ale-house ? Or the 
society of brave, honest, witty, merry fellows, than the conversation 
of unthinking, hunting, hawking, blockheads, or high-shoed peasants 
and their wiser cattle ? 

1 Baby-talk, obviously, for angered. 

* At this point we may recall that chum, still colloquial, was in its origin 
(about 1680) the first record dates 1684 slangy and applied chiefly to under- 
graduates and to prisoners in gaol. 

3 Alsatia is the cant name for Whitefriars, the haunt of criminals and near- 

4 Hedge in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries meant rustic, hence 
inferior, even criminally inferior. 

* A strong beer brewed in March. 


Bel. Oh, yes, a world, adad [begad] \ Ne'er stir, 1 I could never have 
thought that there had been such a gallant place as London. Here I 
can be drunk over-night, and well next morning : can ride in a coach 
for a shilling as good as a Deputy-Lieutenant's ; and such merry wags 
and ingenious companions ! Well, I vow and swear, I am mightily 
beholding to you, dear cousin Shamwell. Then for the women ! Mercy 
upon us ! So civil and well-bred ; and, I'll swear upon a Bible, finer 
all of them than Knight-baronets' wives with us. 

Sham. And so kind and pleasant. 

Bel. Ay, I vow, pretty rogues ! no pride in them in the world ; but 
so courteous and familiar, as I'm an honest man, they'll do what- 
ever one would have them presently. Ah, sweet rogues ! While in the 
country a pize [poison] take them ! there's such a stir with " Pish, fie, nay, 
Mr. Timothy, what do you do ? I vow I'll squeak, never stir, I'll call 
out " ; ah, ha ! 

Sham. And if one of them happen to be with child there's straight 
an uproar in the country as if the hundred 2 were sued for a robbery I 

Bel. Ay, so there is ; and I'm in that fear of my father, besides, adad, 
he'd knock me i' th'head, if he should hear of such a thing. To say truth, 
he's so terrible to me, I can never enjoy myself for him. Lord ! What 
will he say when he ccmes to know I am at London ? Which he all his 
lifetime would never suffer me to see, for fear I should be debauched 
forsooth ! and allows me little or no money at home neither. 

Sham. What matter what he says ? Is not every foot of the estate 
entailed upon you ? 

Bel. Well, I'll endure 't no longer ! If I can but raise money, I'll 
teach him to use his son like a dog, I'll warrant him. 

Sham. You can ne'er want that. Take up [borrow] on the reversion, 
'tis a lusty one ; and Cheatly will help you to the ready ; and thou shalt 
shine, and be as gay as any spruce prig [smart or fashionable coxcomb] 
that ever walked the street. 

Bel. Well, adad, you are pleasant men, and have the neatest sayings 
with you ; " ready " and " spruce prig ", and abundance of the prettiest 
witty words. But sure that Mr. Cheatly is as fine a gentleman as any 
that wears a head, and as ingenious, ne'er stir, I believe he would run 
down [outwit] the best scholar in Oxford, and. put 'em in a mouse-hole 
with his wit. 

Sham. In Oxford ! Ay, and in London too ! 

Bel. Godsookers [gadzooks !], cousin ! I always thought they had 
been wittiest in the Universities. 

Sham. O, fie, cousin ; a company of puts, mere puts ! 3 

Bel. Puts ! mere puts ! very good, I'll swear ; ha, ha ! 

Sham. They are all scholar-boys, and nothing else, as long as they 
live there ; and yet they are as confident as if they knew everything, 
when they understand no more beyond Magdalen Bridge than mere 
Indians. But Cheatly is a rare fellow : I'll" speak a bold word, he shall 
cut a sham [a dull lie told with a dull face] or banter 4 [to jest ironically] with 
the best wit or poet of 'em all. 

Bel. Good again : " Cut a sham or banter " ! I shall remember all 
these quaint words in time. But Mr. Cheatly's a prodigy, that's 

Sham. He is so. . . . 

1 To be sure ! (The phrase recurs in this passage.) 

2 The county subdivision where the mishap occurs. 

3 A mere country put became a stock phrase during 1690-1750 ; put, an easy 

4 Both these words were originally slang ; their etymology is obscure. 


Bel. Nay, I must needs say, I have found him very frank, and very 
much a gentleman. ... 

Sham. This morning your clothes and liveries will come home [arrive], 
and thou shalt appear rich and splendid like thyself, and the mobile 
[mob] shall worship thee. 

Bel. The " mobile " ! That's pretty. 

(Enter Cheatly.) 

Sweet Mr. Cheatly ! My best friend Let me embrace thee ! 

Cheatly. My sprightly son of timber and of acres ! My noble heir, 
I salute thee. The coal is coming, and shall be brought in this morning. 

Bel Coal ? Why, 'tis sun_mer. . . . 

Cheat. My lusty rustic, learn, and be instructed. Coal is, in the 
language of the witty, 1 money ; the ready, the rhino. 8 Thou shalt be 
rhinocerical [rich], my lad, thou shalt. 

Bel. Admirable, I swear ! " Coal, ready, rhino, rhinocerical " ! . . . 
How much shall I have ? 

Cheat. Enough to set thee up to spark it in thy brother's face ; and 
ere thou shalt want the ready, the derby [money], thou shalt make thy 
fruitful acres in reversion to fly, and all thy sturdy oaks to bend like 
switches 1 But thou must squeeze, my lad ; squeeze hard, and seal, 
my bully [my fine fellow]. Shamwell and I are to be bound with thee." 

While Wycherley's and ShadwelTs plays were still popular, 
Sir John Vanbrugh, the great society architect and the jovial 
writer, produced, in the last four years of the seventeenth century, 
several comedies that met with very considerable success : 
notably The Relapse (or Virtue in Danger), The Provok'd Wife, 
and The Confederacy, this last being an adaptation of Dancourt's 
Les Bourgeoises a la Mode. In The Provok'd Wife, Vanbrugh 
introduces much that is colloquial and slangy, but the most 
graphic passages are unapt for quotation on account of their 
coarseness. Such a speech as " You are a couple of damned 
uncivil fellows. And I hope your punks will give you sauce 
for your mutton " is mild compared with some in this briskly 
vigorous play ; nevertheless, the authentic note is heard in 
" 111 devil you, you jade, you ! I'll demolish your ugly face " 
and in the following dialogue 3 between Lady Brute who hopes 
to cuckold him, and Sir John Brute, who, a surly fellow given to 
drinking and wenching, has just returned home somewhat drunk. 

Lady B. Ah ah he's all over blood. 

Sir J. What the plague does the woman squall for ? Did you never 
see a man in pickle before ? 

Lady B. Lord, where have you been ? 

Sir J. I have been at cuffs [fisticuffs]. 

Lady B. I fear that is not all. I hope you are not wounded. 

Sir J. Sound as a roach, wife. 

Lady B. I'm mighty glad to hear it. 

Sir J. You know I think you lie. 

Lady B. You do me wrong to think so. For heaven's my witness, 
I had rather see my own blood trickle down, than yours. 

1 Actually, the underworld. 

2 Hence, the ready rhino, cash. Act v, scene 2. 


Sir J. Then will I be crucified. 
Lady B. Tis a hard fate, I should not be believed. 
Sir J. Tis a damn'd atheistical age, wife. 
Lady B. ... Lie down and sleep a little. 
Sir J. Why do you think I'm drunk you slut, you ? 
Lady B. Heaven forbid . . .! But I'm afraid you are feverish. Pray 
let me feel your pulse. 

Sir /, Stand off, and be damn'd. 

Roughly contemporary with Vanbnigh's best work and 
between the earlier plays of Wycherley or Shadwell and that 
later " Restoration " Drama which begins with Congreve's Way 
of the World (1700) and which includes Farquhar and Steele, 
there come, 1 in the annals of slang, the two coarse and scurrilous 
but witty and amusing writers, facetious and satirical Tom Brown 
(1663-1704), so famous for his "I do not love thee, Dr. Fell " 
epigram, and Tom D'Urfey (1653-1723), third-rate dramatist, 
second-rate song-writer (though Pills to Purge Melancholy 
may be said to contain a few numbers that are more than second- 
rate), and first-class man-about-town, favourite companion of 
Charles II, and so Addison tells us extremely diverting. Both 
men are coarse and occasionally gross, but they had the knack 
of fluently colloquial writing : which abounds in slang. 

Thomas D'Urfey wrote many comedies, and a specimen 2 
of his free-and-easy colloquialisms is apt to our theme. 

Sophronia. Come, Sir, for once 111 be a little satyrical, and venture 
to describe the course of life of all you Men of the Town : In the Morning 
the first thing you do is, to reflect upon the Debauch of the Day before ; 
and instead of saying your prayers as you ought, relate the lewd Folly 
to some other young rakehelly Fellow, that happens to come to your 
Leve[e] : The next thing is to dine, where instead of using some witty 
or moral discourse that should tend to Improvement, you finish your 
Des[s]ert with a Jargon of senceless Oaths, a relish of ridiculous Bawdy, 
and strive to get drunk before ye come to the Play. 

Hotspur. The Devil's in her ; she has nick'd us to a Hair. 

Soph. Then at the Play-House ye ogle the Boxes, and dop 8 and bow 
to those you do not know, as well as those you do. Lord \ what a world 
of sheer Wit too is wasted upon the Vizard-Masks ! 4 who return it like- 
wise back in as wonderful a manner. You nuzzle your Noses into their 
Hoods and Commodes 8 . . . Fogh ! how many fine things are said 
there, perfum'd with the Air of sour Claret ! which the well-bred Nymph 
as odoriferously returns in the scent of Lambeth-Ale and Aquavita. 

Hot. 'D's heart, what shall I do ! I shall ne'er have patience to 
hear this. 

Soph. Then at Night ye graze with the hard-driven Cattel you have 
made a purchase of at the Play, and strut and hum up and down the 
Tavern with a swashy Men, and a terrible hoarse Voice, which the Lady 

1 Some of. their work appeared in the eighteenth century, but then literature 
refuses to obey dates, as many a theorist has ruefully discovered. 

2 Taken from the Richmond Heiress : or, A Woman once in the Right, 1693. 

3 To duck, to curtsy very low. 

4 i.e., the fashionable harlots. 

5 Tall head-dresses fashionable 1670-1730. 
8 Swashbuckling. 


(to engage your liking) returns with some awkward Frisks, instead of 
Dancing, and a Song in a squeaking Voice, as untunable as a broken 
Bagpipe. Then Supper coming in, the Glasses go about bnskly. The 
Fools think the Wenches heavenly Company and they tell them they 
are extream fine Gentlemen ; 'till at last few Words are best ; the 
Bargain's made, the Pox is cheaply purchased at the price of a Guinea, 
and no Repentance on neither side. 

Also, during the years 1699-1719, six volumes of Wit and 
Mirth : or Pills to Purge Melancholy. Many of these are of his 
own composition, the rest have been freely revised by him. The 
following racing song is colloquial where it is not slangy : 

To Horse, brave boys of Newmarket, to Horse, 

You'll lose the Match by longer delaying ; 
The Gelding just now was led over the Course, 

I think the Devil's in you for staying ; 
Run, and endeavour all to bubble 1 the Sporters, 2 
Bets may recover all lost at the Groom-Porters 8 ; 
Follow, follow, follow, follow, come down to the Ditch, 4 
Take the odds and then you 11 be rich. 

For I'll have the brown Bay, if the blew bonnet ride, 
And hold a thousand Pounds of his side, Sir ; 

Dragon would scow'r 5 it, but Dragon grows old ; 

He cannot endure it, he cannot, he wonnot now run it, 
As lately he could : 

Age, age does hinder the Speed, Sir. 

Now, now, now they come on, and see, 

See the Horse lead the way still ; 
Three lengths before at the turning of the Lands, 7 

Five hundred Pounds upon the brown Bay still : 
Pox on the Devil, I fear we have lost, 

For the Dog, the Blue Bonnet, has run it, 

A plague light upon it, 
The wrong side the Post ; 
Odzounds, was ever such Fortune 1 

In 1700, " Mr Brown of facetious memory " brought out his 
Amusements Serious and Comical, calculated for the Meridian of 
London. "Tom Brown/' remarked a contemporary, "had less 
the spirit of a gentleman than the rest of the wits, and was more 
of a scholar," as he showed in the Amusements and in the once 
famous Letters from the Dead to the Living (1702). But neither 
affords us so good an example as that Pindaric Ode which so 
tickled the Lords in Council that he was released from prison, 

1 To cheat ; apparently first used by Wycherley in 1675. 
Those interested in or given to sport. Recorded for 1611. 
Fig. for dicing ; lit., the Groom-Porters were officials charged with the super- 
vision of gaming. 

A landmark on the race-course. 

Run it, run away with it ; usually scour. 

Will not. 

A landmark on the course. 


where he had been summarily cast for lampooning Louis XIV 
(after the Peace of Ryswick). The poem 1 Humbly Showeth 

Should you order Tho. Brown 

To be whipp'd through the Town, 

For scurvy lampoon, 

Grave Southerne and Crowne, 2 

Their pens lay down. 

Even D'Urfey himself, and such merry fellows 

That put their whole trust in tunes and trangdilloes, 3 

May hang up their harps and themselves on the willows ; 

For if poets are punished for libelling trash 

John Dryden, though sixty, may yet fear the lash, 

No pension, no praise, 

Much birch, without bays, 

These are not right ways 

Our fancy to raise 

To the writing of plays 

And prologues so witty 

That jirk at * the City, 

And now and then hit 

Some spark in the pit, 

So hard and so pat, 

'Till he hides with his hat 

His monstrous cravat. 

The pulpit alone 

Can never preach down 

The fops of the town. 

Then pardon Tom Brown 

And let him write on. 

But if you had rather convert the poor sinner, 
His foul writing mouth may be stopped with a dinner, 
Give him clothes to his back, some meat and some drink, 
Then clap him close prisoner without pen and ink, 
And your petitioner shall neither pray, write, nor think. 

Thomas Brown. 

Brown and D'Urfey almost certainly knew what we do not : 
who was the compiler of that dictionary 5 by B. E. Gent (i.e., B.E., 
gentleman) which, published at some time in the period 1690-1700, 
has as its title, A New Dictionary of the Terms ancient and 
modern of the Canting Crew, in its several Tribes of Gypsies, 
Beggers, Thieves, Cheats, etc. The title-page assures us that it is 
" useful for all sorts of People, (especially Foreigners) to secure 
their Money and preserve their Lives ; besides very Diverting 
and Entertaining, being wholly New ". But this is much more 
than, like Copland's, Awdeley's, Harman's, Greene's, Head's 
and ShadwelTs lists, a glossary of cant or thieves' slang. It does, 

1 As in Arthur L. Hayward's admirable edition of the best of Brown's prose 
work, 1927. 

2 Dramatists of the day. 

ft The twanging sounds of musical instruments. 

4 i.e., jerk at : to satirize sharply. 

5 My copy is a facsimile reprint sponsored by Farmer, the greatest of all 
recorders of slang. 

indeed, contain much cant, which B.E. considerately marks c., 
but it also contains slangy and colloquial terms : it has, in point 
of fact, less cant than slang and colloquialism. It is thus not only 
much the most complete glossary of cant to have appeared by the 
end of the seventeenth century but also the first dictionary to record 
ordinary slang as such. B.E. did for seventeenth century cant 
and slang what Harman had done for sixteenth century 
cant and what Grose was to do for eighteenth century slang and 
cant ; what Hotten was to do for the slang and to some slight 
extent for the cant of the nineteenth century, and John S. Farmer 
for the slang, cant, and colloquialism of all ages from the year 
1500 to the year 1900 ; what Redding Ware did for the slang 
and the colloquialism (hardly at all for the cant) of the period 
1880-1910 ; and what no one has yet done for the cant, 1 the 
slang and the colloquialism of the years I9I3~ I 933> if we except 
the excellent glossary of sailors' and soldiers' slang of the Great 
War by Fraser and Gibbons 2 and the still better glossary of 
soldiers' slang by John Brophy. 3 As Farmer owes a fair amount 
to Hotten, Hotten much to Grose, so Grose owes much to B.E. ; 
but these latter two debts are greater than B.E/s to any previous 
lexicographer. Not that B.E. was particularly methodical nor 
that h,e knew anything of " scientific " method : on no lexico- 
grapher of slang before Farmer could the praise of such qualities 
be bestowed. He ignored etymology : so did they all before 
Hotten, and even Hotten gave only an occasional etymology. 
And he cited no illustrative passages : such a thing was unknown 
in general lexicography before Johnson, in slang lexicography 
till Farmer. But it is obvious that he was well educated and 
that he had a very intimate knowledge of fashionable as well as 
low slang, of vulgarisms and colloquialisms as well as cant. 
His manner can best be described by not describing it : a few 
examples will far better serve our purpose, 

"Hobbist, a disciple and fond admirer of Thomas Hobbs, the 
fam'd philosopher of Malmsbury. Sir Posthumous Hobby, one that 
draws on his Breeches with a Shoeing-horn ; also a Fellow that 
is nice and whimsical in the set of his Cloaths." 

" Mint, c. Gold ; also a late Sanctuary (in Southwark [in S.E. 
London]) for such as broke [went bankrupt] either out of Necessity 
or in Design to bring their Creditors the more easily to a Composi- 
tion. Hence Minters, the Inhabitants/' 

"Jabber, to talk thick and fast, as great Praters do, or to 
chatter like a Magpie/' 

1 For U.S. A. cant, see Godfrey Irwin's American Tramp and Underworld 
Slang, 1931. 

8 Published in 1925, but not reissued. 

8 Songs and Slang of the British Soldier, an Anthology and a Glossary, 1930 ; 
3rd ed., greatly enlarged, 1931. 


" Doxies, c, She-beggers, Trulls, Wenches, Whores, the twenty 
fifth Rank of Canters ; being neither Maids, Wives, nor Widows, 
will for good Victuals, or a very small piece of Money prostitute 
their Bodies, protesting they never did so before, and that meer 
Necessity then oblig'd them to it (tho' common Hackneys). 
These are very dextrous at picking Pockets (in the Action) and so 
barbarous as often to murder the Children thus got. 17 

"Saucy, impudent, bold. More Sauce than Pig, [or] Your 
Sauce-Pan runs over, you are exceeding bold." 


At the beginning of the eighteenth century when we arrive 
at what is essentially modern English, William Congreve, aged 
about thirty, produced a comedy that, for maturity of judgment, 
would have done credit to a man of fifty. The Way of the World 
lacks the vigour of Wycherley's Plain Dealer, but in modernity, 
wit, polish, and construction it is much superior. As McKnight * 
has observed, this play contains the following slang terms : 
rivetted, married, with which compare the modern spliced and 
tied up, the Scottish buckled, and the Australian hitched or, more 
generally, hitched up ; bum-bailiff (Shakespeare had bum-baily) ; 
fobbed ; slap (into a hackney coach) ; let 'em trundle, go away, 
where the twentieth century says push off ; tatterdemalion in 
a sense slightly different from that in its earlier users, Dekker 
and valorous John Smith ; swimmingly ; smoke, to make fun 
of; a washy rogue, where washy means worthless D'Urfey 
employed precisely the same phrase some years later. The easy 
writing may be gauged from the following brief extract 2 : 

Witwoud. We stayed pretty 3 late there last night, and heard- 
something of -an uncle to Mirabell [the brilliantly characterized and charactered 
hero"], who 4 is lately come to town and is between him and the best part 
of his estate. Mirabell and he are at some distance, as my lady Wishfort 
has been told ; and you know she hates Mirabell worse than a Quaker 
hates a parrot, or than a fishmonger a hard frost. Whether this uncle 
has seen Mrs. [here = " Miss "] Millamant [the still more brilliant heroine} 
or not, I cannot say ; and if it should come to life [become serious], poor 
Mirabell would be in some sort unfortunately fobbed [deceived, 
disappointed], i 'faith. 

Fainall. 'Tis impossible Millamant should hearken to it. 

Witwoud. Faith, my dear, 5 I can't tell ; she's a woman, and a kind of 
humourist [capricious wit}. 

Mirabell. And this is the sum of what you could collect f last night ? 

Petulant. The quintessence. Maybe Witwoud knows more, he stayed 
longer besides, they never mind him ; they say anything before him. 

Mirabell. I thought you had been the greatest favourite. 

Petulant. Ay, tete-&-t$te, but not in public, because I make remarks. 

1 Op. cit., p. 40. 

2 Act I, scene 2. 

3 Slangy then and not quite " admitted " now. 

4 Ambiguous but Congreve is very rarely that ! 

6 The French mon cher. This familiar address is still used among men in 
England, but is very rare in the Dominions. 
6 Slang ; cf . modern pick up. 


MirabelL You do ? 

Petulant. Ay, ay ; pox, I'm malicious, man ! Now he's soft, 1 you know ; 
they are not in awe of him the fellow's well-bred ; he's what you call 
a what-d'ye-call-'em, a fine gentleman; but he's silly [very simple; 
harmless} withal. 

A very different man, hence \ very different writer, from 
Congreve is George Farquhar, who after being an indifferent 
actor became a dashing army officer, saw his two best plays 
produced in 1706-7, and, having endured an unfortunate 
marriage and the privations of poverty, he died in the latter 
year at the early age of thirty. His finest work is to be found in 
The Recruiting Officer, a jolly, sparkling piece, and The Beaux' 
Stratagem, which, like Congreve's Way of the World, has been 
recently revived. The latter is, in fact, a most entertaining 
comedy, and, like The Recruiting Officer, remarkable for the 
escape from Covent Garden and its purlieus into the country. 
The tone of the piece may be guessed from the following snatch. 
(Aimwell and his friend Archer have just captured two thieving 

Archer. Hold, hold, my lord ! Every man his bird, pray . . . shall 
we kill the rogues ? 

Aimwell. No, no, we'll bind them, 

Archer. Ay, ay. (To Mrs. Sullen, who stands by him.) Here, madam, lend 
me your garter. 

Mrs. Sullen (aside). The devil's in this fellow ! He fights, loves, and 
banters, all in a breath. (Aloud.) Here's a cord that the rogues brought 
with 'em, I suppose. 

Archer. Right, right, the rogue's destiny, a rope to hang himself. 
Come, my lord, this is but a scandalous sort of an office, (binding the rogues 
together), if our adventures should end in this sort of hangman -work ; but 
I hope there is something in prospect, that (Enter Scrub [a servant.]) Well, 
Scrub, have you secured your Tartar ? 

Scrub. Yes, sir, I left the priest and Mm disputing about religion. 

In the same play, there are also the following slang terms 3 : 
sure for certainly ! ; sauce-box, cheeky person ; smoke, to discover ; 
pump, to * extract information from ; upon the tapis, under 
discussion ; mercenary drabs ; sponge upon ; and in that pickle, 
drunk (cf. Vanbrugh's in pickle}. 

At the tail-end of the Restoration drama, which he viewed 
with some slight approval and with much disapproval, the 
author of Gulliver's Travels though that book came rather 
later began to be a very important figure in English society 
and English literature. Jonathan, Dean Swift, who has in his 
own more familiar writings much colloquialism but little slang, 
is the first to attack and attempt to check the corruption of 
language, " which/' as he says in The Tatler of 28th September, 
1710. " will suffer more by the false refinements of twenty 

1 Slang as now. * Sir Paul Harvey says 1708. * McKnight, op. cit. 



years past than it hath been improved in the foregoing hundred/' 
And he quotes a letter " in every point an admirable pattern of 
the present polite way of writing/* (The italics are Swift's.) 


I cou'dn't get the things you sent for all about town, I thot to ha' come 
down myself, and then I'd h' bdt 'urn ; but I ha'n't don't and I believe 
I can't d't, that's pozz [positive]. Tom l begins to gi'mself ^airs, because 
he's going with the plenipo's [i.e. the ambassadors]. 'Tis said the French 
King will bamboozl* us agen, which causes many speculations. The Jacks 
and others of that kidney are very uppish, and alert upon't, as you may see 
by their phizzis. Will Hazzard has got the hipps [melancholy], having lost 
to the tune of five hundr'd pound, thd he understands play very well, 
nobody better. He has promis't me upon rep, to leave off play ; but you 
know 'tis a weakness he's too apt to give into, th6 he has as much wit as 
any man, nobody more. He has lain incog, ever since. The mobb's very- 
quiet with us now. I believe you thdt I bantr'd you in my last like a country 
put. I shan't leave town this month.'' 

Swift draws attention to the abbreviations and the elisions ; 
the tendency as in phiz, hip, rep to take the first syllable and 
leave the rest ; the long words speculation, operation, communica- 
tion, etc. brought in by the wars. " The third refinement/' he 
notes, " consists in the choice of certain words invented by some 
pretty fellows, such as banter, bamboozle, country put, and 
kidney . . ., some of which are now struggling for the vogue, 
and others are in the possession of it. I have done my utmost 
for some years to stop the progress of mobb and banter, but have 
been plainly borne down by numbers." 

In February, 1711-12, Swift issued A Proposal for Correcting, 
Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue, of which the 
short or running title is Dr. Swift's Letter to the Lord High 
Treasurer. After some general considerations, the Dean *' gets 
down to it ". He throws much of the blame on the Restoration 
drama with its " affected Phrases and new, conceited Words ", 
borrowed either from " the current Style of the Court or from 
those who under the Character of Men of Wit and Pleasure, 
pretended to give the Law ". He draws attention to the same 
faults as he has criticized in his Tatler essay, but he also alludes 
to those young men just down from the Universities 2 who, 
" terribly possessed with the fear of Pedantry, run into a worse 
Extream " : "all the odd Words they have picked up in a Coffee- 
House/' He refers sarcastically to such writers as D'Urfey, 
Tom Brown, and Ned Ward. So far so good ; but he then 
proposes what even conservative Samuel Johnson saw was neither 
possible nor desirable : to fix and stabilize the language. In 

1 " Thomas Harley, minister at the Court of Hanover " : George A. Aitken's 
excellent edition of The Tatler. 

2 He was similarly distressed by those young clergymen who " in their 
sermons use . , . sham, banter, mob, bubble, bully, cutting, shuffling, and palming." 


chief this last proposal but in general the whole Letter prompted 
an anonymous well-educated writer to rejoin with an ad hominem 
attack that has both wit and point. Pretending that he doesn't 
know Swift to be the author of the unsigned Tale of a Tub, he 
uses that as a fulcrum wherewith to lever into ridicule " that 
excellent Moralist " who has shown " what a Genius he has for 
refining Language, and how happily one may use the Figures of 
Cursing, Swearing and Bawdy, which before were entirely 
exploded " (by Jeremy Collier's invective against the English 
stage). He then carries the war right into Swift's camp by 
referring to " some shining Passages in that incomparable 
Treatise " and by making several such excerpts as this : " Lord, 
what a filthy Croud is here. Bless me ! what Devil has rak'd 
this Rabble together ; Zounds, what squeezing is this. A Plague 
confound you for an overgrown Sloven ! Who in the Devil's 
Name, I wonder, helps to make up the Croud half so much as 
your self ? Don't you consider with a Pox, that you take up 
more room with that Carcase than any Five here. Bring your 
own^Guts to a reasonable Compass and be d d," 

Whether it was this home-thrust, or whether it was the press 
of business which caused him to desist, the Dean published no 
more at any length, that is on the corruption of the English 
language by vulgarism, colloquialism, and slang until 1738, when 
he issued a Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversa- 
tion, 1 usually known as Polite Conversation in Three Dialogues. 
But 2 they were written many years earlier : part, at least, is 
identical with that Essay on Conversation which Swift records 
as either written or planned in 1708-1710 ; and, on the whole, 
the manners are obviously those of Queen Anne's reign. In the 
Introduction, Swift enlarges on the themes that had so roused 
him in the Tatler essay and the Letter. The dialogues are so 
good, so rich in the fashionable slang of the day that one would 
wish to reprint any one w of them complete, but since this is 
impracticable, an extract from the First must suffice : 

Neverout (to Lady Smart). Madam, have you heard, that Lady Queasy 
was lately at the Playhouse incog. ? 

Lady Smart. What ! Lady Queasy of all Women in the World I Do 
you say it upon Rep 3 ? 

Neverout. Poz, I saw her with my own eyes ; she sat among the Mob 
in the Gallery ; her own ugly fiz : and she saw me look at her. 

Colonel A twit. Her Ladyship was plaguily bamb'd * ; I warrant, it put 
her into the Hipps. 

Neverout. I smoked s her huge nose, and, gad, she put me in mind 

1 "... According to the most Polite Mode and Method now used at Court, 
and in the best Companies of England." 

2 See Saintsbury's introduction to his edition of the Conversations ; 1892. 

3 Upon your reputation (as an honourable man). 

4 Bamboozled. 

6 Discerned, discovered. 


of the Woodcock that strives to hide his long Bill, and then thinks nobody 

sees him. 


Never out. Oh ! Miss ; I have heard a sad Story of you. 

Miss Notable. I defy you, Mr. Neverout ; nobody can say Black's 
my Eye. 

Neverout. I believe, you wish they could. 

Miss N. Well ; but who was your Author ? Come, tell Truth, and 
shame the Devil. 

Neverout. Come then, Miss ; guess who it was told me ; come, put 
on your considering-cap. 

Miss N. Well, who was it ? 

Neverout. Why, one that lives within a Mile of an Oak. 1 

Miss N. Well, go hang yourself in your own Garters ; for I'm sure, 
the Gallows groans for you. 

Neverout. Pretty Miss ! I was but in jest. 

Miss N. Well, but don't let that stick in your Gizzard. 

Merely mentioning that as Sir Roger Lestrange (| 1704) had 
been fond of slang, so was Dr. John Arbuthnot (f 1735)* we pass 
to a famed proficient. Flourishing in Swift's heyday, Ned Ward 
in his writings covered the period 1691-1731, and his best work 
belongs to the years 1698-1721 : at the former date appeared The 
London Spy, which made him famous, and after 1721 his most 
spirited performance was Durgen : a Plain Satyr upon a Pompous 
Satirist, which, in 1729, was sympathetically inscribed " to those 
worthy and ingenious gentlemen misrepresented in a late invective 
poem, calFd The Dunciad " and which must have made Pope 
" sit up ". In 1699 he moved to Fuller's Rents, " where, next 
door to Gray's Inn, he opened that second tavern in which he 
lived until his death ... an admirable host and ... a publican 
in a thousand. You do not expect mine host to be scribbling 
verses at your table and to be the author of a book [The London 
Spy] that is the talk of the town " 2 ; a book on which the social 
historians have constantly drawn ; for " jovial, brutal, vulgar, 
graphic Ned Ward " as the jovial and graphic George Augustus 
Sala etched him had a keen eye and judgment, a healthy freedom 
from squeamishness, and a brisk pen. From so many inimitable 
scenes and perspicacious characterizations it is difficult to choose 
adequately, but the following portrait of a gentleman highway- 
man, though it is much less rich in slang than some of the more 
racy and unquotable passages, does at least show his manner, 

"Another you needs must take particular notice of, that 
pluck'd out a pair of Pocket-Pistols, and laid them in the Window, 
who had a great Scar cross his Forehead, a twisted Wig, and lac'd 
Hat on ; the Company calTd him Captain ; he's a Man of 
considerable Reputation amongst Birds of the same Feather, 

1 A reference to John-a-Nokes, a legal generality like John Doe. 

2 From the wittily erudite, conversational preface to Ralph Straus's edition 
of The London Spy, 1924. 


who I have heard say thus much in his praise, That he is as 
Resolute a Fellow as ever Cock'd Pistol upon the Road. And 
indeed, I do believe he fears no Man in the World but the Hang- 
Man ; and dreads no Death but Choaking. He's as generous as 
a Prince ; Treats any Body that will keep him Company. Love's 
his Friend as dearly as the Ivy does the Oak ; will never leave 
him till he has Hugg'd him to his Ruin. He has drawn in twenty 
of his Associates to be Hang'd ; but had always Wit and Money 
enough to save his own Neck from the Halter. He has good 
Friends at Newgate, who give him now and then a Squeeze when 
he is full of Juice l ; but promise him as long as he's industrious 
in his Profession, and will now and then show them a few sparks 
of his Generbsity ; they will always stand between him and 
Danger ; which he takes as a Verbal Policy of Insurance from 
the Gallows, till he grows Poor thro' Idleness, and then (he has 
Cunning enough to know) he may be Hang'd thro' Poverty. 
He's well acquainted with the Ostlers about Bishopsgate-street 
and Smithfield ; and gains from them Intelligence of what 
Booties go out that are worth attempting. He accounts them 
very Honest Tikes, and can with all safety trust his Life in then- 
Hands, for now and then Gilding their Palms for the good Services 
they do him. He pretends to be a Disbanded Officer, and reflects 
very feelingly upon the hard usage we poor Gentlemen meet 
with, who have hazarded our Lives and Fortunes for the Honour 
of our Prince, the Defence of our Country and Safety of our 
Religion ; and after all to be Broke without our Pay . . . who 
the Devil wou'd be a Soldier ? At such sort of Cant he is excellent, 
and utters himself with as little Hesitation, and as great Grace 
as a Town Stallion when he Dissembles with his Generous 
Benefactress, who believes all he says to be as true as the 
Gospel/ 1 

Ned Ward wrote many pamphlets in both verse and prose, of 
which latter a good specimen is afforded by his Female Policy 
Detected : or, The Arts of a Designing Woman Laid Open, 1716. 
Ward is eloquent on the theme, which prompts him to relate 
many anecdotes ; without being definitely slangy, these are 
written in a very easy and familiar style. 

" Another having married with a Widow, who look'd like a 
saint abroad, but [was] a Devil at home, a Friend of his told 
him, That he had gotten a good, still, and quiet Wife. Truly, 
crys t'other, you're mistaken, my Shoe is fair and new, but where 
it pincheth me, you know not. . . . 

" Another having married with a Widow, and within a while 

after she went into the Garden, and there finding her Husband's 

Shirt hang close by the Maid's Smock, she went presently and 

hang'd herself out of a jealous Conceit of hers. A merry Fellow 

1 Who exact a bribe when he has plenty of money. 

ask'd the cause of it ? And being told it was Jealousy : Tis pity, 
said he, every Tree did not bear such Fruit." 

Three or four years after the Female Policy was detected, 
" Captain " Alexander Smith added to his History of the Lives 
and Robberies of the most notorious Highwaymen, Footpads, 
Shoplifts, and Cheats a "thieves' grammar" and a " thieves' 
dictionary ", which contained little that B.E. had not already 
listed. But the editor of A New Canting Dictionary, 1725, 
listed a fair number of terms not in B.E., wrote a useful 
introduction, and appended a collection of nineteen " canting 
songs ". But he did not greatly increase the stock of ordinary 
as opposed to thieves' slang. The last of the songs, however, 
is not in cant at all : more pertinently it is in essentially familiar 
English with a dash of slang : the Marks of an Amorous Thief, 
thus : 

Come hither, young Sinner, 

Thou raw young Beginner, 
I'll show thee, if thou'lt understand me, 

All the Ways of a Wench, 

Be she English or French, 
More than Ovid, de Arte Amandi. 

Ill teach thee to know 

Both the Who and the How, 
And the When, and the Where to delight : 

If she simper or Saint it, 

Or patch it or paint it, 
I'll warrant thee, Boy, she is Right.*- 

And so through various indications and proofs until 

She'll kiss and cry Quarter, 

Unloosen her Garter 
That you may take't up, as a Favour ; 

When you ty't on again, 

She'll cry, What d'ye mean ? 
You're a Man of a loose Behaviour ! 

Yet thus will she play, 

To direct you the Way 
To the Center and Seat of Delight : 

If she's troubled with Qualms 

And sweat in the Palms, 
Fit warrant thee, Boy, she is Right. 

One who doubtless knew and perhaps enjoyed both the spirit 
and the letter of the New Canting Dictionary was John Henley, 
usually called Orator Henley, a somewhat unorthodox preacher 
and, in a popular and sometimes rather vulgar and lowly way, 
a most effective public speaker : Captain Francis Grose, F.S.A., 
was to allude to his vigour and gusto, as did Hotten later. Yet 
he was well educated and an assiduous reader, as his published 
work bears witness. That published work, moreover, exhibits 
comparatively little to support Hotten's opinion that Henley 

1 Compliant ; willing to pleasure thee. 


was gross and slangy : even the famous Butchers Lecture (1729) 
was the ordinary, learned, rather dry sermon characteristic of 
the eighteenth century and later : but that at times he was 
nighly unconventional is beyond dispute. Henley's directness 
and frankness find apt expression, in 1736, in Why How Now, 
Gossip Pope, 1 a pamphlet written, like Ned Ward's Durgen, 
to rebut the aspersions cast by Pope in The Dunciad. The very 
title-page has its sting, for, after the title as given above, the 
author continues thus : 

" or The Sweet Singing-bird of Parnassus taken out of its 
pretty Cage to be roasted. 

' ' In one short Epistle (Preparatory to a Criticism on his 
Writings) to that Darling of the Demy-Wits, and Minion of the 
Minor Criticks. Exposing the Malice, Wittiness and Vanity of his 
Aspersions on J.H. in that Monument of his own Misery and 
Spleen, the Dunciad." 

It is an exceedingly spirited rejoinder as may be guessed from 
the following paragraph, which is not one of the straightest- 
hitting : "Your whole Piece is only refining on the low Jests 
of Porters, and Fish-Women, as you live by the Water-side ; 
or dressing the insolent Scurrility of Link-Boys and Hackney- 
Coachmen in something (not much) genteeler language ; they 
talk of Monkey Nonsense, Pots and Pipes, backing and mauling, 
neither said nor sung, impudent, brazen, and blushing thro' a thick 
skin, just in the sublime Dialect of the famous Mr. Pope : the 
Dunciad was compiFd from the stairs between the Temple and 
Twickenham, out of the Jokes crack'd and stolen there : Footmen 
and Chairmen every Day practice more elegant Conversation, 
and would be asham'd of the stale weather-beaten Drollery/' 

Henry Fielding, the most important English novelist of the 
eighteenth century and the author of what is perhaps the greatest 
novel in the English language, wrote two books in which slang 
appears to any notable extent : The Life of Mr. Jonathan Wild, 
1743, and Amelia, 1751. Although the former deals with the 
life of a rogue, it is surprisingly free of cant ; the passage best 
suited to illustrate Fielding's use of ordinary slang is that in 
which Mrs. Heartfree relates the importunities of the captain 
commanding the vessel on which she finds herself. 

" He swore that ... I must not expect to treat him in the manner 
to which a set of blockhead land-men submitted. ' None of your coquette 
airs, therefore, with me, madam ... No struggling, nor squalling . . . 
the first man who offers to come in here, I will have his skin flea'd off at 
the gangway \ . . . I told him, with an aifected laugh, he was the roughest 
lover I had ever met with, and that I believed I was the first woman he 
had ever paid his addresses to. ' Addresses/ said he, ' d n your dresses ! 
. . .' I then begged him to let us drink some punch together ; for that 

1 Second ed., 1743. Henley's most prolific period, for published work, 
was 1719-1731. 


I loved a can as well as himself , and never would grant the favour to any 
man till I had drank a hearty glass with him. ' Oh ! ' said he, ' if that be 
all, you shall have punch enough to drown yourself in.' " 

In Amelia, there are a few cant terms in the earlier part of 
the story : sparkling amid such amenities as that of " blear- 
eyed Moll " ', who addresses another prisoner thus : " D n 
your eyes, I thought by your look you had been a clever fellow, 
and upon the snaffling lay [highway robbery] at least ; but, d n 
your body and eyes, I find you are some sneaking budge rascal 

Of the other great novelists of that astounding period 
1740-1771, Samuel Richardson is too demure to use much slang ; 
Sterne, like Henry Mackenzie, employs very little ; but Smollett 
has much, despite the fact that his most fruitful pages are often 
too coarse for transcription. 

The more respectable aspect of the bluff and hearty Smollett, 
who is far more rarely coarse than is generally supposed, may be 
exemplified by the following dialogue between Captain Crowe 
and the conjurer in The Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves 
(1760-62) : 

The doctor . . ." Approach, Raven/' The captain advancing, " You 
an't much mistaken, brother," said he, " heave your eye into the binnacle, 
and box your compass, you'll find I'm a Crowe, not a Raven . . ." " I 
know it," cried the conjurer, " thou art a northern crow ... to be 
flayed, to be basted, to be broiled by Margery upon the gridiron of 
matrimony." The novice changing colour at this denunciation, " I do 
not understand your signals, brother," said he, " and if it be set down in 
the log-book of fate that we must grapple, why then 'ware timbers. . . . 
But I was bound upon another voyage ... to know if so be as how 
I could pick up any intelligence along shore concerning my friend 
Sir Launcelot, who slipped his cable last night, and has lost company, d'ye 
see " " What ! " exclaimed the cunning man, " art thou a crow, and 
canst not smell carrion ? . . ." " What ! broach'd to ? " " Dead as a 
boil'd lobster." . . . "Hark ye, brother conjurer," said he, "you can 
spy foul weather before it comes, damn your eyes ! Why did you not 
give us warning of this here squall ? B st my limbs ! . . . For my own 
part, brother, I put my trust in God, and steer by the compass, and I value 
not your paw-pawing and your conjuration of a rope's end, d'ye see." 

Smollett was the eighteenth century's sole novelist with a 
thorough knowledge of nautical colloquialism and slang, though 
it should be added that he possessed almost as thorough a 
knowledge of the general slang of his period. 

On the Stage, however, two writers recaptured many of the 
Restoration glories without the Restoration vices. Goldsmith 
and Sheridan both excel in easy, fluent, familiar dialogue, as 
we see in the former's Good Natur'd Man, 1768, and She Stoops 
to Conquer, 1773, and in the latter's The Rivals, 1775, and The 
School for Scandal, 1777. She Stoops to Conquer has several 


delightful characters, but none more amusing than Tony Lunipkin, 
who sings : 

When Methodist preachers come down, 

A-preaching that drinking is sinful, 
I'll wager the rascals a crown, 

They always preach best with a skinful. 
But when you come down with your pence, 

For a slice of their scurvy religion, 
I'll leave it to all men of sense, 

But you, my good friend, are the pigeon. 

The same inimitable character thus describes how he led 
certain persons astray : "By jingo, there's not a pond or slough 
within five miles of the place but they can tell the taste of. ... 
I first took them down Feather-Bed Lane, where we stuck fast 
in the mud. I then rattled them crack over the stones of Up- 
and-Down Hill I then introduced them to the gibbet on Heavy- 
Tree Heath, and from that, with a circumbendibus, I fairly 
lodged them in the horsepond at the bottom of the garden. . . . 
So, if your own horses be ready, you may whip off with cousin, 
and I'll be bound that no soul here can budge a foot to follow 
you." His interlocutor then exclaims : " My dear friend, how 
can I be grateful ? " whereupon Tony continues : 

" Ay, now it's dear friend, noble Squire. Just now, it was 
all idiot, cub, and run me through the guts. Damn your way 
of fighting, I say." 

More brilliant but less pure in style than Goldsmith, Sheridan 
was in his conversation a master of slang. In his plays, however, 
he used it in moderation. 

The Rivals is remembered chiefly for the drolly intricate plot 
and for the character of Mrs. Malaprop : and are not malapropisms 
a kind of slang when deliberately repeated by others ? Bob 
Acres does not malapropise, therefore his naturally familiar 
speech, verging ever on dang, is more apt : 

Acres. The gentleman wa'n't angry at my praising his mistress, was 

Absolute, A little jealous, I believe, Bob. 

A cres. You don't say so ? Ha, ha ! But you know I am not my 
own property, my dear Lydia has forestalled me. She could never abide 
me in the country, because I used to dress so badly but odds frogs and 
tambours 1 I shan't take matters so here, now ancient madam has no 
voice in it : 111 make my old clothes know who's master. I shall straight- 
way cashier the hunting-frock, and render my leather breeches incapable. 
My hair has been in training for some time. 

A bs. Indeed ! 

Acres. Ay and tho'fi * the side curls are a little restive, my hind- 
part takes it kindly. 

Abs. Oh, you'll polish, I doubt not. 

Acres. Absolutely, I propose so then if I can found out this Ensign 
Beverley, odds triggers and flints ! I'll make him know the difference o't. 

1 Not though if but a dialectal and, in most counties, obsolete form of though. 


Abs. Spoke like a man ! But pray, Bob, I observe that you have 
got an odd kind of a new method of swearing 

Acres. Ha ! ha ! you've taken notice of it 'tis genteel, isn't it ! 
I didn't invent it myself, though, but a commander in our militia, a great 
scholar, I assure you, says that there is no meaning in the common oaths, 
and that nothing but their antiquity makes them respectable ; because, 
he says, the ancients would never stick to an oath or two, but would say, 
by Jove ! or by Bacchus ! or by Mars ! or by Venus ! or by Pallas, according 
to the sentiment : so that to swear with propriety, says my little major, 
the oath should be an echo to the sense ; and this we call the oath referential, 
or sentimental swearing ha 1 ha ! 'tis genteel, isn't it. 

Abs. Very genteel, and very new, indeed ! and I dare say will 
supplant all other figures of imprecation. 

Acres. Ay, ay, the best terms will grow obsolete. Damns have had 
their day. 

In The School for Scandal, the brightest and most pungent 
comedy that appeared in England from 1710 till " the Lord 
knows when ", there is a deal of slang scattered here and there, 
but nowhere more pointedly than in the Prologue. 

" Lord ! " cries my Lady Wormwood (who loves tattle, 
And puts much salt and pepper in her prattle), 
Just risen at noon, all night at cards when threshing 
Strong tea and scandal " Bless me, how refreshing ! [Sips.] 
Give me the papers, Lisp how bold and free ! 
Last night Lord L. [sips] was caught with Lady D. [Sips.] 
For aching heads what charming sal volatile ! 
// Mrs. B. will still continue flirting, 
We hope she'll DRAW, or we'll UNDRAW the curtain. 
Fine satire, pozz in public all abuse it, 
But, by ourselves [sips], our praise we can't refuse it. 
Now, Lisp, read you there, at that Dash and Star." 
" Yes, ma'am A certain Lord had best beware, 
Who lives not twenty miles from Grosvenor Square ; 
For should he Lady W. find willing, 
Wormwood is bitter " " Oh ! that's me, the villain ! 
Throw it behind the fire, and never more 
Let that vile paper come within my door." 

A few years later (1781) George Parker, who knew the under- 
world as intimately as B.E. or Grose, issued A View of Society 
in High and Low Life. The first volume relates his varied 
adventures, the second describes the character and " occupation " 
of such artists of the underworld as sham lawyers, composition 
barbers, chaunter-culls, body-snatchers, lumpers, madge-culls, 
rum-snoosers, queer roosters, fire-priggers, reader merchants, 
high and low gaggers, chosen pills, dingers and levanters. The 
section entitled " Hook and Snivey, with Nix the Buffer " is 
instructive. " This practice is executed by three men and a dog ; 
one of the men counterfeits sickness, and has a white handkerchief 
tied round his head, or wears a nightcap. 

" They go into an ale-house, and are shown a room : having 
hid the dog under the table, they ring the bell and call for a pot 


of beer, and desire to know of the landlord if he has got any cold 
meat in the house, and what two of them must give a-piece to 
dine, as the third man is very ill ? 

" He leans his head against the mantel-piece, keeps groaning 
and sighing, and says he can't eat a mouthful if the whole world 
were given to him. 

" This trick had once been attempted on a landlord, who was 
a man of the world and up to their gossip. 

" He informed them that he should charge them only sixpence 
a-head, and sent them in part of a cold round of beef. He watched 
them, and saw them give the counterfeit sick man above a pound 
of beef, and another to the Buffer under the table. 

" When they called to know what was to pay, he told them two 
shillings for eating, for he would be paid a sye-buck * a-piece, and 
would stand no hook and snivey* or Nix the Buffer? 

" The people who practise this rig 4 are dog-stealers. They 
call the dog a Buffer, from a practice among them of killing 
such dogs as no advertisement or enquiry has been made for ; 
and this they call buffing the dog, whose skin they sell, and feed 
the remaining dogs with his carcase. 

" These people have separate walks in which they practise the 
trade of dog-stealing ; another great business in making enquiries 
after a dog is to remember the place where it is lost, and to search 
there for some dog-seller, who it is very probable will give you 
information for a smaller reward than what you would have 
proposed, besides saving you the trouble and expence of an 

In 1789 he published Life's Painter of Variegated Characters 
in Public and Private Life. On the title-page he describes 
himself as " Librarian to the College of Wit, Mirth, and Humour ". 
Perhaps the most interesting definition is " Slang Boys. Boys of 
the slang : fellows who speak the slang language, which is the 
same zs flash and cant, but the word slang is applied differently ; 
when one asks the other to shake hands, that is, slang us your 
mauley. To exhibit anything in a fair or market, such as a tall 
man, or a cow with two heads, that's called slanging, and the 
exhibiter is called the slang cull." 

Parker's work was probably known to Francis Grose (1730- 
1790) , Fellow of the Society of Antiquarians, Captain and Adjutant 
of Militia, and topographer, who not only studied vulgar English 
and dialect but published an excellent book on each. 

Grose's Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue appeared 
in 1785, the slightly enlarged second edition in 1788, and the 

1 Sixpence. 

2 The cant name for this particular " dodge ". 

:1 Nix, nothing, perhaps connotes : nothing to be charged. 
* Trick. Originally a cant, by 1781 an ordinary slang word. 


third the last to incorporate its editor's additions and corrections 
in 1796. (The editions of 1811, known as the Lexicon 
Balatronicum, and 1823, Pierce Egan's, need not concern us 
further than this bare mention.) The first edition contained about 
3,000, the third 1 nearly 4,000 entries, and, except in the few 
instances in which he reproduces, with only verbal changes, the 
definitions this applies almost solely to cant of B.E. or of 
the editor of the 1725 Canting Dictionary, every entry 2 bears the 
unmistakable imprint of the vivid accuracy and the jolly, jovial 
earthiness of " the greatest antiquary, joker, and porter-drinker 
of his day " and of one of the happiest wits of 1760-1790. Grose 
was, as the Dictionary of National Biography has so neatly 
described him, " a sort of antiquarian Falstaff " ; nowhere 
more than in the Vulgar Tongue did he display his scholarship 
and industry, his wit and humour, his sympathetically keen 
understanding of human nature, and his gift of rendering 
interesting all that he touched. With Hotten's opinion we can 
substantially agree, though something must be allowed for the 
excessive respect paid by the bohemian Hotten to mid- Victorian 
prudery when he writes : "It was Grose . . . who . . . collected 
the scattered Glossaries of cant and secret words, and formed 
one large work, adding to it all the vulgar words and slang terms 
used in his own day. The indelicacy and extreme vulgarity of 
the work renders it unfit for ordinary use, still it must be admitted 
that it is by far the most important work which has ever 3 appeared 
on street or popular language ; indeed, from its pages every 
succeeding work has drawn its contents . . . excepting the 
obscenities, it is really an extraordinary book." Contemporary 
antiquarians such as Hone, Mark Noble, and " Anecdotes and 
Illustrations " Nichols relate that the dictionary " by no means 
added to his reputation " : Grose probably foresaw that many 
would traduce him. 

The variety of the terms defined by Grose may be perceived 
from the following entries, collected almost at random. 

" Abel-Wackets. Blows given on the palm of the hand with 
a twisted handkerchief, instead of a ferule ; a jocular punishment 
among seamen, who sometimes play at cards for wackets, the 
loser suffering as many strokes as he has lost games." 

" Barber's Chair. She is as common as a barber's chair, in 
which a whole parish sit to be trimmed ; said of a prostitute." 

" Chatts. Lice ; perhaps an abbreviation of chattels, lice 
being the chief livestock or chattels of beggars, gypsies, and the 

1 From which the quotations are drawn. 

a Perhaps I may be permitted to mention that in July, 1931, I issued an 
annotated edition of the Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, with a memoir. 
(Oxford University Press.) 

3 This holds good until John S. Fanner's great dictionary began to appear 
in 1890. 


rest of the canting crew. Cant, also, according to the canting 
academy, the gallows." 

" Flam. A lie, or sham story ; also a single stroke on a 
drum. To flam * ; to hum, to amuse, to deceive. Flim flams ; 
idle stories/' 

" Hick. A country hick ; an ignorant clown." (Most people 
suppose this by-form of Richard to be an Americanism.) 

" Little Clergyman. A young chimney-sweeper." 

" Melt. To spend. Will you melt a borde ? will you spend a 
shilling ? The cull melted a couple of decusses upon us ; the 
gentleman spent a couple of crowns upon us. Cant." 

" Palaver. To flatter : originally an African word for a 
treaty, talk, or conference." 

" Rank Rider. A highwayman." 

" Scamp. A highwayman. Royal scamp ; a highwayman 
who robs civilly. Royal foot scamp ; a footpad who behaves 
in like manner." 

" Tilbury. Sixpence : So called from its formerly being the 
fare for crossing over from Gravesend to Tilbury fort." (Whence 
probably tizzy t still current for a sixpence.) 

" Tip. To give or lend. Tip me your dadcQe ; give me your 
hand. Tip me a hog ; give me a shilling. To tip the lion ; to 
flatten a man's nose with the thumb, and at the same time to 
extend the mouth with the fingers, thereby giving him a sort 
of lion-like countenance. To tip the velvet ; tonguing a woman. 
To tip all nine ; to knock down all the nine pins at once, at the 
game of bowls or skittles ; tipping, at these games, is slightly 
touching the tops of the pins with the bowl. Tip ; a draught 
[of beer] : don't spoil his tip." (The first four examples are cant. 
With the noun, tip for a draught, compare the old Scottish tip 
for two-penny ale ; but the word is more likely to be an abbrevia- 
tion of tipple, liquor, or tip, to drink off.) 

" Tobacco. A plant, once in great estimation as a medicine. 

Tobacco Me 
Will make you well if you be sick. 

Tobacco hie 
If you be well will ma/te you sick." 

(We may note that in the seventeenth century a tobacconist 
the word occurs in Ben Jonson meant a pipe-smoker.) 

" Top-Sail. He paid his debts at Portsmouth with the top- 
sail ; i.e., he went to sea and left them unpaid. So soldiers are 
said to pay off their scores with the drum ; that is, by marching 

" Trumpeter. The King of Spain's trumpeter ; a braying ass. 
[The clue ? DON KEY.] His trumpeter is dead : he is therefore 

1 Grose, in common with a frequent seventeenth to eighteenth century 
practice, has a semi-colon where we would employ a colon. 


forced to sound his own trumpet. He would make an excellent 
trumpeter, for he has a strong breath : said of one having a 
foetid breath." 

" Uphills. False dice that run high." (Cant.) 

" Victualling Office. The stomach." 

" Wobbler. Foot wabbler : A contemptuous term for a foot 
soldier, frequently used by those of the cavalry." (Analogous to 
the 1914-18 soldiers' foot-slogger.) 

" Wagtail. A lewd woman." 

" Walking Poulterer. One who steals fowls, and hawks them 
from door to door." 

" Westminster Wedding. A match between a whore and a 


" Whither-Go-Ye. A wife ; wives being sometimes apt to 
question their husbands whither they are going." 

" Yorkshire Tike. A Yorkshire clown. To come Yorkshire 
over anyone: to cheat "him." (Y. Tike has become not only 
respectable but accepted by Yorkshire men.) 

An utterly different person from Grose, Dr. James Beattie l 
spoke in 1790 of the " new f angled phrases and barbarous idioms 
that are now so much affected by those who form their style 
from political pamphlets and those pretended speeches in Parlia- 
ment that appear in the newspapers . . . Should this jargon 
continue to gain ground among us, English will go to ruin." 

The Doctor issued his son John Hay Beattie's Miscellanies in 
prose and verse in 1799, and among them is The Descent of 
Timothy, parodying Gray's Descent of Odin and affording a neat 
example of slangy verse, for it begins thus : 

Tim crawl'd on board ;* no phiz e'er sadder ; 
Step'd backward down the coal-black ladder ; 
Then twisting sidelong, like a crab, in, 
Stagger'd into the after cabin. . . . 
Onward his tottering Reverence hitches, 
The deck beneath him rolls and pitches. 

Among the three Dialogues of the Dead, young Beattie has one 
between Swift, a bookseller and Mercury. This satirizes some 
of the slang and much of the jargon of the day (c. 1790). Some 
of the words and phrases here pilloried are he was an hour on 
his legs (he spoke for an hour), at the first blush, net a cool thousand, 
in the hair-dressing line, scout the idea, make up one's mind, 
pugilist. Mercury having given Swift a list of such terms and 
their meanings, the Dean closes the conversation by saying : 
" Nay, good Mercury, I am afraid you are now going too far, 
and at your old trade of putting tricks upon travellers. However, 

1 Professor Edwin W. Bowen in The Popular Science Monthly of February, 
1906. The Professor confused the son with the father when he referred to the 
dialogue from which I quote. This talented young man lived from. 1758 to 1796. 


I thank you for your information, though you have made me 
sick of the subject. I see my friend Addison coming this way ; 
it will require an hour even of his conversation to wear out the 
disagreeable impressions left in my mind by this abominable 
detail of vulgarity, pedantry, and barbarism/' Yet many of 
the contemned words and phrases have been accepted by standard 


It was Grose who dominated the whole character and trend 
of slang during the first two decades of the nineteenth century. 
The Lexicon Balatronicum, 1811, so far from being, as it 
purported, a recast of Grose, was Grose's third edition reprinted 
with the addition of a few entries. Even Pierce Egan's edition, 
1823, was only The Vulgar Tongue altered a little here and there 
and augmented with a certain number of racing and boxing slangy 
terms designed less, we suspect, to " improve " Grose than to 
advertise Egan's Life in London (1821) and his Boxiana, which 
was " in progress " as the booksellers and librarians phrase it. 

Rather outside the stream of progress and owing nothing, so 
far as can be detected from internal evidence, to Grose was a 
curious little book that still occupies in antiquarian booksellers' 
catalogues a place of honour to which it has slight claim. In or 
about 1820 appeared Gradus ad Parnassum, 1 which consists of 
some thirty words (e.g., Athens, Bacchus, Christ ; to die, kiss, 
quarrel ; nightingale, rose, sword) with their synonyms, the 
adjectives most usually found with them, and those phrases 
which, like the Swan of Avon, are virtually synonymous : mostly 
of a dignified and poetical nature. But it contains a few slang 
phrases, such as kick the bucket, pull a crow, which rather 
startle one. 

Much more important than Gradus ad Parnassum are the 
works of Pierce Egan and William Moncrieff (actually William 
Thomas). Egan brought out Boxiana in four volumes from 1818 
to 1821, and as a specimen of his pugilistic slang we may quote 
from his account 2 of Bill Stevens " the Nailer ", who, a short 
time champion of England, found it profitable to lose his fights. 
" He entered the lists with George Meggs, a Bristol collier, for 
200 guineas at the Tennis Court, James Street [London]. Stevens 
scarcely knew how to make a fight of it and let Meggs drive him 
about as he pleased ; and after seventeen minutes in humbugging 
the spectators Stevens gave in. The sporting men were properly 
swindled upon this occasion ; and the Nailer had the impudence 
to acknowledge soon after, that he was tipped handsomely 
to lose the battle/' 

1 Anonymous, but almost certainly by James Jermyn of Reydon : see the 
British Museum volume, No. 11603, g. 24, at the blank leaf prefacing Opus 
Epithetorum, the first of three pamphlets pretty evidently by the one author. 
I cite this a titre de curiositd. 

Vol. i. 



More general, however, is the slang of his Life in London ; or, 
The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq., and his 
Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom, accompanied by Bob Logic, 
the Oxonian, in their Rambles and Sprees through the Metropolis. 
Appearing in 1821, it is illustrated by I. R. and George Cruikshank. 
The composition is slack and careless to a most cavalier degree, 
but the book is lively and amusing, whether in the loose- jointed, 
straggling prose or in the facile verse that deserves no more than 
to be called doggerel, " snappy " and fleet though it be. The 
following description of London (as by Corinthian Tom) fairly 
represents the nature of the work and viewpoint of the author : 

London Town's a dashing place 
For ev'ry thing that's going, 
There's fun and gig l in ev'ry face, 

So natty and so knowing. 
Where Novelty is all the rage, 

From high to low degree, 
Such pretty lounges to engage, 
Only come and see ! 

What charming sights 

On gala nights ; 


Grand parades, 

Fam'd gas-lights, 

Knowing fights. 

Randall and Cribb 

Know how to fib 1 * 


Pleasure yields ; 

The Norwich bull 

With antics full. 

Plenty of news, 

All to amuse ; 

The monkey " Jacco ", 

All the crack * 1 

Ambroghetti's squall 

Match girls bawl ! 

* * * * * 

To Vauxhall haste to see the blaze, 

Such variegated lights ; 
The ladies* charms are all the gaze 
No artificial sights. 

Lovely faces 

Full of graces, 

Heav'nly cnarms 

Create alarms ! 

Such glances 

And dances. . . . 

Cyprians 4 fine, 

Kids 6 full of wine. . . . 

1 Mischief. z Hit, strike, punch. 

3 Fashion. * Courtesans. 

5 Youngsters, youths. 


Plenty of hoaxing, 
Strong coaxing ; 
Beautiful shapes, 
Beaux and apes, 
Prone to quiz 
Every phiz ! 
Dashing glasses 
Queering lasses ; 
Flashy cits, 1 
Numerous wits. . . . 
Duke and groom 
In one room ; 
Here all dash on 
In the fashion ! 

Moncrieff, a brilliant opportunist, threw Egan's rambling 
medley-tale into the form of an operatic extravaganza in three 
acts : Tom and Jerry was produced on 2ist November, 1821, 
played throughout two seasons, as fashionable in country as in 
Town, and responsible for introducing slang not merely among 
" The bright young things " (no more bright to-day than ever 
they were) but among society in general women as well as 
men, the drawing-room as well as the club or the fashionable 
lounge. Its author could justly claim that it was The Beggars' 
Opera of the century. The songs and the dialogue vary 
tremendously in character. In Act i, scene 7, we have such 
racing slang as that in 

Tom. Ha ! ha ! ha ! was there ever such a flat, as that Mr. Green ? 
We can buy no prad today, Jerry ; we must go where some gentleman's 
stud is selling ; and while the dealers are running down the cattle, we can 
get a prime good one for a song. But now for Almack's the highest Life 
in London, and see what game Cupid has sprung up for us in that quarter. . . . 

Logic, Aye ; call a rattler. 

Jerry. A rattler ; I'm at fault again. 

Logic. A rattler is a rumbler, otherwise a jarvy ! Better known 
perhaps by the name of a hack. 

And the Honourable Dick Trifle's affected talk to " Kate, Sue, 
and Jane ", and the society note present also in the song : 

Run, Jerry, run, all London are quadrilling it, 

Jerry, Tom and Logic must not be behind ; 
Come, Jerry, come, now for toeing it, and hurling it, 

" La Poule " et "La Finale ", soon we'll partners find. 
King Almack, with his Star and Garter coterie, 
Tonight does invite, come, we each must be a votary. 
No time to waste, then haste, Willis strict is, we must nick it ; 
Not even a Field Marshal can get in without a ticket. 

The whole mad piece abounds in slang of almost every kind, 
nor does it owe all the slang to Egan : Moncrieff seems to have 
been an " expert ". 

1 Citizens ; nouveaux riches. 


Egan and Moncrieff, although they did not dispel that 
eighteenth and early nineteenth century contempt for slang 
which, lasting till about 1850, arose, to a large extent, from the 
confusion of slang with cant, i.e., from the lumping-together of 
ordinary, more or less respectable slang and thieves' slang, yet 
they did more than anyone until their heyday (1818-1828) to cause 
slang to become fashionable and general. It is mainly of these 
two authors that Hotten is thinking when he observes that 
t( street phrases, nicknames and vulgar words were continually 
being added to the great stock of popular slang up to the commence- 
ment of the [nineteenth] century, when it received numerous 
additions from pugilism, horse-racing, and fast ' life generally, 
which suddenly came into great public favourfand was at its 
height in the latter part of the reign of George III and in the 
early days of the Regency [and indeed until 1850 or so]. Slang 
in those days was generally termed ' flash ' language ... So 
popular was ' flash ' with the ' bloods ' of high life, that it 
constituted the best paying literary capital for certain authors 
and dramatists/' Egan, Moncrieff, and Tom Moore owed much 
of the popularity of their more racy work to the fact that they 
ignored that general opinion and sentiment which holds cant to 
be something of " a language within a language " and therefore 
incomprehensible to the people as a whole and which considers 
slang to be a " collection of colloquialisms from all sources " : 
a view that, being essentially sound, obtains to this day. 

Contemporary with Egan and Moncrieff was the poet Moore. 
Tom Crib's Memorial to Congress, actually antedating Boxiana 
by three years, contains a vigorous "Account of the Grand 
Set-to between Long Sandy and Georgy the Porpus ", when 
" long before daylight, gigs, rattlers, and prads [riding-horses] 
were in motion for Moulsey, brimful of the lads " and when the 
fight began thus : 

First Round. Very cautious the kiddies both sparr'd 

As if shy of the scratch 'while the Porpus kept guard 

O'er his beautiful mug, as if fearing to hazard 

One damaging touch in so dandy a mazzard [face], 

Which t'other observing put his one-two [quick blows] 

Between Georgy's left ribs, with a knuckle so true, 

That had his heart lain in the right place, no doubt 

But the Bear's double-knock would have rummag'd it out 

As it was, Master Georgy came souse [fell flump] with the whack, 

And there sprawl'd, like a turtle turn'd queer on its back. 1 ' 

The last four rounds were livelier : 

Seventh Round, Though hot-press'd, and as flat as a crumpet, 
Long Sandy show'd game again, scorning to rump it [give in] ; 
And, fixing his eye on the Porpus's snout, 
Which he knew that Adonis felt peery [suspicious, anxious] about, 


By a feint, truly elegant, tipp'd [gave] him a punch in 
The critical place, where he cupboards his luncheon, 
Which knock'd all the rich Caraao into cruds [curds], 
And doubled him up like a bag of old duds ! 

Eighth Round. Sandy work'd like a first-rate demolisher : 

Bear as he is, yet his lick l is no polisher ; 

This round was but short after humouring awhile, 

He proceeded to serve an ejectment, in style, 

Upon Georgy's front grinders, which damag'd his smile 

So completely that bets ran a hundred to ten 

That Adonis would ne'er flash his ivory [smile broadly] again. 

Ninth Pound. One of Georgy's bright ogles [eyes] was put 

On the bankruptcy list, with its shop-windows shut ; 

While the other soon made quite as tag-rag a show, 

All rimm'd round with black, like the Courier * in woe. 

From this to the finish, 'twas all fiddle faddle [mere trifling] 

Poor Georgy, at last, could scarce hold up his d addle [hand] 

With grinders dislodg'd and with peepers [eyes] both poach'd, 

Twas not till the Tenth Round his claret was broach'd : 

But a pelt in the smellers [a punch on the nose], too pretty [skilful] 

to shun, 
If the lad even could, set it going like fun. 

It was such language as this which caused J. P. Thomas, in 
My Thought Book, 1825, to exclaim : " It is painful to admit 
that the low verbiage which was but lately engrossed by thieves 
and vagabonds, is now adopted by those who would be highly 
affronted if you were to express a doubt whether they were 

From " outsiders " like Pierce Egan and Moncrieff, by way 
of a " bright lad " like Tom Moore, and due in part to the success 
of Egan's re-issue of Grose's Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue and 
to the reinforcing influence of Bee's dictionary of the turf and 
the ring, low slang and indeed cant became " the thing " with a 
group of novelists. 

But before we -consider Scott, Bulwer Lytton, Disraeli, and 
Ainsworth (who represented a veritable apotheosis of the gutter), 
let us glance at Jon Bee, actually John Badcock's Dictionary of 
the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, the Pit, the Bon-Ton, and the 
Varieties of Life, which appeared in 1823. The compiler evidently 
possessed an intimate knowledge of the sporting slang of his 
time, but as an editor he is inferior to even Pierce Egan, whom 
he wished to emulate, for the latter did at least supply some 
valuable biographical details concerning Grose. Bee takes Grose, 
in the Lexicon Balatronicum version, as his basis. Much of 
what, with a pretentious flourish of trumpets, he adds is neither 
slang nor cant but the terms peculiar to the sport in question, as 
when he defines allowances thus : " (Turf) mares and geldings 
running against horses are allowed weight (usually 3 Ibs. each) ; 

1 A pun on a bear's lick and lick blow, punch. 

8 The Courier : an old newspaper. The reference is to an obituary number. 


also, if coining of untried parents, 3 Ibs. each and either. Fillies 
always cany less than colts, 2, 3, or 4, and sometimes 5 Ibs., but 
this is not called by any name. Allowance Bub and Grub 
[drink and food], with a . . .,* clean shirt, and a guinea, twice 
a-week, is good allowance/' The frivolity of the whole per- 
formance may be guessed from the following : " Bon-ton high- 
flyer Cyprians [courtesans], and those who run after them, from 
Bon good, easy and ton or tone, the degree of tact and tension 
to be employed by modish people ; frequently called the ' ton ', 
only. Persons taking the good portions of their hours in sleep 
and pleasure, are of the Bon-ton, as stage-actors and frequenters 
of play-houses, visitors at watering-places, officers, etc., etc. . . . 
The appellation is much oftener applied than assumed. High 
Life, especially of whoredom : he who does not keep a girl, or 
part of one, cannot be of the Bon-ton ; when he ceases, let him 
cut. . . . Terms which denote the ton : ' The go, the mode, or 
pink of the mode ; bang-up, the prime of life, or all prime ; 
the thing, the dash, and a dasher ; quite the Varment a four- 
in-hand, a whip, a very jarvy, a swell, a diamond of the first 
water' . . ." 

The glorification of the underworld, or rather the vogue of 
its language in literature, not merely in chapbooks, pamphlets, 
and badly written novels or now-fcfrgotten dictionaries dredging 
Grose, began in 1822 with Scott's Fortunes of Nigel, for which 
that greatest of all historical novelists ransacked the Classical 
Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. Some years later, but not 
uninfluenced by the vast success enjoyed by Pierce Egan and 
William Moncrieff (both owing much to Grose), Ainsworth, 
Bulwer Lytton 2 and Disraeli 3 introduced, each of them, cant 
words or songs into several of their novels. As Disraeli 4 is the 
least important, he can be dismissed, but the other two have their 
significance : that of literary men like Henley later, deliberately 
writing cant, or rather including cant in their work. Bulwer 
Lytton has a few terms in Pelham, 1828, and many in Paul 
Clifford, 1830. In the latter, also, he included several canting 
songs, which, like Ainsworth's, are inferior to Maginn's and 
Henley's. William Ainsworth, a disciple of Scott, introduced 
cant into Jack Sheppard, 1839, an( i especially, in 1834, into his 
first novel, Rookwood, of which Dick Turpin, the highwayman, 
is the hero. Rookwood contains several canting songs that became 

1 Perhaps free " oats ". 

8 On the canting activities of Lytton and Disraeli and the text of their 
songs in cant, see especially Baumann's Londonismen, 1887, and W. L. Hanchant's 
Newgate Garland, 1932. 

3 The same thing, though a little later, happened in France, where Hugo, 
Balzac, and Sue " cribbed right and left " from Vidocq's M^moires, 1828, and 
his Voleurs, 1837. 

4 See Venetia. 


famous and were sung as late as 1880 : the best are " The 
Game of High Toby " and " Nix my Doll Palls, Fake Away ". 
But for " respectable " slang Ainsworth is in no way notable. 
Bulwer Lytton and Disraeli are. Both these very fashionable 
novelists adorned their work with much high-society slang, as 
almost every novel of theirs testifies. Not one of these three, 
however, had one quarter of the knowledge of low life and the 
underworld possessed by B.E. or Grose or Pierce Egan or James 
Greenwood, the very un- Victorian novelist best known in his 
life as " One of the Crowd ". 

Not modish nor meretricious as Bulwer Lytton, Disraeli, and 
even Ainsworth too often were, Dickens freshened and sweetened 
the English novel, as Scott had done before him in his Scottish 
tales, by dealing with ordinary folk. He, too, uses slang freely, 
but it is mainly that of the middle and lower class Cockney, 
not that of the bloods on the one hand nor that of the under- 
world on the other. Sketches by Boz, with which he made his 
name in 1836-7, bears the sub-title, Every-Day Life and Every- 
Day People. In " Some Account of an Omnibus Cad ", we hear 
of Mr. Barker's shrewd perception of " how much might be done 
in the way of enticing the youthful and unwary, and showing 
the old and helpless into the wrong 'bus, 1 and carrying them off, 
until, reduced to despair, they ransomed themselves by the 
payment of sixpence a head, or, to adopt his own figurative 
expression in all its native beauty, ' till they was rig'larly done 
over [exhausted], and forked out the stumpy [the cash] ' ". 2 He 
heard of a new 'bus : "... a crack affair altogether. An 
enterprising young cabman, of established reputation as a dashing 
whip for he had compromised with the parents of scrunched 
[maimed] children, and just ' worked out ' his fine for knocking 
down an old lady was the driver/ 7 Mr. Barker got the job of 
cad. 3 In " Greenwich Fair " we hear an early version of the 
thimble trick so popular on race-courses, the " worker " addressing 
the crowd thus : " Here's the sort o' game to make you laugh 
seven years arter you're dead, and turn every air on your ed grey 
with delight. Three thimbles and vun little pea with a vun, 
two, three, and a two, three, vun ; catch him who can, look 
on, keep your eyes open, and niver say die ! Niver mind the 
change, and damn the expense : all fair and above board : 
them as don't play can't vin, and luck attend the ryal sportsman. 
Bet any genlm'n any sum of money, from arf-a-crown up to a 
soverin, as he doesn't name the thimble as kivers the pea." The 
greenhorn loses ; the man with the thimble consoles him with 

1 Slang at this date. 

2 Cf. the later stump up the cash, 

3 An omnibus conductor. Tom Hood, three years earlier, was the first to 
use the term. 


" all the fortin of Var ! this time I vin, next time you vin ; 
niver mind the loss of two bob and a bender [sixpence] I Do it 
up in a small parcel, and break out in a fresh place ! Here's the 
sort o' game . . ." With the alteration of a word or two, thus 
might any twentieth century Cockney talk, except that the 
substitution v for w, so general in Dickens's day, is now employed 
only to represent a Jew's or a Frenchman's difficulty with w. 
In 1836-7 Dickens firmly established his position (" consolidated " 
as post-War, War-influenced slang has it) by bringing out the 
Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, much more generally 
known as the Pickwick Papers. On the very first day's journey 
Mr. Pickwick meets with a lively stranger whose " lengthened 
string of broken sentences, delivered with extraordinary 
volubility " is full of slang, as two successive volleys will show : 
" ' Never mind/ said the stranger, cutting [Mr. Pickwick's] 
address [of thanks] very short, ' said enough, no more ; smart 
chap that cabman handled his fives [fists] very well ; but if 
I'd been your friend in the green jemmy [a greatcoat] damn me 
punch his head 'cod I would, pig's whisper 1 pieman too, 
no gammon/ " ; and : " ' My coach, place booked, one out- 
side leave you to pay for the brandy and water, want change 
for a five, bad silver Brummagem buttons won't do no go 
eh ? ' and he shook his head most knowingly." 

Mr. Weller's manner of speaking is so famous that it were 
an impertinence to quote his humorous conversation. Through- 
out his career, Dickens was to use much slang in his novels and 
stories, and his influence on the slang of 1840 to 1880 would be 
very difficult to assess : but one may declare that it was certainly 
farther-reaching than that of any other author, or of any 
dictionary ; and it would probably be no exaggeration to add 
that the same remark would apply to the whole century. That 
his fiction is " instructive in slang ", as he might himself have 
phrased it, cannot be doubted (despite his aversion for American 
slang). Sometimes the instruction is disarmingly intentional, 
as in that passage 2 in which Mr. Gradgrind finds himself in odd 
company, " of the Circus, circusy." 

" Kidderminster, stow that ! " said Mr. Childers, (Master Kidder- 
minster . . . was Cupid's mortal name.) 

" What does he come here cheeking us for. then ? " cried Master 
Kidderminster . . . '' If you want to cheek us, pay your ochre 3 at the 
doors and take it out." " Kidderminster," said Mr. Childers, raising his 
voice, " stow that." "Sir," to Mr. Gradgrind, " I was addressing myself to 
you. You may not be aware (for perhaps you have not been much in the 
audience), that Jupe 4 has missed the tip very often, lately." 

1 i.e., in a pig's whisper, slang for " in a trice ". Gammon puns " bacon " 
and " nonsense ". 

2 Hard Times, 1854. 

:i Money, from the colour of a sovereign. 
4 Whom Gradgrind has called to see. 


" Has what has he missed ? " asked Mr. Gradgrind, glancing at the 
potent Bounderby for assistance. 

" Missed his tip." , _ 

" Offered at the Garters four times last night, and never done em 
once," said Master Kidderminster. " Missed his tip at the banners too, 
and was loose in his ponging/' . 

" Didn't do what he ought to do. Was short in his leaps and bad in 
his tumbling/' t . . ^ 

" Oh ! " said Mr. Gradgrind, " that is tip, is it? 

" In a general way that's missing his tip/' Mr. E. W. B. Childers 

Usually less obtrusively and therefore more effectually, 
Dickens the most read 1 British author of the century- 
garnered a very large proportion of the slang current during the 
forty years ending in 1870, endowed much of it with a far longer 
life than it would otherwise have had, so popularized certain slang 
terms that they gained admittance to standard speech, and so 
imposed on the public certain slangy innovations of his own that 
they became general slang and then, in a few instances, were 
passed into the common stock. Professor W. E. Collinson, in 
a book that we shaU later notice in some detail, has, after a piece 
of ad hoc research and with justice remarked : "I cannot think 
of any modern writer who has exercised so far-reaching an 
influence on our everyday speech ; neither Scott nor Thackeray, 
let alone Jane Austen, Geo. Eliot, Meredith or Hardy, have made 
so deep an impression/' a judgment applying with equal force 
to slang in especial and to colloquial speech in general. Yet 
Dickens saw the danger that slang might vitiate the language, 
for which he did care and which he could handle, and handle 
well or better than well, on a variety of planes and in a gamut 
of manners that are quite beyond the powers of his detractors. 
In 1853 he wrote 2 : v " So universal has the use of slang terms 
become, that, in all societies, they are frequently substituted for, 
and have almost usurped the place of wit. An audience will sit 
in a theatre and listen to a string of brilliant witticisms, with 
perfect immobility ; but let some fellow rush forward and roar 
out ' It's aU serene ', or ' Catch 'em all alive, oh 1 ' (this last is 
sure to take), pit, boxes, and gallery roar with laughter. . . . 
If the evil of slang has grown too gigantic to be suppressed, let 
us at least give it decency by legalizing it ; else, assuredly, this 
age will be branded by posterity with the shame of jabbering 
a broken dialect . . . and our wits will be sneered at ... as 
mere word-twisters, who supplied the lack of humour by a vulgar 
facility of low language." ' 

When Dickens was busy, in 1835-7, in opening up that new 
avenue of everyday people described in a far from everyday 

1 Among English-speaking people and peoples. 

2 On 24th. September: in Household Words. It was the leading article 
and entitled " Slang ". 


manner, William Maginn was at the height of his fame as a 
journalist, his best " periodical " work being done for Black- 
wood's Magazine, for that short-lived paper, The Representative, 
and for Eraser's Magazine, more famous for its publication of 
Carlyle's Sartor Resartus. The brilliant Maginn is remembered 
chiefly for half a dozen quite first-class short stories and, among 
scholars, as a master of low slang and of cant : it is almost 
certain that he was the translator of Vidocq's Memoirs. Like 
his fellow countryman and (t Fraserite ", Francis Mahony (better 
known as Father Prout), Maginn was very learned and might, 
as Prout described himself, be described as "an Irish Potato 
seasoned with Attic salt ". As a specimen of his manner in 
verse, though he was a better prose-writer than a poet, we may 
quote the beginning of his flowing translation of Vidocq's En 
Rouland de Vergne en Vergne : 

As from ken to ken, I was going, [shop, house] 

Doing a bit on the prigging lay, [thieving] 
Who should I meet but a jolly bio wen, [girl; harlot] 

Tol lol, lol lol, tol dirol lay ? 
Who should I meet but a jolly bio wen, 

Who was fly to the time of day. . . .[wide-awake] 
I pattered in flash like a covey knowing, [talked in cant] 

"I, bub or grubby, I say ? " [drink, food] 
" Lots of gatter," says she, " is flowing, [beer] 

Tol lol, lol lol, tol dirol lay. 

Lend me a lift in the family way.' 1 [help me as among friends] 

Perhaps influenced by Dickens and Maginn, R. H. Barham 
in 1840-7 issued in book-form his comic, spirited, highly- 
colloquial medley of verse and prose, The Ingoldsby Legends, 
which were further enlivened by Leech's illustrations. Their 
gay facility and unconventional language may be observed in 
any poem whatsoever, but we will choose " The Dead Drummer ", 
in which two men are caught in a storm on Salisbury Plain. The 
lightning flashed, the rain " kept pouring " 

While they, helter-skelter, 

In vain sought for shelter 
From, what I have heard term'd, " a regular pelter " ; 

But the deuce of a screen 

Could be anywhere seen, 
Or an object except that on one of the rises, 

An old way-post show'd 

Where the Lavington road 

Branched off to the left from the one to Devizes ; 
And thither the footsteps of Waters seem'd tending, 
Though a doubt might exist of the course he was bending, 
To a landsman at least, who, wherever he goes, 
Is content, for the most part, to follow his nose ; 

While Harry kept " backing 

And filling " and " tacking ", 


Two nautical terms which, I'll wager a guinea, are 

Meant to imply 

What you, Reader, and I 
Would call going zig-zag, and not rectilinear. 

Barham (f 1845) was an exceedingly versatile and dexterous 
master of slang, and his contribution to its literary practice may 
be guessed from a glance through that dictionary which familiars 
call Farmer and Henley, but since his prose as well as poetry 
now seem very old-fashioned * and at times a little tedious, further 
quotation is perhaps inadvisable, such meagre representation not 
being deceptive if it is borne in mind that if he were accorded a 
space commensurate with his importance he would fill three or 
four pages. 

Douglas William Jerrold, who knew Dickens, probably read 
Barham, and almost certainly knew Maginn, did his best work 
in the 'forties : Mrs. Caudle's Curtain Lectures, first in Punch 
and then in book form, in 1846, have, in their own kind, never 
been surpassed ; and The Barber's Chair, appearing in his own 
journal, Douglas Jerrold's Weekly Newspaper, in 1847, but not 
reprinted till 1874. To quote from the former is supererogatory, 
from the latter desirable, for The Barber's Chair deserves to be 
much better known. Mr. Nutts, who has named " them two 
cats " Whig and Tory, explains their ways and habits : 

" You see Whig there, a-wiping his whiskers. Well, if he in the night 
kills the smallest mouse that ever squeaked, what a clatter he does kick up ! 
He keeps my wife and me awake for hours ; and sometimes now this is 
so like Whig to catch a mouse not worth a fardin 1 , he'll bring down a 
row of plates or a tea-pot or a punch bowl worth half-a-guinea. And in 
the morning when he shows us the measly little mouse, doesn't he put his 
back up and purr as loud as a bagpipe. * , . Doesn't he make the most 
of a mouse that's hardly worth lifting with a pair of tongs and throwing 
in the gutter ? Well, that's Whig all over. Now there's Tory lying all 
along the hearth, and looking as innocent as though you. might shut 
him up in a dairy with nothing but his word and honour. Well, when he 
kills a mouse, he makes hardly any noise about it. But this I will say, 
he's a little greedier than Whig ; hell eat the varmint up, tail and all. 
No conscience for the matter. Bless you, I've known him make away with 
rats that he must have lived in the same house with for years." 

At the end of the half-century, the Bulwer Lytton, Ainsworth 
school of canters was moribund : wounded to the death by the 
novels of Dickens and by the writings of such anti-phraseurs as 
Douglas Jerrold. Then, too, it was Dickens who engendered the 
novel of social pity (you get it even in Disraeli) : moreover, he 
prepared the public to pay at least some attention to Henry 
Mayhew, who stands rather outside Hotten's apercu on the 
approximate period 1850-1870 ; " [Slang] has now taken a some- 
what different turn, dropping many of the cant and old vulgar 

1 In literary jargon, it has " dated ", a term that will, however, be accepted 
in Standard English, for it is much shorter than become out of date. 


words, and assuming a certain quaint and fashionable phraseology 
familiar, utilitarian, and jovial/' This aspect was due to a 
change in general familiar speech, which had become a little 
more refined, especially in the broad trend of the colloquial 
(the free-and-easy, undress kind of) language of the day. The 
more civilized a country and the more refined its speech, the 
richer will be the stock of slang ; that is why in Elizabethan 
times there was much cant (a " secret " vocabulary) but little 
slang (the general vocabulary, syntax, and accidence of unfettered 
speech), the conversation of that period being so picturesque 
that slang was hardly needed to render it more picturesque. 

But before we deal with Henry Mayhew, John Mills must be 
considered. Mills's D'Horsay appeared in 1844, Life of a Race- 
horse in 1854, and Stable Secrets in 1863. An authority on horses, 
he is also thoroughly conversant with general and with society 
slang : and as an all-round slangster he shows at his best in 
D'Horsay ; or, The Follies of the Day, which, by " A Man of 
Fashion" (as Mills certainly was), takes 1 the Count D'Orsay 
the exquisite dandy's career as a basis and brings in Sir Henry 
Bulwer Lytton as Pelham, the Countess of Blessington as Countess 
of Rivington, the Marquis of Hertford as Marquis of Hereford, 
Disraeli as " that swarthy, circumcised driver of the cabriolet ", 
and numerous other aristocratic (and several demi-monde) 
fashionables of the day. Mills is really " small beer " as compared 
with Mayhew, but he can do this sort of thing well enough : 
His lordship the Marquis of Riverford (i.e., of Waterford) 
about to throw a handful of heated coins to a group of humble 
folk, " addressed the admiring throng with the following neat 
and witty speech. ' Now you set of beggars ' the implication 
was more apt than intended ' now, you set of beggars/ repeated 
he, * keep your daylights open and your potato-traps shut. 
There's a few here who have burnt their fingers in getting money 
by more ways than one, and although some of ye may blister 'em 
in picking up this, yet the choice is entirely with yourselves 
whether the risk is worth running or not/ ' Arrah, honey ! ' 
exclaimed a feminine voice. ' Toss the kine [coins] to us, and 
we'll show ye the vally we set on our fingers. Bad luck to 'em, 
but they'll stand a scorch.' " 

The scramble was highly successful and pleasing to organizer, 
patron, and patronized. An old trick, of course ! But the 
Marquis of Riverford played fair : in the eighteenth century, 
the money was usually tossed to a crowd unwarned of the state 
of the coins. 

But this sort of horse-play is antiquated and this sort of slang 
is rarely so interesting as that of the middle and the lower classes. 
Thcugh he is necessarily much grimmer, Henry Mayhew does 

1 See esp. Joseph Grego's adequately documented edition, 1902. 


nevertheless come as a refreshing breath after Mills. Mayhew's 
greatest work appeared, in an incomplete form in 1851 ; some years 
later this was incorporated in the four volumes of 1861-2, London 
Labour and the London Poor, whose title continues thus, A 
Cyclopaedia of the Condition and Earnings of Those that will 
Work, Those that cannot Work, and Those who will not Work 
The value of this book is enhanced by the numerous illustrations 
from photographs. And the value of the colloquialisms and the 
slang therein may be reckoned from the following facts presented 
in the author's preface. 1 

' ' It surely may be considered curious as being the first attempt 2 
to publish the history of a people, from the lips of the people 
themselves . . . and to pourtray the conditions of their homes 
and their families by personal observation of the places, and 
direct communion with the individuals. . . . Curious also as 
being the first commission of enquiry into the state of the people, 
undertaken by a private individual. . . . Curious, moreover, as 
supplying information concerning a large body of persons, of 
whom the public had less knowledge than of the most distant 
tribes of the earth." 

Mayhew gives specimens of the speech of almost every trade 
and occupation current among the lower and the poorer classes 
in London : sometimes short, sometimes longish lists of words 
with their equivalents in standard English ; and accurate 
transcriptions of actual conversations and authentic recitals of 
information sought by the author. One of the most interesting 
is the account of " the recent experience of a running patterer ", 
the seller of a paper giving details of "murders, seductions, 
crim.-cons. [adulteries], explosions, alarming accidents, 'assassina- 
tions/ deaths of public characters, duels and love-letters ". 
The patterers are called running and not standing if they " describe, 
or profess to describe, the contents of their papers as they go 
rapidly along, and they seldom or never stand still ". This man, 
who had been twenty years at his job, relates the past year's 

" Well, Sir, I think, take them all together, things hasn't been so good 
this last year as the year before. But the Pope, God bless him ! he's been 
the best friend I've had since Rush, but Rush licked his Holiness. You 
see, the Pope and Cardinal Wiseman is a one-sided affair ; of course the 
Catholics won't buy anything against the Pope, but all religions could go 
for Rush. Our mob [the speaker and the two or three others that worked 
with him] once thought of starting a cardinal's dress, and I thought of 
wearing a red hat myself. I did wear a shovel hat when the Bishop of 
London was our racket 3 ; but I thought the hat began to feel too hot, 

1 The 1861-2 edition, used as the basis of the ensuing quotations and remarks. 
* The second came in the last decade of the 19tti Century; the third, long 
in ragid progress, has been published by Messrs. P. S. King & Son, London. 
8 The English original of yet another Americanism. 


so I shovelled it off . . . There was one Cardinal Wiseman's Lament ' 
and it was giving his own words like, and a red hat would have capped it. 
It used to make the people roar when it came to snivelling and grumbling 
at Little Jack Russell [probably Lord John Russell] by Wiseman, of 
course ; and when it comes to this part which alludes to that 'ere 
thundering letter to the Bishop of Durham the people was stunned : 

He called me a buffalo, bull, and a monkey, 
And then with a soldier called Old Arthur Conkey 1 
Declared they would buy me a ninepenny donkey 
And send me to Rome to the Pope. 

" They shod 2 me, Sir. Who's they ? Why, the Pope and Cardinal 
Wiseman. I call my clothes after them I earn money by to buy 
them with. My shoes I call Pope Hus ; my trousers and braces, Calcraft ; 
my waistcoat and shirt, Jael Jenny ; and my coat, Love Letters. . . . 
There was very little doing for some time after I gave you an account 
before ; hardly a slum worth a crust and a pipe of tobacco to us. A 
slum's a paper fake, make a foot-note of that, Sir. I think Adelaide 
was the first thing I worked after I told you of my tomfooleries. Yes 
it was her helegy. She weren't of no account whatsomever . . . But 
there was poor Sir Robert Peel, he was some good ; indeed, I think he 
was as good as 5$. a day to me for the four or five days when he was freshest. 
Browns [copper coins] were thrown out of the windows to us ... I 
worked Sir Robert in the West End, and in the quiet streets and squares. 
Certainly we had a most beautiful helegy. Well, poor gentleman, what 
we earned on him was some set-off to us for his starting his new regiment 
of the Blues 8 the Cooks' Own. Not that they've troubled me much. 
I was once before Alderman Kelly . . ., charged with obstructing, or 
some humbug of that sort. ' What are you, my man,.? * says he quietly, 
and like a gentleman. ' In the same line as yourself, .my lord,' says I. 
' How's that ? ' says he. " I'm a paper-worker for my living, my lord/ 
says I. I was soon discharged ; and there was such fun and laughing, 
that if I'd had a few slums in my pocket, I believe I could have sold 
them all in the justice-room. 

" Heynau was a stunner . . . just in the critical time for us, as things 
was growing very taper. 4 But I did best with him in chaunting [the 
singing of ballads in street and public-house] ... We're forced to change 
our patter first running, then chaunting, and then standing oftener 
than we used to. 

" Then Calcraft was 5 pretty tidy browns. He was up for starving his 
mother, and what better can you expect of a hangman ? Me and my 
mate worked him down at Hatfield in Essex, where his mother lives. It's 
his native [sc. place], I believe. We sold her one. She's a limping old 
body . . . ' How much ? ' says she. * A penny, marm', says I. ' Sarve 
him right/ says she. We worked it, too, in the street in Hoxton where 
he lives, and he sent out for two, which shows he's a sensible sort of 
character in some points after all. . . . 

" Sirrell was no good either, Not salt to a herring. Though we worked 
in his own neighbourhood, and pattered about gold and silver all in a 
row. ' Ah ! ' says some old woman, ' he was a 'spectable man/ ' Werry, 
marm/ says I/' 

1 The Duke of Wellington, because of his large nose, was known as Conky, 
and as late as 1870 big-nosed children were called Duke. 

2 i.e., provided me with the money to buy boots. 

3 The police : long, and still occasionally, called Peelers. 

4 Cf. the modern thin. 

6 Taciteanly elliptical for " was worth to us ". 


In several later and less ambitious works, Mayhew reveals 
his incomparable knowledge of familiar, lowly London speech. 
Indeed, if Hotten was the first to compile a good dictionary of 
slang as such and if Fanner put slang on to an historical basis, 
if moreover Dickens had the greatest influence of any one writer 
on slang, then it is equally true to say that nowhere even up 
till to-day and even including Pett Ridge does there exist such 
a corpus of London slang as in Henry Mayhew's works : not 
merely as the material of a dictionary but as a record of the 
actual language; the long conversations and monologues, 
reported verbatim or, at the worst, from tenacious memory, are 
of the utmost value. Sympathy, knowledge, memory, aided by 
great intelligence and an infinite patience, have made his books, 
especially London Labour and the London Poor, a " gold-mine " 
for the historian of the English language. 

Beside Mayhew, the pseudonymous Ducange Anglicus who 
in 1857 published, and in 1859, with revisions and additions, 
re-issued The Vulgar Tongue : A Glossary of Slang, Cant, and 
Flash * Words and Phrases Used in London from 1839 to 1859, 
hardly merits more than a few lines. Yet, though the glossary 
runs to not more than approximately five hundred words, it 
certainly is, in the main, accurate. Perhaps the chief claim of 
this book to our attention is that it is the first to list any consider- 
able number of rhyming slang words, such as apples and pears, 
stairs ; Jack Dandy, brandy ; lord of the manor, " tanner " 
(sixpence) ; round me houses, trouse(r)s ; Rory o'More, a floor. 
Ducange Anglicus (identity apparently unknown) gives an 
interesting list of " flash terms for money ", some examples of 
narrative cast into cant, and two poems containing a sprinkling 
of cant terms ; the latter of the two poems, by the way, is from 
Pickwick Abroad, which had appeared twenty years earlier, from 
the pen of that extraordinarily popular serial writer, G. W. M. 
Reynolds. In his extracts from the critics, Ducange Anglicus 
includes a quotation from Charles Astor Bristed, who is the first 
scholar to define slang as we know it to-day. In his long essay, 
" The English Language in America/' contributed to the 
Cambridge Essays, 1855, Bristed says : " By slang we understand, 
first, technical expressions 2 peculiar to a body of men, forming 
a part of their customs and a bond of union and fellowship, such 
as the cant [slangy] terms of students, political nicknames, 
and the special phraseologies of particular trades and professions. 
Secondly, and more generally, expressions consecrated, as it 
were, to Momus from their birth, devoted to comic or would-be 
comic literature and conversation, always 3 used with a certain 

1 "By flash is meant cant = thieves' slang. 

2 What we now call jargon. These " technical " terms become slang only 
when they are popularized outside of the group that uses them clannishly. 

3 Read rather : generally. 


amount of ludicrous intent, and which no person, 1 except from 
slip of the tongue or pen, or unfortunate habit, would employ 
in serious writing or discourse/' 

In the year that was not greatly excited by the revised edition 
of Ducange Anglicus's little book, the first edition of John Camden 
Hotten's best known compilation, The Slang Dictionary, was 
issued anonymously by the editor's own publishing firm, which 
later became Messrs. Chatto & Windus. Hotten was what we 
would in post- War, rather highbrow slang describe as a near- 
scholar ; he was also a competent if somewhat journalistic 
writer, an enthusiastic assembler of facts, a bohemian who, like 
Grose, went out into the highways and by-ways (especially the 
by-ways) to observe and note, and the first man to compile a 
bibliography 2 of slang and cant. In 1874, fifteen years after 
the first edition and a year after his death, came the fifth 
edition, which contained all his corrigenda and addenda. Since 
then the book has sold steadily. 

His introductory matter, despite the fact that, for fashion- 
able, theatrical, and artistic terms, he owes more than he admits 
to Charles Dickens's important article on slang, in Household 
Words, contains much original thinking and very considerable 
research, the latter being made even more evident in the biblio- 
graphy of slang and cant. His accounts of the history of both 
cant and slang for he treats them separately are discursive 
but very readable, often suggestive, and nearly always reliable ; 
his sections on class-slangs and occupation-slangs are sketchy, 
as might perhaps be expected in such definitely pioneering work ; 
the general remarks on the origin, tendencies, and characteristics 
of slang, though philosophically nebulous, are concretely valuable 
in other words, his examples and his synonyms are genuinely 
illustrative and informative of his theme ; the appendices on 
back, rhyming, and centre slang constitute the first authoritative 
memoranda on these subjects, long remained easily the best, 
and are still of prime importance. The Slang Dictionary proper 
contains a fair number of cant words and phrases, but for the 
most part it deals with ordinary everyday slang current 4n the 
middle of Queen Victoria's reign. The most astonishing thing 
about this glossary is that so many of its guests are still guests, 
some of them honoured, of the nation and so few in their graves 
though a good number have one syllable there. It is certain 
that slang has, since 1859, changed less rapidly than it did before 
that date : perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the 
slang of 1859-1874 survived almost intact until the Great War, 
that a surprising amount of that old slang still survives, and that 

1 Rather : few educated persons. 

2 It remained the best for nearly forty years. 


much of the slang current in the i86o's has actually become 
incorporated in English colloquial and familiar speech by being 
promoted from the stage of slang. This fixing and dignifying of 
so much of that mid- Victorian slang is due mainly to the steady, 
continuous popularity of Hotten's glossary, partly to the 
reinforcing influence of that great lexicographical enterprise, 
Farmer's seven-volume Slang and its Analogues. John Camden 
Hotten is too leisurely for present critical taste, but he knew how 
to mix ancient saw and modern instance, obsolete yet interesting 
term with the latest catchword from the street, the latest adjective 
from Belgravia, snobbery from Bohemia, and realism from 
Hobohemia. Here are four successive entries from a page chosen 
at random : 

" Burke. To kill, to murder secretly and without noise by 
means of strangulation. From Burke, the notorious Edinburgh 
murderer, who, with an accomplice named Hare, used to decoy 
people into the den he Inhabited, kill them, and sell their bodies 
for dissection. The wretches having been apprehended and 
tried, Burke was executed, while Hare, turning King's evidence, 
was released. Bishop and Williams were their London imitators. 
The term Burke is now usually applied to any project that is 
quietly stopped or stifled as * the question has been burked '. 
A book suppressed before publication is said to be burked/ 9 
[On this last point Hotten spoke feelingly.] 

lt Burr a, great as burr a sa[h~]ib, a great man ; burr a khanah, 
a great dinner. Anglo-Indian. 

" Bury a Moll, to run away from a mistress. 

"Bus, or Buss, an abbreviation of 'omnibus', a public 
carriage. Also, a kiss, abbreviation of Fr. baiser. 1 A Mr. Shillibeer 
started the first bus in London. A shillibeer is now a hearse and 
mourning coach all in one, used by the very poorest mourners 
and shabbie$t undertakers. 

" Why is Temple Bar like a lady's veil ? Because it wants to 
be removed to make way for the busses." 

A man, in some respects, after Hotten's own heart was James 
Greenwood, whose published work mostly novels covered the 
period 1860-1905. Like Hotten, he was an expert practitioner 
of slang : like Henry Mayhew, he knew the real London under- 
world and the poorest of London's poor a good deal better than 
did even the publisher-author. 

Greenwood's first novel, Under a Cloud, 1860, was written in 
collaboration with his brother Frederick, who (f 1909) became a 
very famous journalist indeed and the editor of The Pall Mall 
Gazette in its palmiest period ; James also was a journalist but 

1 Perhaps not : the etymology is doubtful. 


more prominently though he never had his dues a novelist. 
From the Cloud we derive a ray of sunshine : 

" Nick, 1 you villain ! " cried Joel, quite gleeful over his sagacity, " listen 
for it's something in your line. Tom licks Dick kicks ! 

" Well, why not ? Tom doesn't lick to the end of his days, but only 
till he has licked together a nice little sum of money ; then he sits down 
on it, and other Thomas's come and lick the ground all round about. 

" Again, there's such a thing as strainin' at a gnat and swallerin' of 
a camel, as the Scripture tells us. Now, Dick strains at a very little 
gnat when he refuses to take advantages that Tom snaps up like a hawk : 
and he swallows an awful big camel when he and his children go on to 
the parish. Accordingly, I'm for Tom's plan ; whereby I've licked 
together a hundred and thirty-seven pounds ten, all snug in my box 
upstairs. But that ain't all I've got there. In that box there's a precious 
nest-egg now, that I'm a nidjot if I don't hatch into a golden hen a hen 
that shall make her nest of bank notes, and lay no end of gold and silver. 
Gold and silver, Nick ! " repeated Hatcher, warming at the prospect ; 
" gold and silver, you old rogue ! And you shall have a silver collar, 
as sure as you're a torn cat ! if I can get one cheap." 

Nine years later, James Greenwood published The Seven 
Curses of London : neglected children, thieves, beggars, 
prostitutes, drunkards, gamblers, careless philanthropists. These 
problems do not concern us, poignantly and frankly as he writes 
of them, but in the chapter on adult criminals he quotes an actual 
letter, 2 penned in July, 1868, from Dundee Prison, from garotter 
Bill to his brother : 

" Dear Brother, the only thing I am afraid of is that moll 
[woman] ; if you can manage to square her I fear nothing ; but 
if she swears she saw me have him by the throat it will not go 
well with me, for they are most damned down on garotting. 
Then, again, if she says she saw him with that amount of money, 
by God ! they might put me in for the robbery too ; and there is 
seven years dead certain. You don't know what a b r like that 
will say. It can surely to God be squared between so many of 
you, and only the moll to come against me. If the bloke [' a man 
whom a woman might pick up in the street '] is in town he could be 
easily squared, I think ; you could get him sweet [in a good mood], 
put the gloves on him [flatter him], and things like that, and get 
him to say he cannot swear to me in court ; that would be all 
that was wanted ; or it is very easy giving that moll a dose 
[i.e., of poison]. Put Ginger [' one of the female witnesses '] up to it ; 
who the hell would take notice of a whore kicking the bucket ? 
I would do it for you. If any of them is squared, tell Ginger to 
just sign M.H. at the bottom of her letter, so as I may know. 
I think it would be a good idea for my mother to get the bloke 

1 Joel Hatcher addresses a cat, his sole companion during this comfortable 
monologue. ' 

2 Greenwood quotes with spelling correct (improbable that the man could 
spell correctly) and well punctuated. 


privately, and make an appeal to him ; he would have a little 
feeling for her, I think ; if you was getting him into the Garrick, 
the wifey could talk to him so fine. If you only had one of them 
squared that's all that is wanted ; for I am certain there is no 
more against me than them two. Set your brains to work, and 
stick at nothing ; tell them not to be afraid of perjury in this 
case ; they can't be brought in for it nohow ; swear black is white ; 
I must get off if they do the right thing ; swear to anything ; 
swear the bloody wigs off their heads ; there is no danger for 
being brought in for perjury in this case, not a damned bit. 
Bill." A postscript ran : " Poison the moll if she will not do 
what's right ; by Christ ! I would think damned little of doing 
it to save my brother ! Ginger will fix her if you tell her to." 

The value of such " human documents " as that letter can 
hardly be exaggerated. The importance of men like Grose and 
Mayhew, Greenwood and Sims, in any record of spoken English 
is paramount, whether for ordinary colloquial speech, for slang, 
or for cant, for they placed their talent, their education, their 
energy, and their probity at the service of investigation and 
transcription, instead of nonchalantly collecting a few unconnected 
and unco-ordinated terms either to illustrate a preconceived 
theory or to adorn a barren text : give point to general uncertainty, 
insert a pretty marble into a vacuum. 

As an example of Greenwood's leisurely, familiarly conducted 
novels, Almost Lost (1883) will suffice for the general reader, 
while the opening chapter, which deals with " Epsom Downs on 
Derby Day ", will interest the literary sportsman. But except 
to remark that the book contains a wealth of lowly English, we 
must " leave it at that ". 

Passing also by the books with titles so journalistically worded 
(but with contents most satisfactorily documented and modestly 
sincere) as Mysteries of Modern London, 1 Toilers of London, 
and Undercurrents of London Life, we arrive at an almost 
Dickensian volume : Behind a 'Bus. Curious Tales of " Insides " 
and " Outs ", 1895. Sketches and stories, slight enough some 
of them, but crammed with humanity all of them. " The Rag- 
Fair Express " is perhaps the richest in slang. A Cockney youth 
visits an uncle : "I told him all about my having the kick-out 
from home and about my donkey and barrer being up the spout 
[in pawn] for two pounds ten (which it wasn't, it was for only thirty 
bob, but I thought I would pitch it strong enough) . . . Well, 
he came down 'an'som ... He gave me the two-pun-ten . . . 
I was a pound to the good. I had no other togs but them as I 
was wearing, and they were so wore out I was ashamed to be 
seen in 'em. 

1 Perhaps prompted by the astoundingly prolific Eugene Sue's Mysteres de 
Paris : Paris, 1842-3, in 10 vols. 


" So I goes to the Fair on Sunday morning ... I moulted 
to my very shirt and socks." But he was so showily dressed that 
he couldn't redeem his donkey, the stables woman calling a 
policeman. " And then it struck me," he continues, " I daren't 
go with him to my uncle all slap-up dressed as I was because it 
would be bowling myself out in the lie I had told him ... So 
I had to go to the police-station, and there I was detained while 
they sent over ... to ask the man who had the things, in pawn 
to come and 'dentify me. But he had gone out for the day, and 
I was locked up all night, and the man came in the morning, 
and then I was let go, but not before I had parted with 
three and a tanner, which was every blessed farden I had, for 
green-yard expenses. That was a caution to me against ' moulting 
the mouldies ', and I haven't done it ever since." 

When Greenwood had been writing a few years, Laurence 
Oliphant startled London with Piccadilly, a brilliantly satirical 
novel dealing with the venality, insincerity, and superficiality of 
certain types in metropolitan society. Appearing at first in 
Blackwood's Magazine in 1865, and issued in book form, with 
some very clever illustrations by " Dicky " Doyle, in 1870, it 
" caused great excitement in fashionable circles. The picture of 
London playing at life was too vivid to be false, too true to be 
pleasant. The assault on the * worldly-holies ' and the author's 
rather bitter preference for the ' wholly-worldlies ' found a mark 
in uneasy breasts, and left many prominent social persons with 
an embarrassed sense of sudden public nakedness ", 1 People 
expected great things of him, but his gay, dazzling, and 
adventurous career was physically blotted and spiritually ruined 
by Thomas Lake Harris, an American " backwoods Messiah ". 
Apart from several talented pre-Piccadilly travel books and 
Piccadilly itself, he wrote only one work of note, Altiora Peto, a 
novel that, in 1883, expressed the adastral aim implicit in its 

The slang in Piccadilly is that of society. Listen to the 
mercenary Lady Broadhem who admires poise and decorum 
but is complacently prepared to make of her daughter's hand a 
profitably monetary quid pro quo discoursing to Lord Frank 
Vanecourt (Oliphant himself) about her shares ! " Lord Stagger- 
ton . . . was kind enough to put me into two Turkish baths, 
a monster hotel, and a music hall . . . Spiffy says I ought never 
to stay so long in anything as I do ; in and out again, if it is 
only half a per cent., is his system. . . . With this system of 
rigging the market, so many people go in like me only to get out 
again, that it is becoming more and more difficult every day to 
start anything new. Oh dear . . . How exhausted it always 

1 Michael Sadleir in the preface to his reprint of Piccadilly in 1928. 


makes me to talk ' City ' ! I only want to show you that I under- 
stand what I am about, and that if you only help to tide me 
over this crisis, something will surely turn up a prize." Vanecourt 
interposes : "I know you disapprove of cards^but perhaps you 
will allow me to suggest the word ' trump ' as being more 
expressive than ' prize '." 

Though he had little in common with Greenwood, just as John 
Mills had with Mayhew, and though he was more likely to satirize 
than to understand Laurence Oliphant, W. S. Gilbert impinged 
powerfully on English slang almost as long as did Charles Dickens, 
John Mills, and James Greenwood. From 186s, 1 with clever 
journalism, with The " Bab " Ballads in 1869, with his brilliant 
musical comedies from that date until 1896, when he and Sullivan 
finally separated, he was, thanks mainly to that amazingly 
successful cat-and-dog collaboration with Arthur Sullivan, 
constantly before the public. It was Hotten who, from his 
publishing office in Piccadilly, issued in January, 1869, with the 
addition of others, the various " Bab " ballads that had appeared 
in periodicals. Much Sound and Little Sense was the clever 
sub-title, and the illustrations, in line, by the author were as 
delightful, in their very different way, as Karel apek's to his 
books of travel. " Disillusion " is one of the best, for in it Gilbert, 
after describing various types (poet, novelist, actor, and soldier) 
as he had romantically imagined them, limns them as he found 
them. The poet : 

I found him in a beerhouse tap 
Awaking from a gin-born nap, 

With pipe and sloven address ; 
Amusing chums, who fooled his bent, 
With muddy, maudlin sentiment, 

And tipsy foolishness. 

And as for that figure beloved of the Press, the novelist, Gilbert 
discovers him 

in clumsy snuffy suit, 
In seedy glove, and blucher boot. 

And, not to put too fine a gloss on it : 

Particularly 2 commonplace, 
With vulgar, coarse, stock-broking face 
And spectacles and wig. 

Not much slang there ? No ; but such easy diction, when it 
becomes popular, makes it very easy for slang to be accepted, 

Some ten years later, Gilbert and Sullivan scored a success 
with H.M.S. Pinafore ; or, The Lass that Loved a Sailor, which 

1 He had written for Punch, Fun, and other papers during the six years 
prior to that date. 

2 Every syllable, more Gilbertino, is to be given its full phonetic value. 


was, as the title-page obligingly informs us, " an entirely original 
nautical comical opera." The tone of this well-known piece is 
set by the initial aria sung by Little Buttercup, " a Portsmouth 
bumboat woman " : 

I've snuff and tobaccy and excellent jacky, [gin] 

I've scissors, and watches, and knives ; 
I've ribbons and laces to set off the faces 

Of pretty young sweethearts and wives. 
I've treacle and coffee and excellent toffee, 

Soft tommy * and succulent chops ; 
I've chickens and conies and pretty polonies, 

And excellent peppermint drops ; 

and by that chorus of sailors which varies their opening 
chorus : 

We sailed the ocean blue, 

And our saucy ship's a beauty, 
We're sober men and true, 

And attentive to our duty. 
We're smart and sober men, 

And quite devoid of fe-ar, 
In all the Royal N. 

None are so smart as we are. 

As an example of Gilbert sans Sullivan we may take The Mounte- 
banks, 1892 ; this was composed by Alfred Cellier. This is a 
lively play, but how much better it would have been for Sullivan's 
magically sympathetic interpretation ! The following dialogue 
is between Risotto and his newly-wed in front of the members of 
a band that is really a secret society : 

Ris. Allow me to present to you my ;wife. 
Minestra. I think you'd better keep her to yourself. 
Ris. She's the treasure and the pleasure of my life. 
Min. I daresay until she's laid upon the shelf ! 
Ris. She's a poem, she's a song- 
Min. (relenting). You don't mean it go along ! 
Ris. I shall love her when she's grey ! 
Min. Will you really ? I daresay ; 

With your snapping and your snarling ! 
Ris. You're a dear, and you're a darling 1 
M in. Do you mean it ? 
Ris. Yes, I mean it ! 
Both. O, my darling I O, my dear ! 

Belonging to a social stratum other than that of Gilbert, 
than whom he was scarcely less witty and certainly more catholic 
in his tastes and life and friends, George Robert Sims (1847-1922) 
was an extremely popular journalist for the thirty-odd years 
beginning about 1877 and an active writer until 1917. As a 
versifier for he was a poet in only a couple of pieces he is 

1 Soft tommy is bread, hard tommy, sometimes called white tommy, is ship's 
biscuits ; cf. soft tack and hard tack. 


best remembered for The Dagonet Ballads and Ballads of Babylon 
(1880) : as a prose-writer he is famous as the liveliest, most 
consistently and wonderfully able journalist The Referee news- 
paper, which he put " in the sun ", has ever had on its excellent 
staff, as the author of some highly readable novels, and as an 
entertaining, kindly memoirist of his varied, often adventurous 
past. How much Sims did to cure social sores, to stimulate the 
indifferent, to enlighten those who would help in social work if 
only they knew how to go about it, has not yet been properly 
appraised : it was a very great deal ; for he could make a 
masterly never maudlin use of his gift for touching the chords 
of pity and he could wield the scourge with the vigour of an ancient 
prophet. "Fallen By the Way" in Ballads of Babylon 
commences thus : 
" Don't be a fool and blub, Jim, it's a darned good thing for you 

You'll find a mate as can carry andll play the music too ; 

I'm done this time for a dollar I can hardly get my breath ; 

There's something as tells me, somehow, ' Bill Joy, you be took for 

It's a wessel gone bust, and a big 'un ; I can hardly speak for blood ; 

It's the last day's tramp as 'as done it the hills and the miles o' mud. 

There ain't not the sign of a light, Jim, in this God-forsaken spot 

Hunt for some waiter, pardner, for my lips is burnin' hot. 

How much ha' we took today, Jim ? Why not a single brown, 
And our show was one of the best once, and we rode from town to town ; 
Now it's dirty and old and battered, and the puppets is wus for wear, 
And their arms and legs is shaky, and their backs is reg'lar bare. 
I ain't done my share o' the work, mate, since I went that queer in 

the chest, 

But I done what I could, old fellow, and you know as I did my best ; 
And now well, I'm done, I reckon ; it's life as is flowing fast 
Stick to me, Jim don't leave me ; it's the end as is come at last." 

As a composer of verse he became widely known as 
" Dagonet ", as a journalist it was his " mustard and cress " in 
The Referee which made him famous ; yet he also gained an 
honourable name as a short-story writer and a novelist. A fair 
notion of his stories may be had from The Coachman's Club ; 
or, Tales Told out of School, 1897. The style is easy, 
conversational, familiar, with slang occurring naturally and 
unpretentiously. As when " a young gentleman named Vivian " 
is called " tra-la-la-la " because he constantly used this expression 
which he had heard at the Gaiety in the mouth of " a celebrated 
low comedian ". Vivian's valet " in the days when he was 
cutting a dash" told some friends that "it 'knocked him ', as 
the vulgar saying is, the first time he heard his young governor 
spoken to in that way ". The saying " tickled Mr. Vivian so much 
that he got it into his head, and always after that would bring 
it into his own conversation. For instance, if he went racing and 
laid seven hundred to four hundred on the favourite and it went 


down he would shrug his shoulders and say, ' Well, what does it 
matter ? Tra-la-la-la ! ' or if some decent fellows who saw him 
going to the dogs and his good nature being imposed upon right 
and left said to him, ' Look here, Jack, old fellow you're making 
a fool of yourself. If you go on like this you 11 be stony broke in 
a couple of years/ he would smile a sad sort of smile and say, 
' Well, what does it matter ? Tra-la-la-la-la ! '" 

In dialogue one naturally expects slang. But Sims uses it 
skilfully in actual narrative : this he is enabled to do because 
he adopts the device of a raconteur telling the stories. In this 
way : "A smart, well-set up chap he was ... he had been in 
the army, and he drove like most soldier coachmen generally do, 
as if he were charging the enemy. You can always tell a soldier 
on the box, first by the way he sits, which is as if he'd swallowed 
a poker, as the saying is, and second by the way he drives, which 
is as if he was going between gates and posts at the trot and the 
gallop at the Military Tournament at the Agricultural Hall/' 
This Con Doolan, after a job with a rich young fellow that was 
a regular " plunger ", found himself " out of a berth " and "was 
in a great state about it ". Soon, however, " he got a place with 
a swell bookmaker who lived in a big house at Kew and . . . did the 
thing in a good style." Con Doolan decided that if he liked the 
place he would stay, " for the bookmaker will last out half a 
dozen backers/' his new master being one of those who " bet 
with the swells and stand up against the rails in TattersalTs ring, 
most of his business being on the nod, as it is called, that is, no 
money passing but everything settled by cheque on Monday at 
the Victoria Club/' 

As an instance of Sim's fiction, Anna of the Underworld is 
particularly interesting, as it comes so late in his career (1916) 
and as it affords lively specimens of society, middle-class, and 
lowly slang. This last shows how difficult it is to draw the line 
between ordinary familiar speech and slang, for if slangy words 
and phrases are the only ones used for certain things, then thpse 
slang expressions tend to become ordinary familiar speech : for 
instance, in the following description by Mrs. Gaskin, "char," 
of her son's theatrical work as " an attendant imp ... in the 
Drury Lane pantomime " : " 'E 'ad only to come on, my dear, 
in the 'arlekynade sellin' a evenin' paper, and shoutin' ' All the 
winners ', but he did it that natural you could see the sportin' 
gents in the aujence puttin' their 'ands in their pockets feelin' 
for a copper to buy a paper with ! Then my Jim had the part of a 
bootblack offered him in the autumn drama and was the 'it of 
th' play through gettin' the villain to 'ave 'is boots blacked, 
and then seizin' 'old of 'is leg, and hangin' on to it, and makin' 
'im *op all the way to the police-station, where he was recognized 
as the real murderer by the 'ero who was in custody, 'avin' been 


falsely accused, which, of course, is only what 'e 'ad to expect, 
because 'eroes always are. And then my boy took on for the 
pictures, and done well, the work bein' reg'lar and your evenin's 
off/' When asked, later, how her son is doing on the films, 
Mrs. Gaskin replies : " Beautiful, Miss. 'E's doin' things as 'ud 
take your breath away/' This young sprig is named " James 
Howard Vincent Gaskin after the Assistant Commissioner that 
'is father was in the [Metropolitan Police] Force with. But we 
dropped them two middle names because they was above our 
stations in life ". James Howard Vincent is amusingly precise 
about the role he plays, his fellow-actors, the setting, and the 
plot as a whole. His speech is slangy-familiar ; much more so 
than his mother's. But we must deny ourselves his eloquence. 

From English Sims we turn to German Baumann, who like- 
wise had a sense of humour. That humour sweetened his learned 
works, Londonismen and Parisismen. In 1887, Heinrich 
Baumann, " master of arts of London University, head master of 
the Anglo-German School, president of the German Teachers' 
Association/' published at Berlin and in German, his Londonismen 
Slang und Cant. He concentrates on London, to which, 
however, he does not confine his researches. In some ninety 
pages he contrives to give an astonishing amount of sound 
information on the differences between slang and cant ; a 
bibliography, with excerpts of the texts and dictionaries com- 
prising the subject of, and the commentary on, cant and slang ; 
extremely useful notes on the nature and the " literature " of 
military and naval slang, school slang, cockney slang, Romany, 
Lingua Franca, Americanisms, society slang ; some genuinely 
enlightening extracts illustrating certain kinds of slang ; the 
jargon of sports and games ; notes on pronunciation. The 
glossary is both historical and current, its entries terse and 
efficient, the definitions exemplarily accurate, and the indications 
of milieu as reliable as they are useful. It is true that he includes 
a few words (mainly from sport) that are neither slang nor cant : 
but no English reader, and very few foreign readers would be 
misled by these. 

A year after Baumann's invaluable book appeared, Charles 
Mackay a wrote thus, soundly except that he forgot how popular 
slang was in the eighteenth century : " Slang . . . has . . . 
within the last half-century invaded the educated and semi- 
educated classes in England, America, and France, though it has 
not yet, to anything like the same extent, permeated the literature 
and conversation of the European nations, other than the two 
named, where Liberty has more or less degenerated into Licence. 
Democracy ... is the real parent of vulgar 2 slang. . . . The 

1 Blackwood's Magazine, in May, 1888. 

8 He might have added " and of much picturesque ". 


slang of recent years, fashionable and unfashionable . . ., is 
mostly . . . derived from the common speech of illiterate people. 
. . . [Words that, originating in the lower classes,] have obtained 
favour and currency among the imperfectly educated vulgar of 
the middle and upper classes, and have lately been raised to the 
distinction of print and publicity of newspapers and inferior 
novels x . . . are numerous and threaten to become still more 
fashionably and extensively employed/' 

It is advisable to turn now to several lexicographers of slang. 

In 1889-1890, Albert Barrfere, a notable authority on English 
and French slang and cant, and Charles Leland, an authority 
on Romany and the author of the once famous Breitmann Ballads, 
brought out A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon and Cant. The former 
wrote the preface, which begins : " To a very great number of 
respectable and by no means uneducated persons, slang is simply 
a collective name for vulgar expressions, the most refined 
individual being he who uses it least . . . Others regard it as 
the jargon of thieves . . . Others, again, believe that it is 
identical with the gypsy tongue/' All this may hold of those 
ignorant of slang, but no one who had read Hotten could possibly 
be so childish. Leland wrote the introduction, a brief history of 
English slang, and he and Barrfere acted as general editors to a 
notable team of contributors. Despite the revised edition of 
1897, this work cannot be compared with Slang and its Analogues ; 
for instance, the quotations are undated. 

Then comes Farmer and Henley's Slang and its Analogues 
Past and Present, which, superseding Leland and Barrere, 
was " a dictionary, historical and comparative, of the heterodox 
speech of all classes of society for more than three hundred years. 
With synonyms in English, French, Germaii, Italian, etc. ". 
The seven volumes appeared in 1890-1904, W. E. Henley the 
poet's name appearing on the title-page of the second and 
succeeding volumes. It was, however, John S. Farmer, author 
of Americanisms Old and New and editor of Musa Pedestris, that 
collection of canting songs and other verses which is still the 
fullest, who did most of the work. " Printed for subscribers 
only," the edition consisted of 750 copies ; a set, even in these 
hard times, will fetch ten or twelve guineas and is more than 
worth it, for it constitutes the most comprehensive, and the best, 
dictionary of slang in any language. Farmer could truly say 
that very often he found himself a pioneer, an explorer in " what 
was practically a terra incognita ". Modestly he quotes from the 
" Advertisement " (i.e., Author's Note) to the 4th edition, 1773, 
of Dr. Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language: "He 
that undertakes to compile a dictionary, undertakes that which, 
if it comprehends the full extent of his design, he knows himself 

1 Probably a " knock " at Greenwood and Sims. 


unable to perform. Yet his labours, though deficient, may be 
useful, and with the hope of this inferior praise, he must incite 
his activities, and solace his weariness/' 

The conscientiousness of the lexicographer and the scope of 
his work may be surmised from the fact that there are upwards 
of 100,000 illustrative quotations. Farmer, for by far the greater 
part of the time, worked single-handed, yet he gratefully 
acknowledges his three chief debts : to Notes and Queries, 
" that invaluable storehouse " ; to the Oxford English Dictionary, 
which had finished only B when the first volume of Slang and 
its Analogues appeared, which had finished only L when Slang 
and its Analogues was completed, and was not terminated until 
twenty-four years after that ; and to G. L. Apperson, the editor 
of English Proverbs and Proverbial Sayings. 

' It is true that the dates of the illustrative quotations are 
often wrong and that the quotations are occasionally Copied 
inaccurately. What would one expect in so huge a piece of 
work ? I can point to mistakes let us be charitable and speak 
of misprints and slips of the pen in works produced by groups 
of experts with sub-editors and a host of assistants at their 
command, but I don't think I'm smart or clever because I happen 
to have noticed these lapses, nor do I impute demerit in those 
more famous lexicographers. Farmer's errors of date were 
doubtless due to the very natural tedium consequent upon the 
labours of proof-correcting and they are easily detectable and 
remediable; the imperfect transcriptions of the illustrative 
quotations are almost never serious and, so long as the key- 
word is correct, such imperfections are very very rarely mis- 
leading : Farmer was practically never misleading. It is so easy 
to indicate errors, let us rather praise the excellence of the 
arrangement and the always courageous, often brilliant execution 
of the plan of Slang and its Analogues, which is one of the three 
or four most remarkable one-handed achievements in the whole 
record of dictionary-making. His definitions are sound, his 
distinguishing of shades of meaning is careful and delicate, his 
comments are shrewd and scholarly, his essayettes on important 
or interesting or puzzling words are entertaining, and his under- 
standing of the nature and tendencies of slang is remarkable. 
His psychology is as penetrating as his research is astounding. 

But a couple of examples will show how very good Farmer is 
at all points. 

:< ABBESS or LADY ABBESS, substantive] (old). The 
keeper of a house of ill-fame ; also a procuress. It has been 
suggested that the origin of this term for the mistress of a brothel, 
as also that of ABBOT (q.v.), the name given to the male associate 
of the mistress, may be traced to the alleged illicit amours of 
Abelard and Heloise. In this connection it is significant that, 


according to Francisque Michel's Etudes Comparees sur I* Argot, 
a common woman was in the old French cant, said to come from 
VaUbaye des s'offre a torn. The keeper of such an establishment 
was called I'abbesse, and her associate le sacristain. The analogy 
was carried still further, by the inmates being called ' nuns ' and 
' sisters of charity '. This depravation in the meaning of words 
usually applied only to the holders of sacred office may possibly, 
without undue licence, be regarded as resulting from the mockery 
bom of the degradation, in the popular mind, of the priestly office ; 
or it may naturally flow from the loose way in which the title of 
' abbot * was often applied to the holders of non-monastic offices. 
Thus, the first step towards degeneration may have occurred in 
applying the term to the principal of a body of clergy, as an 
episcopal rector ; or, as among the Genoese, to a chief magistrate. 
The second stage was reached when, in the middle ages, ' abbot ' 
was applied ironically to the heads of various guilds and associa- 
tions, and to the leaders in popular assemblages and disorderly 
festivities, e.g., the Abbot of Bell-ringers, the Abbot of Misrule, 
the Abbot of Unreason. Henceforward deterioration was both 
rapid and easy to the point when ' abbot ' and its co-relative 
' abbess ' signified a steward and stewardess of the STEWS (q.v.). 
The terms are now obsolete on both sides of the Channel. In 
England the modern equivalent for ABBESS is MOTHER 
(q.v.) ; and in France la maca> mere maca, la maquecee, or 
Vinstitutrice do similar duty. 

"1782. Wolcot (Pindar) . . . 

So, an old Abbess, for the rattling rakes, 
A tempting dish of human nature makes, 
And dresses up a luscious maid. 

" 1840. W. Kidd, London and All its Dangers. * The infernal 
wretches who traffic in the souls and bodies of their helpless 
victims are called Lady Abbesses.' " 

" ABBOTTS PRIORY, subs, phr. (popular) : The King's 
Bench Prison was formerly so called ; perhaps from Chief 
Justice Abbott/' 

Farmer's Dictionary influenced the opinion of scholars more 
academic than himself. We can feel sure that Slang and its 
Analogues was in the mind of J. Brander Matthews when, 1 in 
1893, he wrote : " Until recently few men of letters ever 
mentioned slang except in disparagement and with a wish for 
its prompt extirpation. Even professed students of speech, like 
Trench 2 and Alford 3 . . ., are abundant in declarations of 

1 See " The Function of Slang " in Harper's Magazine ; revised and reprinted 
in his Parts of Speech, 1901. 

* Notably, The Study of Words, 1851 ; English Fast and Present. 
3 Especially, The Queen's English, 1863. 


abhorrent hostility. De Quincey l was almost alone in saying a 
good word for slang." 

Quite independently of critics and lexicographers, men like 
Arthur Morrison, Arthur Binstead, and William Pett Ridge 
pursue their self-appointed and much enjoyed task of presenting 
people, especially humble folk and the very poor, just as they are : 
and in that pursuit, though with no deliberate intention, they 
heed and note the everyday speech of those people, to whom 
slang is usually the only poetry, often the only safety-valve, and 
sometimes the only adventure. As always, slang is a prominent 
feature and by no means the whole of familiar speech : for, 
except incidentally, slang affects neither grammar nor 

In 1894, Arthur Morrison published Tales of Mean Streets, 
a collection of stories that, for the most part, had already appeared 
in prominent periodicals. They all concern the East End of 
London. They are, grim and realistic and astonishingly frank 
for the period. In " The Red Cow Group ", for instance, a number 
of anarchist workmen decide that one of their fellows, whom they 
suspect of playing informer to the police, must be dispatched in 
an explosion planned by them. One man runs through the 
hapless victim's pockets. " ' You won't 'ave no use for money 
where* you're goinV he observed callously ; ' besides, it 'ud be 
blowed to bits and no use to nobody. Look at the bloke at 
Greenwich, 'ow 'is things was blowed away. 'UUo ! 'ere's two 
*arf-crowns an 1 some tanners. Seven an 1 thrippence altogether, 
with the browns. This is the bloke wot 'adn't got no funds. 
This'll be divided on free an' equal principles to 'elp pay for that 
beer you've wasted. 'Old up, oF man ! Think o' the glory. 
P'r'aps you're all right, but it's best to be on the safe side, an' 
dead blokes can't split to the coppers . . .' " 

1 His, however, is not an important contribution to the subject ; but Brander 
Matthews was right to stress the importance of the fact that De Quincey (f 1859) 
did speak well of slang. 


Arthur Morrison belongs to the sordid, the realistic, the 
earthy-idealistic side of the literature of the iSgo's ; the side 
on which Crackanthorpe wrote nearly all his work : the side 
that, while not definitely nor consciously ranged against Oscar 
Wilde and his would-be witty disciples, is in essentials opposed 
to brilliant persiflage and cynical brilliance, to the amusing ghosts 
and the elaborate fairy tales, to poetic and semi-poetic prose, 
and to post-Rossettian asstheticism. 

With Binstead we arrive at Edwardian naughtiness, with 
William Pett Ridge at Edwardian and Georgian directness and 
simplicity. In the first decade of the present century there 
remained many vestiges of late Victorianism a.ndjin-de-sieclism, 
but there were also, only now definable and hitherto merely 
discernible, vague stirrings some of uneasiness, some of second 
sight, some of aspiration, some of virile satisfaction that the old 
smugness must surely be drawing to a close. Yet the great 
majority of writers, like ninety-nine per cent, of their public, 
and of the other publics (much as writers dislike to admit their 
existence), either danced unheeding on the rim of the volcanic 
crater or believed their increasing gloom to be merely 
constitutional, purely temperamental. 

The sombre, brutal, artistic mastery of Arthur Morrison is 
absent in that glaring contrast Arthur M. (usually known as 
" Pitcher ") Binstead, whose best work in book form was published 
during the twelve years beginning at 1898. Of his books we need 
consider only three, 1 for almost any three would be thoroughly 
representative : A Pink 'Un and a Pelican, 1898 ; Pitcher in 
Paradise, 1903 ; and Pitcher's Proverbs, 1909. The first of these, 
illustrated by Ernest Wells (known in his day as " Swears "), 
consists of " some random reminiscences, sporting or otherwise ", 
is dedicated to " Master : otherwise known as John Corlett, chief 
of the Pink *Uns and cheeriest of the Old Pelicans " and is prefaced 
thus sincerely and refreshingly, " Compiled and written from 
merely mercenary motives, and innocent of any desire to instruct, 
elevate, or inform, the Authors still hope that, in recalling all 
these arbitrary incidents to life again, not one word has been 
penned which could sever a friendship or wound an old friend/' 

1 Some readers may regret the omission of Gal's Gossip or More Gal's Gossip : 
both, won a huge public. 



The inimitable ease of " The Pitcher " does not appear to especial 
advantage in the following quotation, but his mastery of anecdote 
is at its usual level : 

None waxed more enthusiastic over the discomfiture of the " damned 
froggies " than old Sir John Astley, who, later on, was explaining the pro 
and con of the thing upstairs at the bar, but was being constantly 
interrupted by a fair-haired young Guardsman, a mere lad of twenty, 
who was comparing points of expenditure with some fellows of his own 
set at the " Mate's " very elbow. In the course of the discussion the 
youngster happened to drop the remark that he was surprised at anybody 
being hard up in such easy times, and the old baronet, who was just then 
drifting into very shallow pecuniary water, at once picked him up on it. 

" Doubtless you've had a deal of experience in your time, Sir ; pray, 
how old are you ? " 

" I am twenty to-day, Sir John," replied the young *un ; " and my 
mater this very morning presented me with a f monkey ' (/5)-" 

" Bless my heart ! " cried the Mate, " that seems to be quite a fad 
of hers, doesn't it ? " 

" How so, Sir ? " 

" Why, she did the self-same thing to your father, just twenty years 
ago I " 

In 1903 came Pitcher in Paradise. Note how it begins : 

" Two gins an* vermooths, one small Bass, one cream de monnth, a 
Johnny Walker with a baby soda, an' a cigar for the Duke o' Devonshire." 

The damson-complexioned young man ensconced behind the bar, who 
appeared to constitute the entire staff of the club, repeated the order word 
for word and then enquired, somewhat brusquely : " What price smoke 
does his grace generally 'ave ; threep'ny or fourp'ny ? " 

" Fourpenny, of course, blast your impudence ! " roared the clean- 
shaven man of forty, who, but for his glib oath, would have seemed 
positively parsonic. " When did you ever see his Grace smoke a threep'ny, 
pray ? For the abs'lute ignorance an' inefficiency of its servants, damned 
if this club don't take the bun of any in London ! " 

Rather more elevated is this : 

' One can't always sparkle, especially to order. I remember a certain 
gilt-edged youth who once took Bessie Bellwood out to supper. He'd 
long read of her as a regular mirth-provoker, one of the most witching 
and enchanting females on the stage, and when he met her at the Cafe 
Royal, his face was wreathed with smiles as he anticipated the side- 
splitters which would shortly fall from her lips. Only when some twenty 
minutes had elapsed, and she opened her mouth and said, ' I suppose you 
don't happen to know any certain cure for a soft corn ? ' did he finish 
his supper right hurriedly and excuse himself on the ground of having 
remembered an important appointment on lucrative business with a 
man who had been dead and buried for over three weeks. 

"Happily or otherwise, I was spared the torture of inventing false- 
finishes, for I had barely spoken one hundred words when Lenore, tilting 
her chair a little forward and bringing her face nearer to mine, said quietly, 
yet still commandingly : 

" ' Kiss me/ 

"Here was a proper three-horned dilemma ! " 

But we may be quite sure that he extricated himself with art 
and aplomb, wile and wit, smile and sense. Had we foolishly 


any doubt, we would be put to confusion by Pitcher's Proverbs, 
which carries this foreword: "A collection of philosophic 
fragments and rational deductions from the writings of an 
impressive observer in many crowds (and especially, as Keats 
wrote to Haydon, 'in that most vulgar of all, the literary'), 
who nevertheless, has invariably behaved himself irreproachably, 
or else slipped away and taken the first hansom straight home." 
The variety of the anecdotes and the aphorisms is considerable. 
After reading, " The young gentleman said that he knew jolly 
well that his girl at the Gaiety was being mashed by another 
johnny but he didn't care, because the joke of it all was that both 
he and the other chappie were getting their chips from the same 
moneylender. Wha at ? " we hear of a man whose " lady 
mother, he said, gave him carte blanche at ... Keith Prowse's, 
believing that by slowly assimilating music his better nature 
might be appealed to and his baser propensities subdued. That 
was only a fortnight ago, and already, he said, he'd back himself 
to make more noise at a music-hall bar than Handel and Mozart 
and Rossiui rolled together ! " After the philosophy of " When- 
ever a man feels like publicly making a fool of himself he can 
always find someone to egg him on by giving him a cheer ", we 
read and according to the degree of our wickedness frown 
or chuckle when we read : 

It seems that when the Cape liner was only two days out from Table 
Bay, a certain home-coming millionaire spotted a living dream in white 
flannels on the promenade deck and invited her to take tea with him in 
his cabin. Then he slipped the steward half a sov. to go right away and 
attend to something else for a week or two, and proceeded to pour out. 
In a very short time, however, the fellow came blundering back again 
and stood transfixed in the open doorway Eke one who has caught a 
glimpse of heaven in a dream. " Dammit, I told you I didn't want you 
for another ten hours 1 " roared the shekelite. " That's all right, sir," 
shambled the sheep-faced loon, " but the lady's got the heel of her boot 
braced against the electric bell-push ! " 

Writing from about 1894 until his death in 1931, W. Pett 
Ridge is as valuable as Sims and Binstead for any account of 
spoken English, whether colloquial, familiar, or slangy. His 
best period was from 1898, when Mord Em'ly appeared, till 
about 1920. His short stories will probably outlive his novels, 
for he seemed to be particularly at home in this most difficult 
of all prose forms. Almost any of his books will illustrate the 
facility and the rightness of conversational undress. Take his 
Name of Garland, 1907, at one random page or another and you 
light upon such passages as these : 

Winnie, on the arrival of the handy boy : 
" This is a pretty time ! " she declared. 
" What's matter now ? " demanded the boy aggrievedly. 
" Wonder you have the cheek to show your face here. I suppose you 
overslept yourself ? " 


" I never," retorted the boy. " And you leave off badgerin' me. I 
'ave quite enough of that at home/' 

" You ought to have more/' she asserted. " Boys of your age seem 
to expect your life to be a continual round of enjoyment. Cricket/ 1 she 
laughed satirically, " oh yes ; but work, oh dear no ! Come on down, do ! 
You imagine standing 'ere chattering to me will clean that row of shoes ; 
allow me to inform you that it won't do anything of the kind. And see 
if you can use a little elbow grease, Robert, my lad, or else you and me 
will begin to have words/' 

A customer in the shop where Winnie earns her living : 

" Show me some lace," she ordered, " and if you've got anything up 
to my mark, I'll spend a bit of money. I can always manage to make it 
fly provided I've got it. Mind you, I make it fly as I wish. No use people 
coming to me and, because they are my own flesh and blood, trying to 
make me fork out when I'm not inclined to do so. That's not the way 
to get money out of me. It may answer with some ; but not with this- 
child. Oh dear no ! ... Haven't you got anything better ? " Winnie, 
annoying as she finds this flamboyant customer, answers politely and 
quietly ; the other continues : " Makes me shriek I " she went on, as 
Winnie measured, " to see you there . . . behaving yourself as though 
butter wouldn't melt in your mouth." (Though Winnie finds that the 
other's " paddy's getting up ", she keeps command of herself and the 

At the wedding breakfast, the guests reply thus to " Mrs. 
Enefer's hospitable pressure " : ' 

" No more for me, thanks." 

" I'm just about full up, thank you." 

" Couldn't eat another morsel if you paid me to." 

" I'd like to make a hog of myself, but I daren't." 

In the much later Rare Luck (1924), Pett Ridge is as bright 
and breezy as ever, not that he was always bright and breezy ! 
But none of his major characters is a blathering sentimentalist or 
a whining Magdalen (either sex). Here is a scene between a clerk 
and his friendly master : 

" William," said his governor, " I think of getting married." 

" You've got precious little else to do," agreed William. 

" Don't take our present want of occupation too much to heart. Busy 
days will come again." 

" Arid I suppose," said the lad resignedly, " this means a honeymoon. 
Fortunately, Miss Rowan has had enough of trapesing about the Continent." 

And the conversation turned to another girl : " What do you think 
of her ? " asked the master. 

" A peach," admitted the lad. " A peach from Peachville. She ought 
to be in a beauty competition ; the others wouldn't have an earthly, I 
can understand any man going to the farthermost point of the world 
for her sake/' 

" I am going as far as Hampstead." 

So he goes on : humour unforced ; stories unfolded without 
indecent haste ; characters firmly drawn ; slang occurring just 
as it does in life, the person using it either because it is habitual 
to him or because he's in an especially good humour, or else 
because he wishes to impress or to startle. 


After these novelists, short-story writers, and journalists, all 
possessing vigour and " punch ", sharply realistic outlook and 
insight sweetened with a very sympathetic understanding of 
suffering, striving humanity, all possessing, further, an extensive 
and intimate knowledge of the characters they portray, we come 
on a group of scholars writing on and glossarizing slang in 
particular, unconventional language in general. In 1902, James 
Broadstreet Greenough and George Lyman Kittredge, Professors 
of Latin and English respectively in the University of Harvard, 
brought out Words and their Ways in English Speech, which, 
besides dealing with such general aspects as the origin of language, 
the development of words, and the conventional character of 
language, treat of such themes as fashion in language, slang and 
legitimate speech, and euphemism. The long chapter on slang, 
like the other chapters, forms almost the best full-dress treatment 
of its subject. They look somewhat askance at slang, yet 
they write very amicably of what they cannot, on principle, 

In 1906, Professor Edwin W. Bowen, also an American, aptly 
remarked that " ever and anon, even in the last few years, some 
prophet of evil is heard to raise his voice in vigorous protest 
against the increasing use of slang as foreboding the decadence 
of our vernacular. But the warning is not heeded ; and the 
English language . . . goes on developing ... It is no longer 
proper ... to refer to slang with supreme contempt and to 
condemn it offhand as an unmitigated evil ". 

Yet another American it was who, in 1911-12, went very 
thoroughly into the psychology and the basic nature of all 
unconventional speech and paid particular attention to slang 
and cant. At the end of 1913 Frank J. Sechrist published the 
result of his researches in a long paper 1 unremarkable for its 
literary qualities, but outstanding for its penetration and 
profundity : it is, in short, the most important of all studies 
in the psychology of slang. ; There he notes that " for many years 
there has been a wide popular interest in the subject of slang 
and unconventional language generally . . . Much of the popular 
interest . . . has been due to the relation of slang to the purity 
of the English language . . . The list of those who ... have 
been favourably disposed to the use of popular speech contains 
such names as De Quincey, Noah Webster, John Hay, Burns, 
Lowell, Howells, Bret Harte, Balzac . . ." But in 1913 he could 
truly add that " in the psychology of language in geperal very 
little has been done in English; in the psychology of slang 
nothing at all ". 

1 In the December number of The Pedagogical Seminary, an American 
quarterly. Sechrist possesses a far more intimate knowledge of the vocabulary 
of slang than do the other three Americans just mentioned. 


At about this time, two dictionaries of slang were published 
J. Redding Ware's and A. H. Dawson's. In 1909, Ware brought 
out his Passing English of the Victorian Era ; A Dictionary of 
Heterodox English, Slang, and Phrase, designed as a supplement 
to Farmer and Henley's abridgment of their seven-volume 
work, Dictionary of Slang and Colloquial English, but quite able 
to stand on its own legs, for it is a collection of great value and 
even greater interest. It is a very much better and more satisfying 
book than might be thought from the words of the author, who 
exaggerates the transiency of pre-War slang : " It may be hoped 
that there are errors on every page, and also that no entry is 
' quite too dull '. Thousands of words and phrases in existence 
in 1870 have drifted away, or changed their forms, or been 
absorbed, while as many have been added or are being added. 
' Passing English ' ripples from countless sources, forming a river 
of new language which has its tide and its ebb, while its current 
brings down new ideas and carries away those that have dribbled 
out of fashion. Not only is ' Passing English ' general ; it is local, 
often very seasonably [i.e., temporarily] local . . . ' Passing 
English ' belongs to all the classes, from the peerage class who 
have always adopted an imperfection in speech or frequency of 
phrase associated with the Court, to the court of the lowest 
costermonger, who gives the fashion to his immediate entourage/' 
He goes on to say that " much passing English becomes obscure 
almost immediately upon its appearance " and he instances 
Whoa, Emma ! and How's your poor feet ? But the former is still 
heard often enough, while the latter has become obsolete only 
since the War, I myself, in 1918, heard the phrase used by 
Tommies in France. The origin, however, of these two phrases 
is admittedly obscure : the former arose from an inquest in a 
back street of London and had a tremendous vogue in the i88o's ; 
the latter from a solicitous inquiry made by Lord Palmerston to 
the Prince of Wales upon the latter's return from India. Redding 
Ware concludes his preface thus : " Not an hour passes without 
the discovery of a new word or phrase as the hours have always 
b een so the hours will always be. Nor is it too ambitious to 
suggest that passing language has something [he might more truly 
have said ' much "} to do with the daily history of the nation. 
Be this as it may be [Ware eschews theorizing} here is a phrase 
book offered to, it may be hoped, many readers, the chief hope 
of the author, in relation to this work, being that he may be 
found amusing, if neither erudite nor useful. Plaudite. J.R. W. " 
Erudite ? * No ; yet very far from being ill-informed. Useful ? 
Extremely useful to all those who have any interest in the spoken 
English of 1860-1910. His definitions and comments are clear 
and unpretentious, he frequently " illustrates " with a news- 
paper cutting (dated as often as not), he shows as much familiarity 


with Society as with costers, with sailors as with soldiers, with 
the professions as with the trades, with the underworld as with 
public schools and universities, and he has a sense of humour, 
as in " Academy Headache. When art became fashionable to a 
severe degree this malady appeared [the two quotations being 
of 1885] ; now applied generically to headaches acquired at any 
art galleries ". 

Less amusing than Ware, A. H. Dawson, in 1913, issued his 
Dictionary of English Slang and Colloquialisms, which owes 
much, as its compiler acknowledges, to the abridged Farmer and 
Henley and to Passing English. In the preface he states that he 
" has endeavoured to give the meanings, and in many cases 
the derivations, of the more common specimens of English 
Slang and Colloquialisms which are to be met with, either in 
ordinary conversation or in the light literature of the last couple 
of centuries. He says * the more common ' advisedly ; for, 
although the book comprises considerably over 6,000 entries, it 
might have been made several times as long had he included 
every specimen under his notice." Dawson is sound, business- 
like, terse. He may be as brief as " Popped : Annoyed " or as 
lengthy as twenty lines for a very important word, a fair example 
of his more leisurely manner being : 

"Pony: (i) 25. (2) A Bailiff. (3) A crib. (4) Anything of 
a small size, e.g. In drinks, half the usual quantity. To p. up : 
to pay. To sell the p. : to play odd man out q.v., or decide who 
should pay for drinks in some similar manner : the man on 
whom the lot falls is said to have bought the pony.'' 

It is the best pocket-dictionary of English slang. 

But the influence of such scholars and these dictionaries, 
important though it is, seems small when set against the upheaval 
caused by the War, which is, perhaps, though any sane man 
will admit that no substantiated statement can be made before 
(say) 1950, the most powerful agent that has been brought 
to act on the English language for many many years. On 
Modern English in general, the chief influences have been the 
Elizabethan quickening, which made for vigour and picturesque- 
ness ; that Court influence in 1660-1680, which, giving polish and 
a greater concision to the language as a whole, produced in 
Cowley, Temple, Sprat, and Dryden, as well as in dramatists 
like Wycherley, Congreve, Farquhar, what is, in all essentials, 
the prose of the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, what 
is still the prose of those who set clarity before impressionism, 
sense before staccato phrases hurled at one's head with a " make 
what you can of it : it's fox; you to guess, not for me to prevent 
you guessing " ; the Romantic renewal of 1798-1830, which 
saved poetry from desiccation and prose from excessive simplicity 

on the one hand, on the other from mechanization along rational 
lines - and the Great War. On slang l the principal influences 
have been the coming of the Gypsies about the year 1530 ; the 
literary standing given to the unconventional speech by the 
Elizabethan, Jacobean and Caroline playwrights, especiaUy 
Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Dekker, and Middleton, Beaumont 
and Fletcher, Brome, and by the Elizabethan pamphleteers, 
especiaUy Greene and Nashe ; the prestige of the Court and the 
rise of modern journalism in the period 1660-1720, when it 
became fashionable to be slangy ; the revival of cant by Grose, 
Egan Moncrieff, aped and bon-ton'd by Bulwer Lytton, Disraeli, 
and Ainsworth, all three being doubtless dazzled by the popularity 
of Tom and Jerry and reassured by the Waverley Novelist, whose 
example resembled assent and' approval from Heaven ; and 

the War. j7 . 

Not only did the uneducated and semi-educated their gain 
was slight learn many unofficial and journalistic words, but the 
educated, or rather should we say those who speak in an educated 
manner, came, often delightedly, on scores of racy, vivid, direct, 
inevitable words and phrases far superior to their own equivalents : 
much submerged humour, much unknown folk-poetry (for what 
else are such Tightness and such picturesqueness of expression ?), 
much prophylactic frankness, and much excellent objectivity 
passed from the by no' means inarticulate but literarily clumsy 
masses to those who, only too fluent with both tongue and pen, 
but tending to vain repetitions, needed to be refreshed. Antaeus'd, 
decrusted, and either stripped of the heavy, unbeautif ul, clogging, 
often useless garments of verbosity and verbiage, or vitalized, 
energized, equipped with weapons worthy the name with live 
words instead of defaced counters. 

" It has been said/' remarked McKnight, 2 in 1923, ' 4 that as 
a result of the Napoleonic wars the language of the bourgeoisie 
in France replaced that of the aristocracy. That the English 
literary language should be influenced by the social commingling 

. and a prolific creation of new forms is what might be 
confidently predicted. The realization of the prediction is in 
fact already at hand/' No less justly the Professor continues : 
" The effect of the war, however, has been only to accelerate a 
movement already in progress. The general spirit of revolt of 
the present day has done much to relax the constricting bands of 
propriety/' He notes also " the increased informality of modern 
life and the growing intimacy of modern literary style " : never- 
theless, we are bound to modify or to define that statement. 

1 Before B.E.'s dictionary in 1690, the field of ordinary slang is implotted ; 
with the result that it is extremely difficult, except for stray facts and except 
on an analogy and some knowledge of human nature, to speak in detail of non- 
underworld slang of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. * Op. cit. 


The unrest noticeable in the years just before the War was due 
largely to a growing, though almost wholly subconscious 
uneasiness a feeling that " this is too good to last ", a vague 
premonition of trouble ahead ; the spirit of actual revolt has 
become far more general, far more intense, and far more 
" distributed " since the War than ever it was before, and this 
accentuation of the feeling of dissatisfaction, like the acceleration 
of that feeling's ability to get itself expressed, can be traced so 
predominantly to the War that other causes may, without 
distortion or injustice, be ignored ; it was the War which dealt 
so hard a blow to conventional morality, for men that knew 
not when they might die and knowing further, many of them, 
that the chances were they would be killed, feverishly snatched 
at or calmly claimed a right to eat, drink, and be sexually merry, 
and women, either moved by their pity or exalted by men's 
courage, and in either case desirous of rewarding heroism with 
meet giving (only the hypocrites called that giving a sacrifice), 
gave gladly of joy and appeasement ; the increased social free- 
and-easiness was not very marked before 4th August, 1914, but 
it became widely-recognized, tolerated, even belauded informality 
during the War, a slackening that, though severely checked among 
the die-hards, has remained formidable, despite a very general 
tightening of the reins, ever since that War which brought many 
a trifler close to death, made many a fool think, and, revealing 
the perdurable virtues of integrity, tolerance, thoughtfulness 
for others, and fortitude for oneself, showed how relative, environ- 
mental, and circumstantial are glory, courage, social position, 
dignity ; and the more intimate and familiar manner noticeable 
in modern literary style has been prominent and prevalent only 
since 1914, and as a natural, though not the inevitable, 
concomitant of the vastly greater moral and social informality. 
The truth is that while sham, self-deception, and hypocrisy still 
flourish, they have received " a nasty knock " and are now fair 
game to every thinking person whether Tory or Communist, 
Liberal or Labour ; sham and hypocrisy in the intellectual sphere 
are now lashed and scourged as much as in the moral ; their 
equivalents in style are ridiculed almost to extinction. And 
pomp, especially if it becomes pomposity, is frowned upon by 
those who feel that the age of pomp, however displayed in what- 
ever direction, is over. Trappings and tinsel, moral, intellectual, 
or stylistic, are " pre-War " : the genuine is now at a premium. 
Nor need the cult of the genuine, the authentic, though some 
fanatics, hyper-intellectual or science-dazzled, would seem to 
think so and try to make others believe so, lessen the appeal 
of beauty. 

If, then, tlie influence of the War upon the language in general 
has been so great, its effect upon slang is also profound and 


widespread. And in precisely the same ways : as is inevitable, 
slang being part of the spoken language, often the pioneering 
part and always the most alert part. The effect is lasting, and 
while the following opinion concerning the Tommy l holds for 
1919 and indeed during the earlier part of 1920, it has long been 
inoperative except upon a scale so small that it can indubitably 
be discounted as being an interesting survival, indubitably also 
it is regarded merely theoretically as are most survivals : " Slang 
is now fashionable ; it poses a young man better than ' the nice 
conduct of a clouded cane ' ... It is less perhaps that we have 
degenerated than that, partly out of an affection for Thomas 
Atkins, slang has been made respectable/' It is, however, true 
that the War has made slang thoroughly respectable, though 
not yet acceptable to either linguistic or social purists. The 
most prominent person, prelate or politician, publican or publicist, 
can now employ a slang expression without shaking the kingdom 
to its base or congesting the newspapers with letters from 
indignant teachers, shocked spinsters, apoplexied Tories, pained 
highbrows, and those other Pharisaical guardians of our 
potentially Falstaffian, actually admirable speech who would 
devitalize it to nervelessness, de-gut it to debility, drain it of all 
colour, shackle its feet, clip its pinions, and preserve it as a 
museum-piece. But that present conditions, as ever since 
August, 1914, favour slang can hardly be doubted, however much 
any acceleration and intensification of that state of things may 
be feared. 

Apart from the general effects of the War upon slang, there 
is one result that can be assessed : the slang words and phrases 
that, arising in or popularized by the War, are still with us, either 
unpromoted from their slang estate or ennobled to Standard 
English. Here are a few such terms, drawn either from Fraser 
and Gibbon's Soldier and Sailor Words and Phrases or from 
John Brophy's fuller, more spirited Songs and Slang of the 
British Soldier; but first let it be remembered that the War 
has also introduced into normal English a multitude of expressions 
that were previously known only by members of the Forces and 
by civilian experts in military matters : cushy and wanky 
(occasionally spelt wonky) ; to wangle and to scrounge ; camouflage 
and eye-wash; barrage, which has become slang in its non- 
technical sense ; strafe and hate ; birdcage, a prison ; Blighty ; 
brass hat; to have the wind up and windy, probably from the 
Air Force; to carry on, colloquial but so famous that it can 
hardly be omitted ; cheer o, which is " classy " and cheerioh, 
which is "common"; click; to commandeer, in the sense, to 
take illicitly ; Digger ; a few rhyming-slang terms ; over the top ; 
to stop or cop a packet ; tanked, drunk ; and stunt. 
1 See the July, 1919, number of English. 


War slang and other slang are recognized in Professor Ernest 
Weekley's Etymological Dictionary of Modern English, 1921, to 
a greater extent than in any other non-slang dictionary. He 
includes a number of famous or very well-known slang words and 
a few others that, for one reason or another, are particularly 
interesting in themselves. 

In 1923 there are two books of note : Professor McKnight's 
English Words and their Background and M. Manchon's glossary 
of English slang. In the former, a work of some 450 pages, there 
is a first-class chapter of 34 pages on Slang ; related subjects 
there treated are Dialect, American English, Technical Words, 
Folk-Etymology, Euphemism and Hyperbole, and Degeneration 
and Elevation. The Professor's approach to his subject, both the 
general and the particular, is vital as well as scholarly, scholarly 
as well as commendably alert to the everyday aspects of language. 
Of the study of words he writes that " its range of interest is as 
wide as life itself. It may be made to illustrate the cultural 
progress of the race, not only the development of the material 
elements of civilization, but the progress in knowledge and the 
changes that have affected modes of thought. But, above all, 
words are interesting on account of the human nature revealed. 
In the creation and use of words there appear not only the sense 
of beauty and the sense of humour, but a human fallibility 
exhibited in inexactness of knowledge and the seemingly capricious 
modes of procedure. . . . The subject of words challenges 
attention at the present time/* (Ten years later, this is still 
true, equally true at the least.) " There are now under way 
remarkable changes in the use of words, changes which reflect 
the changing conditions of the modern world. . . . Throughout 
[this work], accordingly, an emphasis is thrown on the tendencies 
apparent in the language of our own time." And in the course 
of the chapter on slang, he remarks that " the older disposition, 
both in [the United States] and in England, to look on slang as a 
product of American vulgarity, no longer seriously prevails". 
It never had done so except among the " half-baked " ; a 
formidably large section of the community, it is sorrowfully 

The most important contribution to the lexicography of 
English 1 slang between Redding Ware's Passing English and 
Collinson's Contemporary English is undoubtedly Le Slang: 
Lexique de F Anglais Familier et Vulgaire, published in Paris in 
1923 and compiled by M. J. Manchon, of the French Institute 
(London). He leads off with a phonetic and grammatical 
vocabulary of vulgar, i.e., lowly English, and illustrates his theme 
with that " slick " appositeness which characterizes French 

1 If we include American slang, then pride of place must go to Mr. Mencken. 
(Not that either Mencken or CoUinson provide vocabularies.) 


scholars. Then comes the lexicon. By slang he understands 
those non-literary words and expressions which, employed in 
familiar, freely easy conversation, are often borrowed from the 
vulgar tongue. It is not perfectly accurate to say of these terms 
(known by every Englishman but flaunted or fled according either 
to his social status or to the characters of those with whom he is 
speaking) that no dictionary gives them, for Professor Weekley, 
as we have shown, includes many of them : but, as his is not a 
dictionary of slang, he has to be discriminatingly selective. 
M. Manchon, however, makes two good points when he says 
that un homme qui frquente tous les hommes needs to know these 
words, so many of which are ignored or proscribed by the lexico- 
graphers, and adds that numerous English novelists, if writing 
of persons likely to use much slang or to speak what is rather a 
humble variety of English, take care to reproduce, as faithfully 
as they can, the general nature and the special features of that 
slang and that vulgarity. 1 Modestly he says that le present 
ouvrage n'a d'autre pretention que d'aider ceux qui connaissent 
I' anglais dit litteraire ou classique a mieu% entendre le parler 
populaire et families. That he is conscientious appears from his 
inclusion of standard English words used in a slangy sense ; 
perhaps also in his inclusion of gross expressions. The execution 
of his laudable intention is methodical, comprehensive, and 
often illuminating : that his book goes considerably beyond slang 
properly so called he has made clear in his foreword. My only 
serious complaint is that he does not distinguish sufficiently 
between colloquial, familiar, aesthetically vulgar, slangy, and 
canting words and phrases. 

1 I need hardly say that " vulgar ", " lowly ", " humble ", " vulgarity ", 
etc., have only a linguistic connotation unless the context clearly indicates a 
moral or an aesthetic judgment. 




M. Manchon's glossary includes numerous words and phrases 
that imply and presage and, in some few instances, contain the 
embryos of the main features and the general tendencies of 
colloquial speech (of which slang is the raciest branch, the liveliest 
aspect) of the present day. Nowhere have those features and 
those tendencies been so pertinently, clearly, and penetratingly 
set forth as by a Professor of German in a Northern university, 
the author of a fascinating book published in Germany though 
written in English : nominally and professedly for the German 
public, but extremely valuable to students and lovers of English : 
modestly pretending to be complementary to Le Slang. 

To M. Manchon's book 1 Professor W. E. Collinson, in 1927, 
refers in the introduction to his Contemporary English, A Personal 
Speech Record as " the excellent repository of slang ". The 
professor in his Speech Record pays much attention to slang, 
but he aims chiefly to answer the following questions : " when, 
where and how did certain select expressions come within the 
author's ken ? how far can they be grouped and shown to represent 
factors influencing many different speakers ? what evidence can 
be brought from memory and introspection as to their survival 
value ? how far do contemporary writers confirm the author's 
impressions ? " 

The value of this book the first of its kind, I believe, in any 
language is twofold : it is a sincere " personal record ", 
conscientious, full, and clear ; and it is the work of a first-rate 
scholar who is also an observer as catholic as he is enthusiastic, 
as penetrating as he is discriminating. Whatever the aspect of 
his subject, he enriches it with precise terms precisely explained, 
documented and correlated. In view of this general excellence, 
it imports less to quote than to list those contents which concern 
us nearly : Preparatory school ; Dulwich College ; the 
adolescent influences of card games, cycling, various games and 
sports, books, John Bull, the Church, hobbies, cooking, the 
doctor ; changing fashions ; publicity ; music halls and theatres ; 

1 Mentioned at the end of the previous chapter. The German book to which 
Collinson refers as showing " how the political and social tendencies of a whole 
epoch are reflected in the current speech " it is only occasionally relevant to 
the history of slang is Kultur und Sprache im neuen England (Berlin), 1925. 


crime and punishment ; politics ; modem housing ; War-words ; 
modern psychology ; the sexes ; commerce ; various inventions ; 
the cinema and Americanisms ; some present tendencies ; 
relations to dialects and the foreigner ; university life ; notes on 
rhymes and hidden allusions. 

Professor Collinson has the advantages of a most retentive 
memory, a very marked ability in the comparative method, and 
a sense of humour as well as wit. Not only has he kept his ears 
open, but he has kept his eyes " skinned " during his extensive 
reading of the English fiction of 1902-1927 : the results are that 
humanity sweetens his scholarship, that erudition gives weight 
to his gleanings from both highway and by-way, and that 
personality makes of the whole a remarkable book. 

Towards the end Professor Collinson has a notable chapter on 
" Some Present Tendencies " : that those tendencies are as 
noticeable in 1933 as in 1927 is undisputed and indisputable. 
They link up with Professor Weekley's acute summary l of the 
four main features characterizing post- War English as a whole : 
the gradual sapping of the authority once attributed to grammar ; 
the decay of dialect (Professor Wyld thinks that regional dialects 
are being ousted and replaced by what, extending the meaning 
of the term, he calls class dialects, Scottish offering a stout 
resistance, though I am aware that many Scotsmen become 
indignant (why on earth they should, I fail to see) if one suggests 
that their speech is anything so lowly and so primitive as a 
dialect) ; the growth of a somewhat pedantic pronunciation, 
which, quite rightly, he ascribes to the standardizing influence of 
the British Broadcasting Corporation, more concerned perhaps 
with a kind of pronunciation that carries well when broadcasted 
than with the essential character and with the natural develop- 
ments in our national speech, a concerned interest that becomes 
significant if we realize that (whether consciously or not doesn't 
matter to the language !) from the choice of the most suitable 
pronunciation to the choice of words amenable, to that pronuncia- 
tion is only a short, certainly an inevitable step ; and fourthly, 
the Americanization of our slang, a process that, due largely to 
the popularity and the preponderance of American "talkies" 
and in the " silents ", of American captions, is nevertheless 2 
not quite so fatally widespread as Professors Weekley and 
Collinson seem to fear. 

1 In his valuable little book, The English Language, 1928. The remarks 
on the bare facts are mine, not (except where indicated) the Professor's. 

* Not that I wish to deprecate or explain away the undoubted and very 
obvious American element and influence in our familiar speech and in our slang : 
the former were snobbish, the latter ridiculously reminiscent of the head-hiding 
ostrich. Already in 1923, in his glossary of English slang, M. Manchon could 
justly say : Nous avons cru ban . . . de donner les americanismes, si nombreux 
dcja dans la langue familiere, et qui I'envahissent de plus en plus, grdce au film 


The latter notes also, as affecting familiar speech in general 
and slang in particular, " the protean forms of many idioms " 
(he instances the variations on enough blue sky to make a pair of 
policeman's trousers out of, originally in a rather different form 
and nautical, and on nothing to write home about, which the 
Australian soldiers changed to nothing to cable home about)', " a 
certain fluidity in the meanings expressed by slang words," 
which he exemplifies with to go (in) off the deep end, referring " to 
some rather sudden and violent mental excitement followed by 
[speech or] action " but in some contexts indicating in addition 
" to turn and attack a person, to let fly at him, to show sudden 
anger or resentment " ; and thirdly " the facility with which 
certain ideas tend to crystallize round themselves an enormous 
mass of synonymous designations . . . These ideas will be found 
to possess a strong feeling-tone . . . Sometimes this proliferation 
of linguistic expressions is accompanied by fine differentiations ". 
Now certain ideas x always have possessed a formidable synonomy, 
as an examination of B.E., Grose, and Hotten will establish, and 
especially has this held in the eighteenth century of death by 
hanging, and, in all centuries for which we have records, of 
drinking and drunkenness, money generic and particular, whores 
and copulation. But Professor CoUinson is wholly right when he 
implies that with the advance of civilization and culture and 
free education, these semantic series become ever more extensive 
and differentiated. 

Less important and ordinarily colloquial rather than slangy 
are the following tendencies discerned by this acute and delicate 
observer : "a growing prevalence in the use of the form 2 * on 
the (adjective) side ' to indicate ' fairly, rather, somewhat '. 
Thus we say that the weather is on the cool side, just as J. Ch. 
Anderson in the Soul Sifters . . . says ' Michelmore was always 
on the rough side ' " ; likewise, modification and ' toning-down ' 
are operated by the user of -ish as latish for " rather late " (Wode- 
house in Leave it to Psmith, 1924) or even sixish for " round about 
six o'clock " (H. G. Wells in Christina Alberta's Father, 1925), and 
as in such terms prompted by the need or the wish to let some- 
one down easily as suddenish, unexpectedish (perhaps the ugliest 
of them all !), offish (for " rather off colour ") ; among the 
smart, the flippant, the well-read, "the fashion of imitating 
the novelist's style [and even more, I think the journalist's 
mannerism] in adding to one's reply a declaration in the third 
person, e.g., in response to ' do you like that ? * we hear the person 
addressed say ' No, said he frowning ! ' " 

Less important again, yet still noteworthy, are these further 

1 See Part I, Ch. Ill, of this work at the section on thematic series. 

2 Cf. Line = business, occupation, department ; e.g., " in the grocery line." 
This is rather older than the other. 


points noted by the same writer : I don't think, " in emphatic 
repudiation of a foregoing statement," and the more reputable 
" method of rebutting another person's suggestion " exemplified 
in Michael Aden's bestseller, The Green Hat, to which the equally 
frequent alternative is " (there's) no must about it ! " To these 
I should like to add the growing use of the Oxford suffix ~er, as 
in " bed-sitter " for a bed-sitting-room. 

Professor Collinson provides some excellent examples of, but 
he does not deal with, word-coining. Now it is a rather significant 
fact that the War induced, in many countries, a desire to (< smash 
things up ", but this violent tendency only occasionally translated 
itself into action. Nevertheless, as is best, such violence must 
out : and, curiously enough, it spent itself in the destroying of 
tradition by the coining of new words and phrases, usually of a 
slangy nature. This iconoclasin, as purists have it, this gallant 
adventuring and this commendable creativeness, as the 
unconventional prefer to consider it, has always existed; it 
became a little more manifest during the reign of Edward VII ; 
the War made it vital and important ; the post-War generation 
has kept alive that Promethean flame and contributed its 
quota. It is true that the neologisms are often far-fetched, racked 
from essentially non-creative minds ; often they are mere bravado 
or unashamed bravura ; sometimes they are, intentionally or 
we like to think unconsciously childish ; but at other times 
they are either undeniably amusing or genuinely worth-while. 
Instances are the pre-War buttle (to be, especially to be actively, 
a butler) ; bfadge, in " stab and bludge ", as used by Galsworthy 
in The White Monkey ; trig, to pull the trigger of a camera, 
and gramp, 1 to puff and blow like a grampus. What are known 
technically as back-formations may be so creative that they 
supersede the original, as in the old example cab for " cabriolet ", 
or, however original, they may remain slang and rarely use.d at 
that, as in ten for " to play tennis " ; a good example of a back- 
formation that deserves popularity but has achieved it only in 
a comparatively restricted milieu is bot from " bot-fly ", which, 
aptly enough, the Australian troops employed for a fussy, 
insistent, annoyingly persistent person. Though not a back- 
formation yet, in the extension of the meaning, a neologism is 
my own 1932 blue-bottle for " to move fussily about, rather in the 
manner of a blue-bottle fly ". 

After the critics, the criticized; after the scholars, those 
who provide scholars with a contemporary, a utilitarian raison 
d'etre : the writers. Since in post- War days there has been no 

1 These two examples are quoted by Collinson as coined by a friend. At 
pp. 26-27 of this book there are others : two are very expressive and have the wit 
of brevity ; the rest are merely infelicitous, over-elaborate, or highly alembicated ; 
but all are interesting. 


poet able, or perhaps we should say willing, to take up the sceptre 
of slangy verse let fall by G. R. Sims (at least in England, for 
Service in Canada and Dennis in Australia have continued their 
War-time exercises in the vulgar tongue), we will glance at the 
work of three novelists, born in successive decades : John 
Galsworthy, P. G. Wodehouse, and Dennis Mackail, all excellent 
slangsters. Galsworthy, however, was to any great extent slangy 
only in The White Monkey, where he was at pains at very 
successful pains to depict " the younger set ", " the post-War 
generation ", in its own colours ; but it may be stated that, in 
a general way, Galsworthy was definitely more free and easy in 
his 1919-1931 publications than in those which preceded the War. 
The following examples of slang occur in The White Monkey, 
1924 : For *' nonsense, rubbish ", tosh, tripe, pop (short for 
poppycock), gup, pulp, bilge, drivel, guff, all instanced by Professor 
ColUnson, who compares them with piffle, 'trash, slush, mush, rot, 
gas, clap-trap, hot air, and observes that in the Irish Statesman 
of September, 1923 (first number) our well-beloved public 
entertainer G. Bernard Shaw speaks of " our huge national stock 
of junk and bilge ". And here is a short passage that illustrates 
the degree to which Galsworthy, alert of mind and quick of ear, 
succeeded in transferring to his page the very essence and pattern 
of staccato speech : " Hallo ! . . . That you, Wilfred ? . . . 
Michael speaking . . One of our packers has been snooping 
copies of ' Copper Coin '. He's ' got the bird ' poor devil ! 
I wondered if you'd mind putting in a word for him old Dan 
won't listen to me . . . Yes, got a wife Fleur's age ; pneumonia, 
so he says. Won't do it again with yours anyway, insurance by 
common gratitude what ! . . . Thanks, old man, awfully good 
of you will you bob in, then ? We can go round home together 
... Oh ! Well ! You'll bob in anyway. Aurev ! " 

But in the use of slang Galsworthy must take a back seat if 
we compare him with P. G. Wodehouse or Dennis Mackail. 
The former is almost a classic a comic classic ; a classic of 
colloquialism and slang. Has not Professor Collinson said that 
he has been able to check his own recollections (he, by the way, 
was born in 1889) " in the writings of men like P. G. Wodehouse, 
whose language always struck my brother and me even in our 
school-days as being almost a photographic representation of that 
in vogue around us ". And that the " various succeeding 
phases " of his " colloquial speech " are " most faithfully reflected 
in Wodehouse's long series of novels ". Typical of his fiction, 
though comprising not more than a little of his best work, are 
A Gentleman of Leisure, 1910, The Clicking of Cuthbert, 1922, 
and If I Were You, 1931. Where Wodehouse scores is not only 
in the extraordinary truth of the dialogue of the persons speaking 
but in the uncanny skill with which the person is characterized. 


Here, from the first of these three books, is a scene in which Molly 
and Lord Dreever watch Jimmy purloin, or appear to purloin 
a necklace. 

His lordship, having by this time pulled himself together to some 
extent, was the first to speak. 

" I say, you know, what-ho ! " he observed, not without emotion. 
" What ? " 

Molly drew back. 

" Jimmy ! you were Oh, you can't have been ! " 

" Looks jolly well like it ! " said his lordship judicially. 

" I wasn't," said Jimmy. " I was putting them back." 

" Putting them back ? " 

" Pitt, old man," said his lordship solemnly, " that sounds a bit thin." 

" Dreever, old man," said Jimmy, " I know it does. But it's the 
truth." His lordship's manner became kindly. 

" Now, look here, Pitt, old son," he said, " there's nothing to worry 
about we're all pals here you can pitch it straight to us. We won't 
give you away." 

(Jimmy explains ; Dreever is not convinced.) 

" Pitt, old man," said his lordship, shaking his head, more in sorrow 
than in anger, " it won't do, old top. What's the point of putting up 
any old yarn like that ? Don't you see, what I mean is, it's not as if we 
minded. Don't I keep telling you we're all pals here ? I've often thought 
what a jolly good feller old Raffles was regular sportsman. I don't 
blame a chappie for doing the gentleman burglar touch. Seems to me 
it's a dashed sporting ." But he gets no further, Molly quelling him 
with a look from her steely eye. 

More Wodehousian (as post-W&r readers are accustomed to 
regard him) is The Clicking of Cuthbert, a collection of golfing 
stories or " screams ", dedicated " to the immortal memory of 
John Henrie and Pat Rogie who, at Edinburgh, in the year 
A.D. 1593, were imprisoned for * playing of the gowff on the links 
of Leith every Sabbath the time of the sermonses ', also of 
Robert Robertson who got it in the neck in A.D. 1604 for the same 
reason ". The preface (" Fore ! ") is in his best, his inimitable 
manner but not notably slangy. The way in which he combines 
golfing technicalities with sunny realism and slangy recklessness 
is enough to make him Open Champion of the Literary Kingdom. 
Hearken, ye faithless, to James relating to his friend Peter a 
narrow escape from marriage : 

" She refused you ? " [asked Peter]. 

" She didn't get the chance. Old man, have you ever sent one right 
up the edge of that bunker in front of the seventh and just not gone in ? " 

" Very rarely/* 

" I did once. It was my second shot, from a good lie, with the light 
iron, and I followed well through and thought I had gone just too far, 
and, when I walked up, there was my ball on the edge of the bunker, 
nicely teed up on a chunk of grass, so that I was able to lay it dead with 
my mashie-niblick, holing out in six. Well, what I mean to say is, I feel 
now as I felt then as if some unseen power had withheld me in time 
from some frightful disaster." 

" I know just how you feel/' said Peter gravely. 


" Peter, old man, that girl said golf bored her pallid. She said she 
thought it was the silliest game ever invented . . . You don't seem 
revolted ..." 

" I am revolted, but not surprised. You see, she said the same thing 
to me only a few minutes before." 

" She did ! " 

And the author manages to make the game interesting to 
those who don't know a mashie from a masher, a putter from 
putty, a niblick from a toothpick. 

In most of his work, however, he does not expose himself to 
the always foolish act of self-imposed tour de force. If I Were 
You is one of the most generally entertaining of the documents 
in the whole Wodehouse corpus. Tony, lunching with Polly, 
breaks out thus : 

"I'm in my element. My ancestors were all barbers, and in this 
atmosphere of bay-rum and brilliantine my storm-tossed soul finds peace. 
Blood will tell, you know." 

Polly drank her wine in little birdlike sips. Her face was thoughtful. 

" Do you really believe you are Mrs. Price's son ? " she asked, at 

" I do. Don't you ? " 

11 No. I think she's dippy." 

" This is very interesting. Have a sandwich." 

" And, what's more," went on Polly, " when the time comes, I don't 
think she'll go through with it." 

" No ? " 

" No. She'll go back on her story." 

" What makes you think that ? " 

" Just a hunch." 

Later, these two declare their love : 

" Don't speak in that casual tone," he said, ..." It's dashed difficult 
to love, me. No girl has ever done it before. Now loving you . . . well, 
that's pie." 

" Is it ? " 

" Of course it is. Anybody could love you. It took me about two 
seconds. The moment I saw you pop out of those bushes and hurl yourself 
in front of my car, I said to myself, ' There's the girl I'm going to marry.' " 

" You didn't ? " 

" I did. Just as early as that." 

" What could you see in me ? " 

" I liked the graceful way you shot through the air." 

Also a wit and humorist, a novelist and short-story writer, 
Dennis Mackail excels in the slang of the middle class, especially 
of its more idle members and its " bright sparks ". A very 
early and a late novel will serve our noble purpose : What Next ?, 
1920, and The Young Livingstones, 1930. In What Next?, 
happy as it is at times, we miss the joyousness of MackaiFs 
post-1923 work ; the long ripples of laughter are as yet only 
gurgles ; the optimistic, courageous irresponsibility of a Hugo 
is seen only in embryo. The wit is there, so is the humour 
in a less effervescent state, a less continuous flow, a less graphic 


and picturesque prodigality. Here, however, is a scene that, 
while not disgracing its author, illustrates, mildly yet surely, 
his command of slang. Lush, the hero's very able servant, goes 
to an auction room where he " queers the pitch " of a ring of 
buyers, one of whom tries, with twenty-five pounds, to bribe 
him into departing. 

" ' Nothing doing/ I said. ' And five/ I called out to the auctioneer. 
The man who had been speaking to me looked pretty sick, and so if it 
comes to that did the auctioneer. He'd been squared somehow . . . 
Anyhow, from the look of things all round, I guessed I could squeeze 
somebody for more than twenty-five pounds. 

" In a few minutes the man who had just spoken to me was back again. 
' Look here/ he said, ' no one's going to let on what you did here, so 
you're quite safe. Now I expect you've been pretty well paid for this 
job, but it's got to stop, and the boys here will go up to fifty quid if you'll 
chuck it now. , . / I turned to this chap . . . and I said : ' I won't 
take a bribe. . . . But I'll tell you what I will do. I'll sell you my lot 
of fruit for two hundred pounds and clear out for good. That's my last 

" I thought he'd haggle, but ... he hardly paused." 

The Young Livingstones, one of the author's best books, teems 
with the slang and exaggerations of the younger set, as in this 
exchange of geniality between Yardley and the young Living- 
stones, Barbara and Rex : 

" Thanks awfully/' said Barbara, " that's terribly kind of you/' 

" Thanks awfully/' said Rex. " That'll be ripping." 

" Fine ! " said Derek Yardley. " Great ! Terrific ! Well, let's go 
into this hole and see what they can do for us. ... I say, do you mind 
if I call you ' Barbara ' ? " 

" Oh, of course not/' said Miss Livingstone. 

" And what's your brother's name ? " 

" Rex." 

" Right ! Fine ! Splendid ! Well, in we pop." 

Much of the dialogue is just like that, but the story itself 
is far from being so inane or so slangy. Still, Mackail has not 
yet attained to the artistry of a Wodehouse, whose general, like 
his slang, vocabulary, is considerably more flexible and rich. 

For many years, it seems, we shall have plenty of their kind 
of slang, but we lack a Sims, a Binstead, a Pett Ridge ; still more 
do we lack a Dickens. When, however, the lack is greatest, 
usually there arises someone to fill the gap : the demand, in 
literature almost as much as in commerce, has a strange trick of 
producing the supply : only, in literature the response generally 
takes longer to become strong, definite, and, above all, recognized 
by the public. Not that when the Simses and the Binsteads come 
will they necessarily be greater than the Wodehonses, but we 
need the former to keep the latter sweet, to prevent them from 
becoming stereotyped and excessively repetitive. 




Language picks out with almost a chemical certainty what is suitable 
for it, and any language at any moment is a naturally selected 
residuum of all which the human mind has thought or conceived ever 
since that line of civilization began. Greenough and Kittredge. 

At times one feels that there is much to be said for the 
discretion that is the better part of valour. While, in justice 
to the subject, I should certainly say something about the 
relations of slang to ordinary colloquial speech, low speech and 
vulgarisms, cant, and dialect on the one hand, and to standard 
English and the literary language on the other, I confess to a 
preference for fighting another day, for those relations and 
affiliations, obvious the moment one considers the grades, the 
degrees, the hierarchy of our language, are not only extremely 
difficult but almost impossible to define in the least vigorously. 
Doubtless I could burble vaguely ... if only burbling had not 
died a timely death with Carlyle and Ruskin ! Far-stretching 
platitudes and intangible generalities are out of date. Recourse 
to their generous aid would have enabled me to escape this 
dilemma, if not with honour at least with decorum : as it is, 
I must content myself with a brief attempt to weigh the imponder- 
able, to contain the fluid that is language in the sieve that is 
precision, and to define the boundaries of frontierless regions. 
With what joy I welcome Mr. Logan Pearsall Smith's pronounce- 
ment may be guessed but not, I hope, imagined. " The 
discrimination between slang and idiom/' he says, 1 '" is one of the 
nicest points in literary usage ; and, like all such discriminations, 
must be based on sensitiveness and literary tact ; there are no 
precise rules which are easy to apply to individual cases. It is 
mostly a matter of usage, and of a delicate sense of what is 
accepted and what is not." As this comforting writer quotes 
from the brothers Fowler, perhaps we should see what they have 
to say. " No treatment of slang, however short, should omit the 
reminder that slang and idiom are hard to distinguish, and 
yet, in literature, slang is bad, and idiom good . . . Some slang 

1 In the paper on " English Idioms ", in Words and Idioms, 1925. 

129 x 


survives and is given the idiomatic franchise ; ' when it doth 
prosper, none dare call it ' slang. The idiomatic writer differs 
chiefly from the slangy in using what was slang and is now 
idiom ; of what is still slang he chooses only that part which 
his insight assures him has the sort of merit that will preserve it. 
In a small part of their vocabulary the idiomatic and the slangy 
will coincide, and be therefore confused by the undiscerning . . . 
Full idiom and full slang are as far apart as virtue and vice ; 

and yet 

They oft so mix, the difference is too nice 
Where ends the virtue, or begins the vice. 

Anyone who can confidently assign each of the following phrases 
to its own territory may feel that he is not in much danger : 
outrun the constable, the man in the street, kicking your heels, 
between two stools, cutting a loss, riding for a fall, not seeing 
the wood for the trees, minding your Ps and Qs, crossing the fc, 
begging the question, special pleading, a bone to pick, half seas 
over tooth and nail, bluff, maffick, a tall order, it has come to 
stay/' The Fowlers in The King's English (I quote from the 3rd 
edition, 1930) are notoriously severe : of these expressions, I 
myself would say that only cutting a loss, half seas over, and 
a tall order are now slangy ; that the man in the street, legging 
the question, and special pleading could be used on the most formal 
occasions of written and spoken discourse : that riding for a fall, 
not seeing the wood for the trees, and it has come to stay have been 
accepted by standard English; that maffick is decidedly 
obsolescent ; that outrun the constable, between two stools, minding 
your Ps and Qs, crossing the is, tooth and nail, and bluff are familiar 
English, while kicking your heels and a bone to pick are colloquial. 
These last two varieties might well be considered together as 
" colloquial English " or " familiar and colloquial English ". 

On the subject of the affiliations of slang, Mencken is sceptical. 
" Most of the existing discussions of slang," he says, " spend 
themselves upon efforts to define it and, in particular, upon 
efforts to differentiate it from idiomatic neologisms of a more 
legitimate type. This effort is largely in vain ; the border-line 
is too vague and wavering to be accurately mapped ; words and 
phrases are constantly crossing it, and in both directions." He 
notes that Professor Krapp, author of that important work, The 
History of the English Language in America, " attempts to 
distinguish between slang and sound idiom by setting ^ up the 
doctrine that the former is ' more expressive than the situation 
demands '. ' It is/ he says, ' a kind of hyperesthesia in the use 
of language. To laugh in your sleeve x is idiom because it arises 
out of a natural situation . . . ; but to talk through your hat is sl&ng, 
not only because it is new, but also because it is a grotesque 

1 Anglic^ : wf> one's sleeve. 


exaggeration of the truth/ The theory, unluckily, is combated 
by many plain facts. To hand it to him, to get away with it, and 
even to hand him a lemon are certainly not metaphors, and yet 
all are undoubtedly slang. On the other hand, there is palpable 
exaggeration in such phrases as ' he is not worth the powder it 
would take to kill him ' ... in such compounds as fire-eater, 
and yet it would be absurd to dismiss them as slang. Between 
block-head and bone-head there is little to choose, but the former 
is sound English, whereas the latter is American slang. So with 
many familiar similes, e.g., like greased lightning, as scarce as hens' 
teeth ; they are grotesque hyperboles, but surely not slang/' 

Another angle is presented by M. Niceforo : Si on pouvait 
manier les differents blocs de langages speciaux ainsi qu'on manie 
sur une palette toutes les nuances des couleurs, on pourrait disposer 
ces langages les uns a cdte des autres en assignant a chacun d'eux 
sa place logique dans une chaine nuancee des langages allant du 
langage clair et normal, patrimoine universel de toils les hommes et 
consigne dans les dictionnaires de la langue, au groupe extreme 
form& par les argots veritaUes (the cant of different nations). 
Niceforo there takes a very broad view indeed, so broad that 
we who are not polyglots turn, reassured, to Logan Pearsall 
Smith when l he writes : " Our accepted language, the English 
familiar to the educated classes, ... is made up of several forms 
of speech, which . . . are used on different occasions . . . Most 
familiar of all is the language of colloquial talk, with its expletives, 
easy idioms, and a varying amount of slang, Above this is the 
vernacular of good conversation, more correct, more dignified, 
and entirely, or almost entirely, free from slang. Above this 
comes the written language, which is richer in vocabulary and 
somewhat more old-fashioned in construction than the standard 
spoken speech. But this written, like the spoken language, is 
also of two kinds for the English of poetry differs from that 
of prose, both in grammar and vocabulary . . . Now, if we 
examine this linguistic ladder . . . reaching from earth to the 
heights of poetry, we shall find that its lowest rung ... is fixed 
close to the soil of popular and vulgar speech. For our 
slang and colloquial terms are almost always of popular origin 
[. . . including the dialects]. These words find an easy entrance 
into the vocabulary of familiar talk ; sportsmen pick them up 
from grooms and gamekeepers, children learn them from servants, 
masters from their workmen ; . . . and wherever the educated 
and the uneducated meet and talk together on easy terms, new 
words ... are added to the vocabulary of the educated classes. 
These words, whether they originate in cant, slang, or in dialect, 
are at first regarded as vulgarisms, and shock the nice ears of the 
polite. But they soon undergo t a sifting process. Slang words, 

1 The paper on " Popular Speech ", op. cit. 


being generally created, not to define a thing, but to say some- 
thing funny about it, keep as a rule their slangy character; 
while those among the dialect terms which are genuine and 
useful additions lose little by little their vulgar associations, and 
once firmly fixed on the lower steps of the linguistic ladder, push 
themselves upward, one rung after another. . . . The character 
and value of these words [from below] shift . . . almost from day 
to day ; and yet we all know at any given moment the class to 
which any of them belongs." (The all in the last sentence is 

On questions so "ticklish" as these delicate discriminations, 
it is a help to have the opinions of such different writers as the 
Fowlers, Mencken, Niceforo, and Pearsall Smithy and it is both 
a help and an inspiration to read the judicious finding of Sir James 
Murray. 1 ''The English Vocabulary/' he says, "contains a 
nucleus or central mass of many thousand words whose 
' Anglicity ' is unquestioned ; some of them only literary, some 
of them only colloquial, 2 the great majority at once literary and 
colloquial they are the Common Words of the language. But 
they are linked on every side with words that are less and less 
entitled to this appellation, and which pertain ever more and 
more distinctly to the domain of local dialect, of the slang and 
cant of ' sets ' and classes, of the popular technicalities of trades 
and processes, of the scientific terminology common to all civilized 
nations, of the actual languages of other lands and peoples." 
Then comes the sentence with which a mere mortal like myself 
delights to buttress his pusillanimity : " And there is absolutely 
no defining line in any direction : the circle of the English language 
has a well-defined centre but no discernible circumference." He 
illustrates his thesis with a diagram, which for very shame I have 
forborne to ask permission to reproduce ; but his comment on 
that diagram is itself diagrammatic in its divine clarity. " The 
centre is occupied by the ' common ' words, in which literary 
and colloquial usage meet. ' Scientific ' and ' foreign ' words 
enter the common language mainly through literature : ' slang ' 
words ascend through colloquial use ; the ' technical ' terms of 
crafts and processes, and the ' dialect ' words, blend with the 
common language both in speech and literature. Slang also 
touches on one side the technical, terminology of trades and 
occupations, as in ' nautical slang *, ' Public School slang ', 
' the slang of the Stock Exchange ', and on another passes into 
true dialect. Dialects similarly pass into foreign languages 
[and into slang, colloquial, and literary use]. Scientific 
terminology passes on one side into purely foreign words, on 
another it blends with the technical vocabulary of art and 

1 On p. xvii of vol. i of The Oxford English Dictionary, 1888. 

2 Sir James used colloquial to mean " employed in normal speech". 


manufactures. It is not possible to fix the point at which the 
' English Language ' stops, along any of these diverging lines/' 
In the language of current flippancy, a flippancy common to both 
slangy and colloquial speech, I cannot refrain from murmuring 
" Thank you, Sir James, for those few kind words ". It is 
pleasant to find oneself on the side of the angels, which is not 
quite the same as fighting with the big battalions. 

" Dialect/' says Mr. H. W. Fowler in his perspicacious and 
penetrating, percipient and perspicuous Modern English Usage, 
" is essentially local ; a dialect is the x variety of a language that 
prevails in a district, with local peculiarities of vocabulary, 
pronunciation, and phrase/' 

Those peculiarities are constantly being incorporated into 
general colloquial speech as into slang, especially if they are 
picturesque. At ordinary times, the incorporation is slow and 
inconsiderable, but on special occasions, as during a war (when 
countrymen mingle at close quarters with townsmen), numerous 
dialectal terms become part of the common stock and some 
few of them pass into formal speech and into the language of 
literature, whether prose or poetry. Writing in 1902, Greenough 
and Kittredge remark that " when Sir Thomas Lipton spoke of 
' lifting the cup ', he was merely using a provincialism [cf. * to 
lift cattle and shoplifter *, they say in a footnote], but when the 
people of the United States took up the expression in good-natured 
mockery, it became slang. Burn's croon was also a dialect term, 
but it almost immediately commended itself to the poets, and is 
now in good use ". 

Sometimes, however, instead of dialect becoming slang, 
slang becomes dialect, as with bridewell. " At Bridewell, i.e., 
St. Bridget's Well, London, was a royal dwelling which Edward VI 
converted into a hospital. Later it became a house of correction, 
and the name was imitated in many provincial towns which 
still have their bridewells, or gaols." 2 

More fully than slang, much more fully and accurately than 
that hardly definable region of informal speech which we call 
" colloquial and familiar ", dialect has been charted and mapped. 
In the words of Mr. Logan Pearsall Smith, 3 whose charming essay 
and fluent style it would be a pity to paraphrase : "Of all the 
various forms of non-literary English, the local dialects 4 have 
been most carefully documented and studied ; glossaries of all, 

1 The sentence, pace this authority (whose work I admire), would be less 
ambiguous if it were written thus : "a dialect is that variety of a language 
which prevails in a district and has local peculiarities," etc. 

2 Weekley : Words and Names, 1932. Collinson comments on this fact with 
reference to Liverpool. 

3 In " Popular Speech ", end of sect. 1 : in Words and Idioms. 

* On dialect in general, see pp. 1-16 of Wyld's History of Modern Colloquial 
English, 3rd impression, 1925. 


and grammars of some of them, have been published, and the 
material in these has been put together, with that collected by the 
Dialect Society, in six volumes of Dr. [Joseph] Wright's immense 
Dialect Dictionary, which is not only one of the greatest lexico- 
graphical achievements ever performed by one I scholar, but a 
work for the lover of words of inexhaustible fascination, enabling 
him, as it does, to explore at ease the wild regions of English 
which lie around the streets and suburbs of our polite vernacular." 
The debt of Standard English and of colloquial English to 
dialect does not concern us here. But what is worth noting is 
the fact that dialect contains many words of a pithiness and 
picturesqueness rivalled only in the best slang. In 1911 Professor 
Skeat 2 printed, from the East Midland district, the home of 
Standard English, a specimen that, from the Norfolk dialect, 
requires a " translation " into Received English. 3 

Rabbin. Tibby, d'ye know how the knacker's mawther Nutty du ? 
(Robin. Stephen, do you know how the collar-maker's daughter Ursula is ?) 
Tibby. Why i'facks, Rabbin, she's nation 4 cothy ; by Goms, she is 
so snasty that I think she is will-led. 

(Stephen. Why, in fact, Robin, she is extremely sick ; by God, she is 
so snarly that I think she's out of her mind.) 

Rabbin. She's a fate mawther, but ollas in dibles wi' the knacker and 
thackster ; she is ollas a-ating o' thapes and dodmans. The logger sa, 
she ha the black sap ; but the grosher sa, she have an ill dent. 

(Robin. She's a clever girl, but always in trouble with the collar-maker 
and the thatcher ; she is always eating gooseberries and snails. The man 
at the chandler's shop says she has a consumption ; but the grocer says she's 
out of her senses.) 

" This passage/' observes Professor McKnight, " reveals in 
striking fashion the wealth of expressive words in English, 
seemingly crude because of their unfamiliarity . . ., which have 
not been admitted to standard literary use/' He goes on to 
remark that " the character of dialect words, like those in standard 
English, is varied. Many of them are good old words which have 
been rejected by standard English ". He instances the following : 
fain, glad, which is preserved in the thesaurus of poetry but is in 
prose regarded as an obsolete prettiness when it is not despised 
as an outworn affectation ; fey, fated, now admitted in reference 
to second sight, especially if the unhappy possessor is Scottish ; 
bide, to wait ; thole, to endure, though poetry tends to retain 
the word ; nesh, delicate or physically soft or out of training, 
educated people in Gloucestershire, however, use it in the second 
and third of these senses ; kemp, a fighter, which in Anglo-Saxon 

1 Not quite correct, for Mrs. Wright, herself a notable scholar, rendered him 
invaluable assistance ; her book Rustic Speech and Folklore, 1913, is far more 
than merely competent. 

2 Our English Dialects, 1911. 

3 I take this from the inestimable McKnight. 

4 Whence yet another Americanism, 


was a noble term ; speer, to inquire, with which perhaps connect 
the cant peery, inquisitive or suspicious ; bairn ; stee, a ladder ; 
dree, to suffer ; weird, fate, these last two words being known 
to most of us, and much used by journalistic writers, in dree 
his weird. 

" Many dialect words, however, have not so legitimate a line 
of descent/' There are numerous examples of " a perversion of 
words familiar in standard English " : what Professor Wyld 
stigmatizes as mistakes. Yet even Wyld has not allowed 
sufficiently for climatic and regional adaptation, whereby the 
illiterate countryman procrustates good English to the sound 
that suits best his power of speech, his speech-organs, and 
remoulds it nearer to his tongue's desire : is he, for that, to be 
charged with shattering the linguistic world to bits ? Revenons 
a nos mots I McKnight quotes nammut, lit. noon-meat, 
i.e., luncheon ; lows, or allows ; sarment, a sermon, with which 
compare varmint, vermin ; gurt, great ; ollas or ollus, always. 
A mqre distinguished class for it shows an authentic creative- 
ness is that of such local neologisms as will-led and black sap ; 
winter-picks, blackthorn berries, and winterproud, cold, both 
from East Sussex. 

" In other instances these words are foreign words admitted 
into dialectal use but not into Standard English. To this class 
belong most of the special names used in the Lake District 
[e.g., Dodd, the spur of a mountain -force, a waterfall hause, 
the top of a pass holme, an island nab, a projecting rock 
pike, a peak raise, the top of a hill scar, a wall of rock 
thwaite, a clearing], most of them of Scandinavian origin, and 
[Scottish] words such as bonnie [from bon], achet [from assiette, 
a plate], douce [from doux, douce, soft, sweet, mild], fash [from 
fdcher], dour [from dur, hard], tass [from tasse, a cup, but in 
Scottish meaning a glass], derived from the French." On the 
other side of the account we must place four words from English 
dialect, coke, tram, lunch (?), and snob, which "have proved of 
such value that they have made their way into foreign vocabularies 
as well, and are now current almost all over the continent of 
Europe " (Pearsall Smith). 

Dialect, for all its problems, is a much more navigable sea 
than the colloquial or colloquialisms, the names by which I 
propose to call that part of " colloquial and familiar speech " 
which is not slang nor cant nor vulgarism. As Greenough and 
Kittredge have said, " every educated person has at least two 
ways of speaking his mother tongue. The first is that which he 
employs in his family, among his familiar friends, and on 
ordinary occasions. The second is that which he uses in dis- 
coursing on more complicated subjects, and in addressing persons 
with whom he is less intimately acquainted. It is, in short, the 


language which he employs when he is ' on his dignity ', as he puts 
on evening dress when he is going out to dine. The difference 
between these two forms consists, in great measure, in a difference 
of vocabulary." True ; yet it must not be forgotten that other 
and frequent features are the syntax so flexible as to become at 
times ungrammatical, the fondness for sentences with a single 
verb, the omission of / at the beginning of a sentence or a clause, 
the rapid leap from one subject to another, and the use of words 
and phrases that, unintelligible or at best obscure in print, are 
made both clear and sometimes arresting by a tone or a gesture, 
a pause or an emphasis. But to continue with those two 
authorities : " The basis of familiar words must be the same in 
both, but the vocabulary appropriate to the more formal occasion 
will include many terms which would be stilted or affected m 
ordinary talk. There is also considerable difference between 
familiar and dignified language in the manner of utterance " 
in pronunciation and enunciation. "In conversation, we 
habitually employ such contractions as I'll, don't, won't, it's, we d, 
he'd . . . which we should never use in public speaking, unless 
with set purpose, to give a markedly colloquial tinge to what we 
have to say." . 

The colloquial, like "colloquial and familiar speech in 
general (of which, obviously, it is the more lowly and the more 
racy part), fluctuates tremendously from class to class, set to 
set, group to group, family to family, individual to individual, 
and even, according to the individual's mood or aspiration, from 
one alter ego to another. " His social experience, traditions and 
general background, his ordinary tastes and pursuits, his 
intellectual and moral cultivation are all reflected in each man's 
conversation/' says Professor Wyld 1 who continues: "These 
factors determine and modify a man's mode of speech in many 
ways. . . . But the individual speaker is also affected by the 
character of those to whom he speaks ... an accomplished 
man of the world . . . speaks not one but many slightly different 
idioms ... No man who is not a fool wiU consider it proper to 
address a bevy of Bishops [nor, I think, would he unless in his 
cu p s ^. ca ll a group of bishops a bevy ; a bevy of partridges,* perhaps, 
but hardly of prelates] in precisely the same way as would be 
perfectly natural and suitable among a party of fox-hunting 
country gentlemen." This is good, but better is to follow. 
" There is naturally," says the great philologist and lexicographer, 
" a large body of colloquial expression which is common to all 
classes, . . . but each class and interest has its own special way 
of expressing itself. The average colloquial speech of any age 
is at best a compromise between a variety of different jargons." 

1 Op. cit., at colloquial idiom. * Strictly : bevy, quails ; covey, partridges. 


Yes, the colloquial is difficult to confine within practicable 
limits, and the difficulty is made none the easier by the fact that, 
as Dr. Henry Bradley of the Oxford English Dictionary once 
remarked, " at no period . . . has the colloquial vocabulary and 
idiom of the English language been completely preserved in the 
literature " or indeed in even the dictionaries. " The homely 
expressions of everyday intercourse, the phrases of contemporary 
currency alluding to recent events, the slangy words and uses of 
words characteristic of particular classes of society all these 
have been but very imperfectly recorded in the writings of 
any age." 

Bradley, whose career had, in its quiet way, much of the 
fascination of romance, mentions " phrases of contemporary 
currency ". These need not, though they often do, relate to 
events, recent or ancient, for they consist of " those street phrases 
which periodically spring up, have their rage, and depart [ most 
of them ] as suddenly as they came into popularity " and which 
are, like all serene, I'll warm yer t " generally of a most idiotic 
nature/' These inanities, and these bright sayings so tediously 
and relentlessly circulated that they too become insipid and inane, 
are excellent examples of the colloquial : they are colloquialisms 
of the most impeccable nature. From another point of view, 
however, it is a shame that many of these expressions, these 
catch-phrases, which were originally vivid, apt, arresting, and 
which constituted a kind of neologism, have, " by falling " 
as Mencken * aristocratically phrases it " too quickly into the 
gaping maw of the proletariat ", been " spoiled forthwith ". 
Once such a phrase " becomes, in Oliver Wendell Holmes' phrase 
' a cheap generic term, a substitute for differentiated specific 
expressions ', it quickly acquires such flatness that the fastidious 
flee it as a plague ". 

And what of low speech ? and vulgarisms ? and cant ? They 
too, especially the last, merge often enough with slang, when 
they are not actually slang. 

Low words are those of the dotty (mad) and lolly (a sweet) 
kind ; codger and geezer, to cop, to bash, and to diddle are low. 
Of these, some are slangy, some merely familiar. The connexion 
between such low words and slang is so intimate that, the moment 
they cease to be slang, they tend to often do become admitted 
as ordinary colloquialisms. It is in such cases as these that one 
has some justification for speaking of " a distinction but not a 
difference ", yet the distinction is legitimate and, for all the 
difficulty of pinning it down, very desirable. One class of " low " 
words consists of those which, used by the poorest and meanest 

1 I permit myself the audacity of applying to a slightly different class of 
linguistic unfortunates Mencken's strictures on originally vivid terms and 
phrases that have become common property. 


of the poorer classes, are neither cant nor " good " colloquialisms 
(colloquialisms admitted into Society !) : they are partly slang, 
partly idiom, the idiom being so lowly that it is very wrongly 
ignored, though the ignoring is generally due to ignorance. 
Several examples l of this " low language " will be found in the 
section on Cockney, and they will prove my contention that it 
is an almost inextricable tangle of slang and idiom, often of a 
raciness and an expressiveness that put Standard English into 
the shade. For those who read French, I would recommend 
Jehan Rictus's Soliloques du Pauvre, 1897, the specimens cited by 
Niceforo 2 from " Pere Peinard ", and M. Joseph Manchon's * 
translations of the passages from Barry Pain and Neil Lyons' 
Arthur's, for these illustrate perfectly what I have but haltingly 

Vulgarisms are of two kinds : words foisted on one social 
class from a lower class or brought from trade into drawing-room, 
a kind that, consisting of what is usually good, though some- 
times unnecessary, English, does not concern us ; and vulgarisms 
as I understand them. These latter are words that, belonging 
either to dialect or to ordinary idiomatic English, denote such 
objects or processes or functions or acts or tendencies as are not 
usually mentioned by the polite and are almost never, under 
those names, mentioned in respectable upper, middle, or lower 
class circles, though doctors may call them by their medical names, 
anyone may refer to them though not usually before members 
of the other sex by their technical and usually Latinized or 
Grecized designations, and persons secretly libidinous or copro- 
logical delight to speak of them in terms of Freud and his followers. 
Ars&, a good Saxon word, is no longer technically obscene : it 
occurred in that great War-book, Her Privates We, early in 
1930 and has been occasionally seen in print since then. From 
about 1850 to about 1920 the usual Saxon word was 'backside, 
but in the last twelve years or so thanks largely to such '' choice 
spirits " as Mr. A. P. Herbert behind has taken its place. Half- 
way between arse and backside in respectability comes bum, 3 
now decidedly vulgar and mainly a schoolboys' word, but much 
more dignified when used by Shakespeare, Dekker, Jonson, and 
a little more dignified when used by Swift and Wolcot, though 
its gradual degeneration is clear in the last two writers. Bottom, 
in use during the eighteenth century but a frequent synonym 
only since 1830 or thereabouts, has always been considered 
rather more genteel (" though not quite nice, don't you know ") 
than backside and, since behind? 's accession to the popular throne, 
of a moral rectitude approximately comparable to that almost 
exact synonym. Posterior is politer still, but if we use the plural 

1 The passages from Pett Ridge, from Barry Pain, and from Neil Lyon's 
Arthur's. 2 Op. cit. a Rare in U.S.A. 


we convey buttocks, which, so much more precise anatomically, 
is not quite so acceptable to the prudish. Euphemism, here as 
in all such words, is often employed, sometimes in a rather 
childish form as in sit-me-down. The " Saxon " words for the 
membrum virile and the pudendum muliebre are excellently 
idiomatic and belong to the aristocracy of the language, but, 
because they denote these intimate parts, are by a mental 
twist best left to the psychologists regarded as vulgar and, 
though they are certainly not that, even as slangy. These are 
vulgarisms. It must, however, be added that there do exist 
slang terms, many slang terms, for such vulgarisms. The vulgarity, 
for we cannot speak of the vulgarisms, of cant is notorious, but 
it hardly concerns us at this point. Very pertinent, however, is 
the question, How far may cant be considered a part of slang ? 

Cant is often known as thieves' slang but would more properly 
be called underworld slang. Now, it is true that the underworld, 
in which it will be convenient to include vagabonds and vagrants, 
uses a great deal of slang, ordinary Cockney or ordinary provincial 
slang ; nevertheless, when the underworld wishes, as it often 
does, to speak in a manner incomprehensible to more respectable 
citizens, it employs what cannot accurately be called slang, for 
it is a " secret language ". Even " secret language " is misleading, 
only the significant words being secret. On the other hand, as 
Henri Bauche * has pointed out, II faut reconnaitre que V argot 
des malfaiteurs, I* argot des prisons, entre pour une part importante 
dans la formation du langage populaire. La cause en est evidente : 
le crime nait plus souvent du besoin et de la misere des classes 
inferieures que parmi les gens qui ne manquent de rien. In the 
staple as in the slangy part of the speech of the lowest classes 
there is therefore a considerable number of terms found also in 
cant : " it's the poor as 'elps the poor " : from those about 
them, criminals do not think, do not wish to hide their secret 
vocabulary : often, in fact, it is to the advantage of criminals 
that this vocabulary should be known by their non-criminal 
relatives and friends. Cant terms leak out from time to time, 
with the result that many of them ultimately find themselves 
recorded in a dictionary ; nor always there only. To quote again 
from Bauche's valuable and very interesting work, Les divers 
argots des prisons, des differences categories de malfaiteurs, de la 
prostitution ont . . . laisse des traces nombreuses dans le bas 
peuple, sans distinction de metier : de la ces termes speciaux sont 
monies dans le peuple et -parfois jusqu'aux classes cuttivees. 

Whence we perceive that cant as a whole is neither slang nor 
a secret language, but both ; in its essence, however, it is the 
latter, and Fanner's opinion is here of great importance, for one 

1 Le Langage Populaire, 1st ed., 1920. I quote from the 1929 re-impression 
of the 1927 revision actually published in 1928. 


of the most authoritative pronouncements on the relation of 
slang to cant is that of John Fanner, who, in the preface to his 
Musa Pedestris, 1896, writes thus : " As to the distinction to be 
drawn between Cant and Slang it is somewhat difficult to speak. 
Cant we know ; its limits and place in the world of philology are 
well defined. In Slang, however, we have a veritable Proteus, 
ever shifting . . . Few, save scholars and suchlike folk, even 
distinguish between the two, though the line of demarcation is 
sharply enough defined. In the first place, Slang is universal, 
whilst Cant is restricted in usage to certain classes of the com- 
munity : thieves, vagrom men, and . . . their associates. . . . 
Slang boasts a quasi-respectability denied to Cant, though Cant 
is frequently more enduring, its use continuing without variation 
of meaning for many generations. With Slang this is the 
exception/' partly because much of it is absorbed into general 
colloquial speech. " Both Cant and Slang, but Slang to a more 
determinate degree, are mirrors in which those who look may see 
reflected a picture of the age, with its failings, foibles, and 

It is not of such extreme deviations from standard English 
that Hazlitt, 1 in 1822, said : "I conceive that words are like 
money, not the worse for being common, but that it is the stamp 
of custom alone that gives them circulation or value/' 

The relation of slang to standard English (Received Standard, 
as Wyld calls it) has, along with those of technical jargons, 
dialect, and " low " speech, been implied thus by Pearsall Smith 2 
when he writes : " Exact and precise definitions and classifica- 
tions of all these various forms of popular speech are hardly 
possible, so mixed are they, and so imperceptibly do they shade 
into one another ; they may, however, be all grouped together, 
in contrast to the standard language, under the name of popular 
speech, the essential difference being that they are all spoken, 
but not written vernaculars ; that they live and change and 
develop, or deteriorate, free from the conditions and the restric- 
tions which are imposed, and necessarily imposed, upon any 
form of speech which has become a written language, and which, 
with its received vocabulary and obligatory grammar, is taught 
in schools, and written and spoken by all educated people. The 
formation of our standard English ... is described in every 
history of our language, and we are now witnessing its immense 
extension the way in which, by means of quickened social 
intercourse, by popular education and the press [and also by 
wireless], it is spreading its domain ever more widely." 

Slang, like the standard language, may be natural or it may 

1 In vol. ii of Table Talk : this occurs in the section " On Familiar Style ". 

2 Op. cit., in the introductory part of " Popular Speech and Standard 
English ". 


not. Both are sometimes hothouse products, but slang is more 
often such than is standard English. " Its relation to standard 
English," observes McKnight, "is in many ways like that of 
jazz to music/' But just as jazz occasionally forgets itself and 
becomes music, so slang is often very near indeed to legitimate 
speech. " We may/' remark Greenough and Kittredge, with 
that pertinent sanity which we expect from them, " say with 
propriety a carnival or a Saturnalia of crime, but not a perfect 
circus. A man ma y well be recalcitrant, but only in [American] 
colloquial style can he be a kicker [French rouspeteur]. We 
cannot with dignity allude to the curves * of base-ball, but a bias, 
from the game of bowls, is proper enough. A 1 is hardly out 
of the region of slang, but probity and improbity, [also] mercantile 
expressions, have cleared their skirts of commercial associations, 
and are in good use. You can hardly jump on a man, nor can 
you go at him, but you can readily assail or assault him/' 

Slang scorns uniformity, standard English is bound to respect 
it, though not to the extent of servility : for rigidity in language 
is literally a rigor mortis. But on this question we can hardly 
do better than to hearken to Professor George McKnight. " That 
in the course of the last centuries," he judiciously and judicially 
remarks, " the English language has gained in precision, will 
hardly be denied. It must not be lost sight of that language is 
not created for the single individual, but is a social instrument 
for communication between many individuals. It is important 
that the language medium " a very good point, this ! " should 
offer as little as possible resistance to the thought current, and 
this end is attained only when the symbols of language are ones 
that convey precisely the same meaning to all who use the 
language. There is, however, reason for questioning the limits 
to which the process of standardization may profitably be carried. 
In the language of Shakespeare, . . . the popular speech has 
everywhere given the pattern. In the cultivated language of 
to-day," the observation being as just in 1933 as it was in 1923 
when these words were published, " the reverse is often true ; 
the effort is made to have the standard language of literature 
give the pattern for colloquial use. Can the English of to-day be 
said to be a more effective means of expression than that used by 
Shakespeare ? " We must, as does McKnight, conclude that 
" a language may not be completely standardized and live. 
Fixity in the form of a language gives immobility to the national 
thought expressed. Ideas inherited from the past, to be sure, 
may find adequate expression in the fixed idiom of the past. 
The shifting, developing forms assumed by living thought, 
however, demand the plastic medium of a living language ". 

1 This was written in 1902 ; after a lapse of thirty years, curves is still slangy 
in England but good in America. English A i is now coll. 


Of literary English we need only say that it is the more 
conventional and dignified, more accurate and logical, sometimes 
the more beautiful form that standard English assumes, like 
evening dress, for important occasions ; it is also more rhythmical 
and musical. With slang it has nothing to do, unless it has a 
long pedigree, and then only in very rare instances. 


Although there are many kinds of slang, e.g., Cockney, public- 
house, commercial, society, military, there is also a Standard Slang 
just as there is a Standard English : Standard Slang is that 
which is employed by the users of Standard English. Manifestly 
we could not speak of commercial or society or military slang 
unless there were such a standard ; no less manifestly, we could 
not even begin to attempt to map the areas occupied by those 
various slangs unless we had a norm by which to chart the 
boundaries. Obvious ? Oh, quite ! So obvious is the importance 
of recognizing that there is a standard slang, " Received Standard, 
variety 2," as a wag has described it, that it has been almost 
completely overlooked, so completely indeed that, while I do not 
pretend to have read and very well know that I have not in fact 
read by any means all the accounts of slang, I cannot cite a single 
noteworthy passage (and of what value are the others ? mere 
exhaustiveness being but stiff-necked pedantry) in which either 
the existence of an argotic norm or the relationship of well-known 
and in some instances remarkable slangs to the central body of 
slang is adequately posited, much less notably or even 
satisfactorily indicated. 

The slang of those who speak Standard English. Yes ; but 
not all the slang of those who speak it. Not naval or military 
officer's slang nor society slang nor university slang, except of 
course where terms from those groups of unconventional speech 
have been absorbed into the main body, but the slang that is 
common to all those who, speaking Received Standard or, in less 
formal moments, good colloquial English, use slang at all. 

There is, however, one important difference apart, naturally, 
from their status in the hierarchy of speech between Standard 
English and Standard (English) Slang : Received or Standard 
English is inclined to be a little snobbish with regard to parvenu, 
" gate-crashing/' and otherwise intrusive words, as also to all 
words that, unless in that common idiom which is the staple and 
the backbone of all English, are frequently used by persons whose 
accent or whose grammar is not quite what " Standard 
Englishers " are accustomed to regard as correct. But Standard 
Slang welcomes slang from the lower strata of society, especially 
of Cockneys, for the very good reason that the slang of the lower 
classes is, all in all and other things being equal, more vivid, 


more apt, and more amusing than that of the speakers of Standard 
English. The result is that Standard Slang is more flexible and 
picturesque than Standard English. Obviously, too, standard 
(i.e., normal or basic) slang is richer in vocabulary, though not 
necessarily more vivid in character, than any of the deviations. 
As a matter of fact, the lower the social class that uses more than 
any other a special slang, the more picturesque and forcible is 
that special slang. 

Before passing to the very necessary distinction between 
special, or " departmental ", slangs and occupational, or technical, 
jargons, it will be as well to note, however briefly, the diffusion 
of slang and the extent to which it is used. " There is scarcely 
a condition or calling in life," wrote Hotten many years ago, 
" that does not possess its own peculiar slang. The professions, 
legal and medical, have each familiar and unauthorized terms 
for peculiar circumstances and things, and it is quite certain that 
the clerical calling, or ' the cloth 'in itself a slang term given 
at a time when the laity were more distinguished by their gay 
dress from the clergy than they are now is not entirely free 
from this peculiarity. Every workshop, warehouse, factory, and 
mill throughout the country has its slang, and so have the public 
schools and the universities . . . Sea slang constitutes the 
principal charm of a sailor's ' yarn ' ; and our soldiers have in 
turn their nicknames and terms for things and subjects, proper 
and improper. . . . The universality of slang is extraordinary. 
Let any person for a short time narrowly examine the conversation 
of his nearest and dearest friend, or even analyse his own supposed 
correct talk, and he shall be amazed at the numerous unauthorized 
. . . words in constant use." It is necessary, however, for us 
to be quite clear as to the difference between slang and jargon 
and at the same time to place them all in their right " order ". 

On sait, remarks Professor Carnoy , of Louvain, in that admirable 
book La Science du Mot, que Us langues speciales sont d'e deux 
types differents : 

1. A la langue soignee (langue noble, langue litteraire) 
s'opposent le langage famUier et la langue triviale (avec ses diverses 
nuances), qu'on emploie pour les usages ordinaires de la me, les 
besoms journaliers, les sentiments eUmentaires, etc. 

2. A la langue commune (celle de tout le monde) s'opposent : 

(a) le langage intellectuel (exprimant les notions philosophiques, 
morales, les conceptions que conftre la culture] et les idiomes 
techniques ou scientiques (en usage entre les gens du metier ou 
entre les inittis a une discipline). 

(b) les langues dfoeloppfas plus ou moins artificiellement par 
des groupes sociaux particuliers : argots [slang] et jargons [non- 
slangy technicalities]. 


Carnoy justly adds that the distinction between these diverse 
types of speech is a little confused by the borrowings made by 
" colloquial and familiar language " from the jargons and the 
slangs and by the fact that the jargons, i.e., the technical 
" languages ", themselves draw on the slangs for part of their 

That slightly earlier critic, Niceforo, 1 has the following 
significant passage on an aspect common to jargons and what 
he and Sainean call V argot par excellence, the slang of the under- 
world ; an aspect common, moreover, to the various jargons and 
to all vocational slangs and all social slangs (in short, to all slangs 
save Standard Slang) : 

Les langages speciaux, issus de la differente fafon de sentir 
et de juger, et des differences series de travail auxquelles chaque 
groupe est adonne, ne constituent pas I' argot, qui est essentiellement 
un langage special ne ou maintenu intentionnellement secret. 
Cependant, Us peuvent, spontanement, nous dirions presque 
innocemment, remplir de fa$on plus ou mains complete I' une des 
fonctions de V argot : la fonction de protection du groupe. 

Tout langage special ne peut-il constituer, en effet, une protection 
du groupe qui le parle ? Lorsqu'un groupe qui sent d'une fapon 
speciale et qui accomplit les gestes speciaux se forge spontanement 
un langage traduisant ces deux specialites, il ne fait pas [ loin de 
la ] acte premedite d'hostilite ou de cachotterie envers le monde qui 
I'environne ; mais, vus du dehors, ces hommes parlent une langue 
qui n'est pas de suite comprehensible dans toutes ses parties. Us 
parlent, pour les non-inities, une sorte de langue sacree devenant 
par cela meme un tissu de protection, forme spontanement autour 
du groupe social. 

He reinforces this point and makes a further one wheii he 
says : II est certain qu'un groupe parlant un langage special, 
s'apercevant que son dictionnaire tout naturellement eclos dans 
I' atmosphere special ou le groupe vit, pense et agit, dement une sorte 
de protection, tdche de tirer profit de ce fait ; et on verra dlors 
ces hommes se complaire a leur langage. Mais il est egalement 
certain que ce dictionnaire rien restera pas moins un dictionnaire 
de langage special. II ne deviendra un argot que le jour ou il sera 
maintenu intentionnellement et jalousement dans le secret et dans 

Further on, Niceforo attempts to distinguish the essence of 
slang, and these distinctions are important provided we remember 
that he always tends to think of underworld slang as the slang 
par excellence and that, as I have already indicated, he overdoes 
the secrecy-element in slang in slang of any kind whatsoever. 
That secrecy, which might often be the rather called snobbishness 

i Le G^nie de 1' Argot, 1912. 


or even pride of possession, is certainly present in all slangs, but 
only in the minds or at the back of the minds of those who, 
excepting always in the underworld, are secretive ; and if, 
further, we bear in mind that slang as badge of distinction, 
a signum as Niceforo terms it, is except in the underworld 
equally, often more important than slang as a " secret " speech. 
Thus : 

L* argot, tout en &tant un langage special, presente des signes qui 
lui sont tout particuliers, et qui manque aux autres langages speciaux. 
Issu des groupes oil I 3 opposition et la lutte avec le milieu sont tres 
vives (he refers especially to trades and professions), issu des 
groupes qui se servent d'armes qu'il riest guere possible de montrer 
en pleine lumiere (he alludes to the underworld), I' argot n'est 
plus un simple langage special qui, sans avoir I'intention bien 
arretee de cacher quoi que ce soit, peut neanmoins servir de pro- 
tection, il dement, ou il peut devenir lorsque le besoin se fait sentir 
(as in political secret societies and even as among freemasons), 
une arme cachee, une arme surnoise d' offense, pour tromper, pour 
blesser, et surtout pour attaquer et detruire le sens de la vue et de 
route des profanes qui voudraient regarder et ecouter" He under- 
lines the next sentence : V argot est, par consequent, un langage 
special qui reste intentionnellement secret, ou qui forge, toutes les 
fois que la necessite le reclame, des mots et des phrases intentionnelle- 
ment maintenus dans I' ombre, car son but consiste essentiellement 
dans la defense k du groupe entier. He then lowers the pitch of his 
discourse to proceed in this manner : C'est done seulement de 
V argot, qu'on peut dire qu'il s'agit d'un langage secret. L* intention 
de demeurer secret afin de proteger le groupe argotier, ou I 'intention 
de naitre dans I* ombre la premeditation -forme sa marque 

A less specialist point of view is that expressed by Greenough 
and Kittredge when they soberly write : " The arts, science, 
philosophy, and religion are not alone in the necessity which 
they feel for a special vocabulary [these being jargons]. Any 
limited circle [ not necessarily so very limited, either ! ] having 
common interests is sure to develop a kind of ' class dialect ', 
such as that of schoolboys, of university men, of travelling sales- 
men, of ... civil servants [these being either jargons or slangs]." 
And they display the same calm balance, the same exemplary 
" stance ", and that same sure " seat in the saddle " which 
characterizes the natural horseman, as it were, when they proceed 
to warn us of the very distinction which I wish to make so clear 
that I shall not need to refer to it again : 

" A word or phrase which is slangy in general conversation 
stands in quite a different position when it is used in a limited 
circle, or under special circumstances. ' Horsey ' words are not 


slang when one Is ' talking horse ', nor hunting terms in the 
hunting field, nor the cant * phrases of politics on the hustings 
or on the stumps. They belong rather to the category of jargons 
or technical dialects, and are comparable to the special vocabu- 
laries of commerce, or medicine, or the law. It is only when 
they leave the technical circle, and are applied in a general way, 
that they become out-and-out slang, and this would be just as 
true of scientific or legal terms under similar circumstances." 

1 Used, of course, in the non-linguistic sense of insincere, hypocritical, tongue- 


(Other than the Standard] 

If we except Standard Slang, concerning which no more need 
be said, all slang is either social (dependent on class) or vocational. 

Before we glance at certain slang-groups all the most 
important, but not quite all, of the existing kinds it will perhaps 
be good manners to quote what Drs. Bradley and Krapp * have 
to say. /f ' Slang develops most freely," they tell us, " in groups 
with a strong realization of group activity and interest, and 
groups without this sense of unity, e.g., farmers, rarely invent 
slang terms. The stage, prize-fighting, baseball, football, 2 and 
other sports are productive of an extraordinarily rich crop of 
slang/' They rightly mention the inventiveness of schoolboys 
(why not schoolgirls too ?) and students, the incomprehensibility 
to the uninitiated of many writers on sport, and the existence 
of a vulgar beside a fashionable slang. The different kinds of 
slang are numerous, and I propose to treat of only the twenty- 
four most important : after all, there are limits. All families, 
if they are more than a mere collocation of related individuals, 
if they often meet together, and especially if they prefer their 
own company to that of others, have their own private slang ; 
some few an extensive vocabulary, most a score or a dozen or 
even fewer words and phrases. Occasionally a stranger will 
hear a complete sentence that obviously means something quite 
different. And, lest we forget, there are such phrases as F.H.O. 
(standing for " Family, Hold Off " or " Hands Off "), which, 
common to many families, are a kind of domestic freemasonry. 
Here is an actual family vocabulary 3 : cobs, tea (the meal) ; 
Don Johns, onions ; droomers, bedroom slippers, by way of 
bedroomers ; expud, not nice, rejected, uncomfortable (but usually 
of food) ; flimmick, to throw away ; jimkins, jam ; miffy,* stale 
(of food gone mouldy) ; Samuel Widgeons, sandwiches ; woozles I, 
an exclamation when anything goes wrong ; yarrup /, when it 
goes still more wrong ; Ye cods and cuttle fishes /, from Ye gods 
and little fishes ! 

1 Encyclopaedia Britannica, s.v. Slang. 

3 English football, of either sort, does not offer much. 

3 I owe this list to the courtesy of Meredith Starr, the author, philosopher, 
and mystic. His household also uses the Devonshire souent, smooth. (N.B. ct. 
sittybah, good-bye (from the Sussex see yer ter-morrah), as employed by another 

4 Cl the Northumberland miffy, (of plants) apt to fade when transplanted, 




Of ordinary Cockney, there are two kinds. 

(1) That variety of Modified Standard speech which is " the 
typical Cockney English of London, as spoken by educated 
Middle-Class people " as Professor Wyld describes it before he 
goes on to say that " the peculiarities of this kind of London 
English, which distinguish it from Received Standard, are 
doubtless as much Regional in origin as are those of Liverpool 
or Manchester ", only, of course, we should here speak not of 
" a provincial accent " but of " a Cockney accent ". 

(2) That variety of Modified Standard which is also heard in 
London but which is spoken by the semi-literate and the quite 
illiterate : " the London Cockney of the streets," a phrase that 
is by no means so ridiculous as it sounds, for this kind of Cockney, 
like its more exalted brother in linguistics, is no such paltry 
matter, as once it was, as the English spoken by Londoners born 
within and having long lived within the sound of the bells of 
St. Mary-le-Bow church, nor even as that of Londoners generally, 
for its influence is very powerful within a fifty-mile radius. 

The slang of the former, except for ,a difference in accent, is 
exactly that of the speakers of Standard English, unless need 
we add ? they employ one of the specific slangs such as the 
commercial or the military. 

But the slang of the latter is what is usually, and what will 
here be called Cockney Slang. In his slang as in his more formal 
speech, the lower-class or " vulgar " Cockney the Cockney that 
is proud of his name the Cockney that has every right to be 
thus proud the Cockney that, linguistically, is the " brightest 
spot " in England and, in many other ways, the salt of the earth, 
this Cockney has a very pronounced accent. In the days 
of Dickens, " the so-called * Cockney * accent was chiefly 
characterized by the substitution of a v for a w, or vice versa/* * 
The chief consonantal variation which now exists is perhaps the 
change of th to / or v, as in ' fing ' for ' thing ', or * farver ' for 
' father '. This and the vowel-sound change from on to ah, as 
in " ' abaht * for ' about '. are illustrated in the ' coster ' songs of 
the late Albert Chevalier. The most marked change of vowel 
sound is that of ei for ai (or ay as in daily, day), so that ' daily ' 
becomes ' dyly '. The omission of h is not peculiar to Cockney ",* 
though it is extremely frequent in Cockney. Of the peculiarities 

1 In Adjectives and Other Words, occurs Professor Weekley's evidence 
" that I was born in London in 1865 and that, though I have never heard v 
for w, the opposite change, as in wicious, unities , etc., was perfectly familiar to 
me, in the mouths of venerable Cockneys of the humblest class, in the early 
'70s". He adds that genuine examples of both changes occur in the Diary 
of Henry Machyn (1550-1563). 

* At " Cockney " in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. 


of this Cockney speech, ordinary or slang, I will note 1 only " the 
Cockney's objection to first syllables ", as seen in Mr. Weller 
Senior's pike for "turnpike-road toll-gate'', but of its 
characteristics I cannot do other than mention the lively and 
spontaneous wit, repartee responding to remark like sound to 
pressure on an electric button ; the pungently playful or if 
need arises the pertly sardonic nature of the satire ; the vivid 
concreteness of the invective ; the jutting flame of the imagina- 
tion and the pathetically terse poetry of the fancy ; the slyness 
and the pawkiness, more often the rollicking objectivity and 
immediacy of the humour ; the raciness and the picturesqueness 
of the narration ; the friendly give-and-take of spirited dialogue ; 
the caustic condemnation of sham, hypocrisy,^ pompousness, 
excessive solemnity, pretentiousness, and " swank " ; the tolerant 
sympathy extended to human failings. In general spirit, Cockney 
slang resembles the Parisian, except that the latter is a little 
freer in its sexual references and a little more refined in its 
excretory comments. Might not Dauzat be writing of Cockney 
when he remarks that Le langage des Parisiens (no, he is not 
speaking of the educated classes) s* oppose . . . aceluidespaysans, 
Midi a Paris : c'est celui qui se renouvelle le plus frequemment, 
riche en formations multiples, creations de circonstance vite en 
faveur et tdt abandonnees? Le paysan, and this would apply to 
the English as much as to the French cree lentement, mais il 
tient a ses mots et il n'en change pas volontiers. Le Parisien est 
plus leger, eternel gavroche pret a plaisanter de tout et de lui-meme 
dans les circonstances les plus graves, this might have been 
written of the Cockney soldiers, ayant toujours $ur les Uvres le 
mot qui fait rire et qui soutient le moral. 

Of the vocabulary peculiar to, or at least extremely 
characteristic of, Cockney, many examples will be found in 
Redding Ware's entertaining glossary, Passing English. A few 
examples may help to enlighten those who have not had the 
pleasure of listening to Cockneys speak for any length of time. 

Ally looya lass. A Salvation Army girl, from the frequent 
occurrence in Salvation hymns and discourses of the word 
Hallelujah (more correctly Alleluia), which represents a trans- 
literation of the Hebrew hallelu-yah, praise ye Jah = Jehovah = 
the Lord. 

Barrikin. Barking, chatter, shouts, or shouting. Whence, 
I have no doubt, the Australian to barrack, barracking, barracker, 
familiarized for us all by the more journalistic reports on the 
latest cricket test matches played in Australia : " shout 
vociferously " or " jeer noisily " is a very natural development. 
There are thousands of Cockneys in Australia, especially in the 
capitals, and it is a piece of supererogatory pedantry to seek the 

1 Thanks to a passage in Weekley's More Words Ancient and Modern. 


origin in a New-South-Welsh aborigine word, borak, meaning 
derision, for the Australian use of the phrase to poke borak * for 
"to be witty ", especially "to be offensively witty at someone 
else's expense " is quite independent. The Cockney barrakin or 
barrikin, which is obsolescent, comes from the French baragouin, 
" jargon/' From Breton bara, bread, gwin, wine, often heard, 
but not understood, by Frenchman among Bretons. 2 

Can't You Feel the Shrimps ? Don't you smell the sea ? 

Dinah. One's best girl. A corruption of dona(h) also sweet- 
heart and Cockney, from Spanish dona, allied to Italian donna, 
both from Latin domina, the mistress of the house. 

Eye in a Sling. Crushed ; defeated. 

Groping for Jesus. Public prayer. In the i88o's the Salvation 
Army did actually use the cry " Grope for Jesus grope for 
Jesus ", when the followers fell upon their knees. 

Language. Bad language ; swearing and cursing. 

Old gal. " General term of affection describing a wife." 
Old Dutch (short for old Dutch Clock) is the costers' term. 

Penny Starver. The lowest kind of cigar ; in 1909, three for 

Real Scorcher. A vigorous, active person that acts speedily ; 
there is no connotation of vice or even of sexual ardour. 

Regular Oner. Since the War, eulogistic ; before the War, 
occasionally used in satirical praise, generally denoting a 
thorough scapegrace. 

See the Breeze and Taste the Sun (with which compare feel the 
shrimps}. An "expression of summer enjoyment at escaping 
from London to an open common ". 

Sky a Copper. To make a disturbance. Over a hundred 
years old, this phrase. 

Up the Pole. Drunk. 

Where's the War ? " Applied to some scattered and divided 
street wrangle. .From the Boer War after June, 1900 when 
both sides seemed to be distributed over creation, and never 
appeared to get really face to face." 

You'll get Yourself Disliked. A remonstrance to a person 
behaving very badly. 

The costers are Cockneys, of a particular kind. Coster is a 
slangy abbreviation of costermonger, originally costard-monger, 
a seller of apples. w (Monger is a merchant, costard a large apple.) 

And then he'll rail like a rude coster-monger 
That school-boys have couzened of his apples, 
As loud and senseless. 

1 Sometimes deliberately, I think, corrupted to poke borax ; transitive 
(with at) or intransitive. Dates from c. 1890. 

2 Weekley's Etymological Dictionary, The professor mentions barrakin 
and borak, but wisely, perhaps he does not decide which is the more probable 
etymology of barracking. 


But the term early came to mean a seller of ail sorts of fruit * 
and vegetables, then of fish and poultry as well, and finally of 
almost any kind of food. In modern times the word coster- 
monger has been applied only to one who, in the street, sells 
from a barrow, a " coster's barrow ", and this has long been the 
generally understood sense of the term. 

From early times, the costermongers have tended to form a 
distinct community and class of their own ; their exclusiveness 
has since the War become rapidly less marked. In 1860 there 
were about 30,000, of whom 12,000 were men, in London and, 
nowadays, when we speak of the costers we always mean the 
costermongers residing and working in London. 

The costers use certain words in a way peculiar to themselves 
and their pronunciation is even further from that of Standard 
English than is that of the ordinary Cockneys. The hall-mark 
of their speech is the frequency with which they turn words 
(normal or slangy) into back-slang, which will be treated in the 
chapter on Oddities. Here, however, are a few words and phrases 
that, current among the costers in 1860, are not in back-slang : 
Couier, a sovereign ; half-couter or netgen, half-sovereign ; tumble 
to your barrikin, to understand you ; flash it, to show it ; cross- 
chap, a thief ; showfulls, bad money ; do the tight' ner, to go to 
dinner ; a regular trosseno, a regular bad one ; nommus, be off ! 
Sometimes there are two back-slang words combined as one, as in 
a doogheno or dabheno, a good or bad (market), heno being added to 
the reversal of good and that of bad ; cf. doing dab, doing badly. 
Sometimes, too, this syllable, eno (or heno), one, is added to a word 
in " straight " slang. 

Among the coster terms 2 in 1870-1914 were (many of them 
still survive) : 

Affigraphy. " To a T, exactly. A corruption of autograph 
the vulgar regarding a signature as of world-wide importance 
and gravity/' 

Chickaleary Cove'. A very smart fellow, " perfect " in dress, 
able in business, and of a dashing deportment. Applied only to 
costers themselves. In The Daily Telegraph of 6th April, 1893, 
it was stated that " the barrowman's one aim and ambition is to 
be a chickaleary ". Cf. Vance's famous song, The Chickaleary 

Come over on a Whelk Stall. To do things, especially to dress, 
in style ; compare the ordinary-Cockney he's got 'em on. 

Four 'Arf. A pot o' four 'arf is the coster's favourite 

1 Already in Palsgrave's Esclaircissement de la Langue Francoyse, 1530, we 
find " costardmonger : fruyctier ", i.e., fruiterer (though why that additional -er r 
heaven knows). 

2 The quotations, here as in the ordinary-Cockney list, are from Redding 

Ware's book. 


Knock in. To make money, into the pocket being omitted ; 
analogous is the general slang expression, put it down south. 

Monaker. A name, a title. The etymology is doubtful ; 
probably from Lingua Franca. 

Rorty Bloke. A strong and vigorous man ; forty toff is an 
inferior imitation. 

(A) Turn-up Friendly Lead. (t A public-house sing-song to 
pay the burial expenses of a dead friend, or a pal who has turned 
up life." 

Whitechapel Oner. " A leader of light and youth in the 
Aldgate district chiefly in the high coster interests." 

Nicknames are very common among the costers, and on this 
subject Henry Mayhew 1 writes : " The costermongers . . . are 
hardly ever known by their real names " and they acquire their 
nicknames " by some mode of dress, some remark that has 
ensured costermonger applause, some peculiarity in trading, or 
some defect or singularity in personal appearance. Men are 
known as ' Rotten Herrings ', ' Spuddy ' (a seller of bad potatoes, 
until beaten by the Irish for his bad wares), ' Curly ' (a man with 
a curly head), ' Foreigner ' (a man who had been in the Spanish 
Legion), 'Brassy' (a very saucy person), 'Gaffy' (once a 
performer), * The One-eyed Buffer ', ' Jaw-breaker ', ' Pineapple 
Jack ', * Cast-iron Poll ' (her head having been struck by a pot 
without injury to her), ' Whilky ', * Blackwall Poll ' (a woman 
generally having two black eyes), ' Lushy 2 Bet ', ' Dirty Sal ' 
(the costermongers generally objecting to dirty women), and 
' Dancing Sue V 

The following passage (taken from Julian E. Franklyn's 
novel, This Gutter Life) may be regarded as exemplifying a 
language that, ordinary-Cockney in its general texture, owes a 
good deal to " the high coster interests ", for the principal figure, 
before becoming a greengrocer, had undoubtedly been a coster- 
monger : the Cockney flavour of his speech is so pronounced 
that the middle-class heroine can hardly understand him. A 
Cockney comes to a flat to buy its furniture, owned by Gwenda, 
who is being assisted by Gerrard to make the deal. ft Yus, norra 
bad uncle Ned ; gorra jerry ? " he says, meaning : Yes> not a 
bad bed ; got a chamber-pot ? " Yus," he said again, " movin' 
aht, are yer ? norra bad flat. I sees yeh got the fisherman's 
daughter '[water] laid on an' all. Where [he refers to his son t for 
whom he's buying the goods] 'e's a~goin' teh they 'ave ter go dahn 
two flights er apples and pears [stairs'], still, do fer 'em fer a 
star' off ! When me and de missis kicked orf, we didn't 'ave arf 
wot 'e's a-gettin' blhimey ! worrer ole pot an' pan [father] I 
'ad bless yer 'eart ! 'E knocked me dahn every time 'e a-see'd 

1 London Labour and the London Poor, vol. i, 1851. * Tipsy. 


me, 'e did ! But moi Helf s [Alfs] a good lad ; 'e gorra noice gel 
there too. I wan' ter see 'em star'ed ! . . . Nah ! business ! 
Ahr much d'ye wan' fer de lot ye've showed me, guv'nor ? " As he 
leaves he says to Gwenda: "Goo* day tehyeh, lidy." She replies: 
' ' I hope your son will be happy," to which the warm-hearted fellow 
responds with : " Yeh ! I 'opes so lidy, Gawd bless yeh ! " 

Returning from this digression on what some people consider 
the " super " Cockney (the coster) to lower-class Cockneys in 
general, we will glance at " Cockney literature " : the books 
written about Cockney life and character. As our space is not 
limitless, we must content ourselves with examples from post-i88o 
publications: one of the 'eighties, two of the 'nineties, and 
several of the present century. 

In 1884 Punch had an anonymous poem I as by one 'Any to 
his friend Charlie ; entitled 'Any at a Political Picnic, it began : 

"Dear Charlie, 'ow are yer, my ribstone ? Seems scrumptious to write 

the old name. ^ 
I 'ave quite lost the run of you lately. Bin playing some dark little 

game ? 

I'm keepin' mine hup as per usual, fust in the pick of the fun, 
For ever there's larks on the tappy there's 'Any as sure as a gun. 

" The latest new lay's Demonstrations. You've heard on 'em, Charlie, 

no doubt, 

For they're at 'em all over the shop. I 'ave 'ad a rare bustle about. 
All my Saturday 'arfs are devoted to Politics. Fancy, old chump, 
Me doing the sawdusty reg'lar, and follering swells on the stuinp." 

Harry then relates that he has been to a very important meeting, 

" The band and the 'opping wos prime though, and 'Arrv in course was 

all there. 

I *ad several turns with a snappy young party with stror-coloured 'air. 
Her name she hinformed me was Polly, and wen, in my 'appiest style, 
I sez ' Polly is nicer than Politics ! ' didn't she colour and smile ! " 

His experiences were very mixed, but as they were mostly 
pleasant, the generous pay (for cheering, hustling, and other 
amenities) outweighed the few drawbacks. Best of all he enjoyed 
the concluding fireworks, " a proper flare-up, and no kid." And 
although he considers that 

" The patter's all bow-wow, of course, but it goes with the buns and 

the beer. 

If it pleases the Big-wigs to spout, wy it don't cost hus nothink to cheer. 
Though they ain't got the 'ang of it, Charlie, the toffs ain't, no go and 

no spice ! 
Wy, I'd back Barney Crump at our sing-song to lick 'em two times 

out o' twice ! " 

still he states his opinion thus : 

" So if Demonstrations means skylarks and lotion as much as you'll carry, 
These ' busts of spontanyous opinion ' may reckon all round upon 'Arry." 
1 I quote from the text printed by Heinrich Baumann in Londonismen. 


Obviously written by no 'Airy, no 'Arriet either, this " pome " 
yet presents a very close approximation to accuracy in the 
transliteration of Cockney. 

Of the twentieth century novelists and short-story writers 
who, treating of London, employ Cockney speech with skill as 
well as truth, we need name, as wholly typical and representative, 
only three, but those three are perhaps the best exponents of 
how the lively, vivid, witty, pungent, earthy, concretely 
picturesque, Cockney " dialect " should be transcribed : W. Pett 
Ridge whose "priceless" Mord Emly, though published in 
1898, will serve better than any of his later books (he wrote until 
1931) ; Barry Pain, whose work appeared during the quarter 
century beginning in the year 1900, and at whose A Devil, a 
Boy and a Trade Designer we will glance ; and A. Neil Lyons, 
who flourished from 1902 to 1922 and whose Arthur's, 1908, 
Clara, 1913, and A Market Bundle, 1921, contain much to our 

Pett Ridge had a way all his own, as in the following 
encounter between Mord Emly and Miss Gilliken, who is 
accompanied by one Barden. 

Mord gave Miss Gilliken *s back-hair a tug and said, in a bass voice, 
" Move along, there." 

"Ain't I a-movin' on ? " demanded Miss Gilliken angrily. "What 
the Why, so'p me bob, if it ain't Mord Emly ! " 

Miss Gilliken punched. Mord Emly with great delight . . . 

" Thought we was never going to see you again, Mord Emly/' 

" Don't you flatter yourself." 

" Upper rousemaid, ain't you, at St. Jimes's Palace ? " enquired 
Miss Gilliken, glancing at the frowning youth for approval. *' Ow do you 
get on with the Roy'l Femly ? " 

" Look 'ere 1 " said Mord Emly definitely, " if you're going to begin 
chippin' me, 111 be off." 

" Don't fly all to pieces," begged Miss Gilliken. " It was on'y a bit of 
chaff on my part." 

" Drop it then," commanded Mord Emly. 

" Know this feller, don't you ? " asked Miss Gfilliken . . . 

" Seen his mug before," said Mord Emly looking at him casually. 
" Can't say I know his name." 

" Name of 'Enery Barden," said the youth . . . 

" Where did ye find it ? " asked Mord Emly of Miss Gilliken, with a 
satirical accent. 

" Who are you calling ' it ' ? " demanded Mr. Barden aggressively. 
" P'r'aps you'll kindly call me ' 'im * and not ' it ' " 

" P'r'aps I shall do jest as I like," replied Mord Emly. 

She turned to Miss Gilliken. " Did you win it in a raffle ? " 

" 111 tell you presently/' said Miss Gilliken. 

" Sometimes they give 'em away/' said Mord Emly thoughtfully, 
" with a packet of sweets. I 'ave seen 'em offered instead of a coker-nut 
or a cigar at one of these Aunt Sally " 

" Look 'ere ! " interrupted Mr. Barden crossly, " You think you're 
jolly clever, no doubt/' 

" Think ? " repeated Mord Emly. " Don't I know it ? " 


(A few minutes later, Moid Em'Iy, wondering how she'll get 
into her lodgings without her key, murmured agitatedly : 

" I am a silly fool ! " 

" That I could see/' commented the youth, as he obtrusively rolled 
a cigarette, " from the very first/' 

Which tit-for-tat established friendly relations.) 

A year after Mord Em'ly's freshly piquant onslaught on a 
somewhat uneasy London public, that public and many others 
were startled by the appearance of No. 5 John Street, which, 
being its author Richard Whiteing's sole work of permanent 
value (not that his other works are bad far from it !), thrusts 
itself on, rather than belongs to, the Cockney School of Pett 
Ridge, Barry Pain, Neil Lyons, with their grim precursor, 
Morrison of the Mean Streets. No. 5 John Street's widespread 
fame and considerable social influence lie beyond our scope, 
wherein, however, falls the diction of the lovable, gallant heroine. 
" The Amazon," her pal Low Covey, and the narrator meet after 
a street row in which the first has taken the principal and the 
second an important part. " The Amazon " speaks : 

" Thank yer, Covey, for fetchin' 'im that one on the jore. I thought 
I was done/' 

" Oh, it's all right/' says Low Covey modestly ; " there warn't no time 
to square up to 'im when I see the sticker [knife] in 'is 'and/' 

The next morning the narrator, who is living in the slums 
to find out how the poor live, asks Low Covey, his fellow-lodger, 
about the previous night's disturbance. 

" Larf," he says genially, " I thought I should ha' bust when I heerd 
that old cure lettin' out at the aristocracy arter I had floored the bloke. 
The sailor chap warn't no aristocracy ..." 

" Who is the the ' old cure ' ? " 

" Blest if I know. They calls him Old '48. Sort o' Republican ..." 

After a pause : 

" My idea of the row/' he continues, " is, it was all along o' that lot 
dahnstairs. Rummy lot dahn there . . . It's the cellars . . . Nobody 
lives there ; and so, yer see, everybody lives there. People goes in an' 
out all day . . . Some on 'em Ides things there. 'Tecs down, one day, from 
Scotland Yard to look for dynamit'. Didn't find none, but turned up a lot 
o* spoons silver ones. But, mind yer, they ain't no class, them dirty 
little boys as runs in an' out there. Fancies theirselves burglars. Nothin' 
of the sort sneak thieves/' 

In A Devil, A Boy and a Trade Designer, 1 the late Barry Pain, 
who not only excelled as a writer of short-stories for the magazines 
but also produced a good book on the art of his difficult medium, 
gives us a most valuable phonetically-spelt transcript of Cockney. 

1 I quote from the Tauchnitz edition, 1912, and take the passage from 
M. Manchon's Le Slang. 


" Why, grandfawther, I believe yer tike me fur a byeby. I wouldn't 
do it nort fur all the money ye've gort ; and thet's more than I shall 
ever get a sight of in this world . . . I've knowed you, grandfawther . . . 
more nor a year now . . . and I don't know no more abart yer nar nor 
whort I did then. I know your word mye be took ; I knows yer puts 
up jobs [prepare coups} and passes along the stuff [hide the stolen goods]. 
But yer don't speak like the rest of us and I've knowed many flashier thet 
'adn't got 'arf as much of the toff abart 'em as yer 'ave yerself. Some- 
times of a night, when I'm lyin' awike, I wunners whort yer was afore 
yer took up with this gime . , . Close as wax, thet's whort you is ... 
Good night to yer. I'll be rarnd dye arter termorrer." 

That, as those who really know the dyed-in-the-wool, bred- 
in-the-bone speech of the Cockneys, is " the genuine article ", 
not the convention that is responsible for representing Cockney 
by the mere dropping of every h I 

Of Pett Ridge, Barry Pain, and Neil Lyons it is the last who, 
while not surpassing the first in the accuracy of his Cockney 
talk, sees furthest, probably because of his well-developed comic 
spirit, into the lives of his characters and whose name wUl perhaps 
endure the longest. At his best, that is in such books as Arthur's 
and Clara, he is vivid, racy, humane, luminously penetrant into 
character and into situation whether dull or dramatic. 

From Arthur's comes the following passage * (Jerry the 
Twister having got acquainted with a " college gentleman ", 
drunk and roaming the London streets at night) : 

" So it's corfee fur everybody/* Jerry the Twister had explained 
upon his arrival at Arthur's stall. " Give me a quid, 'e did, as a start-off 
an' then blighted well fought me fur it, the blighter. Where am I ? ses 'e. 
Kennington Road, ses I. Lead me to the Strand, ses 'e. It was a lead, I 
give you my word. 'E was a *ot un. Climb down nigh every airey we 
passed, stole the milkcans, an' tied 'em up to the knockers. Pinched a 
rozzer [policeman] in the leg, give 'im a visitin' card, an' stole his whistle. 
Put 'is dooks up to a fireman, tossed *im,fur 'is chopper [hatchet] an' kissed 
'is wife. Run fur 'is very life into Covint Garden Market (me after 'im), 
bought a cabbidge, took it into a resterong where all the nobs was dinin', 
sends fur the boss an' ses : Cully, cook this for my dinner. Boss say : you 
be damned ! CoUidge genelman takes off 'is 'at. I call upon you in the 
name of King Edward to cook this cabbidge. It is the law. I'll be shot 
if I do, says the boss. You'll be endorsed [lose your licence], if you don't, 
says the toff. Give it 'ere, says the boss ; I'll cook it. Cabbidge comes 
up on a silver dish : charge two thick 'uns [sovereigns]. Genelman pays 
the money, an' breaks a glass : charge ten shillings. Grand lark, says 
the toff. I seen cheaper, says I. Put 'em up, says the toff. Where's yer 
money ? says I. ' Ere's a quid, 'e says ; an' afore I can start on 'im up 
comes a swaddy [soldier] in a red cap. Give you a bob for that 'at ! shouts 
the toff, 'old ard, I tells 'im. That's a policeman, military policeman. 
Don't you 'ave no larks wiv* 'im. Rats to you ! 'e says. I'll 'ave that to 
make a wescoat of, says 'e. An' 'e up an' snatches it. Then the trouble 
began. 'Im an' the swaddy an* two constables an' a cab-tout was mixed 
up proper fur nigh on ten minutes. Put 'em up [used his fists] grand, 'e 
did, the toff, I mean. An' they squashed 'is 'at an' tore 'is wescoat, an' 

1 As given by M. Joseph Manchon, op. cit. 


the cab-tout bit 'is 'and. An' 'e broke a window, an' lost 'is watch, an' 
they frogs-marched 'im ofl to Vine Street. 'Ere's a lark, says 'e, when 
they started.*' 

To those " scattered chapters in the life of a hussy " which 
he entitles Clara, Lyons prefixes an author's note, wherein he 
wittily forestalls the source-fiends by admitting that " one 
chapter contains a bare-faced theft from Heine ", adding that 
the rest of that chapter is borrowed from Allan Cunningham ; 
but claiming that the " punctuation is original, as is also the idea 
of a Heine-Cunningham collaboration ". Perhaps it is hardly 
necessary to add that this is one of the best stories in the book. 
Clara, who has been nurse to the recounter of these slices from 
life, meets him again when he is a young boy and she, after a 
term of imprisonment, is a match-seller ; he recognizes her and 
shows his surprise. 

" You look funny, Algernon. Come over queer, 'ave ya ? Want to 

sneeze, do ya ? Shall I old ya pipe, 1 chummie ? Can't smoke an' sneeze 

too, ya know ! " 

I cut it short. " Look here," I said, " I know you." 

" Go on ! " responded Clara. " Know Vesta Tilley, too, do ya ? " 

"... I knew you years ago before you went to prison." 

The mockery faded out of Clara's eyes. Her lips tightened. 

" 'Ere, you ! " she said. " 'Old on. What funny game is this ? " 

I said : " Why did they put you in prison, I wonder ... we spent 

the money together, didn't we, nannie ? " 

She came close up to me and looked up at my face. " Take orf that 

funny 'at," she said. 

So I took off my hat to the match-seller. On Ludgate Hill ! and Clara 

said : " Well, chummie, 'ow are ya ? " 

After some reminiscences, Clara explains to a male acquaint- 
ance, who comes up at her request, that 

" 'Im and me," Clara continued, " we was Boys Together in olden 
times. Wasn't we, chummie ? We've 'ad some larks together, ain't we, 
chummie ? We used to see life, 'im an' me. We used to cheek the coppers. 
We used to go donkey-ridin' on the 'Eath [at H amp stead, naturally}. 
I used to look arter 'im. Many's the time I fetched 'im a clip be'ind the 
ear. Ain't I, chummie ? " 

"Well," reflected Mr. Isaacs, "I daresay the genelman will 'elp a 
pore man to a night's lodgin', if it's on'y for old acquaintance' sake." 
"You keep yar napper shut," responded Clara. 

" Ikey's all right, reely," Clara subsequently explained to me, " on'y 
'e ain't ser sharp as what *e used to be. 'E took you for a mug \ " 

Clara, having heard that the boy tried to be " a good young 
man ", utters " the following fragment of philosophy " : 

" There's different ways o' bein' good. I got a nipper of me own 
atome ; and 'is father's just 'ad a misfortune [gone to gaol], so per'aps 
I didn't oughter speak, but yet there's different ways o' bein' good. 
A man as is a man'll notice women ; but Gosh ! I do fair 'ate them 
Piccadilly boys, with their damned 'arf sovereigns ! " 

1 Not a real one, of course. 


The comic touch occurs frequently and in a manner much less 
Metropolitan, in A Market Bundle. Listen to Miss Walker 
sum up that phenomenally successful War-time play, Romance : 

" What's wrong with it ? A sell for everybody, me lad ; that's what's 
wrong with it ! When she wants to click, *e don't ; and when 'e wants 
to click, she won't. In the end, they don't click orf at all. So they're 
both sucked in. A rotten play i " 

That comes from the delightful " Representing the Platoon " ; 
from " Strawberries and Cream " this passage, where the author 
meets with a sixteen-year-old girl who is lying under a hawthorn 
bush : 

" No 'arm meant, Mister. Don't give it away, that's all." 

" Give what away ? " I enquired. 

" Me bein' 'ere," answered the girl. " I crep* 'ere on the quiet. See ? 
Got a aunt in that field. See ? She ain't spotted me yet. Won't 'arf 
comb me eyebrows when she do. Gawd I My 'ead do ache, . . . She 
won't 'arf dot me one. I know . . . Goo-er, my 'ead do ache." 

" Go hon ! " exclaimed a voice at my elbow, "Do it reely ? Shall 
I send to the chemis' for some Owdy Clown [eau-de-Cologne"}, dear 
girl ? " . . . 

She said to me : 

" Good morning, Archibald. Havin' a day out with my niece ? " 


The proportion of Cockney in Public-House Slang is inevitably 
very large. As a department of slang, the public-house group 
of words and phrases makes up for the smallness of the recorded 
vocabulary by the nature of the subject, about which lingers no 
musty " morning-afterness " either of pedantry or of artificiality 
or of affectation. It is, in the main, genial, cheery, materialistic, 
but not gross nor cynical. Of the idiosyncrasies of individual 
topers and " pub-crawlers ", as of occasional drinkers and 
" single-potters ", we obviously can take no account here, the 
utmost possible being to set forth a few of the generally known 
terms current at some particular period ; and since the pubs' 
palmiest days were probably the period ending with the War, 
let us glance at the fare set before us in Passing English, published 
near the end of that prosperous generation. 

Alls. The waste-pot at public-houses, on whose counters 
could be seen holes for the disposal of spillings and left-overs. 
Mistrustful customers have always thought that these slops were 
served up again ; hence the description of bad beer as alls. But 
in point of actual fact, the publican could still can, I believe 
obtain from the brewer (who doubtless poured the " returns " 
down the sewer-grating) a barrel of good beer for every barrel 
of alls. These modern senses of alls are not to be confused 
with the eighteenth century all nations, " a composition of all 


the different spirits sold in a dram-shop, collected in a vessel 
into which the drainings of the bottles and quarten pots are 

Balloon-Juice, Not so much heard after the '8o's, this term 
denoted soda-water, which is notoriously gassy. 

Block a Quiet Pub. At first this phrase meant to stay a long 
time in the tap-room of a public-house, to drink quietly in this 
quiet tavern, but it came to imply sottishness. The expression 
may still be heard, its picturesque concreteness will probably 
ensure it a very long life, but since the War it is jocular and 
without innuendo or blame. 

Boozer. A public-house. 

Booze-Shunter. A beer-drinker. The South- Western Rail- 
way porters and guards, who frequented the pubs around Waterloo 
station, originated the term, which soon became general among 
the cheery-beery of society. 

Chucker-OuL In the '8o's this term had a rival : bouncer, 
perhaps at first of the American underworld, which * under- 
stands it as " the employee who ousts disorderly or quarrelsome 
persons from a saloon, a brothel or other resort ... In a mission, 
the attache who keeps the congregation from sleeping during the 
services, and prevents their eating until the preacher has said 
his say ". The chucker-out may be a barman or a special 
employee, in the '8o's " simple " or " compound ", the former 
a pretty harmless fellow kept mainly for show, the latter a hefty 
chap, often an ex-pugilist. 

Do the agua. To dilute with water. Agua, the Spanish for 
water, was probably a nautical importation. 

Early Purl. " A drink made of hot beer and gin, so named 
because taken early on a cold morning. A song ran : 

" I'm damned if I think 
There's another such drink 
As good early purl." 

Fat Ale. Strong ale, weak being thin. Marryat has it, in 
Rattlin the Reefer. 

Favourite Vice. "Strong drink taken habitually. 

Foot-Rot. Inferior ale. What the seventeenth and later 
centuries have also called rot-gut. Grose, who spoke as an 
authority, glosses rot-gut in this way : " Small beer ; called 
beer-a-bumble will burst one's guts before 'twill make one 
tumble." Note too the saying that water is good only to rot 
one's boots. 

Half-Go. A modicum .(in 1909, threepence worth) of spirits 
for mixing with water generally hot water. 

1 Godfrey Irwin : American Tramp and Underworld Slang, with a Collection 
of Tramp Songs, 1931. 


Juggins-Hunting. Looking for one who will " stand " a 

Jumbo. The Elephant and Castle, perhaps the most famous 
public-house in London. Previously called the Animal, a term 
that was also, though much less generally, applied to any tavern 
bearing such a name as the Bull, the Bear, the Lion, or the 

Liquor. A publican's euphemism for the water they use in 
adulterating beer. In liquor, drunk. 

Long Pull. A liberal measure, either customary or to gain 

Marm-Puss. " A showily-dressed landlady " of a tavern. 

Near and Far. The bar. 

Neck Oil. Beer; little used outside of the East End of 

Pot o* Bliss. " A fine tall woman." Obsolete. 

Powdering Hair. A verbal noun for getting drunk. Dating 
from the eighteenth century, it was still current in 1909. 

Raven. A twopenny portion of bread and cheese, "From 
the idea that the ravens could only carry small quantities to 

Round the Corner. A drink. Probably from " I won't be 
long ; only going round the corner ". 

Second Liker. Another drink, the same as the first. 

Shed a Tear. To maice water. 

Straight Drinking. Drinking while standing at the bar. 

Three Out Brush. " A glass shaped like an inverted cone." 

War Cry. "Mixture of stout and mild ale understood." 
With a satirical reference to the Salvation Army, which speaks 
stoutly in mild language. 

Weak in the Arm. A short drink of beer. It generally refers 
to a half-pint served in a pint pot. 


Linking up with public-house is workmen's slang. Obviously, 
too, workmen's or operatives' slang is very closely allied to 
tradesmen's slang ; yet, all in all, it is better to consider them 
apart, notwithstanding the fact that in the following masterly 
paragraph from Hotten there occur a few terms that are, or 
were, used equally by tradesmen. " When belonging to the 
same shop or factory, [the operatives and their like] ' graft ' there, 
and are 'brother chips' . . . Workmen generally dine at 
slap-bang shops ', and are often paid at ' tommy shops '." 
(Tommy is explained in the dictionary as " the exchange of labour 
for goods, not money. Both term and practice, general amongst 


English operatives for half a century, are by a current fiction 
supposed to have been abolished by Act of Parliament ". 1873.) 
" At the nearest f pub ' . . . they generally have a ' score 
chalked up ' against them, which has to be ' wiped off ' regularly 
on the Saturday night. This is often known as a ' light '. When 
the credit is bad the ' light ' is said to be out. When out of 
work, they describe themselves as being ' out of collar '. They 
term each other ' flints ' and ' dungs ', if they are ' society ' x or 
( non-society ' men. Their salary is a ' screw J , and to be dis- 
charged is to ' get the sack ', varied by the expression ' get the 
bullet ' . . . When they quit work, they ' knock off ' ; and when 
out of employ, they ask if any hands are, or any assistance is, 
wanted. ' Fat ' is the vulgar synonym for .perquisites and is to 
be compared with the same word as used among printers ; 
' elbow grease ' signifies labour ; and ' Saint Monday * is the 
favourite day of the week. Names of animals figure plentifully 
in the workman's vocabulary ; thus we have ' goose ', a tailor's 
smoothing-iron ; ' sheep's foot ', an iron hammer ; ' sow ', a 
receptacle for molten metal, whilst the metal poured from it is 
termed ' pig '. Many of the slang terms for money may have 
come from the workshop, thus ' brads ', from the ironmonger ; 
' chips ', from the carpenter ; ' dust ', from the goldsmith ; 
' feathers ', from the upholsterer ; ' horse-nails ', from the 
farrier ; ' haddock ', from the fishmonger ; and ' tanner and 
skin ' from the leather-dresser/' (This last may be rhyming 
slang for thin, a sixpence.) 

What Mr. Chesterton has said 2 of the lower classes in general 
applies aptly to workmen in particular, though the latter hardly 
rival the costers : " The lower classes live in a state of war, a 
war of words. Their readiness is the product of the same fiery 
individualism as the readiness of the old fighting oligarchs. Any 
cabman has to be ready with his tongue, as any gentletnan [had 
once] to be ready with his sword/' 

The town labourer and the town operative are much more 
ready with their tongues and fluent with their slang than is the 
farm labourer, who relies on ancient saw and (not too) modern 
instance, on weather-lore, and a slow, ripe, often sly mother-wit. 
In Passing English (a thoroughly fair and typical example), 
Redding Ware lists three country to forty-four town labourers' 
expressions. The agricultural slang words are botherums, yellow 
marigolds, which are difficult to get rid of, especially from among 
a crop of (say) turnips ; church bell, a noisily talkative woman ; 
and messengers, " the small dark, rapidly-drifting cloudlets which 
foretell a storm/' To list and define and comment on the forty- 
four town " labouring " terms would be a pleasure, a displeasure 

1 An early form of trades union. 

2 G. K. Chesterton ; The Defendant, 1901, at the essay A Defence of Slang. 


to have to read that enumeration. A selection, however, may 
not come amiss : 

Bank Up. To complete on a liberal scale ; to reinforce 
generously ; to lay in a mighty store. Intransitive, it often 
means to eat heavily sometimes with a view to preparing 
oneself against a lean time. From banking-up a fire : North of 
England coalfields. 

Brass. Money. This very general term seems to have 
originated in the copper and iron industries. 

Crusoe. The English iron trade's treatment of Creusot, 
where there has long been the great French ironworks. 

Hammered. Married. Welded together, one presumes. 

Matey. A companion in labour ; London variety of mate. 

(The) Price of a Pint. Any sum less than sixpence. 

Rat. A man who, not having completed his apprenticeship, 
has no indentures. He may enter no workmen's society, no 

Screwed Up. Without money, therefore unable to move 
about at will. 

Sling One's Hook. To be dismissed. " From the mining 
districts. Refers to a hooked bag which is hung up in dressing- 
room, and contains such things as the miner does not require 
down the shaft." 

Turtle Soup. Sheep's-head broth. 

Want an Apron. To be out of work. 


In workmen's slang as in tradesmen's, some of the words 
that are now jargon were, in their origin, slang : the tailor's 
goose is an example, for while it has not been slang for many 
years, it was cited as such by Hotten and given as such by Grose. 
It is sometimes so difficult to decide this nice distinction that 
one can but trust to a kind of tact. 

Of the slang terms employed by the various trades, some are 
the common property of all or nearly all. The following, which 
exemplify the general vocabulary, were recorded in 1909 by 
Redding Ware. 

All my Own. Free(dom) from apprenticeship ; master (ship). 
In 1896 there was a song 

"I'm quite in the world alone 
And I'll marry you 
If you'll be true, 
The day I'm all my own." 

Beer ! (Obsolete by 1909.) When an artisan so errs in 
commission or omission that he incurs a fine, the cry was taken 
up by the whole shop. 


Bread-Basket. The stomach ; belly. Ware quotes from a 
newspaper : " Miss Selina Slopes was invited before his Worship, 
on the charge of smearing the face of [police-constable] B.O- 44 
with a flatiron, while hot, and also with jumping upon his bread- 
basket, while in the execution of his duty." (See p. 358.) 

Chairmarking. Secret markings of licences and employees' 
" characters " by foreman acting for a master or by the master 
himself. Perhaps a portmanteau word from chairman and 

Coal Up. To feed. Transitively, to coal up on. Probably 
originating with stokers in factories or on railway-engines. 
Stoke up is not unknown, and coal up should also be compared 
with the already mentioned bank up. 

Leading Article. " A term used to denote the best bargain 
in the shop one that should lead to other purchases/' 

Odd Job Man. In addition to its usual, still current meaning, 
this term is also, but no longer, " a modified description of the 
Shyster, who professes to do anything and only does his employer." 

Take a Trip. On giving up one job, to go looking for another. 

Trimmings. Alcoholic drinks set forth on an invoice as 
" trimmings ". Notwithstanding the declaration of The Drapers' 
World that this is a popular superstition, there was such a 

Two upon Ten. A shopman's warning to his associates that 
a thief is on the premises. Two eyes upon ten fingers. Niceforo 
relates that at a big shop in Rome the warning took the form of 
deux et dix. He speaks, too, of an argot invented and used by 
shop-assistants for the circumvention of both customers and 

Of the various tradesmen, let us, since there are so many, 
consider four as typical : tailors, butchers, chemists, and builders. 
The tailors have the largest number of slang terms, and we must 
select just a few from Passing English 1 : 

Balloon. " A week's enforced idleness from want of work." 
Perhaps from French Ulan, a balance-sheet, figuratively a prison- 

Boot. (Also and originally among bootmakers.) Money : 
" Exactly as the grocer calls coins ' sugar ' long so employed 
beyond grocer circles or the milkman ' cream '." Also for a 
shilling advance on the week's wages, a sixpenny loan being a 
slipper. In the 2oth Century, any advance on pay. 

Chuck a Dummy. To faint. From the ludicrous appearance 
of an overturned tailor's dummy. In the Army in 1914-18, the 
phrase was used in the same sense. 

1 Why so frequently Passing English ? Because, better than any other 
slang dictionary, it indicates the milieu in which the words are employed. 


Cod. A drunkard. 

Curly. Troublesome ; esp. to get curly. Presumably from a 
cloth curling or even rucking. 

House of Parliament. A meeting of tailor's assistants and 
apprentices in the shop, esp. if for a serious purpose. 

In the drag. Behindhand. 

Kick. To seek (intransitively) for work. 

Make Your Coffin. To overcharge for an article. 

Needle, Get the. To become irritated, as when a needle runs 
into one's finger. " Has spread generally over working classes, 
who have accepted the graphic nature of the phrase." 

On the Back Seam. Esp. in fall on one's "back seam, an elegant 
euphemism for " on one's backside ". 

Operation. A patch, esp. on the trousers-seat. 

Tab. The ear. 

Waistcoat Piece. " Breast and neck of mutton from its 
resemblance to the shape of half the front of a waistcoat not 
made up." 

Butchers' slang likewise reflects the trade : it is more " meaty " 
than the tailors ; more brutal too. 

Blood Ball. The butchers' annual dance, "a very lusty 
and fierce-eyed function. The female contingent never wear 
crimson as being too trady." With this, Ware relates bung ball, 
that of the publicans (bungs) : there, the women do not wear 
artificial hops or grapes, too reminiscent of the bar. 

Clare Street Cleavers. The butchers of Clare Market, once 
very famous. (The term became obsolete about 1900.) These 
butchers were " a tough lot " : great fighters and great boasters, 
cleaviri becoming a synonym for braggart.* 

Real Kate. A kind matron. From a charitable " queen " of 
Clare Market. 

Turkey Buyer. A person of considerable importance, a " toff ". 
Because of the high cost of turkeys. 

For the chemists, three examples will suffice. (As may have 
been guessed, some rather unsavoury terms are omitted.) 

Dill, for " distilled (water) ", by a kind of telescoping. 

Syrup. Money. 

Tamarinds. Money ; it is much less used than syrup ; both 
words, however, closely reflect the nature of the chemists' trade. 

Finally builders and contractors, who do not, in their slang, 
give full expression to their profound sense of humour. They 
are just a little cynical 

Field-Running. The rapid building of rickety houses over 
suburban fields (" . . . these desirable building lots ", " this 
lovely building estate "). The term originated about 1860, 
" when the district railways brought small suburban houses into 
fashion." Jerry-building was likewise originally slang and, though 


the practice has not ceased, is not yet accepted as Standard 

Flannel Jacket. The navvy on heavy work (foundations, 
demolitions) has so long and so unexceptionally worn flannel 
that, often in the form flanmn-jacket (as in Tom Taylor's famous 
play, The Ticket of Leave Man), the garment has named the man. 

Steeple Jack. Originally, and for long, slang. Jack in the 
sense of man. 

Whitewashed. An adjective implying that a man has either 
compounded (made a composition in modern commercial jargon) 
with his creditors or passed through the Bankruptcy Court. 
Grose records whitewashed : " One who has taken the benefit of 
an act of insolvency, to defraud his creditors, is said to have been 

On the slang and the jargon oi tradesmen, Hotten is rather 
more caustic than is his custom. " Shopkeepers' slang," he writes, 
"is perhaps the most offensive of all slang . . . This kind of 
slang is not a casual eyesore, as newspaper slang . . . , but it is 
a perpetual nuisance, and stares you in the face on tradesmen's 
invoices, on labels in the shop-windows, and placards on the 
hoardings, in posters against the house next door to your own 
if it happen to be empty for a few weeks. Under your door, and 
down your area, slang handbills are dropped by some ' pushing ' 
tradesman ; and for the thousandth time you are called upon 
to learn that an ' alarming sacrifice ' is taking place in the next 
street ; that prices are ' down again ' ; that, in consequence of 
some other tradesman not ' driving a roaring trade ', being in 
fact ' sold up ', . . . the ' pushing ' tradesman wishes to sell 
out at ' awfully low prices ', to * the kind patrons, and numerous 
customers ', etc., etc., ' that have on every occasion ', etc., etc. 
... In shopkeeping slang any occupational calling is called 
a ' line ', thus, the ' building line V He then deals with the 
tailor in a passage that will supplement what has already been 
said about him but is notable also as containing a number of 
terms common to all tradesmen's slang : " If he takes army 
contracts it is ' sank work ' ; if he is a ' slop ' tailor, he is a 
' springer up ', and his garments are ' blown together '. Perquisites 
with him are ' spiffs ', and remnants of cloth ' peaking, or 
cabbage '. The percentage he allows to his assistants (or ' counter- 
jumpers ') on the sale of old-fashioned articles is termed ' tinge '. 
If he pays his workmen in goods, or gives them tickets upon other 
tradesmen ... he is soon known as ' tommy master '. If his 
business succeeds, it ' takes ' ; if neglected, it becomes ' shaky ', 
and ' goes to pot ' ; if he is deceived by a debtor (a by no means 
unusual circumstance), he is 'let in', or, as it is sometimes 
varied, ' taken in. ' It need scarcely be remarked that any credit he 
may give is termed ' tick ' ". On tick (on ticket) is a very old phrase. 



From tradesmen we pass naturally to the commercial world. 
Professor Collinson, in his invaluable book already quoted, writes 
thus of the average man's knowledge of present-day money- 
market terms : "Of business transactions on the various 
exchanges the man in the street will have heard of the formation 
of trusts and rings, cornering a commodity, even if he has not 
read F. Norris's novel, The Pit [a pre-War American novel of 
great merit], the bulls and bears (operators who buy in expecta- 
tion of a rise and operators who sell in expectation of a fall 
respectively), terms familiar even to children through the exciting 
card game of Pit with cards representing the various cereals, 
guinea-pigs (directors of companies who pocket their guinea fees], 
bucket-shop (an unauthorized business for speculating in stocks), 
... to peg the market or the exchange (to fix the price by buying 
or selling freely). Most, too, will know the phrase to have a flutter 
(speculate on the exchange), to get in on the ground floor (buy at 
the lowest or ' rock-bottom ' price), wild-cat finance, and be as 
familiar with the abbreviation consols as with rubbers (rubber- 
shares). Recent amalgamations of companies have given us 
through the newspapers an added knowledge of mergers or 
combinations of firms and of the pooling of capital ; we are also 
at times painfully aware of the results of watering stock by 
further large applications for capital. [Lancashire, especially] 
Liverpool people will also not be ignorant of futures (the contracts 
entered into by spinners to cover themselves against a rise in 
cotton values, when they have sold yarn for delivery forward, 
cf. Manchester Guardian (Yearbook 1926). The stock-exchange 
terms at par, below par sometimes have a wider application, the 
latter term being used of the state of health in feeling below 
par ; stocks above par are said to be at a premium, below par 
at a discount." 

Of insurance terms, the Professor mentions the phrase to be 
covered by (so and so much), all-in (insurance), and Pru, the 
Prudential Insurance Company. 

" Next I would mention/' he continues, " to cook an account 
(to falsify) or engineer, an absconding cashier (who makes off after 
embezzling money) ; to salt a mine (plant specimens of ore to 
deceive investigators) ; shop-soiled (often used figuratively) ; to 
pay by the instalment system." Passing to business firms, he 
writes : " From the years before the War we have become 
familiar with the multiple system as contrasted with the single 
firm business " : e.g., Boot's, Woolworth's. " On the other 
hand ... a long firm is a combination of swindlers who buy 
goods on credit, sell them and decamp with the proceeds." 

Professor Collinson, as we have seen, mentions in 1927 a 


number of money-market terms : on turning to A. J. Wilson's 
capital glossary of Colloquial, Slang and Technical Terms in 
Use on the Stock Exchange and in the Money Market, 1895, 1 find 
that the following were already in frequent use at that earlier 
date : bear, bull, 1 bucket-shop, guinea pig, to corner the market, 
consols (" a slang word which has become good English " : from 
about 1770 to about 1800, it was slang, from about 1800 to 
about 1870, colloquial, from about 1870, perfectly good 
though not literary English) ; par alone ; watered stocks. Bull 
and bear appear as early as in Hotten's dictionary, where we 
also find stag and rigging the market, as well as two terms mentioned 
by neither Wilson nor Ware nor Collinson : fishy, unsound, and 
break shins, to borrow money. 

Wilson's book is not so comprehensive as it might be, but it 
is extremely informative and useful, as we might expect from the 
editor of The Investors' Review (1892-7), which afterwards 
became a weekly newspaper. Running through its pages, I note 
the following slang terms 2 not already defined and exclusive of 
the slangy or corrupted names of stocks and shares : 

Back. Short for backwardation, " a barbarous term used on 
the Stock Exchange to represent the opposite of a ' contango V 

(Contango, itself originally slang, had by 1895 become " part 
of the common language of operators in public securities. It 
means the interest or charge for the continuation of a transaction 
from one ' settlement ' [settling or account day] to the next ".) 

Bang, To bang the market is "to sell a stock with apparent 
recklessness, so as to force down its price ", a procedure due either 
to the bangers' knowledge of bad news or to their desire to scare 
genuine holders of stock into selling their share at that loss which 
is the bangers' profit. 

(Boom. From the U.S.A., this word had by 1895 become 
colloquial in England ; now good English in U.S.A.). 

Collateral. Collateral, i.e., additional, security. 

Contract. Short for contract note, " the note which the stock- 
broker sends to his client setting forth the business done for 

Cum Div. (Often written, occasionally spoken : c.d.) With 

Deb. Debentures = Debenture Stock. 

E% AIL " The term used to show that the price of a share or 
stock no longer includes the right of the buyer to receive the 
dividend, and [=or] to acquire the pro rata allotment of -new 
stock or shares issued with the dividend to shareholders of the 
company." (? Delusive of allowances.) 

1 Such well-known terms as these figure in the not at all notable article on 
Stock Exchange language in English, the July, 1920, issue. 

2 The quotations, unless otherwise authorized, are from Wilson's Glossary. 


Ex Div. Without the dividend. 

(Gilt-Edged. By 1895 in Standard-English usage.) 

Half-a-One. 500. See one. 

Hammered. Bankrupt. " When a member informs the 
[Stock Exchange's] Committee for General Purposes that he is 
unable to meet his engagements, a notice ... is written out and 
handed to one of the porters, who ascends a rostrum, and, after 
three strokes with a wooden hammer, to call members to attention, 
reads the notice out/' 

Kaffirs. 1 - Companies (especially mining) located in South 
Africa, and especially the shares in these. 

Kaffir Circus. The London Stock Exchange market for 
dealing with South African land companies, mines, etc. 

Make a Price. (Of a dealer) to state the price at which he will 
buy or sell. 

One. (If applied to stock) One thousand pounds nominal. 

Pref. Preference stock or share. Not so good as debentures 
but better than ordinary stock. 

Point. The degree by which a stock rises or falls. 

Punter. (Cf. racing slang.) " A speculator who is continually 
watching the fluctuations in speculative securities, and operates 
for small ' turns ' or profits." 

Put and Call. A double operation in the purchase and sale of 
shares. Rather too complicated to interest " laymen ". 

Rig. A combined effort " to raise the price of stock artificially 
and without regard to its merits ". The phrase to rig the market 
is commoner than the noun. 

Shunt. " To buy and sell securities between two home 
Exchanges, such as London and Manchester." 

Stag. st A speculator who applies for shares or stock in new 
concerns or issues which are quoted at a premium, hoping to 
obtain an allotment and secure a profit without holding [or, there- 
fore, paying for] the stock ; one who sells new securities quoted 
at a premium before allotment, hoping to obtain all or part of his 
application, or, if unsuccessful, to secure a * turn * on a fall in the 

Take the Rate. To borrow stock ; likewise give the rate is to 
lend stock. These two phrases are used in reference to contango. 

Turn. Meaning not only profit (see at punter) but jobber's 
turn, " the difference between the price at which a dealer or jobber 
on the Stock Exchange will buy and that at which he will sell a 

Wilson gives a very full list of slang, corrupted, and 
abbreviated names for stocks and shares. In the following selec- 
tion, " shares " or " stock " must always be understood, for the 
terms do not refer to the companies themselves. From railways : 

1 Cf. Jungles, Indian stocks, and Yankees, American : both current by 1900. 


Berthas, Brighton Deferred Ordinary ; Chat, London, Chatham 
and Dover ; Haddocks, Great North of Scotland ; Potts (from 
potteries), North Staffordshire; Fox, Norfolk and Western 
(U.S.) ; Snipe, New York, Lake Erie, & Western Second 
Mortgage Bond. From miscellaneous companies : Ales or 
Slops, AUsopp Ordinary ; Knackers, Harrison, Barber & Co. ; 
Props, Broken Hill Proprietary Shares ; Records, African Gold 
Recovery ; Soap, A. & F. Pears : Stout, Guinness Ordinary ; 
Tars, Tharsis Copper Mining Company ; Vestas, Railway Invest- 
ment Trust Deferred ; Whiskies, Dublin Distillers. 

Between Wilson and Collinson comes Redding Ware in 1909. 
A few money-market terms given by Ware but mentioned by 
neither Wilson nor Collinson may be of interest : 

All Round Muddle. A complete mess or entanglement. Used 
on 'Change as early as 1870. 

Blow, to. To dissipate (money). This belonged originally to 
the commercial world in general, now and for long to the 
national stock of colloquialisms. 

Boomlet. A little boom. Mr. Horatio Bottomley used it in 

Boomster. One who engineers a boom in certain stocks and 

Busy Sack. A carpet bag. This commercial travellers' term 
has been little heard since the War, during which so many com- 
mercials served and died in France. (They made good 

Catechism. Interrogatories in the Bankruptcy Court. 

C.B.U. The initials for " Court of bankruptcy, undis- 
charged J> ; first used, it appears, in 1897. 

Chamber of Horrors. That room at Lloyds where notices of 
shipwrecks and casualties at sea are " walled ". 

Chateau Diff. The Stock Exchange : the castle of diff, or 
diffs, the " differences " occurring on settling days. Pun on le 
Chateau d'If. 

Circs. About 1860, this was a City * term for circumstances : 
by 1883 (if not earlier), it had become general slang. 

Com. A commercial traveller. So used by G. R. Sims in 
The Referee on 28th December, 1884. 

Crackpot. (f A doubtful company-promoter, a man who has 
the appearance of prosperity, and is but an imposter . . . ' A 
crackpot in the City ' is a term so familiar that it was taken for 
the chorus in a comic song " : this song was mentioned in 1883 
by The Referee. Crackpot, according to Ware, replaced the 
phrase lame duck,' which in the eighteenth century, and indeed in 

1 Those living outside of England may not know that this term denotes the 
" finance " part of London, with the Stock Exchange and the Bank of England 
forming its centre. 


the nineteenth until the late 1870*3, designated, as Grose tells 
us, "a stock-jobber, who either cannot or will not pay his losses, 
or difference, in which case he is said to waddle out of the alley, 
as he cannot appear there again till his debts are settled and paid ; 
should he attempt it, he would be hustled out by the fraternity/' 

Dead Un. A bankrupt company. Sometimes, derivatively, 
called a cadaver : an Anglo-American term. 

Eiley Mavourneen. A. defaulting debtor. From a line in a 
song by F. W. Crouch : " It may be for years, and it may be for 
ever " ; the Song is Kathleen Mavourneen. 

Gone through the Sieve. Bankrupt and having decamped. 

Grace o* God. " The copy of a writ issued upon a bill of 
exchange. " 

Hooley. To pile financial Pelion upon commercial Ossa. From 
a millionaire of that name. Horatio Bottomley used the term in 
1897, but twenty years later it was dead, save in the memory of 
a few veterans. 

L.L. Limited Liability, but " used satirically to suggest 
fraud ". 

Melt. To discount (a bill). 

Mine-Jobber. A cheat ; a promoter of a bogus company. 
" When English copper mining became comparatively valueless 
by reason of the import of Australian and other ore as ballast, all 
the rascals on 'Change floated mine companies, which had not a 
chance of success." 

Out of Commission. Seeking a business appointment, after 
having had and lost a job. 

Peel Off. To get money by a deal on 'Change. 

Picking its Eyes. To obtain the best of a good thing. By 
1900, very popular. 

Pillow Securities. Gilt-edged ones. 

Pod. The Post Office Directory. 

R.M.D. Ready Money Down. Not used in the higher finance. 

Redundant. Impudent. Coined by Horatio Bottomley in 
it lasted for only a few years. 

Rumour-Mongers. Slang when first used : in the City in the 

Sec. This, for second, was very general slang in the City by 
1880. A decade later, it was " universal ". 

Shake-Out. A sudden revulsion of the money market and an 
ensuing clearance of stocks, due to general panic, to a huge 
bankruptcy, to a discovery of fraud on a very large scale, or even 
to the death of a big speculative financier. 

Short. A banking term for a cheque paid in the fewest possible 
bank and/or currency notes. 

Squint. A " man who hangs about the market with a paltry 
order, and who will not deal fairly ". 


Stern Ambition. Determination. Another Bottomley coinage, 
current in 1889-1890. 

Sweeps and Saints. Stockbrokers and their clients, not 
separately, but together: ist May (Sweeps' Day) and ist 
November (All Saints' Day) are holidays on the Stock Exchange. 

Turkey Merchant. An extensive dealer or, more usually, 
speculator in script ; a City plunger. 

Wrecking. Destruction without mercy ; also to wreck. "About 
1880, the immense height of consols encouraged speculation, and 
for some three years a vast number of limited liability companies 
were started, of which nine out of ten came to complete grief. 
A class of financial solicitors then sprang into existence, who 
gained doubtful incomes by ' wrecking ' companies and grabbing 
what they could/' 

From a consideration of these three short lists, which represent 
very definite milestones along the road that leads from com- 
mercial (especially Stock-Exchange) terms being regarded as 
potent, mysterious, sacerdotal to their being familiarized to the 
general educated public, two facts emerge : the length of time 
some, at least, of them have been tolerably familiar, and the 
influence of America. In 1893 Brander Matthews wrote thus 
helpfully for us : " Of recent years many of the locutions of the 
Stock Exchange have won their way into general knowledge ; 
and there are few of us who do not know what bears and bulls 
are, what a corner is, and what is a margin." (This last, though 
at first it was jargon, has never been slang : first recorded in 
1882.) Quite a number of the terms, e.g., boom, gilt-edged, corner 
and to water, bucket shop and wild-cat, have come from America : 
their origin is, for the majority of those who use them, entirely 


Much of the success of modern commerce depends on publicity. 
On this theme, as on all that he touches, Collinson is singularly 
informative and suggestive. He alludes to the fact that certain 
firms have so impressed on the public " catchy phrases and 
rhymes " that we often use them in conversation with an easy 
allusiveness that baffles the foreigner. For instance * : Don't 
worry, use Sunlight (soap) ; Good morning, have you used P'ear's 
Soap ? ; Since when I have used no other, which, as the famous 
picture had it, was originally prefaced with Twenty years ago I 
used your soap ; Alas, my poor brother (Bovril) ; Every picture 
tells a story (Doan's Backache Kidney Pills) " often derisively 
used of anecdotal paintings " ; Glaxo baby, " a plump and healthy 
child " ; Sunny Jim (from the advertisement of Force) ; Worth 
a guinea a box (Beecham's Pills) ; Like Johnny Walker, to which 

1 All except the last three are from Collinson. 


is often added the rest of the tag : still going strong, which is in 
its turn used sometimes by itself : Grateful and comforting (Epps's 
cocoa) ; That schoolgirl complexion (Palmolive Soap) ; That 
Kruschen feeling (Kruschen Salts) ; *E knows (Eno's Salts) ; 
Guinness is good for you. Such phrases have so permeated our 
language that some of them may be found in books by wholly 
reputable authors ; and certain trade terms have passed through 
the stages of slang and colloquialism to become almost Standard- 
English common nouns, as with Ford, generic for a cheap car 
(Lizzie being either a Ford or any other cheap motor-car, but still 
as slangy as the American import, flivver), and Rolls Royce, 
generic for a luxurious car; A.B.C., any railway timetable 
arranged alphabetically ; Woodbine, any cheap cigarette (some 
may remember the song, Little Willie's wild woodbine), the 
Tommy usually calls it, now as in 1914-18, a wood ; corona, any 
good cigar, the original trade-name having been so generalized 
that a true Corona has now to be called Corona Corona. " The 
significant point/' as the Professor adds, " is that most of these 
[trade-designations] may be used with the indefinite article or in 
the plural number and for the average adult speaker of this 
generation require no explanatory generic term." 


From publicity to journalism is a very short step. Both 
Hotten in 1859 and Charles Mackay thirty years later inveigh 
against journalistic slang. The former gleefully declares that 
the weeklies " often indulge in slang words when force of expression 
or a little humour is desired, or when the various writers wish to 
say something which is better said in slang, or so-called vulgar 
speech, than in the authorized language ". His note on the 
names current at that date for the newspapers is interesting. 
The Times was The Thunderer, The Morning Post Jeames ; The 
Morning Advertiser was known as The 'Tizer and The Tap-Tub, 
earlier Gin and Gospel Gazette ; The Morning Herald as 
Mrs. Harris, and The Standard as Mrs. Gamp. The 1874 editor, 
who added some footnotes, explains Mrs. Harris : " 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." The habit of nick- 
names for newspapers has died out : not one of the prominent 
dailies has, since the War, had a nickname. 1 

1 I owe this information to the kindness of Mr. R. Ellis Roberts, the editor 
of Life and Letters and a most discerning word-lover. 


Journalistic slang is not always easy to detect or to determine, 
chiefly because it " comes from above " and except among 
other journalists and perhaps among publishers is therefore not 
suspect. But leader and article, now so respectable, were doubtless 
slang when they were first used ; by 1859 they were no longer 
slang. Of the following words and phrases, recorded in 1909, 
one-half are still employed, though several of the survivors are 
admittedly moribund. 

Chuck out Ink. To write an article. (Press Reporters' Room.) 

Dodo. Scotland Yard. (In the 8o's only.) 

Eventuate. To happen, to result. " A direct importation 
from America and not at all wanted/' says Ware being almost 
as frank as the ever-delightfully frank Mr, Fowler of Modern 
English Usage fame. 

Ewigkeit. Eternity. (8o's only.) 

Fiery Cross. Warning of danger. 

Flimsy. A copy on very thin tracing paper ; also as verb, 
e.g., flimsy me that par, make me half a dozen copies of that 

Gin Crawl. " Beaten street tracks haunted by drunken or 
broken down literary men, journalists, reporters, and inferior 
actors out of employ/' 

Jeune Siecle. Based on fin de siecle, it denotes " typical of the 
new century " and has a connotation of " freshness ". 

Jolly Utter. Intolerable. 

Lethal. Deadly, mortal. 

Leaderette. A short leader : from about 1875. 

Misleading Paper. From 1876, The Times ; for it was then 
that it ft began to lose its distinctive feature as the 'leading 
paper * in Liberal Policy ". 

Par Leader. A short leader, of one paragraph. 

Penn'orth o 3 Treason. " A notorious penny Sunday London 
paper, which attacks every party, and has no policy of its 
own/* More common among the newsvendors than among the 

Penny Gush. Exaggerated writing. 

Resistance Piece. The chief attraction, especially on the stage. 
A patriotic rehash of piece de resistance. 

Rossacrwians. Followers of O'Donovan Rossa. This is 
G. R. Sims's pun, 1885, on Rosicrucians. 

S.P* A special correspondent. 

Sandford and Merton, Didacticism, From the lofty tone 
general in this boys' book by Thomas Day (eighteenth century), 

Sarcaster. A satirist. From sarcastic on the analogy of 

Saturday Middle. If, in the old Saturday Review, one opened 
this famous and spirited weekly at the middle, one saw and, 


" sitting up ", read the article that was always to be found on 
the left-hand page. 

Screamer. An alarmist leader or principal article. (Cf. 
screamer in printer's slang.) 

Screaming Gin and Ignorance. Bad newspaper-writing. The 
phrase originated about 1868 with Sports reporters. 

Screed. A wordy and long-winded article on a matter of 
minor importance or defunct interest. 

Scribe. An inferior writer esp. for the Press. 

Sensational. Extraordinary or perhaps no more than mildly 
surprising. This "top-note"' adjective came from America, 
apparently to stay. 

Sloshiety Paper. " A satiric imitative, equivalent to Society 
paper intended to attack the * sloshy ' gushing tendency of these 
prints/' Nowadays we rather tend to say slushy, which, however, 
is less common than its noun. 

The Squeaker. Burlesque pun on the former Radical paper, 
The Speaker. 

Sub. The subject of an article. Nowadays, sub-editor. 

Tripe. Rubbish, (t rot/' Ware quotes from T. Le Breton's 
The Modern Christian, 1902. 

Turn Over. " Last column on the right of the front page of a 
[popular] newspaper, especially an evening one/* For effect, this 
article generally ran over on to the next page. 

Ukilation. " First night condemnation [of a play] by all the 
gallery and the back of the pit." A pedantically euphemistic and 
snobbish synonym for cat-calls. 

W.P.B. Waste paper basket. 

Whisky Stalls. Stalls-seats at the end, or near the end, of a 
row : these enable one to go to the bar without inconveniencing 
oneself or one's neighbours. 

Word-Mongering. Tediously redundant description. 


This last is, or rather, it was, for it is obsolete in this sense 
(to-day it means the treating of words as if they were articles of 
merchandise), less an ordinary journalists* than a literary 
critics' term. The literary critics (perhaps accuracy demands 
that we say the reviewers of books) are responsible for the bulk 
of literary slang, which, from the respectable nature of that 
avocation (or very dire necessity), comes also " from above " 
and is condemned only by those whose regard for English is 
genuine, not merely lip-serviced. Very rarely indeed will you 
see such slang in The Times Literary Supplement, but occasionally 
you espy it in the periodicals that pride themselves on their 
highbrow tendencies and criteria, and frequently do you see it in 


the literary criticism of the daily and Sunday newspapers. Hotten 
alludes to it thus : " Among the words and phrases which may 
be included under the head of Literary Slang are ' balaam ', 
matter kept constantly in type about monstrous productions of 
nature (two-headed calves, for instance), to fill up spaces in 
newspapers ; ' balaam-box ', the term given in Blackwood to 
the repository for rejected articles ; and ' slate ', to pelt with 
abuse or ' cut up ' in a review. ' He's the fellow to slate a piece ' 
is often said of dramatic critics, especially of those who through 
youth, inexperience, and a process of unnatural selection which 
causes them to be critics, imagine that to abuse all that is above 
their comprehension is to properly exercise the critical faculty/' 

Among the terms that may be fairly called slang in present- 
day book-reviewing are banal, lurid, frank (i.e., sexually or 
" functionally " outspoken, outspoken often connoting the same), 
blush-making, modern. This, however, is treading on dangerous 
ground : not that I myself mind, but I have to think of my 
publishers ! Let us glance at the terms l recorded in far-away 1909 
by Redding Ware. 

Accidente. Liable to surprise. " An operatic season thus 
accidented/' The Globe, ist July, 1883. 

Blue Roses. Something unobtainable. 

Bohemian. Free-living, unconventional. 

Born with a Sneer, Very severe, implacable, applied chiefly 
to critics. Attributed to (the early) Douglas Jerrold. 

Carlylese. Tory democracy or benevolent despotism. 

Cyclophobist. A hater of tradesmen's circulars. 

D.T. Centres. "Minor bohemian, literary, artistic, and 
musical clubs" from their real or alleged jollity. Punning 
D.T/s, delirium tremens. 

Forest of Fools. The world. A revival from Dekker's Gull's 
Horn-book, 1609. 

Griminess, Eroticism in literature, esp. in French novels. 
(Compare guanoing the mind, the reading of French novels.) 
Invented by Disraeli and accepted by George Eliot. Analogous 
is hero-hotic, in reference to erotic and eccentric fiction. 

Hercules 1 Pillars. Limit of belief ; the phrase being applied 
to any extreme or very exaggerated statement. Like others of 
these literary-slang terms, it was often heard in Society but 
not, to repeat an old pun, in Sassiety. 

Lamartinism. Goody-goody writing. The term comes from 
France, where it was current after 1848. 

Museum Headache. A headache incurred by waiting for 
books at the British Museum Library. This gibe, recorded in, 
e.g., The Daily News of ntji December, 1882, is no longer valid, 

1 Including dramatic as well as literary criticism ; also more general literary- 


for the service at the EM. (students' slang, which also, aping, 
Oxford, has B. Emma) is excellent, the courtesy unfailing, the 
helpfulness extraordinarily expert and unselfish ; many a scholar 
should dedicate his books this book is a case in point to the 
superintendent, the central-desk officers, and even the attendants 
of the British Museum Reading Room. 

M^tsh, Gush, and Lush. Meanly interested criticism : reviews 
paid for in either money or meals. Mush, soft soap ; gush in 
the criticism ; lush, strong drink. A practice more general on 
the Continent than in England. 

Nancy Tales. Humbug, bosh (modern tosh). The Daily News 
of iyth January, 1891, has this explanation : " The negroes of the 
West Indies call an old wife's fable " old wives' tale, an expression 
immortalized by Arnold Bennet " ' a Nancy story ', derived 
from Ananzi spider who told tales." (" Told tales " is ambiguous.) 
Which hides, doubtless, a piece of folk-lore : spin a thread spin 
a yarn = tell a story. Nancy Story is recorded for 1818, the 
spider itself (ananse) over a hundred years earlier ; the word 
came originally, it would seem, from the Gold Coast. 1 In the 
present Freud-ridden age " a Nancy story " would, if used at all 
(and I seem to have heard the phrase), mean an anecdote or a 
novel about sexual perverts (male), otherwise called Sissies. 

Nonsensational. Nonsensically sensational or sensationally 
nonsensical. A portmanteau-word. 2 

Not enough Written. Insufficiently polished in style ; with 
the mistakes uncorrected. 

Nursery Noodles. Over-fastidious critics : the sort that will 
damn a great novel for a split infinitive or for a sentence ending 
in a preposition. 

Petticoat Interest. ft Those portions of fiction referring to 
womankind." Some editors require that their contributors 
infuse into their stories " a strong love interest ". 

Pocket Artist. A small actor or actress.. Usually meant 

Premiere. Short for la premiere representation (d*une piece 
de theatre). " First used in London press for first night in 1884," 
says Ware ; the Oxford English Dictionary's earliest record is 
in 1895. 

Problem Novel. In 1888 and for some years afterwards, this 
term designated a novel " with a purpose generally as affecting 
women, their aspirations and wrongs ". During and since the 
War, however, the problem has been of any ethical kind. (No 
longer slang.) We hear also of problem pictures, esp. those of 
John Collier. 

1 So I deduce from the fascinating entry in the O.E.D. The folk-etymology 
theory is mine, as are most of the wilder suppositions in this book. 

2 For " portmanteau ", see the chapter on Oddities. 



Psychological Moment. Opportunity ; the very nick of time ; 
the most suitable moment. A much abused and misunderstood 

Reconstitute. To misrepresent esp. a period of history. The 
practice is now at its height in biography, to which Lytton Strachey 
gave, unintentionally, a journalistic twist. The usual phrase was 
reconstitute an epoch. (Cognate is the modern slang use of 

Repetitious. Repeated ; repetitionaL Ware quotes The 
Daily Telegraph of 20th September, 1900, " Common in recent 
American use/' says the O.E.D. First employed by Penn in 
1675, and again by Hawthorne nearly two hundred years later. 
Its use in the twentieth century may fairly be regarded as slang. 

Roses and Raptures. Satirical of " the Book of Beauty style 
of literature " aegis'd by the Countess of Blessington (1789-1849) 
and thus so rumour has it attacked by Dr. William Maginn 
about 1830. The phrase has endured, though its connotation is 
now rather that of idyllic love in springtime lanes and summer'd 
glades, of romantic honeymoons, and of other lyrically et ego 
in Arcadia vi%i sojournings. 

Salt Pen. Either by itself for a writer of sea-stories or in 
some such phrase as " this wielder of a salt pen ". 

Script. Manuscript. Now sometimes employed loosely for 
typescript (as is manuscript itself). 

Scripturience. The itch or rage for writing books, articles, 
short stories, even poems : cacoethes scribendi, as the more 
learned reviewers have it, some few remembering Juvenal's 
insandbile cacoethes scribendi (" an incurable passion for 
scribbling " : Juvenal never put too fine a point on his stylus), 
very very few realizing that Juvenal probably had in mind 
the original sense, which is that of the Greek KOKoyOys, a bad 
habit, even a malignant disease. (Scripturus te saluto, Juvenal.) 

Send-Off. Something written to attract attention to another ; 
as, e.g., by a famous author for a beginner or for a new firm of 

Sensational Writing. "Crude, frank, banal description, 
[narration,] or dialogue, intended to excite or dismay/' says 
Ware. With this compare the actors' sensation scene, a thrilling 
episode in a play. 

Snippety. Applied to journals composed of " scissorings " 
from others, generally somewhat ancient. 

Sun-Clear. Obvious. At least as early as 1885. 

True inwardness. Reality. This (peccavi!) is "one of the 
principal shapes of literary jargon produced in the 'go's. 
Probably ", Ware adds, " the only serious survival of the aesthetic 
craze of the '80 V Still flourishing like the bay-tree. 

Want of Proportion. Lack of balance ; bad composition. 


Attributed to Theodore Watts-Dunton ; now Standard English. 
(Perhaps at its origin, jargon rather than slang, as also, maybe, 
-were several others in this list.) 

Without Authorial Expenses. Piratical, applied to publishers ; 
without having to pay royalties. 


Nor are publishers free from blame. Publishers (in the 
fifteenth and sixteenth centuries stationers, in the sixteenth and 
seventeenth undertakers, in the seventeenth and eighteenth 
"booksellers, in the nineteenth publishers] have a slang and a jargon 
that are familiar to booksellers, printers, and binders and are in 
part drawn from those three groups. Binders and booksellers, 
as apart from publishers, may without serious loss be omitted, 
but printers have a fairly extensive slang, which is best considered 
separately from, and after, that of publishers. In the earliest 
dictionary of all sorts of slang, B.E/s in 1690, we find the 
following : 

Conger, as well as meaning " a great over-grown Sea-Eel ", 
is " a Set or Knot of Topping x Book-sellers of London, who agree 
among themselves, that whoever of them Buys a good Copy,* 
the rest are to take off a particular number, as (it may be) Fifty 
in Quires, on easy Terms. Also they that join together to Buy 
either a Considerable, 3 or Dangerous Copy ". Nathaniel Bailey, 
in his remarkable dictionary of 1731, shows that this association 
also aimed to squeeze out " young and single traders ", a practice 
not unknown among the publishers and the booksellers of the 
twentieth century. 

Grub Street News. False news. (Nothing to do with Fleet 

Hackney Scribblers. " Poor Hirelings, Mercenary Writers." 

A century later, Grose, in addition to repeating B.E/s three 
entries (for hackney scribbler he has hackney writer : " One who 
writes for attornies or booksellers "), has Grub Street, which he 
defines as "A street near Moorfields, formerly the supposed 
habitation of many persons who wrote for the booksellers : 
, hence a Grub street writer, means a hackney author, who manu- 
factures books for the booksellers ". " Grab Street/' which since 
1830 has been called Milton Street, is nearly parallel to Moor- 
fields and runs off from Fore Street in the East-Central part of 
London. The name Grub Street, mentioned by Taylor the Water- 
Poet, has always been figurative : the street inhabited by literary 
" grubs ". Grub-Street writer was early in the eighteenth century 

1 As the head of their profession. Most booksellers combined publishing 
and bookselling. 

2 Manuscript accepted for publication. 3 Important. 


superseded by hackney author, and the noun hack, first used in 
1774, became general at the end of the century. Hack, it may 
be added, is now applied " to the merely industrious uncreative 
writer that lacks genius or talent on the one hand and genuine 
scholarship on the other ".* 

In 1859 Hotten records balaam, already mentioned; mag, 
a magazine, a term used also by printers ; O.P., out of print, a 
reply that, like binding (in the process of being bound), the 
publisher rejoices to give to the bookseller ; penny dreadfuls, 
' ' those penny publications which depend more upon sensationalism 
than merit, artistic or literary, for success," with which compare 
the rather more modern shilling shockers, full-length novels with the 
same characteristics, and bloods, the name applied rarely to 
the latter, often to the former, given by sailor boys who, a naval 
chaplain quoted by Redding Ware tells us, " expect lots of blood, 
wonderful adventures, gruesome illustrations, and a good deal 
of cheap sentiment " ; puff, " to blow up, or swell with praise ; 
declared by a writer in the Weekly Register, as far back as 1732, 
to be illegitimate. ' Puff has become a cant [i.e., slang] word 
signifying the applause set forth by writers, etc., to increase the 
reputation and sale of a book, and is an excellent stratagem to 
excite the curiosity of gentle readers/ Lord Bacon, however, 
used the word in a similar sense a century before. Sheridan also 
seems to have remembered the use of the word, vide Mr. Puff," 
present usage employing puff as both verb and noun, with puffing 
as verbal noun ; with the addition of the preliminary puff for 
pre-publication publicity ; setting jewels, now obsolete, 2 for 
" taking the best portions of a clever book not much known to 
the general public, and incorporating them quietly with a new 
work by a thoroughly original author. The credit of this term 
belongs to Mr. Charles Reade " ; top-dressing, used more 
particularly in journalism but known also in publishing in the 
form of a prominent man's preface to a new writer's work,' is 
defined by Hotten only in relation to journalism, " the large 
type introduction to a report, generally written by a man of 
higher literary attainments than the ordinary reporter who 
follows with the details." 

In 1909 Redding Ware gives two other terms, permanent pug 
and yellowbacks. The former, more common to journalism than 
to publishing, designates the door-porter, while the latter denotes 
those " cheap two-shilling editions of novels, which were generally 
bound in a yellow, glazed paper, printed in colours ". These 
books, which had stiff covers and an illustration, usually exciting, 
on the front, were often translations from the French and were 
introduced, I believe, by those two men who, taking over Hotten's 

1 From my edition of Grose's Vulgar Tongue. 
* The present phrase is scissors-work or lifting. 


business in 1874, established a firm that would now raise its 
hands in horror at the mere thought of issuing such works. 

A few additional terms, illustrative of present slang usage, 
are necessary. Blad, a very old word in its " authorized " sense 
of a fragment, is applied to a sheaf of specimen pages or to other 
" illustrative matter " liked by the bookseller, especially the 
bookseller resident abroad. Blurb 1 is the publisher's " descriptive 
matter " on the jacket and, actually intended to convey to the 
potential purchaser a brief idea of the nature and the contents, 
often serves a " multiple " reviewer as an excuse for not reading 
the book. An insert is loose advertising matter slipped into the 
bound copies of a book ; end-advertisements are never called 
inserts. To ghost a book is to write it for somebody better known, 
the latter pocketing a large fee or fat royalties for having " put 
his name to it " : a practice very much more frequent in 
journalism than in publishing. To vet a book is to revise it, 
whether for the author or for his publisher ; if the work entailed 
amounts to a virtual re-writing, the resulting typescript or 
manuscript is a re-write. 

Some publishers have their own printeries and nearly all are 
familiar with much printers' slang. Of the latter we find few 
records before Hotten, who mentions typos, of Gallic origin, for 
compositors, who were also, as now, called comps. In 1859, 
however, comps referred more usually to companions, members 
of the same companionship. " A companionship is the number 
of men engaged on any one work, and this is in turn reduced to 
' ship ' 2 : sometimes it is ' 'stab ship ', i.e., paid by the week, 
therefore on the establishment ; sometimes it is ' on the piece V 3 
Baumann, in 1887, refers to a work published the same year, 
" Quads " for Authors, Editors, and Devils, quotes it and " off his 
own bat " "gives various printers' slang words, 4 such as ad for 
advertisement, typo for a typographer (an expert in printing), 
W.F. for wrong fount 5 (a letter in a type different from that 
being used), stick for a composing stick (a " length " of the metal 
as it comes from the casting machine), sub for a subscriber; 
Athie, Caddie for The Athenaeum and The Academy, two high- 
class weeklies now defunct ; pie, the earliest of all printers' 
slang, is short for printers' pie, which, since 1659, h 35 meant 
unsorted type or type promiscuously jumbled ; hell-box, the box 
containing unused type ; fat, easy to compose, and lean, difficult 

1 Originally from the U.S. and recorded first in 1924, as I learn from The 
Shorter Oxford Dictionary. But did not Mencken use it in 1921 ? 

2 With allusion, I hazard, to a ship's companion-way. 

3 Piece-work in general has produced the interesting factory slang term, 
clar, to earn as much as possible ; coined in 1932. 

4 For printers' technical terms, see the manual issued by the Clarendon 
Press for its employees and others. 

5 Wrong fount itself is printers 1 ugly -phiz. 


to compose (or set, as it is generally called), the former * also 
connoting profitable, the latter unprofitable, work ; antimony, 
type (from sorts, the characters or letters in a fount of type) 
out of sorts, of a deficiency of material in the type-case, has since 
about 1780 meant also slightly unwell ; to squabble, of type that 
gets mixed up ; sling type, to set or compose ; devil, short for 
printer's devil, a "handy boy"; pencil-shaver, p. journalist; 
brains* the paste with which a sub-editor sticks his cuttings 
together ; eye out of register, an inaccurate eye ; put in pie, to 
make a mess of anything, to lead a person astray ; and chalk your 
pull, hold on. 

Of the terms noted by Redding Ware, most are still in general 
use and all are familiar to at least the old hands. Since printers' 
slang is less widely known than publishers' and is at the same 
time very expressive, I shall I hope be forgiven for setting 
forth all the twenty-seven that have been mentioned by neither 
Hotten nor Baumann. Exhaustiveness too often produces 
exhaustion, but a mere alphabet of terms, while it will exhaust 
only the daintiest dilettante, may yet convey a general notion 
of a slang group that could not possibly be formed from an 
arbitrary selection of half a dozen. 

Bible Class. Usually in form been to a Bible Class, having two 
black eyes acquired in a fight. 

Bitched. (Of type) spoilt, ruined. This has spread to general 
slang of the more vigorous kind ; often as that's bitched it, where 
the graphic Tommy said that's fd it and the chaste Digger 
that's b red it. 

Bridges, Bridges I A " hoy " to stop a long-winded yarn. 
Ware proposes for the etymology, abregeons, abregeons ! He may 
well be right. 

Bridges and No Grasses. (Noun and adjective.) Secret. A 
bridge is an illicit absentee, who has sent no substitute or brass. 
When, by a concerted absence, the employees prevent a master 
printer from finishing a job, especially the bringing-out of a 
newspaper, the act is called breaking the bridge. " The whole 
system," remarks Ware, " belongs to a system of rattening which , 
is being swept away by the strides of education/' By rattening, 

1 By reason of the blank spaces, as in poetry, chapter-beginnings and 
-endings, etc. The term occurs first in Grose, third edition : " Fat, among 
printers, means void spaces." Grose also records fat as meaning " the last 
landed, inned, or stowed, of any sort of merchandise : so called by the water- 
side porters, carmen, etc." ; cf. its use in theatrical slang. 

2 With such picturesqueness, compare the more recent Christer (from the 
profane expletive, Christ '), an exclamation mark, for which, by the way, authors' 
and publishers' slang is shriek, and much the more usual printers' slang is screamer 
(cf. general slang a scream), sometimes diversified by astonisher. Another 
picturesque modern term is bleed off, to make colours run to the edge and over, 
as it were of the wrappers of a book. Also as a noun, e.g., " The bleed off is 
badly done/* 


from the dialectal ratten, to rat, to desert, is meant " molestation 
of non-union workers by tampering with tools in such a way as 
to cause accidents, esp. at Sheffield (1850-1860). See Charles 
Reade's Put Yourself in his Place ", 1870, as Weekley explains 
in what is perhaps the most readable dictionary in the language. 

ChapeL A secret meeting. The term sometimes covers the 
ensuing decision. 

Clicker. The sub-foreman in a printing office ; he gives out 
copy and " pages up " the galley-proofs (among printers always 
galleys, itself slang). Probably from claqueur : " most obscure 
phrases or words in printing come from France " (Ware). 

Cock, That's a. A term signifying " no throw ", used by 
printers when throwing up pieces of type to decide who shall, 
for example, pay for drinks ; only if two pieces of type catch 
together, and so " do not fall flat on the imposing stone, the 
general arena for these adventures ". 

Cod. A fool. Derived from an earlier century and occasion- 
ally heard in other than printing circles. 

Codocity. Stupidity, especially gullibility ; on the false 
analogy of atrocity. 

Coigne. Money. " A play upon coin and coigne . . . a wedge, 
generally named thus in printing offices. Pun suggested by the 
force of coin as a wedge, and a wedge as a coigne." 

Context. To try to discover the meaning of a badly written 
word from its context, i.e., the words before and after it, as in 
" Oh, context it, and do the best you can ! " 

Copy. " The matter to be set up in type/' Now colloquial 
and employed by journalists and publishers as well as by printers. 

Cut the Line. To quit work at morning's or day's end. From 
the now recognized practice of leaving an uncompleted line 
when the whistle blows, the clock strikes, the gong sounds, or 
the foreman bellows. 

Ellescee. (Ell-ess-see) from the initials of the London Society 
of Compositors. Compare Elsie, the students' slang for East 
London College. This anthropomorphization of initial abbrevia- 
tions is frequent in English. At the Toowoomba Grammar 
School, Queensland, there were in 1908-1910 two boys who, 
literally, rejoiced in the initials E. D. and E. L. C. : wf f hin a 
week of their admission, they were referred to by all as Edie and 
Elsie, nicknames all the more piquant in that they played 
together in the same rugby fifteen, cricket eleven, and tennis 
four, and were almost inseparable friends. I myself was some- 
times called Electro-Plate, which illustrates a slightly different 
tendency the effort to be funny at any cost. 

Flag. <c Woeful expression referring to an ' out * ... missed 
words in setting up a piece of copy . . . Taken from the aspect 
of the ' out ' words written at the side of the proof and enclosed 


in a loop ; a line leading from the nearer end of which concludes 
in the caret which marks the point in the copy where the missing 
words are wanting." 

Go to Bed. In 1860-1880, used by printers of a newspaper 
printed on the bed of the printing-press. Put to bed, among 
twentieth-century printers and journalists, means to print a 
newspaper, with especial reference to all the work preliminary 
to its being " machined off ". 

Grasses. (Cf . also at bridges and no grasses.) Said, or shouted, 
to or at a particularly polite person ; perhaps from gracieux, 
gracieuse, gracious of manner. 

0. An emphatic abbreviation of overseer. 

Paint a Proof. To correct a proof heavily and so " adorn " 
it in both margins. 

Rag. Short for daily rag (also slang), a daily newspaper. 
Originally, and still mainly, said of an inferior newspaper ; nowa- 
days often in forms an awful, a sickening rag. 

Reprint. Printed, as opposed to manuscript, matter to be put 
into type. 

Swank. Small talk ; lying. Whence the War and post- War 
swank, " side," " swagger/' excessive style. 

TJO. Turn-over, i.e., " a turn-over from one page to another/* 

Take. The piece of " copy " the compositor takes out at 
one time. 

What's your Poll ? How much have you earned ? (Piece-work 

Four other terms, 1 all in active use, remain to be mentioned : 
monks and friars* both dating from Joseph Moxon's Mechanick 
Exercises (1683), refer respectively to dark and light patches on 
the printed page ; bottle-arsed, dating from the 1880 's, is applied 
to type wider at the bottom than at the top ; give someone a 
double broad, to hit with a piece of marginal wood-furniture 
8 picas wide. 


Like printers, 3 lawyers have at command a host of technical 
terms wherewith to bewilder laymen, but with their jargon 
(growing, by the way, a little less mysterious) we need not trouble. 

If there are some notable slang terms in law, there are also 
some amusing slang names for a lawyer : the latter may well 
come before the others. And since the general change in taste 

1 I owe these to the kindness of H. P. R. Finberg, the brilliant typographer 
at the head of the Alcuin Press at Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire. 

2 These two terms have, since about 1800, been jargon rather than slang ; 
Grose describes them as printers' terms. 

3 One further piece of up-to-date slang may be noted : gutter, the furrow 
caused by the sewing of the pages together, down the middle of the " opening " 
(any two en-face pages) of a book or magazine. 


is reflected in synonymies at different periods, we will look at 
B.E., 1690, at Grose, 1796 (3rd edition), and at Hotten, 1859. 
In B.E. we find only five terms : 

Ambidexter, one that takes fees from both plaintiff and 
defendant to the same suit, as in Grose ; black box, which recurs 
in Grose ; green bag, also in Grose ; son of parclement, which 
should be either Parlement or more probably, as in Grose, prattle- 
ment ; and splitter of causes, which in Grose becomes split-cause, 
a term surviving into the next century. In the jovial Grose, in 
addition to those just mentioned : jet, almost cant, for autem jet, 
a parson, certainly is cant ; latitat, recorded in Cooper's Thesaurus 
in 1565 but not at all general until the eighteenth century, derives 
from the writ so named. In Giles Jacob's New Law Dictionary 
(I quote from the yth edition, 1756, the first being of 1729), 
latitat is defined as " a Writ whereby all Men are originally 
called to answer in personal Actions in the King's Bench, having 
the Name upon a Supposition that the Defendant doth lurk and 
lie hid ". Limb of the law, mainly of "an inferior or petty- 
fogging attorney ", as indeed is Newgate solicitor, this latter being 
specifically " one who attends the gaols to assist villains in 
evading justice " ; petty fogger is likewise " a little dirty attorney, 
ready to undertake any litigious or bad cause ", the etymology 
from " petit vogue, of small credit, or little reputation " being 
false, for the second element is probably, as Weekley says, the 
obsolete Dutch focker, cognate with Flemish c&ntfocken, to cheat. 
Puzzle-cause, a lawyer with ",a confused understanding": 
one to whom the ludicrous intricacies of the law give a head- 
ache. Six-and-eightpence, a solicitor whose fee used often to 
amount to that sum. 

The argumentativeness of lawyers is manifestly alluded to 
in some of these definitions, as they are in several that we shall 
quote from Hotten. Among soldiers in 1914-18, lawyer 1 was 
" an argumentative or discontented man ", anyone with a 
grievance about his " rights " and an unfailing readiness to 
talk about them. 

Of nicknames so far unmentioned, Hotton has these : land- 
shark, mostly a sailor's definition ; mouthpiece, especially of a 
barrister, and a favourite term among criminals English and 
American ; qui tarn, from a legal tag ; snipe, " a long bill or 
account ; also a term for attorneys, a race with a remarkable 
propensity for long bills " ; sublime rascal ; and vakeel, chiefly 
a barrister and rarely outside residents (or former residents) in 

Turning to legal slang, other than these nicknames, which 
obviously were bestowed by irate or contemptuous laymen, we 

1 Eraser and Gibbons : Soldier and Sailor Words and Phrases, 1925. 


must remember that the dual nature of legal language, whether 
authorized or unconventional, results from the fact that, since 
the Norman Conquest, the law has had two technical languages, 
Latin and Norman French, the latter being known as " Law 
French, a curious jargon containing a large admixture of English 
words ". Naturally, 1 then, " the law-terms which have made 
their way into our ordinary vocabulary, show now a French 
and now a Latin derivation, and in many instances are out-and- 
out Latin, with no change in form." Mr. Logan Pearsall Smith 2 
gives a most interesting list of phrases that are legal in origin, 
but these, so far from being (though some of them originally 
were) slang, are now part of the most idiomatic of English. 

If we work, by way of Grose, from Redding Ware back to 
B.E., we notice that the older the legal slang, the more expressive 
it is. Ware lists some fourteen terms, most of them still current : 

Attorney-General's Devil. The Junior Counsel to the Treasury. 
In general, a devil is the barrister doing the spade-work for a 
" legal big-wig ". There is also the verb, devil, to do such work. 

Chancellor's Eggs. Barristers newly hatched. The term is 
now a memory. 

J.S. orN.orD. " The initials of the three forms of disturbance 
amongst married folk " : judicial separation, nullity of marriage, 
and divorce. 

Mandamus. To serve with a writ of mandamus. 

Marksman. One who, unable to write, " signs his name " by 
making a mark. 

Pre-Deceased. " Used to ridicule the statement of some 
obvious fact " : e.g., " Queen Anne is dead/' which served the 
same purpose from at least a century earlier. 

Process-Pusher. A lawyer's clerk. So too writ-pusher. 

Prostituted. Made common, hence worthless. Of a patent so 
long on the market that all know of it and none wants it. 

Quarter Sessions I A form of jocose swearing. 

Q.B. Queen's Bench. Now, and since 1901, the King's 

Rule Was Granted. Another chance accorded. 

Suggestionize. To prompt by suggestion. 

Thirteenth Juryman. " A judge who, in addressing a jury, 
shows leaning or prejudice/' it being the judge's duty not 
always observed to hold the scales equal and, in clarifying a 
complex statement or in the final summing-up, to maintain an 
absolute impartiality. 

Without examining the terms found in his dictionary, we must 
yet notice what Hotten has to say. " Particular as lawyers are 

1 Greenough and Kittredge, op. cit. 

2 Words and Idioms, p. 218 in the Constable's Miscellany edition. 


about the meanings of words, they have not prevented an 
unauthorized phraseology from arising ... So forcibly did this 
truth impress a late writer, that he wrote in a popular journal, 
' You may hear slang every day in term from barristers in their 
robes, at every mess-table, at every college commons, and in 
every club dining-room. ... A few of the most common and 
well-known terms used out of doors, with reference to legal 
matters, are ' cook ', to hash or make up a balance-sheet ; 
' dipped/ mortgaged ; ' dun/ to solicit payment ; ' fullied/ to 
be fully committed for trial ; . . . ' monkey with a long tail ', 
a mortgage ; ' to run through the ring/ to take advantage of the 
Insolvency Act ; ' smash/ to become bankrupt . . ." Hotten 
adds that " lawyers, from their connection with the police-courts, 
and transactions with persons in every grade of society, have 
ample opportunities for acquiring street slang, of which, in cross- 
questioning and wrangling, they frequently avail themselves." 
In Grose * we remark the following terms : 

Affidavit Men. " Knights of the post, or false witnesses, said 
to attend Westminster Hall and other courts of justice, ready 
to swear anything for hire ; distinguished by having straw stuck 
in the heels of their shoes." (Already in B.E.) 

After-Clap. {t A charge for pretended omissions " ; any 
unexpected, long-deferred result. 

Crim* Con. Money. A fine paid by a convicted adulterer to 
the injured husband ; the abbreviation appeared first in 1770, 
in a play by the actor-author, Samuel Foote. 

Crump. " One who helps solicitors to affidavit men, or false 
witnesses." (Already in B.E.) 

Cursitors. " Broken pettyfogging attornies, or Newgate 
solicitors." Not listed with the nicknames for a lawyer, for 
this is pure cant. The word cursitors had a well-known meaning 
in the legal phraseology of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, 
Giles Jacob's entry running : " Cursitors, (Clerici de Cursu) 
Clerks belonging to the Chancery, who make out original writs ; 
and are called Clerks of Course 2 . . .There are of these Clerks 
twenty-four in Number, which make a corporation of them- 
selves ; and to each Clerk is allotted a Division of certain Counties, 
in which they exercise their Functions." (In B.E., who defines 
as vagabonds, another and older cant signification.) 

The Dip. {t A cook's shop, under FurnivaTs Inn, where many 
attornies' clerks, and other inferior limbs of the law, take out the 
wrinkles from their bellies." 

Dispatches. " A mittimus, or a justice of the peace's warrant 
for the commitment of a rogue." 

1 Unless otherwise stated, always the 3rd edition (1796) of his Dictionary of 
the Vulgar Tongue. 

* De cursu and of course ; in the ordinary way of routine. 


Elbows, Out at. (Of an estate) mortgaged. 

Fastner. i.e., fastener : a warrant. (B.E. has it.) 

Fieri Facias. " A red-faced man is said to have been served 
with a writ of fieri facias/' A very old pun. Fieri facias, by the 
way, is a writ wherein " the Sheriff is commanded to levy the 
Debt and Damages of the Goods and Chattels of the Defendant ", 
the latter having lost the case brought against him "in the 
King's Courts " (Giles Jacob, 1756). In the nineteenth century, 
the term was often used in the abbreviated form fifa, just as the 
famous capias ad satisfaciendum was often called a casa, and an 
action of assumpsit became a sumsy. 

Hap Worth a Coper as. Habeas corpus. 

Knight of the Post. Same as an affidavit man. (In B.E.) 

Lurcher. " A lurcher of the law ; a bum bailiff, or his setter/' 
In dialect, lurch means to lurk, to slink about ; setter, " who, 
like a setting dog, follows and points out the game for the master/' 

Petticoat, or Apron-String, Hold. One who has his wife's 
estate only during her life has this hold. 

Priminary. A slangy corruption of prcemunire, a writ 
based on a famous statute passed in Richard II's reign. 

Quirks and Quillets. tl Subtle distinctions and evasions." 
Compare the modern quips and quirks. (In B.E.) 

Squash. As in " they squash the indictment ". A corruption, 
deliberate no doubt, of quash, " to suppress, annul, or overthrow." 

Trickum Legis. " A quirk or quibble in the law." The form 
of the phrase is satirical of Law Latin, itself in Grose, thus 
animadverted : " Apothecary's, or Law Latin. Barbarous 
Latin, vulgarly called Dog Latin, in Ireland Bog Latin." 

Trounce. " To punish by course of law," It figures in B.E. 
as " Trounc*d, troubled, Cast in Law, Punisht." 


After the law comes medicine, for " the law is no physic ". 

For a general account of the chief exponents, Wm. Andrews's 
The Doctor in History, Literature, etc. (1896) will serve. The 
tendency of medical men to clothe their actions, words, and 
prescriptions in mystery has been so delightfully satirized by 
Guillaume Bouchet in Les Serees, 1 1584, that it were a pity to 
translate the old-fashioned French. One of the characters 
a doctor says of another : Ne faut done trouver estrange si nous 
autres medecins mentons Uen souvent, riestant qu'aux Medecins 
le mentir, et awns une escriture 2 et un langage a part, ne parlans 
aucunesfois clairement quand allons voir les malades, et se moquer, 
si nous scavons quelque mot de grec, de I'alleguer et si nommons 

1 In the Dixiesme Seree. As cited by Nicefero, op. cit. 

2 As in prescriptions, which go to their allies, the dispensing chemists. 


les maladies, les herbes, les simples et les compose* et les remedes 
par noms incognus, . . . brouillans quelquefois I'escriture si bien 
qu'on ne la pe^lt lire. Ce que plusieurs toutesfois blasment et 
reprennent, disans que nous faisons cela par ostentation. Mais 
cela se fait, disoit notre Medecin, craignant que si on decouvre nos 
receptes, on nefist pas si grande estime de notre medecine : et aussi 
d fin que les malades aient meilleure fiance aux remedes de la 

Medical slang is, from the very nature of the case, more 
interesting to laymen than is law slang, but we will confine our- 
selves to examples * current in the present century. Ware 
gives four terms used in 1909 : bone-clother, port wine, for which 
stout is now usually substituted as a " fattener " ; locum (short 
for locum tenens) still very commonly employed of doctors and 
clergymen, Ware also quotes loke, which is now less often 
heard ; pith, the spinal chord when severed ; to be slated, to die, 
or more precisely to be doomed to die. That Ware should list 
so few medical slangisms is not surprising, both because doctors 
very rarely talk " shop " to others than doctors and because, in 
the words of the one notable authority 2 on medical slang, " in 
medicine there are relatively few true slang expressions, although 
many words and phrases are used . . . incomprehensible to the 
layman. There is a great tendency to use initials, . . . while 
abbreviations are also common . , . There is also a large list of 
circumlocutions, much more often heard on the tongues of 
patients than on those of medical men." 

Of the initials, some are purely technical : as C.S.M., cerebro- 
spinal meningitis ; D. and C., dilate (the vagina) and curette (the 
uterus) ; D.D.A., the Dangerous Drugs Act ; E.N.T., ear, nose, 
and throat ; . G.S.W., gunshot wound ; M.O.P., S Medical Out 
Patients (Department) ; P.R., a digital examination per rectum ; 
T. and A. t tonsils and adenoids ; TJ5., more properly Tb. (tuber- 
culosis), a term rapidly coming into general use among the 
educated ; F.D., venereal disease, but sometimes Venereal 
Department. Other initials are definitely slangy 4 ; e.g., B.B.A., 
born before arrival, " used in midwifery, generally with profound 
relief, as it indicates that a tedious wait has been saved," and 
B.I.D., brought in dead, applied to " a casualty who is dead on 
arrival at the surgery ". 

Abbreviations are of two kinds, the first consisting of one 

1 Perhaps two examples of slang current in 1840-1860 may be of interest : 
teeth-drawing, the removal of door-knockers it was done by wrenching with 
heavy sticks ; and ritualistic knee, an actual complaint caused by Dr. Pusey's 
doctrine of momentary genuflections (as when passing the altar). 

2 Mr. F. Haynes, of the Harvey Laboratory, " St. Bart's/' to whom I owe 
the ensuing and hitherto unpublished remarks and vocabulary. 

3 Cl S.O.P., Surgical Out Patients (Department). 

4 Midway comes G.P., a general practitioner. 


word for two, the second of one word abridged or of two or more 
words all abridged. To the former belong angina (pectoris), with 
which relate Vincent's (angina) ; benign (tumour), seldom used, 
whereas malignant (tumour), i.e., cancer, is very general ; 
duodenal (ulcer) , the further shortening to duo being comparatively 
rare ; exploratory (laparotomy), which is " the surgical inspection 
of the abdominal contents " ; fevers, the specific infective fevers, 
such as scarlet fever, small-pox, measles, etc., and the study of 
these as a subject in Medicine ; German (measles) ; gastric 
(ulcer) ; mastoid, an operation to relieve the infected condition 
of the mastoid air cells, this being the most Burleighsque of all the 
abbreviations ; (urinary or rectal) passage ; local (anaesthetic) ; 
prolapse (of the rectum, when used of a male ; of the uterus, 
when a female ; should the female rectum be concerned, the full 
phrase prolapse of the rectum is always used) ; soft (chancre), 
seldom employed ; scarlet (fever) ; schedule, for " the schedule 
of drugs listed in the Dangerous Drugs Act " ; spinal 
(anaesthetic), i.e., one injected into the spinal canal. All of 
these, it will be noticed, are abbreviations of recognized * medical 
terms : it is a nice point, which no pundit has yet decided (indeed 
the subject has never been duly considered), whether that 
abbreviation which consists in the use of one word for two or 
more is, ipso facto, slang or jargon. I hold that if the words 
thus abbreviated are technical, the abbreviation is jargon, but 
that if the words abbreviated are non-technical, the resultant 
is slang. I need hardly add that, likewise, I hold the reduction 2 
of either a merely colloquial or of an indubitably slangy phrase 
to one complete word to be slang. 

The other kind of abbreviation, that in which a word of two 
or more syllables is shortened to a word of fewer syllables, or in 
which two or more words are so amputated, is, on the other 
hand and " beyond all shadow of doubt ", slang ; not jargon, even 
if the original word or words are technical or otherwise learned. 
Of the " plural " variety is med. lab., medical laboratory, but 
instances are few. Of the " singular ", however, instances abound. 
As abridgments of technical terms, one notices : amp for amputa- 
tion, never for amputate ; gynie, gynaecology, the science dealing 
with the diseases of women ; mike, a microscope ; op., operation, 
never to operate ; scope, the cystoscope, an instrument used for 
examining the bladder; staph, staphylococcus, one of the 
commonest types of bacteria, and strep, streptococcus, equally 
common and occurring along with the other ; and trachy, 
tracheotomy, the operation of making an incision, an opening 

1 Of the non-medical, one of the few examples is (wat&:-)pipe t the urethra. 

2 This class of abbreviation might well be termed Reduction, in contra- 
distinction to the abbreviation of one or more words to a lesser number of 
syllables (in each word). 


in the trachea or the windpipe. Of the abridgments of non- 
technical terms, examples are found in head, headache, and miss, 

Of the circumlocutions and euphemisms, affected much more 
by the patients than the doctors or the nurses or the attendants, 
but by no means unknown among the ministrants, a few of the 
more discreet may be mentioned : catch, to become pregnant, 
yet, curiously enough, for it is authentically vulgar, catch is 
considered euphemistic ; friends to stay, the menstrual period ; 
fanny? - the vulva ; parts, the " external genitalia, usually 
meaning those of the female"; pussy, always those of the 
female ; wreath of roses, a chancre ; pencil and tassel, a child's 
membrum virile ; twig and berries, the same plus the testicles ; 
doodle and rod* the adult membrum. More common to the patients 
than to the staff are also such non-euphemistic slang words as 
clap, gonorrhoea, and dose, a venereal infection (the verb being 
dose or give a dose to, or passively get a dose, be dosed by). 

There remains the most important group : that of those 
medical slang terms for the various persons, diseases, instruments, 
and other professional " contacts " which do not fall under the 
headings of initials, abbreviations, or patients* euphemisms. 
These are, in every way, the most significant and instructive, 
though not perhaps so droll as some of the patients' achievements 
in unconscious humour. 

Bleeder. " One suffering from haemophilia, a disease (never 
affecting women, but passed on by them to their male children) 
in which there is an unduly long clotting period of the blood, 
and consequently a liability to considerable bleeding from slight 
wounds. The last Tsarevitch suffered from the disease, his 
mother, the Tsarina, having introduced it into the family," 

Bugs. According to the context, bacteria or bacteriology. 

Dippy, Delirious. 

District, On the. "Each of the London teaching hospitals 
undertakes the care of the parturient poor in its own district. 
(The metropolis is divided into areas proper to the various 
hospitals.) A student engaged on his three or six months' course 
of such midwifery is said to be ' on the district '. Many stories 
could be told of the pathetic gratitude of the patients towards the 
students and the particular hospital." 

Dope. An anaesthetic ; to dope, to give an anaesthetic to. 

Drinks. Medicine. " At the four-hourly occasions for 

1 In America the behind. Fanny, parts, pussy, pencil, rod, etc., are all 
euphemisms of varying degrees of genteelness (employed to avoid the starkness 
and the obscenity of the usual, non-technical, and non-euphemistic "Saxon" 
terms) . Paris is a hyper-euphemism colloquial rather than slangy, and objection- 
able because it leads to distasteful innuendo. 

a Rod is paralleled in other languages ; the French verge is respectable, 
indeed almost " literary ". 


medicine in the wards of a hospital, the Sister in charge may 
frequently be heard to say, ' Now, Nurse, give the patients their 
drinks/ " 

Drugs. Pharmacology. 

Fix. To preserve (tissues), in e.g., formalin ; such preserva- 
tion is incidental and preparatory to the microscopical or other 
examination of those tissues. This term is rapidly becoming 
accepted as a respectable (medical) colloquialism and it will 
probably grow into a welcome part of Standard English. 

Gas. Nitrous oxide, colloquially known as laughing gas; 
used as an anaesthetic and productive of exhilaration. 

Grind. A tutorial class of medical students, who, for the 
sake of comic relief, are now and then asked point-blank questions. 

Gubbins. Refuse, such as soiled dressings. 

Jerks. Reflexes. "More properly and usually, musculo- 
tendinous reflexes. E.g., the knee-jerk/' 

Kids. Either the study of children's diseases or, if the context 
so indicates, the Children's Department of a hospital. 

Meat. " Tissues for microscopical examination/' 

Midder. Midwifery. (Influence of " the Oxford -er ".) 

Measles. Syphilis. (Ironically.) 

New Growth. A tumour. Almost invariably employed of a 
cancerous tumour. (This is not a euphemism doctors and 
senior medical students very very rarely degenerate into 
euphemism, except in speaking to the patients but a 
colloquialism, though at its inception it was undoubtedly slang. 
Any unnecessary neologism is apt to be slang unless it has extra- 
ordinary linguistic virtues,) 

Outs. Out-patient department. 

Pusser. Any wound, sinus, or boil that freely discharges pus. 

Round. 1 " A bedside dissertation and demonstration of cases 
in a ward by the senior physician or surgeon to students. 

" A Hot- Air Round is the same thing on a more fearsome scale, 
the* visitors usually being [not students but] qualified, sometimes 
very highly qualified, people, and the cases being those of obscure 
diagnosis or unusual occurrence. It is freely alleged by the 
irreverent that a good deal of ' waffle ' is talked on these occasions. 
By * waffle ' (English, not American pronunciation, please) is 
meant the art so persistently practised by politicians of talking 
imposingly without saying anything either of value or really 
pertinent to the case in point." A frequent synonym is shifting 
dullness, which is even more caustic. Shifting dullness, by the 
way, has a legitimate meaning : a dull sound that, elicited from 
the thorax by percussion, changes its position at successive 

1 Round is colloquial, though originally slang : Hot-air round, however, is 
slang and likely to remain, such. 


Sister Children's, Sister Theatre, etc. Not exactly slang, 
though their recipients probably and justifiably regarded them 
as slang when these terms were first used : the Sister in charge 
of the Children's Ward or Department, the Sister attached 
to .the Operating Theatre. "A sister is almost never addressed 
by her name, but by the name of her ward or particular charge/' 
Occasionally even Children's or Theatre is made to serve the purpose. 

Sigma,, sometimes though less frequently Sigma Phi, 
Syphilis. Sigma is properly and specifically a test used in the 
diagnosis of syphilis and, on a patient's certificate, the Greek letter 
sigma or the Greek letters sigma phi are written instead of the 
word syphilis : a euphemism that is prompted not by excessive 
modesty but out of consideration for the patient. 

Sparks. The X-ray department. (On a ship, sparks is of 
course the wireless-telegraphy operator.) 

Spurter. A blood-vessel, usually a small artery, severed in the 
course of a surgical operation, with the result that the blood 
spurts out. 

Stiff. A corpse, usually and then it is known as a cadaver 
for dissection. Carve a stiff, to dissect in the anatomy rooms ; 
carving a stiff is a frequently used verbal noun. 

String. A surgical ligature. 

Stuff. An anaesthetic. To do stuffs is to take a course in the 
administration of anaesthetics ; to give stuff is to anaesthetize at 
an operation. 

Surgeon's Bugbear. " Adipose tissue. So called because, 
when cut, it exhibits large numbers of small bleeding points, 
consequently bleeding is difficult to arrest. The primary object 
in surgery (apart from the actual purpose of the operation) is to 
cause as little loss of blood as possible, hence tLe term." 

" Sweetbread should mean the pancreas, but the butcher 
recognizes other organs as sweetbread. The neck sweetbread is 
the thymus of young animals, the stomach sweetbread is the 
pancreas, while the testicles of young animals are not infrequently 
sold in slices as sweetbread. There is no reason to suppose that 
they are not all equally nutritious." 

Teeth. The dental department of a hospital. 

Tripe. (Cf. meat.) Tissues taken at an operation or a post- 
mortem examination for microscopic examination. 

Tummy. A chronic though perhaps slight abdominal pain. 

Wash-Up. The act of meticulously scrubbing and sterilizing 
the hands before proceeding to operate on a patient. 

The students, it may be added, are often known as meds ; 
the physicians and surgeons as medicos, seldom meds. 

The medical life has been made the subject of a novel by 
Francis Brett Young: The Young Physician, 1919. Not till 
Book II, when Edwin begins his medical course, do we come 


on any words or phrases. There is not much of the " Now, what 
do you think of this small sciatic [nerve] for a tricky bit of 
dissection ? " type of conversation between the students, nor 
of this other kind from an experienced doctor to an advanced 
student : " Yes . . . you'd better incise it at once. I'm busy 
putting up a fracture. Straight down in the middle line. Don't 
be afraid of it." And Dr. Harris's method of prescribing is much 
more amusing than genuinely slangy. Nevertheless, in an easy, 
leisurely way, The Young Physician does help one to see medical 
slang and jargon in the broad : not as a glossary but as a slice of 
life : not academically but naturally : not with a cold impartiality 
but with a partisan interest. 

Since medical slang is so apt and so little known to the general 
public, it may be fitting to mention the slang names by which 
physicians, surgeons, and their " followers " the dispensing 
chemists and the undertakers are known. 

To go no further back than the eighteenth century we see 
that Grose has crocus or croakus, which suggests derivation from 
croak, to die. A variant was crocus metallorum, one of those 
curious Latin terms which, like hocus pocus and hi-cockalorum, 
are so pungently satirized by Fowler in Modern English Usage. 

Loblolly Soy. " A nickname for the surgeon's servant on 
board a man of war, sometimes for the surgeon himself : from 
the water-gniel prescribed to the sick, which is called loblolly." 
In the Merchant Service, one of the very few printable nineteenth 
century names for a steward. 

Pintle Smith or Pintle Tagger. A surgeon from Ajiglo-Saxon 
pintely the male member, whence the Yorkshire pintle-twister, 
a whore. 

Quack." 1 "An ungraduated ignorant pretender to skill in 
physic/' Short for quacksalver, one who, as Weekley tells us, 
sells his salves by his quacking, his noisy patter. 

Water-Scriger or Piss-Prophet. " A physician who judges of 
the diseases of his patients solely by the inspection of their 
urine/' The former phrase is equivalent to the good-English 
water-caster, which deteriorated to the sense of quack ; the 
latter dates from the early seventeenth century. 

Hotten, for a physician, gives pill (twentieth century prefers 
pills) and squirt, the latter presumably from the use of the enema ; 
for a surgeon, lint-scraper and sawbones, the latter occurring in 
The Pickwick Papers. Ware adds doc, which is very general, and 
physic-bottle. In Fraser and Gibbons we find the following terms, 
which apply to either physician or surgeon, for the battalion 
Medical Officer was expected to act as both : Castor-Oil Artist 
(or merchant, they might have added) ; the chemist ; the vet. 
Other Army terms, in 1914-18, were M.O., rather colloquial than 

1 See my essay in Literary Sessions, 1932. 


slang ; croaker, evidently a survival from croakus, which, as 
Grose tells us, was originally and principally military slang, and 
he, with his thirty years' experience on the permanent cadre 
of the militia, should know ; and number-nine king, 1 from the 
fact that the medical officer, when in doubt (which seemed to be 
more often than not), prescribed always a No. 9 pill, which acted 
as a mild cathartic. With these modern nicknames, compare 
those preferred by the American tramp and criminal : butcher, 
croaker, crocus, medical, med man, pill-pedlar, and pill-shooter. 

Apothecaries and undertakers also have received the benefit 
of picturesque naming. In the eighteenth century an apothecary 
was, for example, a clyster pipe (from clyster, an injection for 
costiveness) or a gallipot, and Grose has two sidelights on the 
attitude of this very useful person : " Double diligent, like 
the Devil's apothecary ; said of one affectedly diligent," and the 
entry at simples, which is rather too long to quote. Hotten has 
bolus, literally a big pill ; gallipot, with which compare gallipot 
baronet, an ennobled physician, but the snobbery reflected in 
this term has almost disappeared, and so, therefore, has the term ; 
and pill-driver, with which contrast the American pill-shooter, 
recorded in the preceding paragraph. It .is hard to resist 
mentioning that in Romany an apothecary is called drab-engro, 
a poison-man, i.e., -monger. 

Undertakers were in the eighteenth century (to judge from 
B.E., they were poorly ofi for nicknames in the preceding century) 
called carrion-hunters, or death-hunters, as well as cold cook, a 
term that, surviving till about 1900, is analogous to the soldiers' 
cynically courageous cold-meat ticket for an identity disk. 


The wig, the scalpel, the cloth : the three " liberal " pro- 
fessions. For this last, very early examples are recorded by 
Tyndale, who 2 in 1528 draws up a list of slang phrases based on 
ecclesiastical and similar terms. " When a thing speedeth not 
well, we borrow speech, and say, The bishop hath blessed it ... 
If the porridge be burned too, the meat over roasted, we say, 
the bishop hath put his foot into the pot, or the bishop hath 
played the cook, because the bishops burn whom they lust 
[list] ... He is a pontifical fellow, that is, proud and stately. 
He is popish, that is, superstitious and faithless." He continues 
with " It is a pastime for a prelate ", i.e., " a pleasure for a pope/' 
a proverbial saying that has long been obsolete, and with " he 

1 For fuller details concerning his characteristics, see John Brophy's Songs 
and Slang of the British Soldier. 

2 Obedience of a Christian Man, at i, p. 340, of Works of Tyndale and Fnth, 
ed. by T. Russell, 3 vols., 1831. (Greenough and Kittredge refer to this passage 
but do not quote it.) 


hath been at shrift ", of one who has been betrayed he knows 
not how. Then he quotes "He is the bishop's sisters son 
(with a variant for a woman), i.e., "he hath a cardinal to his 
uncle/' ie., in modern slang he has a big pull ; " she is a spiritual 
whore/' infirm of faith, analogous to go whonng after grange 
gods ' " he gave me a Kyrie eleyson" a scolding. And, 
Tyndale concludes with a sense of humour, " of her that answereth 
her husband six words for one, we say, She is a sister of the 
charter-house : as who would say, She thinketh that she is not 
bound to keep silence, their silence shall be satisfaction for her. 
And of him that will not be saved by Christ's merits, but by the 
works of his own imagination, we say that it is a holy workman/' 
with which compare a merely moral man. Coming to more 
modern times, we look to see if John Camden Hotten has any- 
thing notable on the subject. As usual, he has. " Religious 
Slang," he writes iii 1858, " exists with other descriptions of 
vulgar speech at the present day. Punch . . . [has] remarked 

< Slang has long since penetrated into the forum, and now we 

meet it in the Senate, and even the pulpit itself is no longer free 
from its intrusion.' There is no wish here, for one moment, 
to infer that the practice is general. On the contrary, and in 
justice to the clergy, it must be said that the principal 
disseminators of pure English throughout the country are the 
ministers of our Established Church. Yet it cannot be denied 
that a great deal of slang phraseology and expressive vulgarism 
have gradually crept into the very pulpits which should give 
forth as pure speech as doctrine . . . 

" Dean Conybeare, in his able ' Essay on Church Parties V 
in The Edinburgh Review, October, 1853, "has noticed this 
addition of slang to our pulpit speech. As stated in his Essay, 
the practice appears to confine itself mainly to the exaggerated 
forms of the High and [the] Low Church the Tractarians and 
the * Recordites '/' the latter from The Record, a newspaper 
that set forth the opinions of a large section of the Low or so-called 
Evangelical Church. "By way of illustration, the Dean cites 
the evening parties, or social meetings, common amongst the 
wealthier lay members of the Recordite churches, where the 
principal topics discussed one or more clergymen being present 
in a quasi-official manner are the merits and demerits of 
different preachers, the approaching restoration of the Jews, 
the date of the Millennium, the progress of the 'Tractarian 
heresy *, and the anticipated ' perversion ' of High Church 
neighbours. These subjects are canvassed in a dialect differing 
considerably from English, as the term is generally understood. 
The terms 1 'faithful', 'tainted', 'acceptable', 'decided', 

1 Many of these terms axe not slang, but jargon. Perversion, be owned, 
seals, dark, are, however, slang. 


' legal ', and many others, are used in a sense different from that 
given to any of them by the lexicographers. We hear that Mr. A. 
has been more ' owned ' than Mr. B. ; and that Mr. C. has 
more * seals ' than Mr. D/' A preacher is owned when he converts 
many persons, his converts being the seals, those on whom, 
presumably, he has imposed his seal or imprint. (" A pretty 
language, forsooth ! ") Hotten continues : " Again, the word 
' gracious ' is invested with a meaning as extreme as that attached 
by young ladies to nice/' which, by the way, is surely due for 
supersession, for it has laid its blight on English eloquence, 
expressiveness, and precision for well over a century and a half. 
" Thus/' Hotten elucidates, " we hear of a ' gracious sermon ', 
a ' gracious meeting ', a ' gracious child *, and even a ' gracious 
whipping '. The word ' dark ' has also a new and peculiar usage. 
It is applied to every person, book, or place not impregnated with 
Recordite principles. . . . The conclusion of one of these singular 
evening parties is generally marked by an ' exposition ' an 
unseasonable sermon of nearly an hour's duration, circumscribed 
by no text, and delivered from the table by one of the clerical 
visitors with a view to * improve the occasion *. This same term, 
' improve the occasion/ is of slang slangy, and is so mouthed by 
Stigginses and Chadbands, 1 and their followers, that it has 
become peculiarly objectionable to persons of broad views. . . . 
The old-fashioned High Church party ... is called the ' high 
and dry ' ; whilst the opposing division, known as the Low 
Church . . . receives the nickname of the ' low and slow '. 
These terms are, among persons learned in the distinctions, 
shortened, in ordinary conversation, to the * dry ' and the * slow '. 
The Broad Church, or moderate division, is often spoken of as 
the ' broad and shallow V 

Fifty years later, James Redding Ware, who was something 
of a dramatist as well as a brilliant collector of skng, recorded 
the following terms : Anglican inch, " description given by the 
ritualistic clergy/' whom university humorists called rits, " of 
the short square whisker which is so much affected by the Broad 
Church party." From 1870 on. 

Candle Shop. A Broad Church term for either a Roman 
Catholic chapel or, tit-for-tat, a ritualistic church ; " from the 
plenitude of lights/' says Ware with a nice appreciation of the 
clergy's love of rotund words* 

Dolly Worship. A Nonconformist phrase to describe the 
Roman Catholic religion ; from the use of statues, effigies, shrines, 
and calvaries. (I'm sorry that I have not discovered what a 
jovial priest's designation of an extreme Nonconformist chapd 
would be.) 

1 From Chadband, a sanctimonious humbug in Dickens's Bleak House ; 
Stiggins was a toping hypocrite in The Pickwick Papers. 


Extreme Rockite. One who takes The Rock, a clerical^ news- 
paper as gospel and proceeds to preach on this basis. This rock 
seems to have been based on sand, for it has disappeared. 

Holy Joe' 1 is the shallow, circular-crowned hat worn by 
clergymen, and it is clergymen who use the word. In the last 
quarter of the nineteenth century among laymen, it meant a 
pious person, especially if a man, and among sailors it has, since 
1860 or so, been used of a parson. 

Lie at the Pool of Bethesda. (Of theological candidates) to be 
waiting for a benefice. From the German, which uses this phrase 

Massites. A Low Church invention for (and gravely accepted 
by) those members of the Anglican Church who believe in 

Merely Moral Man. Ritualistic clerics' description of such 
men how many, the Churches have always failed to recognize- 
as, being upright and charitable, are wanting in professed Christian 
belief : these are theology's most dangerous enemies and religion's 
best friends. 

St. Allan's Clean Shave. Connoting the appearance of the 
ritualistic or high-church clergyman's face. 

Taits. "Moderate clergymen from their following in the 
footsteps of Dr. Tait, Archbishop of Canterbury, who sought, 
vainly, to assimilate all parties/' (Ware recalls that " when the 
great wrangle took place between the High Church party and the 
Low Church party, [the] phrase {no church], which at once took 
and has remained popular, was deftly discovered by Douglas 
Jerrold to represent the religious condition of the utterly outcast. 
The phrase was first published by the wit in a page of Punch ".) 

The Three B*$. Bright, brief, and brotherly. A protest against 
the soporific nature of so many church services. 

Warkus. A Church of England pleasantry at the expense of 
the Methodist chapels, usually very plain, often whitewashed. 
In short, one is forced to notice that the slang of the cloth is 
neither very witty nor very tolerant ; it compares ill with legal 
slang in wit or with Cockney slang in tolerance. 


In Queen Victoria's day politics was not a profession, to-day 
it far too often is not a profession, which surely ! it should be, 
but a trade. So that its general vocabulary, its jargon, and its 
slang are no longer so cultured, so considered, so literary, as 
once they were : instead of quoting the classics they quote the 
classes. In 1859 Hotten could say that Parliamentary slang 

1 Missed by Ware, but in place here. 


was " mainly composed of fashionable, literary, and learned 
slang. . . . Out of ' the house ', several slang terms are used in 
connexion with Parliament or members of Parliament ". He 
mentions Pam being Palmerston, Dizzy Disraeli. "A * plumper ' 
is a single vote at an election not a * split-ticket ' . . . A quiet 
' walk over ' is a re-election without opposition and much cost. 
A ' caucus ' meeting refers to the private assembling of politicians 
before an election, when candidates are chosen, and measures of 
action agreed upon. A * job ', in political phraseology, is a 
government office or contract obtained by secret influence or 
favouritism. ... A pseudo-politician whose strings of action 
are pulled by somebody else is often termed a ' quockerwodger V 
After a digression on broad-bottom, the eighteenth-century slang 
for nineteenth-century coalition and post-War National govern- 
ment, he mentions rat, " long . . . employed towards those 
turncoat politicians who change their party for interest." 

For the political period from Hotten's death in 1873 to the 
present day, we have two first-rate authorities :" Ware to 1909, 
Collinson from 1906 onwards. The overlapping is slight. From 
the former we will take only a selection, for he lists some ninety 

Apostles of Murder. Such political agitators as, from 1867, 
have included murder as a means to their ends. As a Cockney 
once remarked, " All very nice for the ends/' 

Blenheim Pippin, the. This well-known variety of pippins, a 
small apple, was applied to the " diminutive " Lord Randolph 

Cabbage Garden Patriots. Cowards. A reference to the none- 
too-valorous Smith O'Brien (fl. 1850). 

Commander of the Swiss Fleet. An impossibility that served 
caustically to satirize titles and positions existing only for the 
money they produce. 

Con. Constitutionals, as the Conservatives called themselves 
in 1883, Con was the Radicals' repartee for Rad. This year was 
famous also for Herbert Gladstone's considerable amount of united 
action, which the younger Conservatives hailed as a God-sent 
synonym for conspiracy. 

Disguised Public House. A workmen's political club. This 
rather " superior " designation was perpetrated in the House of 
Commons in 1886. 

Dish. " To overcome, to distance.** At the Second Reform 
Bill, 1867, the phrase dishing the Whigs was used and, certainly 
owing to the influence of but not coined by Disraeli, has become 
one of the famous slangisms of English history. Cf . the other two 
Beeton synonyms for to baffle, to overcome ; cook one's goose and 
settle one's hash. 1 

1 Thanks to WeeHey's Dictionary. 


Earmark. To allocate in advance to a certain (generally 
financial) purpose. ^ 

Earth-Hunger. " A greed to possess land. 

Forwards. Radicals. The Daily Telegraph of 2ist June, 
1898 (the term was coined in the previous year) : " Sir Charles 
Dilke leads a knot of Radical ' small forwards ' on questions of 
foreign affairs/' 

Gom. In 1883 this became a word, but its life was short 
in this form. Obviously from G.O.M., Grand Old Man, i.e., 
Mr. Gladstone. Has since 1900 been general slang, applied 
to all sorts of grand old men, and especially to W. G. Grace, 
the G.O.M. of cricket and the greatest all-rounder the game 
has known. G.O.M. was originated by witty Labouchere. 

Haggis Debate. One dealing with Scottish affairs. 

Heckling. As a political term dates from ^Gladstone's Mid- 
lothian campaign. From cock-fighting. Scottish. 

Jumboism was the Conservatives' tit-for-tat for Jingoism : it 
was, in 1882, applied to the hesitant policy of the Liberals. 

Left Centre. Applied by advanced to cautious Liberals ; 1885. 

Make All Right. By promising to pay for a vote. 

Meddle and Muddle. Originated in 1879 during the Gladstone- 
Disraeli struggle. Afterwards applied to a clumsy policy that 
harries people and hashes projects. 

Microbe of Sensationalism. Applied first to " the total break- 
up of the Liberal party in the 'go's, by the divided feeling upon 
most extreme points ". 

Mud-Hovel Argument. The term given, in 1879-1884, to the 
Tories' argument against the extension of political liberty in 

No. 1. A head-centre of conspiracy. From 1883, upon the 
collapse of the infelicitously named Brotherhood of Invincibles. 

Old Gang. Uncompromising, i.e., die-hard Tories, mostly old 
men. The term was at its height in 1870-1900, but it is by no 
means obsolete. 

Outs. The Opposition. Like Ins, it is obsolescent. 

Perplexed and Transient Phantom. Slang on stilts, this ! 
Applied to a " politician who fails and vanishes ". 

Ref. A reformer. Invented by the Tories. 

Rooster. An M.P. far from silent. 1860-1890. 

Shadow of a Shade, Not the. Morally and politically 
immaculate. Popularised by Lord Randolph Churchill, who, like 
another and later of that surname, coined several very striking 
phrases that are certainly not terminological inexactitudes. 

Squash Ballads. " Ballads prompting war and personal 
devotion." 1895-6. 

Taper. From red tape, this denotes a seeker after a profitable 
office. Invented by Disraeli (see Coningsby). 


Tiger, the. In 1895 this was the Hon. Joseph Chamberlain, 
just as in the twentieth century it was Clemenceau. 

Ugly Rush. A Bill forced quickly through to prevent 
inconvenient inquiries being made by the Opposition and the 

Watchers. Electioneering spies alert for bribery. 

Water Down. To minimize (esp. results). 

Whittling. " Niggling, and reducing things by fragments . . . 
for petty, wasteful action, as distinct from sheer evident work/' 

Yellow Journalism. In the last decade of the nineteenth and 
the first of the twentieth century, this expressive term was applied 
to extreme jingoistic views. 

The Yellow Press. An Americanism for sensationally jingoistic 
and chauvinistic views, is therefore very much the same thing. 

In Collinson's book, which contains a sort of running com- 
mentary on the politics of 1900-1926, we find mention of the 
following terms that may be considered as slang : 

Khaki Election. That which took place in Britain at the time 
of the Boer War. 

Birreligion. The import of BirrelFs educational Bill of 1906. 

Whole Hoggers. The " convinced followers of Chamberlain's 
full policy " (of Protectionism), in contrast with the little piggers, 
" who were prepared for a little Colonial Preference and supported 
Balfour." About 1906. 

Big Loaf and Little Loaf. Terms used by Liberal propagandists 
during the fiscal controversy. About 1906. 

Free Breakfast Table, i.e., Free of duties. About 1906, when 
the following two sayings became very popular in reference 
originally to the fiscal controversy and then in a very general 
manner, When father says turn, we all turn and Are we down- 
hearted ? No /, and when that very old political catchword, Jesse 
Collings' three acres and a cow " was frequently trotted out in 
this controversy ", Collinson adding that " in the election of 
1923 some of the old slogans reappeared, but they seemed to have 
lost their old vitality ". 

Deezer. The Deceased Wife's Sister Bill, 1907. 

Carpet-Baggers. Out-voters, those " resident outside a 
particular constituency ". A term borrowed " from the American 
Civil War, 1861-5, when the only property qualification possessed 
by the northern immigrants was contained in their carpet-bag ". 

Latch-Key Voter. " One living in a lodging. 1 ' Like the 
preceding and like the next three terms : originated in 1908. 

Qualify for the Pension. " To be getting on in years." Supplied 
by the Old Age Pensions Act. 

Ninepenceforfourpence and Be (or Go) on the Panel. To " place 
oneself under the care of a panel doctor ". Both due to the 
National Health Insurance scheme. 


Last Ditchers. " The Lords, who were prepared to fight for 
their right of veto to the bitter end." 1909. (" A term sti11 used 
for an irreconcilable just as during the War we had never-endians 
and since the War our die-hards or die-hard Conservatives. ') 

Bolt-Hole. The Channel Islands, because, like the hole to 
which a pursued rabbit scurries, the Islands have since the War 
become popular with people dependent on private incomes and 
therefore desirous of evading the high taxation obtaining in 


Ca' Canny Policy. By going slow, to restrict output. Post- 
War industrial. 

Go on the Dole. To receive unemployment benefit. At first 
slang, now colloquial, as is 

Poplar Finance. Maladministration of funds. Dates from 
1924, when the great relevant debate took place. 

Blue-Funk School. The Blue-Water School, those politicians 
who, before the War, advocated a strong navy. 

Wet Triangle. The North Sea. Likewise connected with the 
naval controversy. 

Go Red. To become Bolshevistic. Post-War. 

Never-Never Policy. The late Mr. Cook's famous, much-quoted, 
much-parodied, often-modified slogan, Not a penny off the pay, 
not a minute on the day. (The General Strike, May, 1926.) 

Black Coal, Seal Coal. " Coal imported from abroad, or dug 
by blacklegs during the stoppage/' (July, 1926.) 

To Axe. To cut down expenses, sometimes by dismissing 
employees, in the effort to economize. 

Ticket. (An Americanism). The list of candidates of a 
political party. Mainly post-War. 

Be on the Stump. "To go about the constituencies making 
public speeches." An old term that has almost lost its slanginess 
to become a widely accepted colloquialism. Whence tub-thumpers, 
now also more colloquial than slangy. 

Many of these terms are extant, while others keep cropping 
up whenever an old problem is reopened in parliamentary, news- 
paper, and general discussion. It is seldom that a particularly apt 
political term becomes obsolete, however long it may have 
become obsolescent. 


From the troublous sea of politics we turn to the sunnier life 
of public schools and universities. 

In public schools, as in board schools and in private, there 
have, for more than two centuries, been two kinds of slang : a 
slang proper and gibberish, the latter consisting in the addition 
of a hocus-pocus syllable either to the beginning or the end of 


every word or else at the end of every syllable in a dissyllabic, 
trisyllabic, or polysyllabic word. This latter, which is very 
" young ", need not be considered further at this point, for 
properly it belongs to the chapter on Oddities. 

The other kind of slang is almost impossible to generalize, for 
every school has its special words known to no other school. 
It is, however, true that there are a few terms common to all, 
or almost all, public and grammar schools in Britain, and some 
of these may be noted : Blue funk, brolly (now of the common 
stock of slang), bully (I doubt the American origin of this), crib, 
do a bunk (now common stock), grub (food), smoking (generally, 
blushing ; occasionally, causing to blush) ; swat (swot) and grind, 
as verbs for hard study, the former as a noun meaning either a 
period of such study or one who so studies, the latter as a noun, 
meaning, like swot, a long continuous application to work or a 
feverish temporary access of conscience driving one to one's 
books ; pi (pious : especially, given to pious " lectures "). 

Before quoting from Collinson's unified and therefore 
exceptionally valuable record of speech at Dulwich, I would like 
to draw attention to the following novels as giving some idea 
though a necessarily incomplete idea of the actual conversation 
of schoolboys : Tom Brown's School-Days (1857), the most 
reliable of all ; The Rev. H. C. Adams's Barford Bridge ; the 
stories of Ewdin. J. Brett, fl> 1880 ; Kipling's Stalky & Co., 
1899 I H. A. VachelTs The Hill (i.e., Harrow School), 1905 ; 
St. John Lucas's The First Round, 1909 ; Alec Waugh's The 
Loom of Youth, 1917 ; Hugh Walpole's Jeremy, 1919 ; and 
Heywood's Decent Fellows, 1930. And, notably, Phillpotts's The 
Human Boy, 1899. A few terms 1 ;- 

Bellenng Cake. " Cake in which the plums are so far apart 
that they have to beller (bellow) when they wish to converse/' 
Likewise, in general colloquial speech it is sometimes said of a 
" spotted dog " pudding that the cook must have stood a devilish 
long way off when he threw the currants at the dough. 

Bonse. Head, as in " Look out, or I'll fetch you a whack 
across the bonse ". Almost certainly the same as the Hampshire, 
Dorset, Somerset bonce, a large marble. 

Book. To pelt with books. Often as a verbal noun : booking. 

Bung.' A He. Perhaps ex bungle. 

Course-Keeper. A school bully's deputy for the infliction of 
duties upon the already overworked fags at Winchester, where 
the excessive fagging was tremendously lessened at the beginning 
of the present century and where the ziph 2 gibberish so mordantly 
attacked by Hotten died out before the War. 

1 Drawn from Passing English. 

2 See the next chapter, and esp, H. C. Adams's Wykehamica, 1878, and 
R. B. Mansfield's School Life at Winchester College, 1870. 


Dame. An Eton term for " a master who confines his attention 
to mathematics ". . 

Dry-Bob, Wet-Bob. Also Eton terms, Jo6 being a boy, the 

a cricketer, the w2 an oarsman. 

wiw. A Westminster word for a " struggle, contention, or 
scramble of any kind, short of actual fighting ". ^ 

littfc Beg. " Abbreviation of little beggar friendly term 
applied by upper form to lower form boys." 

Mucking. Westminster for idling or hanging about. Cognate 
with the Cockney muck about, to potter, to be futilely inactive. 

Real Razor Another Westminster description : a defiant or 
a quarrelsome scholar. Cf. the Westminster ski for a street 


Sat. Or in full satellite : a fag. 

Ski " A street Arab, a road boy/' says Ware ; present 
Westminster use is in the sense of a crowd, e.g., at a football 
match where many " roadboys " certainly do gather. From 
the Volsci, the ancient Latin people inimical to the Romans 
i.e., Westminster. 

Snubber. A reprimand. Snub plus the Oxford -er. 

Togies. " Knotted ropes' ends carried about hidden by elder 
boys to beat their fags with " : a relic of the good old days. 
(Fags, as Ware tells us, were once called colts, but this was never 
a very general term. Compare, however, colts used for cricketers 
under the age of twenty-one.) 

Up Fields, Up School. Westminsterese for Vincent Square 
and the Upper School respectively. Westminster has since the 
i88o's had the most highly developed and remarkable of all 
the public-school slangs. 

What's the Mat ? What is the matter. Hardly survived the 


Wrux. A rotter or a humbug. Chiefly in the '70*3. A very 
obscure word, this : perhaps connected with the Warwickshire 
wrox, to begin to decay- the Midlands rox. 

In his Contemporary English, Collinson has an excellent 
account of the " Slanguage " in 1899-1901 at Dulwich College 
Preparatory School (the Prep) and then at Dulwich College 
proper. Concerning the former, " I can call to mind the wholesale 
spread of ... khaki, maffick, trek, kopje . . . veldt, uitlanders, 
kraals, sjamboks and concentration camps/' of which only the 
second was slang. He also recalls wipe off the slate, squirts (little 
water-pistols), and Kruger's ticklers or tiddlers (small feathery 
brushes, to be thrust into a passer's face) : these four Boer-War 
terms were definitely slang. Non-military were the schoolboy's 
quis ? (who wants ?) with the answer ego. There too he learnt 
Pax ! (truce !) and cave I (look out !), as well as the strange tolly, 
to cane, which I conjecture to derive from the Latin totter e* 


At Dulwich College, 1901-7, he learnt much school (and 
other) slang. " Among the tendencies in the speech of all school- 
boys," he writes, " the most prominent is the desire for dramatic 
emphasis. They seem to feel an imperative necessity to avoid 
everyday vocables like * throw, put, bit, run ', etc., and to 
substitute for them a number of ill-differentiated synonyms. 
At Dulwich as elsewhere we never threw, but chucked, 
bunged, or heaved things, we plunked * things down, we shoved 
down notes or we shoved up lists . . ., we found splarm more 
satisfying than ' smear ', we swatted if we did never so little work, 
we bashed, biffed and whanged things instead of merely hitting 
them ; if we had to run we hared or bunked for all we were worth, 
our talking was jawing and gassing, and things didn't smell but 
ponged, niffed or hummed. Most of these verbs had a 
corresponding substantive/' e.g., an awful pong or hum, a pi yaw 
(a moral talk), give a biff, to have a boss (look) at. " All these 
words are apt to re-emerge in the adult speech of my generation 2 
on occasion, but not so excessively as with the schoolboy." 
Collinson then deals with what has struck all semasiologists or, 
preferably, semantists, the rich synonymy clustering round the 
idea of motion, and he groups the following words all heard by 
him at Dulwich College and all occurring in Wodehouse's novels 
(esp. Psmith in the City, Jeeves, and Ukridge) : trickle, e.g., round 
to the post office, drift across to the tea-shop, biff round, roll 
(along), breeze along or off, toddle (off), and stagger (along), to which 
he adds to buzz, filter, scoot, scuttle, skid. 

For admiration, ripping was in 1900 the favourite adjective, 
but at school he heard topping. Pejoratively, rotten 3 (whence 
a rotter] led to putrid and, much less frequently, putrescent ; the 
limit, popular in 1906 and not yet obsolescent, came to be rivalled 
by the outer edge and by the phrase that puts the lid on (among 
soldiers in 1916-18, the tin-hat on). (C Otherwise we showed our 
admiration by words like spiffing, corking, scrumptious or 
scrummy, grand, or by the substantives a ripper, topper, stunner 
or corker, while personal qualities elicited a sport, a good sport, 
sporting, a brick, all of which are still going strong/' About 
1904 popularity came to hot stuff and hot in many senses : a hot 
story or girl implied moral blame (or sensual appreciation), as 
did he's or especially she's hot stuff, but a hot player, be hot stuff at, 
hot stuff! "frequently marked superlative excellence a truly 
strange instance of a ' vox media ' 1 " Among " the jocular forms 
of address " he mentions old with buck, chap, horse, sport, top, 

1 Post-War slang prefers plonked, to plonk being, I surmise, influenced by the 
plonk of a shell. 

2 " The War generation," i.e., persons who on the outbreak of the War were 
anything from 15 to 50. 

* CL filthy (e.g., day), measly (mean). 


to be reinforced (the first and the last to be largely replaced) 
during the War by old bean (now obsolescent) and old thing. 

For " good-bye ", the boys at Dnlwich already in 1906 used 
so long, pip-pip s toodle-oo, and olive oil (au revoir) : the War 
brought good-bye-ee and chin-chin. 

Collinson finally treats of such terms as were connected with 
" the school and its functions ", many being " common to most 
schools ". There were the abbreviations coll for college, pre for 
prefect, butt for buttery (" a sort of coUege tuck-shop "), pav 
for pavilion, and Math, not Maths, and a number of other words, 
e.g., bumming, a caning ; day- and boarder-bugs, day-boys and 
boarders ; and bindles, downright howlers. Professor Collinson's 
nine pages on the two Dulwiches constitute much the best compact 
record of any public school's slang and is actually more helpful 
and significant than the very few school glossaries that have 

When boys leave school and go to a university, they tend to 
drop the old school slang and to mould themselves to the slang 
of the university. In the following brief account of university 
slang, stress is laid upon that of Oxford and Cambridge for two 
reasons : these two universities possess a larger, more corporate, 
and much older body of slang than any other whatsoever ; and 
it is difficult to select and systematize that of the other universities. 
Oxford and Cambridge, however, do not present that feature 
which is so marked in the German universities, which in their 
slang have many terms dependent upon caste and upon rites of 
initiation. 1 

University slang, like that of the public schools, is and for 
centuries has been influential. "In all languages/' remarks 
McKnight, " an important source of slang has been the language 
of students. From the days of the wandering students of the 
Middle Ages to the present, the authority-defying spirit of student 
life has expressed itself in an outlaw form of speech. From the 
language of English schools and universities have come into 
standard English such words as/ag, snob, funk, mob, cad, tandem, 
chum, and crony." 

Hotten 2 is more leisurely but equally informative. 

" The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge/' he writes in 
1859, " and the great public schools, are the hotbeds of fashionable 
slang. Growing boys and high-spirited young fellows detest 
restraint of all kinds, and prefer making a dash at life in a slang 
phraseology of their own to all the set forms and syntactical 

1 See esp. Niceforo, op. cit., the chapter (pp. 52-60) entitled " Le Langage 
special de caste et d'initiation ". 

2 On twentieth-century university slang I can " check up on " others, for 
in 1921-7 I was successively a research student at Oxford, an assistant lecturer 
at Manchester, a lecturer at London. Nevertheless : " O my Hotten. what would 
I do without thee ? " 


rules of Alma Mater. Many of the most expressive words in a 
common chit-chat, or free-and-easy conversation, are old 
university vulgarisms (i.e., slang and colloquial terms). ' Cut/ 
in the sense of dropping an acquaintance, was originally a 
Cambridge form of speech ; and ' hoax ', to deceive or ridicule, 
we are informed by Grose, 1 was many years since an Oxford 
term. Among the words that fast society has borrowed from our 
great scholastic . . . institutions, is found ' crib ', a house or 
apartments ; ' dead men ', empty wine bottles ; . . . ' fizzing ', 
first-rate, or splendid ; ' governor ', or * relieving-officer ', the 
general term for a male parent ; ' plucked ', defeated or turned 
back [at an examination], now altered to * ploughed ' ; * quiz ', 
to scrutinize, or a prying old fellow ; and ' row ', a noisy 
disturbance/' After this glance at university slang become 
general, Hotten writes thus : " The slang words in use at Oxford 
and Cambridge would alone fill a volume. 2 As examples let us 
take * scout ', which at Oxford refers to an undergraduate's valet 
[college servant is the official term], whilst the same menial at 
Cambridge is termed a ' gyp ', popularly 3 derived by the 
Cantabs from the Greek, yv$, a vulture ; * skull/ the head, or 
master, of a college ; ' battles/ [properly battels], the Oxford 
term for rations [!] changed at Cambridge into * commons ' . . . . 

* Japan ' ... is to ordain ; ' sim/ a student of a Methodistical 
turn ; sloggers, at Cambridge, refers to the second division of 
race-boats (the first being the eights), known at Oxford as 

* torpids * ; * sport ' is to show or exhibit ; ' trotter * is the 
jocose term for a tailor's man who goes round for orders ; and 
' tufts ' [now abolished] are privileged students who dine with 
the ' dons ', and are distinguished by golden tufts, or tassels, in 
their caps. Hence we get the world-wide slang term 'tuft- 
hunter ', one whose pride it is to be acquainted with scions of the 
nobility . . . There are/' he concludes, " many terms in use at 
Oxford not known at Cambridge ; and such slang names 4 as 
' coach ', ' gulf ', * hany-soph ', ' poker *, or * post-mortem *, 
common enough at Cambridge, are seldom or never heard at the 
great sister University/' Cambridge has the advantage of a 
glossary published in 1803, the Gradus ad Cantabrigiam, but this 
is not to say that she had then or now has a more extensive 
slang vocabulary: if anything, Oxford has in the twentieth 
century, and perhaps had in the late nineteenth, the richer store. 

1 Actually Grose says ; " university wit." 

2 It would be a rather small volume. 

3 Perhaps, says Weekley, from obsolete gippo, a varlet, from the older jippo, 
a short jacket, cf. the transferred sense of buttons and boots (in an hotel). 

4 Of these, coach is the Oxford tutor (which term at Cambridge means rather 
a general supervisor, something like the Oxford moral tutor) ; post-mortem, the 
examination of a candidate after he has failed ; gulf, the ten or fifteen last names 
on exam.-passes list (at Oxford it used to mean a man going for honours but 
getting only a pass) ; harry soph, a courtesy Bachelor of Law, 


Where Oxford scores is in the formations in -er, Ware's 
comment on which is the best I have seen : " Suffix applied in 
every conceivable way to every sort of word. Began early in the 
Queen *s reign and has never lapsed. A new word in ' er ' is 
generally started by some quite distinguished Oxonian generally 
a boating man, sometimes a debater." Ware quotes from The 
Daily Telegraph of I4th August, 1899 : " There has been a 
furore at Oxford in recent years for word-coining of this character, 
and some surprising effects have been achieved. A freshman 
became a ' fresher ' in the early Victorian period, and promises 
to remain so for all time and existence/' Cambridge, as we have 
seen, had sloggers at least as early as 1859, *^ e introduction- 
reference and the dictionary-entry ("i.e., slow-goers") in Hotten 
constituting, apparently, the earliest record, but the phrase 
" trial or * slogger ' races " occurs * in a book published in 1852, 
and Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, sixty years later, alluded to 
godders and langers 2 -the songs more usually known .as God 
Save the King (often in general slang abbreviated to God Save, 
with plural God Saves) and Auld Lang Syne being mentioned 
by a Cambridge undergrad with all the air of joyous invention : 
if I remember rightly, however, he did not make it invincibly 
dear that it was a Cambridge student, nor, I think, did he preclude 
the likelihood of Oxonian influence. Fresher, however, is recorded 
only from 1882 ; no, the Oxford priority rests not there, but in 
banner, a bonfire. The O.E.D. does not give banner, but it does 
give bannering, burning for heresy, in several early seventeenth 
century examples, the word deriving from Bonner, that bishop 
" who certainly lit up many bonfires Smithfidd way ". I believe 
that the practice was originated in Oxford, and that it has 
certainly been infinitely more common there than at Cambridge 
may perhaps be considered proven from the fact that Ware, in 
listing some thirty-seven Oxford terms, has twenty in -er, and in 
listing six Cambridge terms he gives none in -er. Sometimes -er 
is pluralized, as in Joggers, Jesus College, and divvers, originally 
diviners (the examination in, also the reading for that examination 
in) Divinity ; collek(k)ers, originally colleggers (the g's being hard 
as in gets), is not a case in point, nor is rudders, for the former 
denotes what are jargonesquely known as academical collections, 
" a ceremony " as Ware quotes from The Daily Telegraph of 
I4th August, 1899" at which the whole host of Dons, sitting 

1 It is on occasions like these that one glows with gratitude towards that 
ever-enduring monument, the Oxford English Dictionary, to which, just as we 
call the English Dialect Dictionary the E.D.D., we refer affectionately as the 

s A cunous darkening of counsel is afforded by bedder, at Oxford a bed- 
room (general slang, on the Oxford model, has bed-sitter, a bed-sitting-room), 
at Cambridge a bed-maker : but the -er denoting an agent has nothing to do 
with the Oxford " euphonic " -er. Whence a rebuttal of slogger(s), which is 
either slew-goers or $log-(g}er$ t those who " slog ", toil along. 


in solemn boredom, frankly say what they think of you/' and the 
latter stands for a some-thirty-years-abolished examination 
officially known as Rudiments of Faith and Religion. While the 
remaining words in -er listed by Ware may be left for a later 
paragraph, we may here note, from many, four words that have 
come into general Oxford use since his dictionary was published : 
Bodder, the Bodleian Library, Radder, the Radcliffe Camera (the 
modern adjunct and general reading-room of the Bodleian), 
Giler, St. Giles, and congr alters, congratulations. Further, too, 
must be noticed the tendency * of Oxford students to refer to 
their professors, lecturers, and tutors in -er. And lastly the Oxford 
use of the, as in the Broad, Broad Street, the High, High Street, 
the Cher, the Cherwell River, and the Corn, Cornmarket Street : 
this the is often added to an -er formation, as in the Giler, the Bodder, 
the Radder. A very personal turn is given by the in the nick- 
names bestowed on professors and others in authority : to the 
surname is added the, especially if that surname represents also a 
prominent office or rank, such as knight or pope. 

If we look at Ware, we find the following Cambridge terms : 
ancient mariners, those "graduates still associated with the 
University who continue to row ", a phrase that for all its wittiness 
it puns certain characteristics of the Ancient Mariner of 
Coleridge's masterpiece has become obsolescent ; the Backs, 
once slangy, then colloquial, now Standard English, for the 
rearward portions of several of the larger colleges, especially 
Trinity and St. John's, as seen from the opposite bank of the 
Cam, with the backs of the buildings are included the Cam-ward 
gardens and meadows ; Pig Bridge, " the beautiful Venetian-like 
bridge over the Cam, where it passes St. John's College, and 
connecting its quads. Thus called because the Johnians are," 
by their neighbours of Trinity, " styled pigs " ; tandem, which, 
from 1870 on, meant long, chiefly in reference to a tall person, 
and which in eighteenth-century slang signified " a two-wheeled 
chaise, buggy, or noddy, drawn by two horses, one before the 
other ; that is, at length " (Grose), a sense that, becoming good 
English about 1830, occurred to students because of the frequency 
with which this word monotonized the pages of their Latin texts ; 
Tripos pups, Cambridge undergraduates, properly those studying 
for some Tripos or other. (Tripos, like wrangler, is peculiar to 
Cambridge : the latter designates a First-Class honoursman in 
Mathematics, the former an honours examination ; the word 
tripos is Latin made to look like Greek ; " at Cambridge originally 
a B.A. who, seated on a tripod, conducted a satirical dispute . . . 
with candidates for degrees ; corresponding to the Oxford terra 
films:' Weekley.) 

1 E.g., Spenner, a modified -er treatment of the name of a noted authority 
on Elizabethan drama. 


There axe certain terms that belong, or once belonged, equally 
to both Cambridge and Oxford or that, if rather more frequently 
heard in the University of their origin, are yet well-known in the 
other : logically (" who cares a fig for logic ? " is a query that 
often comes from intuitive women) these common-stock words 
and phrases should be considered before we pass on to Oxford : 

Bitch the Pot. To pour out the tea. This ungallant but 
expressive phrase became obsolescent about 1850, says Ware ; 
to bitch tea, however, seems to have endured almost till the War 
and appears in Charles Whibley's Cap and Gown, 1889. In 
Grose, the phrase is to stand bitch. 

Bloke. An outsider ; " a mere book-grubber " without either 
social or athletic distinction. Ware quotes what he has apparently 
overheard an undergraduate say : " Balliol mere blokes. But 
they carry off everything/' 

Bug-Shooter. A Volunteer, a member of what is now called 
a Cadet Corps; 

Common-Roomed, to Be. To be cited before the head of the 

Dam. Short for damage. 

Discommons. To send to Coventry ; more often to boycott 
(a tradesman). 

Ganymede. An undergraduate, esp. if a freshman, " of an 
effeminate tendency " as Ware so charmingly phrases it. 

Go Up to. Go Down from. To proceed to, to leave, Oxford or 
Cambridge. Now colloquialisms knocking at the gates of sanctity. 

Hubris. A polished and distinguished insolence. More 
affected by the dons than by the donned. 

Kibe? To whose profit? Abbreviating cui bono. 

Not or Without a Feather to Fly With. If a student were 
badly plucked, it was without a feather to fly with. When plucked 
made way for ploughed, the term gradually dropped out of 
university use ; nevertheless it became a general colloquialism 
and is not yet obsolete. 

Pipe-Opener. The " first spurt in rowing practice ", pipe 
being a lung. 

Port-Wine Don. One who likes his wine and gets it. 

Rit. A ritualistic cleric. The term passed into ecclesiastical 
slang and then into general slang. 

Sat. Satisfaction. Hardly survived the '6o's ; possibly 
influenced by Latin satis, enough, occasionally abbreviated to sat. 

Screwed Up. " To be vanquished. The term takes its rise 
from the ancient habit of screwing up an offender's door, generally 
a don's. The action was only complete by breaking off the heads 
of the very thin screws." With this should be compared sport 
one's oak, to bolt one's door to show that one is reading hard. 
In Grose the phrase is to sport timber : " to keep one's outside 


door shut : this term is used in the inns of court to signify 
denying oneself." 

Tea-Pot. A tea party. Dates from about 1880, when " the 
more earnest life at the universities then commencing took as one 
shape that of temperance ". Contrasted with 

Wine. A wine party. Cf. the phrase to wine and dine (a 

Of the Oxford terms, let us take first those in -er which Ware 
lists and which have not yet been mentioned : 

Brekker. " Breakfast & great find in the ' -er ' dialect, but 
probably in origin dating from the nursery." 

Canader. A Canadian canoe. Canoe itself became canoer. 

Deaner. The Dean. " The dean of a college is the s deaner * 
or the ' dagger *, while even this is reduced by some to ' the dag Y* 
The Daily Telegraph in its " gold-mine of an article " in the 
issue of I4th August, 1899. This throws light on a hitherto 
mysterious Australian slang word, dag, an odd character or a 
" K-nut ". 

Degrugger and Testugger. " When you passed an examina- 
tion you obtained a testamur or certificate, which was labelled 
a * testugger J , and thanks to it you could proceed to take 
a ' degrugger ', which is Oxford for a degree," The Daily 
Telegraph, loc. cit. 

Eccer. Exercise. Witness once more The Telegraph, 
" Every man after lunch devotes himself to ' eccer * ... This 
may take the shape of * footer ', or a mild constitutional known 
as a ' constituter * . . /* Both c's hard as also in 

Leccer. A lecture. 

Memugger. Memorial, only in M aggers' Memugger, that very 
high piece of " sculpture " which it is considered the acme of wit 
to adorn with all sorts of quaint articles, especially its peak (a very 
difficult feat) with a chamber-pot. 

Padder. Paddington station. 

Quaggers. The Queen's College. The singular may be used 
for a Queen's man, also called a goosey. Ware ingeniously and 
perhaps correctly conjectures this semantic ascent : goose, duck, 
quack, quagger. 

Rugger. Football, played to Rugby rules, soccer being Associa- 
tion football. These two terms, for twenty years or so, have been 
very widely used outside of Oxford. 

Tosher. One who is unattached, i.e. non-collegiate. Often 
found with fresher, f. and tosher being a " combined term of con- 
tempt ". Unheard since the War. 

Ugger, The. The Union. The Daily Telegraph, loc. cit., in 
referring to the er slang : " Marvels have been done with the 
most unpromising material. For example, one would have thought 
that * the Union ' defied corruption. But not so. Some ingenious 


wit had an inspiration "prompted, no doubt by degrugger, 
memugger, and testugger" and called it ' The Ugger ', and his 
friends bowed low before him." 

" Quite enough of that ! " some will murmur ; if indeed they 
content themselves with murmuring. Certain other Oxford 
terms, these not in ~er, are equally if not more important. 

Academic Nudity. " Appearance in public without cap or 


Buz. A senior-common-room term, chiefly. " It's your 
buz " means It's your turn to fill your glass. Perhaps a corruption 
of bouse, booze, a drink or to drink. 

Cad-Mad. Supercilious and vainglorious. 

Cambridge Lot. Undergraduates at Cambridge. 

Establish a funk. To create panic. " Invented by a^ great 
bowler," who, says Ware, enlivened the game of cricket " with 
some cannon-ball bowling which, was equivalent amongst the 
enemy to going into action ". 

Exceedings. Expenditure beyond one's means. 

Fair Herd. A " good attendance of strangers ". 

Fight Space with a Hair-Pin. To attempt the impossible. 

Go on the Mger. To sign the sick-list, the " aegrotat " as it 
is sometimes called. 

Motor. A "crammer" tutoring one for exams. Simply 
modem motor for old-fashioned coach, the term did not last very 

Phil and Jim. The Church of St. Philip and St. James, from 
1890 on. Compare the half-century-old usage, Barney's, St. 

Red Tie. A vulgar person ; vulgarity. 1876 and for a year 
or so. 

St. Pder j s the Beast. St. Peter-le-Bailey, to rhyme with St. 
Peter's in the East. 1890 onwards. Cf. the rather older 
St. Old's for St. Aldate's, and the facetiousness of Hell Passage 
for St. Helen's Passage, Cat Street for St. Catherine's Street. 

Swig Day. St. David's Day, as celebrated at that notably 
Welsh college, Jesus College. From " a drink called swig, com- 
posed of spiced ale, wine, toast, etc ", which is " dispensed out 
of an immense silver-gilt bowl holding ten gallons, and served by a 
ladle of half-pint capacity presented to the college in 1732 by 
the then Sir Watkin Williams Wynn ". 

Tie up Your Stocking. Finish your glass, esp. of champagne. 
Equivalent to " No heel-taps ". 

There are several post- War terms that one would like to list 
and define, but there is honour amongst undergrads even one- 
time undergrads. ..." and the rest is silence ". Professor 
Collinson, however, reminds me of certain post- Ware, or War 
and post-War, terms that have not only had considerable 


popularity, and in many cases almost exclusive usage, at Oxford 
and Cambridge but, in some instances, filtered into the normal 
slang vocabulary of the educated world in general ; this diffusion 
of slang, and other, terms from the great sister Universities at 
the expense of those from London and the " provincial " 
Universities is almost as marked, effective, and general now as 
it was at the beginning of the century : a fact due less to the 
prestige of the older institutions than to the greater merit, the 
better health, and the more enduring viability of Oxfordisms and 

For instance : smalls (Responsions), mods (Moderations), and 
greats (Finals in Literae Humaniores ; as London and the provincial 
universities, as well as the Colonial universities, prefer, the 
Classics), for examinations at Oxford, and, for those at Cambridge, 
little-go (Previous examination) and the Trip (Tripos). In other 
universities, it may be remarked, matric (Matriculation) and inter 
(Intermediate Examination) are very widely used. Other 
Oxford and Cambridge terms, more general in the former than in 
the latter university, are prog, a proctor, butters or bull-dogs, the 
proctor's henchmen, and hall for a dinner in Hall. 

Butters l may, in twentieth century Oxford, be paralleled by 
rollers, the roll-call, toggers, the Torpids, and Pragger Wagger, 
the Prince of Wales' s nickname among his friends when he was 
at Oxford, as well as the less generally known Pemmer*, Pem- 
broke College, and Adders, Addison's Walk. Speaking of colleges, 
some further names, these not in -er, may fittingly be mentioned : 
Wuggins, Worcester College, Teddy Hall, St. Edmund Hall, and 
Univ, University College. 

" Oxford," the Professor concludes, " has left its mark on 
the younger Universities in regard to the slang-forms adopted, 
and it must be confessed that some of the words, which seem' 
appropriate in the older setting, do not fit in well with the newer. 
... It is to be hoped that, as the newer Universities develop, 
they will themselves become originators rather than remain 
imitators." He approvingly cites the Hunnery, the Liverpool 
students' War-time name for the Department of German. 

Perhaps some readers will prefer to find out University slang 
for themselves from the pages of fiction. Here are a few books 
all except Huxley's are novds--that have dealt, arrestingly in 
some way or other, with university life : Dean Farrar's Julian 
Home, 1859 ; Thomas Hughes's Tom Brown at Oxford, 1861 ; 
Max Beerbohm's Zuleika Dobson, 1911 ; Hugh Walpole's Prelude 
to Adventure, 1912 ; Compton Mackenzie's Sinister Street, 

1 I make no apology for separating these more modern -er forms from the 
earlier ones in Ware, for none of Ware's, so far as I know, was coined later 
than 1900. 2 The usual form is Pemmy. 


1913-14 ; and several stories by Aldcms Huxley, 1920 and after. 
Of these,' Farrar's and Walpole's deal with Cambridge, the others 
with Oxford. The cleverest of them all is Max Beerbohm's, the 
truest (to that part of Oxford university life with which it deals) 
is Mackenzie's, and the most chamiing Walpole's. For those who 
want a post-War novel, Shamus Frazer's Acorned Hog, 1933, 
will serve. 


The transition from University to Society l is as linguistically 
apt as it is actually natural, for although a university education 
constitutes neither a passport to good society nor a guarantee of 
genuine culture it goes some distance in both directions. 

" For many persons," write Greenough and Kittredge, " the 
centre of the universe is ' society '. . Now ' society ' is ever in 
search of novelty, and it is a limited body of well-to-do women 
and men of leisure. From the almost exclusive association of 
these persons with [one another], there arises a kind of special 
vocabulary, which is constantly changing with the changing 
fashions, yet maintains a measure of consistency, despite its 
unstable character. The society jargon is disseminated like the 
technical language of the philosopher or the man of science, by 
the same means and with even greater rapidity. Most of the 
words soon disappear, but a considerable number of them make 
good their place in ordinary speech." 

On that passage, only one comment is necessary. There is 
much jargon, but there is also much slang, in the colloquial 
speech of Society : and the two authors have, under one heading, 
included the two very different though sometimes neighbourly 
varieties of conversational English. It is the procedure, the 
forms, the not so angelic " hierarchy " of Society which makes 
up almost the whole of its jargon, whereas the entire universe is 
the sport and plaything of the slang, properly so called, of Society. 
But, then, all jargon whatsoever consists of words and phrases 
concerning, or affected to the observance of, the letter of a 
profession, a trade, a social class, while slang is concerned with 
the spirit of the universe, the world, liffe, and in that general, 
usually subconscious preoccupation, it also hovers, joyously or 
jauntily or jaundicedly, over the objects and the practices of the 
slangster's own calling, with this difference : jargon treats with 
solemnity and respect the avocation it serves, but slang, even 
where as seldom it retains respect towards it, treats that 
avocation with the detached amusement that, viewed from afar, 
every human activity seems to invite. In Society and in all 
dose corporations, groups, and sections of society, jargon tends 
to develop in proportion to the degree of its own exclusiveness, 

1 The capital 5 serves a useful purpose. 


to its own place in the world's esteem, and to the difficulty 
experienced in learning it or perhaps rather to its leamedness 
(not that erudition affects Society ! It does, however, affect 
science, the law, the church, medicine, and so forth) : but slang 
really thrives only where this exclusiveness is tonic, not 
constrictive, and where, as among Cockneys and in the Army, 
the users are very numerous. The more, as in Society, jargon 
thrives, the more, that is, the letter prevails, the less does 
slang prosper. Society, however, is finding linguistic salvation 
in its gradual dissolution as a corporate body. Since the War, 
Society has become less walled-in, less snobbish, less clannish, 
with the result that its speech is being fertilized more and more 
with technical terms and, more importantly, with colloquial 
and slangy terms from the world of commerce and manual work, 
from journalism, art, and the theatre, and, in short, from life as 
it is lived, not life as it is permitted by a comfortable income, not 
life in which attention need be paid only to one's social equals. 
That this force of simultaneous disintegration and enrichment 
was at work in Society and on its slang in Edwardian and early 
Georgian days will be seen from a later paragraph, in which a 
number of words are listed by Ware. 

Of Society slang, viewed historically, it is, however, correct 
to say with Sainean x : L' argot des salons et des boulevards, tout en 
empruntant sa substance 2 au bos langage, renferme un grand 
nombre de creations artificielles et de vocables ephemeres. Chaque 
epoque y est representee par des termes bizarres ou empreints 
d'exageration. In 1901 Chesterton, with only his permitted 
admixture of hyperbole, could say that " nothing is more startling 
than the contrast between the heavy, formal, lifeless slang of the 
man-about-town and the light, living and flexible slang of the 
coster . . . The fashionable slang is hardly even a language 3 ; 
it is like the formless cries of animals, dimly indicating certain 
broad, well-understood states of mind. ' Bored/ * cut up/ 
* jolly/ ' rotten/ and so on, are like the words of some tribe of 
savages whose vocabulary has only twenty of them/' Chesterton's 
essay might have been read by Sainean, who, almost twenty 
years later : C'est au peuple, et non pas aux snobs, qu'on est 
redevable des acquisitions linguistiques reelles, permanentes, 

That the society slang of P. G. Wodehouse and Denis Mackail 
is more rich and expressive than the slang attacked by Chesterton 
and Sainean results from the general influences so briefly touched 
on in the preceding paragraph. 

1 Le Langage Paiisien, 1920. 

2 This is substantially true of all French Society slang, only in small part true 
of English pre-War Society slang. 

8 In the sense of a body of articulate speech. From the essay on slang in 
The Defendant. 


In 1859 Hotten, with that curiously informative leisureliness 
characteristic of him, spoke thus of the Society slang current in 
his day : " Fashionable or upper-class slang is of several varieties. 
There is the Belgravian, military and naval, parliamentary, 
dandy, and the reunion and visiting slang." Very true of his 
period, but now that the Navy, the Army, and Parliament are 
very much less upper-class than they were in pre-War times, these 
professions contribute comparatively little to the stock of Society 
slang. " In dandy or swell slang," he says, " any celebrity, from 
the Poet Laureate to the Pope of Rome, is a ' swell ', ' the old 
swell * now occupies the place once held by ' guv'nor '. Wrinkled- 
faced old professors/' another greatly changed class, by the 
way, " who hold dress and fashionable tailors in abhorrence are 
called ' awful swells ', if they happen to be very learned or 
clever. In this upper-class slang, a title is termed a ' handle ' ; 
trousers, ' inexpressibles/ I and ' bags ' 2 or ' howling bags ' 
when of a large pattern ; a superior appearance, or anything 
above the common cut, is styled ' extensive ' 3 ; a four-wheeled 
cab is called a 4 birdcage \" this latter now, though not in Society 
slang, meaning a gaol ; " a dance, a ' hop '," now rather 
" common " 4 except in the Colonies ; " dining at another man's 
table, ' sitting under his mahogany ' ; anything flashy or showy, 
' loud ' ; the peculiar make or cut of a coat, its ' build ' ; full 
dress, * full fig ' 5 ; wearing clothes which represent the very 
extreme of fashion, ' dressing to death ' " the more recent dressed 
to kill ; u a dinner or supper party, a ' spread/ " now applied 
to any plentiful repast; "a friend (or a 'good fellow"), a 
' trump ' ; a difficulty, a * screw loose '/' now hinting at marked 
eccentricity or even madness ; " and everything that is unpleasant 
* from bad sherry to a writ from the tailor/ * jeuced infernal/ " 

Hotten further remarks that " the slang of the fashionable 
world " is thought by some to come mainly from France and that 
the same persons consider that " an unmeaning gibberish of 
Gallicisms runs through the English fashionable conversation and 
fashionable novels, and accounts of fashionable parties in the 

* In these days, even in a mixed gathering, a man may mention a pair of 
feminine knickers (a woman in these circumstances often prefers panties) without 
raising a blush or being considered " fast ". 

* That bags (cf. the Oxford bags of the 1920's) is so old will probably surprise 
many, as it surprised me. 

3 The post-War expensive, used to connote wealth or very superior style, is 
analogous and may be the result of what I like to call an " optical " pun. 

* Common, until recently, was, as nice still is, mainly a woman's epithet : 
see Greenough and Kittredge, p. 54. 

5 This word fig is a puzzle. Weekley proposes derivation from the obsolete 
feagw, to fake, a view very strongly supported by to fig out, to dress up in style ; 
full fig is rarely found except in the phrase in full fig (Tom Brown at Oxford, 1861). 
Weekley implies that full fig is influenced by figure. I suggest, though not on 
oath, that there may be a facetious reference to a fig-leaf being, in certain 
circumstances, considered as full dress. CI, however, German fegen 


fashionable newspapers ". The proportion of gallicisms, formid- 
able though it is, may easily be exaggerated, but it is true to say 
that French exports more society words than all the other 
Continental nations combined. And two other interestingly 
related facts may be mentioned : in the nineteenth and twentieth 
centuries, indeed from about 1760 to the present day, the French * 
have taken a large number of English words into their fashionable 
vocabulary 2 ; and, though this less generally happens, when 
English Society begins to work a French word or phrase to 
death, the French tend to discard that word (in that particular 
sense). On the second, Hotten has a highly amusing passage, 
which , too long for quotation here, should be read in his 
Introduction (pp. 45-6 of any post-i874 edition). 

Since Hotten's death there has, except for Chesterton and 
so far as I know, been written nothing of any great note on English 
Society slang, though the satirists have occasionally tilted at it 
and the novelists have frequently " taken it off ". Ware, how- 
ever, gives some three hundred Society terms, almost wholly of 
the approximate period 1870-1910, in his Passing English, to 
which, as to Hotten, Greenough and Kittredge, and Collinson, 
I have so often referred, and to whom I shall unblushingly refer 
with shameless frequency. I select a few terms not yet discussed 
or mentioned. 

A .D. A drink. The male's evasion on a ball-room programme. 

Agony in Red. A vermilion-coloured costume. A term 
satirizing the ^Esthetics' tendency to describe one art in terms 
of another : e.g., a nocturne in silver-grey, a symphony in amber, 
a fugue in purple, an andante in shaded violet. 

Anno Domini, B.C. As in " he must be very anno domini, 
mustn't he ? " " A.D. ? My dear fellow, say B.C." 

Cartocracy. Those distinguished enough to keep (esp. dog-) 
carts ; cf . gigmanity, those who keep gigs, therefore respectable. 

Cold Tub. A cold morning bath. 

Come Out. (Of young women) to appear in society. Now 
almost Standard English. 

Cyrano. A huge nose. The term derived from the popularity 3 
of Rostand's lyrical drama, Cyrano de Bergerac, produced in 
France in 1897 and played in England soon after. 

Dancing Dogs. When, about 1880, dancing began to " go 
out ", this was the satirical term applied to men fond of dancing. 

1 The French influence on English Society dates from the Restoration in 

2 Sainean's Langage Parisien, p. 457. 

3 His other two tremendous successes were L'Aiglon (in which " the divine 
Sarah " obtained what is called " a personal triumph "), 1900, and Chantecler, 
1910, Lanson in his now classic Histoire de la Litterature Fran9aise : Ce qu'il y 
avait de facile et clair, abondance de gaietejeune, depoesie a laportee de tout le monde, 
dans cette piece romantique, a seduit le public jusqu'a un degre incroyable. Cyrano 
est le plus grand succes du theatre contemporain. 


With the introduction of jazz and, as " old stagers " teU me, 
with the disappearance of corsets resembling corselets, and with 
the concomitant (or was it resultant ?) more intimate style 
of dancing, the young men took dancing once more to their 

Everything is Nice in Your Garden. A gentle way of imputing 
self-adulation. Society's variant, rumoured to have arisen among 
the Royal Family, on Self-praise is no recommendation, a 
proverbial saying that in it present form l (in the seventeenth 
century it ran : Proper praise stinks) owes its popularity to 

Fitly. "A lady who goes racing pace in round dances, 
e.g., ' She's the quickest filly in the barn ' " (barn-dance, of 
course). Now of any unmarried girl, especially in the almost- 
stock phrase, a nice little filly. 

Flapper. " A very immoral young girl in her early ' teens V 
Early in the war the word came to mean a girl fifteen to nineteen 
years old, and a young subaltern was called the flappers' delight ; 
certainly from 1918 onwards the word has carried no implication 
of immorality. In 1921, flapper displaced chicken in America, 
where, says Mencken, the word probably owed its rapid 
acclimatization to the widespread popularity of Scott Fitzgerald's 
novel This Side of Paradise, 2 1920. 

Frivoller. A " person with no serious aim in life ". Ware 
derives from Disraeli's celebrated hare-brained frivolity. 

Frump. A badly-dressed woman. Frump in 1870, when low- 
cut bodices made way on the fall of the Second Empire in France 
for high-cut bodices or frumps, the young men of Society called 
wearers of the latter frumps, and when the high-cut disappeared 
in favour of square-cut bodices by and large, the still prevailing 
fashion the condemnatory term assumed its more general 
sense. So Ware says ; actually frump as a dowdily-dressed woman 
dates from long before 1870 and the high-cut bodices were named 
after them. But Ware, admirable assembler, was neither linguist, 
etymologist, nor truly a scholar (he even omitted to look at the 
F of the O.E.D.) ; nevertheless, he had an extremely good idea 
of semantics as well as a most retentive memory and, far from 
least, a shrewd sense of humour. 

Gambhus. Gambling.; risky, dangerous. Invented by 
Mr. Joseph Chamberlain at a dinner of the Eighty Club. 

Get the Morbs. To become. temporarily melancholic. 

Girl of the Period. Not quite slang except in the mouths of 
those who made unmerciful fun of Mrs. Lynn Linton's invention 
for the self-emancipating young women of the J 8o's : now, of 

1 For all proverb-problems, I rely on G. L, Apperson's masterly English 
Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases, 1929. 

2 We English say this side paradise, now a set phrase. 


course, the modern girl, as if there hadn't always "been girls of the 
period and modem girls. . . . 

Half-Hour Gentlemen. "A man whose breeding is only 
superficial/' the opposite of &for-ever gentleman ; cf. the Regular 
Army officers' temporary gentleman, an officer who before the 
War was " not quite, what ! you know, not quite ". 

Hunter. A hunting watch. 

In Paris, to Be. To have eloped. 

Japanned. A person dressed, a room or a stage furnished, in 
Japanese fashion. 

Jap Crock. Any piece of Japanese porcelain, no matter how 

Kick Up One's Dust in the Park. To walk there, the Park 
being usually understood to mean Hyde Park. From the French 
faire sa poussiere aux Champs Elysees. 

Lincoln and Bennett. A very good hat. From the maker's 
name, as in Poole, perfect clothing, a suit in the best style and make. 

Make a Mash. To " make a hit " with a woman. -Masher, 
a well-dressed man notably successful with " the sex ". 

Matineers. Assiduous frequenters of matinees. The craze 
began about 1884 ; now merely a habit. On the analogy of 

N. D. Applied satirically to a woman trying to look very 
much younger than she is. From the librarian's and biblio- 
grapher's use of N.D. to indicate that a publication lacks the 
date of issue. 

Not too nice. Bad, unpleasant. 

Obviously Severe. " Hopelessly rude of speech/' 

Op. Opera. 

Paint Brush Baronet. A knighted painter* 

Poultice. A fat woman or a very high collar. This term 
flourished and died in the '8o's. 

Pntdes on the Prowl. In the 'go's much, in the next decade 
rarely used for *' hypersensitive women who haunted music 
halls to discover misbehaviour either on or off the stage". 
According to The Daily Telegraph of i6th December, 1897, they 
were, in that year, displaced by a group of persons " who may 
be described as Guardians on the Growl ". 

Rothschild. A very rich man. Until Rockefeller became a 
legend, the American equivalent was a VanderUU. 

Sarcasm. " Satirical assumption of the meaning of a stupidly 
said thing." 

Secrets of the Alcove. Jargon rather than slang in its general 
use; but when consistently employed satirically, slang. Its 
specific slang sense is, the " most intimate influence of the wife 
over the husband ". From a phrase coined by Dumas the 


Send for Gulliver ! A contemptuous catch-phrase for an affair 
unworthy of discussion. 

Sentimental Hairpin. An insignificant and affected girl. 

She. Queen Victoria. From Rider Haggard's romance, She, 
published in 1887. 

Showy. Over-dressed. A term in common use from 1880 to 
the War and not yet obsolete, its present sense being rather that 
of pretentious. 

Slumming. " Visiting the poorest parts or slums of a city 
with a view to self-improvement." Usually much resented by 
those afflicted with this unwarrantable intrusion. 

Squash. As in a lemon-squash. Now an accepted name ; 
but after quite six years' life, it was still slang in 1883 and indeed 
until much later. 

Tail-Tea. From 1880 until her death, the Queen's " royal 
drawing-rooms were held in the afternoon ; at the ensuing tea 
in their own homes, those ladies who had been present appeared 
in their trains ". 

Thou. A thousand pounds sterling. From 1860 on. 

Too Much with Us. (Applied to an over-frequently recurrent 
topic of conversation) wearisome, tedious, boring ; an incubus, an 

Tupper. An honest but undeviatingly commonplace bore. 
This term derives from Martin Tupper, who, 1810-1889, lived 
commonplacely and who, besides other works long ago dust- 
heaped, wrote, in seeming verse, Proverbial Philosophy, " a 
singular collection of commonplace observations/' Published 
in 1838-42, this work had, especially in America, an astonishing 

Turn down One's Cup. To die. The term became obsolescent 
about 1890, when turn down one's glass (Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat of 
Omar Khayyam) took its place. 

Up-to-Date, the. Modernity. 

Vogue. Fashion. This word was not much used before 1897. 
It is no longer slang but jargon. 

War-Paint. " Court, state, and evening dress in general." 
From about 1857. 

Warm Corner. In sporting and in (male) Society slang, this, 
according to Ware, denoted " a nook where birds are found in 
plenty ". 

White Magic. Applied figuratively to a fair woman of 
surpassing loveliness. 

Whyms. Members of the Y.M.C.A., the initials being 
telescoped into a word. 

Work the Steam off. To rid oneself of excessive energy. Now 
general slang. 

Young Person. A girl from fifteen to a marriage in her twenties. 


Zedding About. Verbal noun for divergent walking ; cf. the 
soldiers' 1914-18 to be zigzag, drunk. 

Those examples afford a very fair idea of Society slang up 
to a little before the War, but a better idea can be obtained at 
will from those novelists who have dealt notably or penetratingly 
with English Society. Of those who wrote wholly or mainly in 
the nineteenth century, the most illuminating are Lady Morgan, 
Bulwer Lytton, and Disraeli, who cover the period 1825-1875 I ; 
and Henry James, " Lucas Malet," 2 Mrs. Humphrey Ward, 
1875-1900. Of those who have, with power or understanding or 
wit, written of Society from the death of Victoria to the present, 
we need mention only a very few. First those who belong 
importantly to both centuries : " John Oliver Hobbes," 3 
Sir Henry Hope Hawkins (The Dolly Dialogues belong to 1894), 
Robert Hichens, E. F. Benson (Dodo, 1893), Mary Cholmondeley 
(Red Pottage, her most famous story, is of 1899) ; May Sinclair, 
Mrs. Henry de la Pasture or the Lady Clifford, John Galsworthy, 
P. G. Wodehouse, A. E. W. Mason, Somerset Maugham (whose 
pre-igoo work is hardly " Society "), Compton Mackenzie, 
Stephen McKenna (Sonia, 1917), Anne Douglas Sedgwick 
(Mrs. Basil de Selincourt), Ethel Sidgwick (the cousin of the three 
Benson brothers), J. C. Snaith, Maurice Baring, poet, dramatist, 
and critic as well, W. B. Maxwell, Mrs. Belloc Lowndes, Archibald 
Marshall (the Clinton Series appeared in 1909-1913), Hugh 
Walpole ; somewhat more " modern ", sometimes in appearance 
rather than in actuality, are E. M. Delafield (Lady Clifford's 
daughter), Denis Mackatt, and Lorna Rea, to mention only three 
where so many press forward. 

p. ART 

Society has always, along with the few discerning dealers and 
a few rich recluses, been the chief patron of art. 4 The jargon of 
art is quickly adopted by Society, which, however, knows only 
a few words of artistic slang. Of artistic jargon, Hotten makes 
fun, yet, having noted such terms as aesthetic, transcendental, 
the harmonies, keeping harmony, middle distance, aerial 
perspective, delicate handling, nervous chiaroscuro, " and the 
like/' he confesses that " it is easy to find fault with this system 

1 Meredith, overlaps both groups. 

2 Who overlaps into the next period : very importantly with Sir Richard 
Calmady, 1901. 

3 Otherwise Mrs. Pearl Craigie, whose work belongs to 1892-1906, when she 
died ; The School for Saints appeared in 1897, Robert Orange in 1902, Love 
and the Soul Hunters, 1901, and The Dream and the Business, 1906. 

4 Along with artistic might be considered the meagre musical slang. A line 
has, however, to be drawn somewhere, and I must content myself with referring 
to concertize, to assist musically at concerts, an Americanism , gummy composer, 
one who is " old and insipid " (Ware) ; and strad, a Stradivarius violin. Cf. 
P. 325. 


of doing work ", or criticizing art, " whilst it is not easy to 
discover another at once so easily understood by educated 
readers, and so satisfactory to artists themselves. . . . Properly 
used, these technicalities are allowable/* 

In art, it is more difficult than in any other section to 
demarcate 1 the jargon and the slang, especially those of the 
present day. If, however, we stand back and set things in 
perspective, we can usually make a fairly good guess. Examining 
the pages of Passing English, I find thirty-odd terms that might 
all be called slang if one were not particular : being particular, 
I reject Bougereau quality (morbid effeminacy), brush-power, 
fin de siecle, Horsleyism (the anti-nude in art), poet of the brush, 
sympathetic truth, and synthetic breadth ("probably means 
" harmony of treatment '," says Ware, on whose remark the only 
sensible comment is " Yes, oh yes ! quite "), as incontrovertibly 
jargonesque. But some of the slang terms are considerably more 
interesting than such technicalities as synthetic breadth, and a 
few examples of true artistic slang are now given. 

Altogether, the or in the. The nude. From Du Maurier's 
Trilby, 1894. W. S. Gilbert in The Grand Duke, March, 1896, 
introduced the word thus : 

*' They wore little underclothing scarcely anything or nothing 
And their dress of Coan silk was quite transparent in design 
Well, in fact, in summer weather, something like the ' altogether ', 
And it's there, I rather fancy, I shall have to draw the line I " 

Artistic Merit, to Have. A satirical way of saying that a 
portrait is flattering. 

Bohemian down to One's Boots. Thoroughly Bohemian. 

Buniony. Showing, in one's painting, a very marked tendency 
to lumpiness of outline. " He still has go, but he's getting very 

Crocks. Ornamental china. Now a fairly general colloquialism. 

Fake a Picture. "To obtain an effect by some adroit, 
unorthodox means." From 1860 on. 

Frame. A picture. 

Got Swing, He's. He has vigour. 

Hung, to Be. To have a picture accepted and hung at an 
exhibition. E.g., " I'm hung at the Ac.," at the Royal Academy's 
annual exhibition. 

Let, To. Said of a sparsely filled canvas. 

Live up to. Invented by Du Maurier in Punch. Now a general 
colloquialism : live up to an ideal or even to a person. The phrase, 
Ware tells us, was "used quite seriously by the Burne Jones 
School " in the sense of " live purely according to a pure 
standard ". 

1 A useful book is C. J. Davenport's The Art-Student's Vade-Mecum, 1925. 


Nudities. Nude studies or nudes. Niidities is half-way 
between jargon and slang and, from 1890, when the term " came 
in ", it was, until its demise somewhere about 1914, used much 
more by the art critics than by the artists. 

Process Server. A photogravure printer. 1886 onwards. 

Put the value on. To sign (a picture). Satirical* it implies 
that the picture has no, or little merit, and will sell only by reason 
of the name attached. 

Rags. " Old lace used for decorative purposes/' 1880 on. 

Sculpt. To work in sculpture. An Americanism that soon 
retired to make way for the English to sculp. 

Sculptor's Ghost. The man that does the work for the famous 
sculptor that will put his name to it ; cf . ghosting in literature and 

Signed All Over. " Said of a good picture which instantly 
reveals its creator in every inch." 

Slung. Rejected ; the opposite to hung, which probably, by 
rhyming association, suggested slung. 

Tacks. The artist's paraphernalia. 

Timbers. (Cf. Crocks and rags.) " Cabinets, bookcases, 
escritoires, elaborate tables worked wood in general." 

Walled. Same as hung, which, to some extent, it displaced. 


The Theater is a hotbed of temporary slang . . . and it also has a 
terminology of its own. J. BRANDER MATTHEWS. 

Until about the end of the eighteenth century, actors were so 
despised that, in self-protection, they had certain words that, 
properly, should be described as cant and were actually known 
as Parlyaree. But after the Regency they rapidly became more 
esteemed and by the end of Victoria's reign they had attained a 
well-established position on the margin of Society, with which 
the prominent actors and actresses now mingle if not on " equal " 
at least on an independent, you-be-damned-if-you-don't-lie-us 

In the nineteenth century, far more than at any time since 
1580-1620, the theatre began to exercise a powerful influence on 
ordinary and informal spoken English. Le theatre a ete une force 
incomparable de diffusion pour certains mots nouveaux entendus 
en commun par un grand nombre d'hommes, writes Lazare Sainean, 1 
who proceeds to quote an apt and striking passage from the 
Melanges Linguistiques of that great philologist, Gaston Paris : 
Le theatre, dans ce genre, a des effets prodigieux ; une foule de 
locutions, de metaphores, de sobriquets, aujourd'hui employes 

1 Le Langage Parisien, bk. vi, ch. 3. 


coummment, proviennent de pieces de theatre souvent tout a ^ 
oiMiees. Pendant des mois des milliers de spectateurs ont ete 
emus, indignes, egayes par une expression heureusement detournee 
de son sens : Us I' ont repetee en se revoyant, Us en ont seme leurs 
entretiens ; peu a peu elle est entree dans leur langue et s'est 
repandue autour d'eux. Une piece a succes fait son tour de France, 
as it might be England : le mot nouveau sera ainsi transports dans 
toutes les grandes miles qui seules renouvettent le langage dans une 
societe comme la ndtre. Not only they, but such things as war : 
but that slight modification does in no way impair the validity 
of his thesis, only a very little less applicable to England than 
to France. Important, however, as is the subject of the theatre's 
influence upon the English language, a subject far more 
deserving of a doctoral dissertation and of serious research than 
so many of the footling themes that are proposed for advanced 
degrees, it is out of place here. 

Theatrical slang gradually gained a status in the first part of 
the nineteenth century, and in 1859 Hotten could say : " the 
Stage, of course, has its slang' both before and behind the 
curtain ', as a journalist remarks. The stage-manager is familiarly 
termed * daddy ' ; and an actor by profession ... is called a 
' pro '. . . . The man who is occasionally hired at a trifling 
remuneration to come upon the stage as one of a crowd, or when 
a number of actors are wanted to give effect, is named a ' supe 
now super " an abbreviation of ' supernumerary 9 . A ' surf ' 
is a third-rate actor, who frequently pursues another calling ; 
and the band, or orchestra ... is generally spoken of as the 
' menagerie '. A ' ben ' is a benefit, and ' sal ' is . . . salary. 
Should no money be forthcoming on the Saturday night, it is 
said that * the ghost doesn't walk * ; or else the statement goes 
abroad that there is 'no treasury' . . . The travelling or 
provincial theatricals 1 ... are called ' barn-stormers '. A 
* length * is forty-two lines of any dramatic composition ; and a 
' run * is the continuous term of a piece's performances/' the latter 
being now standard though not " literary " English. " A ' saddle ' 
is the additional charge made by a manager to an actor or actress 
on his or her benefit night/* this term being recorded as early 
as 1781 by George Parker in his View of Society. " To ' mug up ' 
is to paint one's face or to arrange the person, to represent a 
particular character ; to ' corpse ', or to ' stick ', is to balk, or 
to put the other actors out in their parts by forgetting yours. 
A performance is spoken of as either a ' gooser ' or a ' screamer ', 
should it be a failure or a great success ; if the latter, it is not 
infrequently termed a ' hit '. To * goose ' a performance is to 
hiss it ; and continued * goosing * generally ends, or did end 

1 Theatricals, actors, was itself originally slang and is still a colloquialism. 
Barn-stormers is now a colloquialism qualifying to be ranked as Standard English. 


before managers refused to accept the verdict of audiences, in 
the play or the players being * damned '. To ' star it ' is to 
perform as the centre of attraction, with your name in large type, 
and none but subordinate or indifferent actors in the same 
performance. The expressive term ' claptrap ', high-sounding 
nonsense, is nothing but an ancient theatrical term, and signified 
a ' trap ' to catch a ' clap ' by way of applause/' 

Claptrap and catchwords have been made the subject of a 
witty essay by Miss Rose Macaulay, and the words catchword 
and claptrap are admirably treated by Professor Weekley in More 
Words Ancient and Modern. The former, after being a printer's 
term, was from about 1770 to about 1830 a stage term, " the 
final word of a speech serving as a cue * for the next actor." But 
" claptrap " is of purely theatrical origin. It is defined by Bailey 
(1736), as " a name given to the rant and rhimes that dramatick 
poets, to please the actors, let them go off with ..." The 
present-day actor prefers to call it an effective ' curtain '. . . . 
Theoretically claptrap is addressed to the gallery, the gods/' 2 
in French le paradis, or le colombier, the pigeon-house, or le 
poulailler, the hen-roost. 

Many of Hotten's recordings are repeated by the writer of an 
article on theatrical slang in The Graphic, 1886. The following 
terms are not in Hotten's Introduction : To get the big bird, to 
be hissed ; gorger, the manager ; star, the leading actor or 
actress ; make-up, now Standard English ; mounting, the general 
preparation of a play, rather jargon than slang; props, the 
theatrical properties ; wheeze, a joke ; gag, matter (especially 
wheezes) additional to the words of the play ; business, " byplay 
and acting ... as distinguished from the dialogue," the term 
dating from the mid-eighteenth century ; fat, 3 a part allowing 
an actor to appear to advantage ; spell, short for spellken, literally 
the place of talk, is rather cant than slang proper ; the Lane, 
Drury Lane Theatre ; The Garden, Covent Garden Theatre ; 
the Dusthole, the Prince of Wales's Theatre, the term is obsolete, 
I believe ; crowder, an audience ; and slumming, acting (and also 
the " acting " seen in a Punch and Judy Show), a word that 4 
occurs in Miss Braddon's novel Dead Sea Fruit in 1872. 

Ware gives some two hundred theatrical terms, of which 
nine-tenths were, in 1910, slang, the rest being colloquialisms with 
a few words of jargon. A selection of these will present the 
reader not only with some very interesting words but also with 
the basis for a comparison with such present-day theatrical slang 
as he may know. It may, however, be remarked that at least 

1 " Originally printed Q, for Lat. quando, when (to come in)," Weekley, ibid. 
z Which Hotten mentions immediately beyond the end of the passage as it 
is quoted from him. 

3 Cf. printers' slang. * Farmer and Henley. 



a third of Ware's entries are still current while quite half will 
be remembered by those theatre-goers who were born before 


Acting Lady, An incapable actress. From the poor acting 
of the great majority of society women and girls that go on the 


Actor's Bible. The theatrical newspaper, The Era. 

B.C. Play. A Classical Play. The term arose when Claudian 
was performed in 1885 at the Princess's Theatre. 

B.P. The British Public. 

Back-Hair Paris. " R61es in which the agony of the per- 
formance at one point in the drama admits of the feminine tresses 
in question floating over the shoulders." Cf. the street slang 
back-hairing f such fighting between women as entails the tugging, 
if not the removal, of the occipital hair. 

Back o' the Green. Behind the scenes. Green not only refers 
to " that historical ' green ' curtain which has almost passed 
away " but imperfectly rhymes on scene, i.e., the scenes. 

Beef a Bravo. To cheer, " in order to lead the applause for a 
Mend who has just left the stage." Beef, to bellow, is presumably 
suggested by the phrase "bellow like a bull. 

Bi-cennoctury. (In the '70*5, now a humorous memory.) 
The 200th night of a run. On the analogy of bi-centenary, but 
heinously thrown together, for the cent of centum, 100, is or 
should be invariable, and noctury, from nox, noctis, a night, 
the correct form noctuary has been " pre-opted " to denote an 
account of what passes during a night, is enough to make a 
linguist laugh or an etymologist shudder in his grave. Employed 
seriously it is jargon, employed facetiously it is slang. 

Big Bird, the. To have or to get this bird was and still is, to be 

Brit, the. The Britannic Theatre. 

Bum-Boozer. A desperate drinker. 

Cabbage, the. The Savoy Theatre, opened in 1881. Obviously 
from Savoy cabbage. 

Cackle, " A ceaseless unpunctuated flow of words and 
phrases more or less unconnected and meaningless/' 

Canary. A chorus-singer amongst the public, generally in 
" the gods ". Apparently invented in the '70*8 by Leybourne, 
a comic singer. 

Carpenter Scene. One in front of the curtain while an 
elaborate scene is being mounted behind it. 

Chair-Warmer. A good-looking actress doing little on the stage 
except to be there. 

Check %p To get into a theatre by waiting for one of the 
audience to leave in the course of the performance : always, two 
or more people have to leave well before the end. 


Cod. To flatter. 

Come Down. To move towards the audience from the back 
of the stage (from up stage is the correct theatrical slang). 

Cop the Curtain. To be so much applauded that the curtain 
is raised to enable one to bow one's acknowledgment. 

Couple of Flats. <( Double meaning/' says Ware. " In the 
old time, before the advent of elaborate set scenery, two scene- 
screens run on from the opposite side and joining " in the middle, 
" were called a * couple of flats V Applied also to a pair of bad 

D.B. (Of an actor or actress) damned bad or, if one were 
explaining to a maiden aunt, decidedly bad. 

Decencies. " Pads used by actors, as distinct from actresses, 
to ameliorate outline." 

Diffs. Difficulties, chiefly monetary. 

Dime Museum. A poor play, a mediocre piece. An 
Americanism, originally applied only to such freak shows as one 
sees at a circus or occasionally at a music-hall. 

Druriolanus. Drury Lane Theatre ; sometimes Sir Augustus 
Harris, who was more generally called The Emperor Augustus, 
a name that, along with the analogical Coriolanus, soon led by a 
semantic association that is powerful in language to this 
" Latinized " form, spurious Latin being a form of wit, or rather 
of humour, as in hi-cockakrum, circumbendibus, and other heavy 

E.P. Experienced playgoer. 

Early Turner. An inferior music-hall " artist " (jargon, of 
course) : such a performer taking the first, second, or third turn 
or " item " on the programme, i.e., before the hall is full or the 
fashionable part of the audience arrives. 

Fake a Curtain. To engineer applause at the scene's, act's, or 
play's end. 

Gin and Fog. A juicy hoarseness. " Dr. Lennox Brown has 
been delivering an interesting lecture on the effects of alcohol 
on the voice. There is a broken down voice known in the pro- 
fession " the profession is always understood to be that of the 
stage" as * the gin and fog ' " : thus George R., i.e., " Dagonet," 
Sims in The Referee of nth January, 1886. 

Give it a drink! (1897 and onwards, the term being stiU 
heard from time to time, especially if the performer's turn is 
spoilt by a false, hoarse, or weak voice.) Condemnation passed 
on a bad play or on a poor music-hall turn. 

Heavy Merchant. The man who plays the rdle of the villain. 
(Cf. the twentieth century chiefly post-War heavy father, 
severe father.) 

Hot-Water Play. Originally an Americanism, this term for 
a farce arises from the fact that, from beginning to end, the 


characters are in " hot water ", In trouble of some sort or another 
generally another. 

Jonah. An actor whose presence on the stage prejudices, or 
seems to prejudice, the play's success and the players' luck. 

Knife. To shorten a piece by deleting superfluous dialogue. 
Since 1900 the preferred term is to blue-pencil or to use the blue 
pencil freely. 

Legit. Short for the Legitimate, itself slang for the legitimate 
drama, i.e., plays of recognized merit. 

Lights Up. (As either a rough recommendation or a comment) 
an expression condemnatory of a piece on the first night of its 

Lotties and Totties. " Ladies at large." 

Marcus Superbus. A grandee. From the part played by 
Wilson Barrett in his drama, The Sign of the Cross, 1896. He* 
and his rdle were burlesqued, in a revue called The Gay Parisienne, 
as Marcus Superfluous. 

Minnie P. Play. (1885 on, but obsolete by 1910.) " Drama 
in which a little maid variety-actress is the chief motive. She 
must sing, dance, play tricks, and never wear a long dress. From 
Miss Minnie Palmer's creations, chiefly in My Sweetheart." 

Mug. (Contrast mug up.) To adapt one's face to a wide 
variety of comic expressions. 

Nailed-up Drama. Satirically of that kind of drama which 
depends mainly upon elaborate scenery. Used first of The World, 
produced at Drury Lane in the early '8o's. 

Not Dead Yet. Nevertheless, very old, especially in reference 
to a fairy. 

One Consecutive Night. (And that's) enough. 

PS. Prompt Side of the stage ; the right as the audience 
sees it. 

Panto. Pantomime. 

Paper House. A theatre that, at a given performance, has an 
audience consisting mainly of those who have come with paper, 
complimentary tickets. Paperer is the issuer of such tickets or 
passes. The current term for the lucky recipients is dead-heads. 

Pro-Donnas. Actresses. A music-hall term of the last two 
decades of last century. 

Prosser. A " pro ". 

Re~dayboo. (Music halls, c. 1899) an absurdity, re-d^but being 
literally " a first appearance a second time ". Probably one of 
Dan Leno's perpetrations quite deliberate, as (I'm told) they 
always were. 

Resting. Out of work. Now a colloquialism, this became 
general in the 'go's. 

S.M. Stage manager ; S.D., stage door, 

Salad March. A march or parade of ballet girls in the usual 


colours of salads green, white, and pale amber. Approximately 

Shapes and Shirts. (1880-1914) the name bestowed by young 
actors on old actors, " who swear by the legitimate Elizabethan 
drama, which involves either the ' shape ' or the ' shirt ' the 
first being the cut-in tunic ; the other . . . being independent 
of shape." 

Souvenir. An Americanism dating from about 1875 ; to 
present with a free picture or booklet celebrating the looth, aooth, 
300th . . . performance of a theatrical piece or a variety show. 

Stall-Pots. Stallites as opposed to galleryites. 

Table Part. A r61e, usually that of an entertainer or a quick- 
change artist (a term, by the way, often used metaphorically, 
therefore slangily), played from behind a table : from the waist 
upwards, as it were and is. 

Tabs. An ageing woman ; from tabby. This plural form for 
a word in the singular mums for mum, mother, is another 
example should, I think, be called " the affectionate plural " 
or " the two-hearts-that-beat-as-one singular ". 

Thinking Part. Satirically of the wordless r61e played by a 
" super ". 

Titotular Bosh. (About 1896-1900) absolute nonsense. 
Etymologically, semantically, and plausibly, teetotal + ar 3 a 
dignified descriptive suffix. 

Toga Play. A play on a Classical theme. 

Tora (or Toora) Loorals. The breasts. Generally of a dres& 
cut very low at the neck. The toora is probably a rhyming addition 
to looral, which may possibly be a corruption of Lorelei, the lovely 
siren of the Rhine. 

Trying it on the Dog. Testing a new piece on a matinee 
audience, notoriously less critical than an evening one. 

Util\ Utility ; i.e., utility actor, one who can act almost 
any r61e. " Generally/' says Ware, " a clever man who has 
missed his mark." 

Wait. Time elapsing between an actor's successive 
appearances in any one performance. 

Woffle. (Music-hall term with reference to a musical turn) 
to manipulate, to scamp adroitly a difficult note or passage. 

Yell Play. A farce in which the poor plot has to be " carried " 
by the laughter raised by the numerous jokes. 

A valuable sidelight is thrown on Ware's entries by the 
speech-record of Professor Collinson under " Music Halls and 
Theatres ". Of the " halls ", as they are often called, he says : 
" Sometimes they may originate, at others they serve merely to 
drive the new expressions home. Catchy songs . . . and 
humorous sketches are the chief items of the programme 
responsible. Now and again we find allusions to these in literature. 


. . . Apart from the influence of the popular song^ there are 
also the little sayings which occur in the comedian's patter." 
He thereupon records a few : Does your mother know you're out ? 
from 1838 ; do you see any green in my eye ? from 1840 ; keep 
your hair on t don't get cross, from the '6o's ; (go and) get your hair 
cut, dating from the '8o's ; there's 'air- like wire ; don't make me 
laugh I've cut my lip ! ; let her rip ; mind the step ; don't let 
me catch you bending ; not in these trousers, which in the Ws 
was not in these boots ; what ho she bumps I ; not for this child ; 
Archibald certainly not ! ; kt 'em all come ; that's the stuff to 
give 'em ; all dressed up and nowhere to go. All of these survive, 
though several show signs of old age, and a few belong more 
to the street than to the music-halls. 

He recalls such theatrical slang as complete frost, a failure, 
and to get the needle or stage-fright*, before passing to a most 
informative recalling of slang sayings that have been popularized 
by operatic as well as music-hall songs. The operas of Gilbert 
and Sullivan (I once heard these two names portmanteau'd to 
GiUivan) "have left their mark on educated speech in such 
phrases as ' so now he is the ruler of the Queen's navee ! ' or 
' I polished up the handle of the big front door ' ... or again 
from ' H.M.S. Pinafore ' the words ' his sisters and his cousins 
and his aunts * or from * The Mikado ' the famous saying ' the 
flowers that bloom in the spring, tra-la, have nothing to do with 
the case ' or from ' Trial by Jury ' . . . ' She may well pass 
for forty-three in the dusk with the light behind her/ Nor must 
we forget the phrase * no possible probable shadow of doubt, no 
possible doubt whatever * following on the words ' of that there- 
is no possible doubt '." Such quotations become sayings only 
after very general and oft-recurring quotation, and -the sayings 
become slang only after they lose the characteristics of quotation, 
their slightly literary or cultured touch, to serve as a stop-gap 
or as an astonishingly applicable label : in this last stage, the 
sayings are often applied to something at complete variance, 
perhaps in sharp contradiction, with the original reference : and 
tHs distortion may result merely from carelessness or from a 
deliberate twisting of the remembered sense. 

Theatrical life is described in many novels, so many that, in 
self-protection, one is forced to make a very rigorous choice. 
Perhaps the most famous of all English novels dealing wholly 
or largely with the life of actors and actresses is George Moore's 
A Mummer's Wife, 1885, a most realistic novel written while its 
author was very much under the influence of Balzac, the 
Goncourts, and Zola. Other notable authors and works are 
Leonard Menick's The Actor-Manager, 1898, parts of some of 
his other novels, and some of his delightful short stories ; Sir 
Frederick Wedmore (f 1921), passim ; Compton Mackenzie and 


Gilbert Caiman, passim, these two representing work rather 
later than Wedmore's, Mackenzie having been born in 1883, 
Cannan a year later. 


In the colloquial speech employed by those who participate 
in, and by those who watch, either a sport like hunting or a 
game like cricket, one has to remember that what seems 
mysterious and slangy to a complete outsider may actually be 
mysterious but in no way slangy. Both sport in general and every 
separate form of it have their corpus of technical terms, their 
jargon, and it is not always easy to determine what at first was 
slang and what has become slang. Frankly, to attain to an 
indisputable allocation of sporting terms to the categories of 
jargon and slang is impossible, but one can allocate correctly 
with nine words or phrases out of ten : an approximation that 
is pragmatically efficient and theoretically satisfactory. 

That many sporting terms have been incorporated in standard 
speech is well known and need not detain us, but we shall notice 
a few in the course of examining Ware's book. The reason for 
this extensive adoption of sporting slang and jargon by Standard 
English, although the remark applies to any language whatsoever, 
is twofold : the suitability, the force, the vividness of the words 
themselves, and the fact that sports and games represent, as 
Carnoy says, un diminutif de la me et de ses luttes, et quiconque a 
un sport favori est amene A retrouver dans I' existence r^elle mille 
analogies avec les situations des joueurs qui font un match ou une 

In 1909, Ware includes a fair number of sporting terms in 
Passing English. These range from the general slang vocabulary 
of sports and games to the special slang words of, e.g., billiards or 
athletics. All in all, the general slang terms are those which 
have the least point and therefore the greatest applicability. Here 
are a few : 

Bally. Excessive, very large, objectionably bad or good or 
whatnot. Current since 1884, it is either a corruption of bully 
or an evasion of bloody : Weekley supports the latter and adds, 
" Perhaps from music-hall tag Ballyhooly truth, suggested as 
Irish for whole bloody truth" (Ballyhoo(ly) has since about 1930 
been used for humbug, nonsense, both noun and adjective.) 

Balsam. Money. Adopted from dispensing chemists. 

Cast an Optic. To look ; cf. soldiers' have a dekko, to glance. 

Chant. To swear. Rarely heard after the '8o's. 

Comb-Cut. From the jargon of cock-fighting, this term, now 
obsolescent, m^ans completely vanquished. 

Condemned. (Sporting in the '70'$ and '8o*s, generally later.) 


Damned : "A sort of jocular avoidance of the even mild 
swearing/ 1 

Derby. To pawn. From the fact that so many watches were 
stolen on Derby day that " men who pawned their watches would 
say that they had been " so acquired ; the next step was to Derby, 
to lose a watch ; the last, Derby, to pawn one. 

Do In. To risk (on a bet), to spend. Of money, then of any- 
thing foolishly sold or exchanged. 

Done Fairly, later Fairly Done. Completely cheated. 

Drop. To lose, esp. money. " What did you drop over that 
deal ? " 

Fills a gentleman's eye. (So rarely in any other form that it 
became a phrasal adjective for) " shapely possessed of 
thoroughly good points ", chiefly of a dog or a horse. 

Flier. A breeder of homing pigeons. (In racing slang, a very 
fast horse.) 

Go to See a Dog. (Usually pronounced dawg.) A facetious 
and widely known euphemism for to visit a woman in a more than 
friendly way. A modern variant is going to buy a dog (seldom 
pronounced dawg). 

Kingsman of the rortiest. (Roughly 1850-1890, though rorty 
still flourishes in Cockney slang.) A wide, folded necktie of very 
bright colours. 

Leadenhall Market Sportsman. " A landowner who sells his 
game to Leadenhall market poulterers/' Obsolescent. 

Ofiers. Frequenters. Rarely heard after 1900. 

Pick of the Basket, the. The best. Now the pick of the bunch. 

Play Owings. To live on credit. 

Shack-for-Swaw. Each for himself. Introduced into English 
sporting circles, according to Ware, by a French gentleman 
rider. A corruption of chacun pour soi(-meme). 

Shamateurs. Amateurs that, in the essential matter (money), 
are actually professionals. We have, since the War, heard much 
about sttch amateurs in cricket and lawn tennis. Applied at first 
to actors, as in The Daily News of i6th December, 1888. 

Sportsman for Liquor. " A fine toper/' Ware quotes The 
Sporting Times as saying, in 1882 : " We never knew what a 
sportsman Algernon Charles Swinburne was for his liquor till 
we took up his last volume of poems." 

Spot the Winner. To judge rightly in any contest ; originally 
from racing. Became general in the 'go's. 

Strike a Bargain. Now Standard English, in the nineteenth 
century general colloquial, in the eighteenth sporting slang with 
the same meaning ; " to conclude it by the act of striking the butt 
ends of the riding whips of the seller and buyer as a mutual 

r and 0. Odds of two to one. Hardly outlived the '80 's. 


Troubled with the Slows. Applied to a losing boat or a 
swimmer, but often extended to other sport. Other aquatic 
terms are tubbing, the post- War slang for tub practice, which was 
general in the 'go's ; to wet a line, to go fishing ; and trouting, 
fishing for trout. 

Wobbler or Wobbler. A pedestrian. In eighteenth century 
foot-wabbler and usually in the sense of an infantryman. 

Write One's Name across Another's. " To strike in the face/' 
Apparently a variant was to write one's signature across another's, 
as we find in The Globe, 5th October, 1885. 

Of those sporting terms which cannot accurately be called 
general, the majority are of the turf, and these will be treated in 
the next section ; as for the rest, the following games or sports 
have produced them in this descending order of the number of 
words : boxing, cricket, Rugby football, hunting, billiards, 
and athletics. 

In athletics we may note all out, striving to the full extent 
of one's powers ; to breast the tape, which, applied to the winner 
in running matches, whether sprints, middle-distance, or long- 
distance races, has come, in general slang, to signify to lead, to 
be victorious ; give a stone and a "beating dates from the eighteenth 
century, when it meant (as it still means) to weight oneself thus 
and still win, but now the phrase is often used figuratively and 
sometimes in general slang ; to think one holds it, i.e., any athletic, 
any sporting championship, to consider one has it "in one's 
pocket ", has from about 1875 crept into general slang ; to train 
too fine, to train too assiduously, probably first used by boxers. 

Billiards possesses a few slang terms, several of which, e.g., to 
pocket the red (ball) and stick and bangers (cue and balls) have an 
erotic meaning best left to the smoking-room : indoor games 
show this curious tendency more than do the healthier out-door 
games and sports, and only a reference is necessary to the universal 
indoor sport, a phrase belonging to the study of euphemism. To 
drop the cue is the best-known billiard slang, and only recluses 
and hide-bound purists need to be told that it means to die. 
To play for paste, to play, be it with the brilliance of an Inman, 
the polished and diabolical expertness of a Lindrum, or the cool 
efficiency of a Smith, a game of billiards for drinks, the paste 
deriving from vino de pasta, a light sherry, while ten stroke connotes 
a complete victory, " from the fact that ten is the highest stroke 
at billiards that can be made ; cannon off the red, all three 
balls in." 

From the hunting terms 1 we select four. A bullfinch is in 
England any high hedge, in Ireland a stone " hedge ". To 

1 For twentieth-century hunting terms in general, see Frederick Watson's 
Hunting Pie ; his Robert Smith Surtees, a Critical Study, contains a few that 
were in current use in 1830-1850. 


cocker up, originally from the slang of horse-copers, is to make 
a horse look young, especially for a sale ; come to grief, to have a 
spill, is often used in general slang ; and wrong scent, applied to 
dogs on the wrong scent, is also general. 1 Two dog terms may, 
however, be added : cloddy, of an aristocratic deportment, is 
sometimes applied to human beings, and the dog bully above the 
muzzle is one that is too large and thick in the mouth, the phrase 
occurring in Miss Braddon's Phantom Fortune, 1883. 

In Rugby football, Ware gives only rugger, which we have 
already noticed as being Oxford slang. Seemingly post- War 
are hakes and threes for half-backs and three-quarters, the latter 
itself once slang for three-quarter backs ; and so, at all generally, 
is to sell the dummy, to pretend to pass the ball and, having thus 
tricked the opponent, to race on, a feint that causes experts to 
shout grass him or pull him down or tackle (or take) your man. 
Cricket provides more slang terms than does Rugger, and Ware 
has these 2 :Bowl for timber, to direct a ball at the batsman's 
legs. " Discountenanced/' says Ware in 1909, " in later years 
rather as waste of time than with any view of repression of 
personal injury/ 1 and that authority quotes " Try for timber 
he's quivery " (nervous) as a former piece of advice. This 
affords an interesting sidelight on the great controversy 3 of 
December, 1932-February, 1933. The Daisy Crown of Cricket 
and a wielder of the willow may serve to illustrate the jargon of 
cricket-reporters. Homesters, the home team, barely survived 
the 'go's. Reg, regular, was normally found with duck egg; 
reg became obsolete during the War. Rot-funk, panic, reminds 
us that a rot is now used of a succession of batting failures : 
" a rot has set in/* Sitter is an extremely easy catch, one that 
could be made by a person sitting, while slow is a slow ball, i.e., one 
bowled slowly. Tie up is to bowl so that the batsmen have the 
greatest difficulty in scoring ; in the 'go's, apparently, it meant 
to bowl as one at that date said, to bowl out a batsman/ 
especially in such a phrase as tie up with a curly one. Tosh, 
" fatally easy bowling/' dates from about 1898, and is to-day 
used in such a slangy sentence as this : " he sends up/' i.e., bowls, 
" the most awful tosh/' journalists sometimes varying the 
slang send up with the jargon wheel up ! And you're off the grass, 
you have no chance. 

In cricket, 4 as in other sport, a few slang terms change from 

1 So, too, is to rush one*s fences, from putting a horse too fast at a fence : 
figuratively, to be impetuous. 

2 I omit those which, several paragraphs on, I quote from Collinson, op. cit. 

3 In 1933 we are witnessing the phrase body-line bowling becoming slang for 
a fierce, even a brutal attack. There are further repercussions : at the beginning 
of April we find Ivor Brown in the Week-End Review, speaking of a beautiful 
thigh-displaying chorus (in a revue) as leg-theory that would bowl over the most 
sophisticated. * See, passim, W. J. Lewis : The Language of Cricket, 1934- 


generation to generation. In the '8o's and 'go's, to put stuff on 
a ball meant to make a ball " break " (break has always been 
jargon, not slang), but since the War the term has been to get 
work on a ball, almost invariably in the form a lot of work, much 
-work. Other terms have the obvious stamp of permanence : the 
sticks for the stumps has been slang since its introduction some- 
where about 1860, and in the present century its favourite 
collocation has been with the wicket-keeper as in " Duckworth's 
very hot behind the sticks ", whereas until 1890 or so the most 
frequent phrase was between the sticks (of a batsman) at the wicket, 
tatting. The singular is rare except in the now obsolescent middle 
stick, the middle stump ; and the other sense of stick, obsolete 
for a batsman that stays for hours at the wicket, is of course 
connected with the quality of adhesiveness, not with the 
slender piece of wood, nor has it any connexion with stick, 
a *' wooden person, consistently dull either at his work or in 
company ". 

Boxing is still more important. The boxing slang of the 
late eighteenth and the early nineteenth century is best studied 
in Moore's Tom Crib's Memorial and Pierce Egan's Boxiana ; 
these works, which appeared during the decade 1815-1824, have 
already been quoted. 1 There was in 1780-1840 an extensive 
pugilistic slang. In Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts, 
1827, De Quincey describes a fight, which evokes the following 
expressions (all listed by McKnight) : squared at him, faced up 
to him, the modern slang equivalent being squared up to him ; 
a turn up was the consequence, a turn-up 2 being a scrimmage, a 
period of rough-and-tumble fighting ; to be floored is still in 
boxing slang but it has also become a general colloquialism ; he 
managed his pins capitally, but the shine was now taken out of 
him, the shine being strength or spirit, pins, legs, and both words 
now part of the general colloquial stock, to which capitally even 
then belonged ; hit him repeatedly on the conk, the nose, now and 
long general slang ; and tried the weaving system, the verb weave 
denoting a rolling of the head and trunk from side to side and 
by 1884 applying cliiefly to horses. Likewise, in Dickens's 
Dombey and Son, 1848, there are a few of the boxing slang terms 
of the period : severely Jibbed, struck hard ; heavily grassed, 
felled, the verb passing, much later, to Rugby football ; tapped, 
hit ; bunged, from bung, to dose an eye by a blow, bung up being 
the more usual form of the verb, which dates from the sixteenth 
century, when it was general slang ; had received pepper, punish- 
ment by blows ; had been made groggy, weak, tottering ; and 
had come up piping, breathing hard. 

1 Part ii, ch. 5. 

2 My notes on the De Quincey and Dickens terms owe much to Farmer and 


Referring to the palmiest days of prize-fighting, " Jackdaw " 
in John o' London's Weekly, 4th February, 1933, feelingly 
writes : " These brave times have gone, and with them ... a 
whole vocabulary of noble English. To-day, when the Camberwell 
Beauty delivers a blow on the Gunner's nose, we are no longer 
told that he dotted him on the claret jug, or (in the eye) that he 
closed his mince, 1 or (in the stomach) that his sinister mauley 2 
reached his bread-basket. To land a punch on the chin is now, 
if you please, to ' connect ' with that organ. It is a saddening 
decline . . ." . 

Ware does justice to boxing slang, and a few of has entries 
not only defy omission but are still in use. 

Belcher soon passed from boxing to general sporting slang 
and even to general slang. This was a handkerchief with white 
spots on a dark-blue ground and it took its name from Jim 
Belcher, a prize-fighter who died in 1811 and who always carried 
into the ring this bird's-eye wipe, as it was sometimes called. 
Later, belcher designated a spotted necktie and in this sense it 
survived until the end of the century, when it was displaced by 
moon tie. 

Chuck up the bunch of fives. To die. " The one poetic figure 
of speech engendered by the prize ring/' says Ware. Fives are 
the fingers and thumb, and bunch of fives, a fist, 3 was often 
shortened to bunch, 

Constructive Assault exemplifies pugilistic jargon^ as distinct 
from pugilistic slang. Meaning attendance at a prize fight, it 
belongs to the '8o's. 

Do Someone a Treat. To give a thrashing, to beat thoroughly. 

Have a Turn. To fight, a bout not " a pitched battle " ; cf . De 
Quincey's turn up. 

It's Dogged As Does It. Perseverance tells. 

P.R. Prize Ring. The Ring : boxing, 

Pop on. To deliver a quick blow, usually on the face: In 
The People, 6th January, 1895, we read " Then big Tim popped 
it on Selby's face, and they had a bit of a spar round like ". 
(This use of like for " as it were " or as a qualifying addition is 
not peculiar to slang ; it is a solecism common to the uneducated.) 

These various indications receive something of postponed 
unity from the record furnished by Collinson for the years 
1897-1926. He recalls the following cricket terms : / bags (or 
bags I) first go, boy's slang for taking the first innings or even to 
open the innings ; make a duck's egg or duck or blob, to score 
nothing ; to stone-wall, to bat with great care, this being now a 
colloquialism ; to fag, to be in the field ; to butter a catch, miss it, 
the spectators' comment being butter-fingers! Lobs, yorkers, 

* Short for mince-pie, rhyming slang for eye. 

4 Left hand. s For which another old name is doddle. 


full-tosses, googlies, are not slang but technicalities, but, originally 
at least, bringing back the Ashes and the, wagging of the tail (good 
batting by the poor bats) are slang. " Cricket has, of course, 
supplied a number of metaphors to the language/' some of these 
having been slang, some jargon, t( and we are all apt to use 
expressions like clean bowled, stumped, caught out ... in 
figurative contexts . . . Other expressions . . . possessing 
figurative applications as well as literal are : to keep one's end 
up, to have one's innings . . ." the last for to have a fair chance, 
to live one's life, the last but one for to endure, to keep one's 
head above water. From cycling he quotes push-bike, back pedal ! 
(hold hard, steady !), to scorch (to dash), road-hog (applied to 
motorists as early as 1909 and at first slangily) ; from motoring, 
shover, a chauffeur, jam, sometimes jamb, joy-ride, a motor trip 
or run for pleasure ; from lawn tennis, van or advantage, sudden 
death for a game played to end a set or a match, to catch on the 
rebound, to get engaged to a person after he or she has been 
refused by another. 

From about 1895 until the War, wrestling was very popular ; 
from it we get to try a fall 1 with, to measure one's abilities against 
another's, and to half-nelson or put a half-nelson on someone, to 
have him at a disadvantage. Since the War, during which all 
European sport languished (in 1915-18, for example, there was 
no county cricket championship), wrestling has fallen from favour 
and boxing taken its place. The following terms, in addition to 
being boxing slang, have also a figurative meaning : a knock-out, 
to knock out, the blow causing defeat, to defeat ; to throw up the 
sponge, to declare oneself unable to continue the fight, hence to 
give in ; to take the count, not to rise before 10 is counted, hence 
to die ; to spreadeagle, " to lay out one's opponent so that he lies 
with arms outstretched," hence to make look ridiculous in the 
process of getting the better of. 

Turning to the hunting field, ColHnson tells how an old 
countryman impressed upon him the necessity of saying hounds 
for dogs, pads 2 for the fox's feet, brush for its tail, and mask for 
its face : those, however, like blooding (to smear with the fox's 
blood a person taking part in his or her first hunt), are jargon, 
not slang ; blooding, by the way, is sometimes used metaphorically 
in the sense to initiate. But yoicks I and to be in at the death, are, 
the former still, the latter originally, slang when used beyond the 
hunting field; the plough, ploughed land, is genuine hunting 

Rowing, the professor remarks, is responsible for putt one's 
weight, short for to putt one's weight in the boat ; billiards for 

1 In U.S., try a fall from ca. 1840. 

* Usually of a fox or bare, but also of an otter, a wolf, or indeed any beast 
of the chase ; mask, usually of a fox's, occasionally of an otter's face or head. 


cannon into anyone, to knock violently against him, and give 
anyone a miss in balk, to " cut " an acquaintance, " balk or 
baulk being the space between the transverse line," the point of 
the phrase depending " upon the rule that the player is not 
permitted to aim directly at his opponent's ball when both his 
own and the latter's are in balk." 

Thence he passes to physical exercises, slangily called physical 
jerks or simply jerks, which have originated take a deep breath, 
in order to recover from a shock. Some of the early jerks fiends 
were simple-lifers, on the analogy of struggle-for-lifers or those who 
believe in the survival of the fittest. These simple-lifers tend to 
take their holidays in discomfort in a caravan, such an attempt 
at wit is sometimes known as trying to be funny (the effort being 
scathingly condemned by Mr. Fowler as obsoletely facetious, 1 
a phrase belonging to what is sometimes scorned as tuppenny- 
ha'penny wit or a putrid pun), and they are hence described as 
caravaners, a term promoted to the rank of a colloquialism. The 
fresh-air fiends, from before the War, are still with us, and so are 
the hatless brigade and the Serpentiners (those who prefer to swim 
in the Serpentine when it is icy). " There has since the War 
been a remarkable recrudescence of enthusiasm for horse-racing, 
and gambling is very prevalent. Naturally, many of its contribu- 
tions to modem slang long antedate the War/' e.g., dark horse, 
one that, little fancied, is much better than is generally thought ; 
outsider, a horse little known to the racing /ims (an Americanism ) ; 
runner-up, the horse that comes second in the race ; an also ran, 
a horse that fails to gain one of the first three places. The post- 
War interest in horse-racing has so diffused these terms that 
they are all, and have since 1918 been, used in general slang 
with a transferred meaning. 


For the vocabulary of horse-racing before 1885 or so, the best 
books to consult are Bee's and Hotten's dictionaries and the best 
to read axe the novels of Robert Surtees, the creator (f 1864) of 
Jorrocks, John Mills's The Life of a Racehorse, 1854, an( i his 
Stable Secrets, 1863, Arthur Sketchley's humorous Mrs. Brown 
on the Turf, 1877, and A. E. Watson's Racecourse and Covert 
Side, 1883. For the quarter century beginning about 1885, the 
men to consult are Arthur Binstead, especially in A Pink Un 
and a Pelican, 1898, and Pitcher in Paradise, 1903, and, though 
he starts late and goes past 1910, Nat Gould in his various novels, 
and finally Ware, who, giving some earlier terms as well, is 
entertainingly useful : most of his entries are still valid and a 

1 Qbsoktely facetious is not, I hasten to add, Mr. Fowler's description. 


few have become general slang, as the following complete list 
will show. 

Bet You a Million to a Bit of Dirt ! The betting man's Ultima 
Thule of confidence. Contrast hollow thing and not in it, said of 
a horse with no chance of success of which the opposite is the 
right gee-gee. 

Bit on t Have a. To lay a bet. 

Bookie. Bookmaker. About 1880, the maker was dropped 
and, on the affectionate analogy of chappie and Johnnie, ie added. 

Doping. (An Americanism from dope, a lubricant that 
came to England in 1900 for) the hocussing rather than the out- 
right poisoning of horses due to run. Verbal noun from the 
frequently used (American) word, to dope. 

Feel the Collar. To sweat in walking. First of horses, then of 

Get Right. To cure (a horse). Recorded by Ware for 1896. 

Go Close. (Of a horse) to come in second or third at the 
winning post. 

Gummy. " Swell, a grandee. Imported by English racing 
bookmakers who infested and infest Paris. A translation of 
* gommeux '," a dandy, a fop, a " knut ", as Kastner and Marks 
define it in their indispensable Glossary of Colloquial and Popular 
French (revised edition, 1930). 

Half a Ton of Bones Done up in Horsehair. A lean young 
horse in poor condition. 

Lifter. A horse much given to kicking. 

Melton Hot Day. This pun was born on Derby Day, 1885, 
when the heat was sultry and the winning horse Melton. 

Off Chump. Of a horse that has no appetite. From the noise, 
represented in Standard English by champing, made by a horse 
eating. Not to be confused with off his chump, mad, literally 
off his head, chump being a modern formation, perhaps (says 
Weekley) a blend of chunk and lump. 

Post the Blue. To win the Derby, " the blue ribbon of racing/' 

Prayer Book. Ruff's Guide to the Turf. From about 1870 ; 
later it was often called the bookies' bible. 

Rail Bird. An assiduous watcher of horses exercising. Now 
generally replaced by tout, rail bird flourished in the 'go's. 

Rattle. A tolerably reliable report on a horses's form. 

Rattle, With a. With an unexpected (burst of) speed. 

Ready Money Betting is racing jargon for the payment made 
by the backer simultaneously with the laying of the bet, but 
ready betting, sometimes heard, is slang. 

Red-Hot Miracle. A surprise that comes without warning. 
Rarely applied to aught save a racehorse. 

Ride Square, i.e., fair ; square was perhaps suggested by fair, 
though on the square is the more natural explanation. 


Riding. Adroitness, ability. At first a racing, it soon became 
a general sporting term. 

Tinman. A millionaire ; a man possessing much tin or 
money. A common term in the '8o's, when it was also applied 
specifically to Archer, a very successful and popular jockey 
(f 1886). 

Two-Buckle Horses. Tubercular horses. Probably originated 
by the stable-boys. 

Up. Mounted, riding. " Richards up J> (Gordon Richards is 
riding) is the 1930*5 equivalent of the 1883-5 cry of " Archer 
up ! " 

Welsher. A bookmaker who decamps without paying his 
debts. Dates * from tlie 1850*5 and perhaps derives from " Taffy 
was a Welshman, Taffy was a thief ". 

Won't Run to It. Of a horse that has insufficient staying power 
to reach the winning post. The term came into very general 
sporting use, and it is probably the first form of the post- War 
slang 2 can't run to it, unable to afford to buy or pay for something. 

To that list one cannot add very much ; but early in 1933 
I invited Mr. John Morris, wno has had some months' first-hand 
knowledge he was working as a " bookie's offsider ", as they 
say in Australia, i.e., as a bookmaker's clerk to write a dialogue 3 
that is at once true to the facts in every detail and adequately 
illustrative of the racing terms : not the slang of the racing 
public, though a small proportion of that public knows a small 
proportion of the terms, but the slang of the " bookies ", their 
clerks, their signallers, and their scouts : a natural dialogue of a 
kind never before recorded and containing numerous words with 
which even the devotees of slang, let alone the general public, 
are unfamiliar : a shooting of the linguistic bird on the difficultly 
observed wing. 

* See my Words, Words, Words ! (1933) at the essay entitled " Offensive 
Nationality '*. 

2 For post- War racing slang in fiction, the best authority is Edgar Wallace, 
who in the last ten years of his life wrote perhaps half a dozen tales of the turf. 

3 The merit is entirely his, my " instructions '* being very general and 
perhaps quite useless. All I have done is to add a few footnotes and to supply 
the etymological part of all those footnotes which seemed to require some such 
linking with the past ; I can but hope that these minor additions, I have not, 
by the way, touched the dialogue itself, will not seem to be a pedantic 
interference with a unique and remarkable document. 


Characters : 

Gus Gabriel, a bookmaker. Not noticeably archangelic. 

" Fairy " Smith (alias " Nancy "), Ms clerk. Mr. Fairy Nancy 2 Smith 

stands revealed as his fellows see him. 
" Fat " Wilkins, his signaller. 3 Fat's other nickname " Weedy " provides 

a better thumbnail sketch. " Fat " is an evidence of his compeers* 

gift for irony. 
" Kid/' a water boy. 4 
A Flattie, 5 a policeman. 
A Shark, 6 a professional punter. 
A Steamer, 7 an ordinary punter. 
Scene : Epsom race-course. 
Time : The first Wednesday of June in any recent year, at 2.30 p.m. 

(The Derby is run at 3 o'clock.) 

Gus (to the public at large). Pick where you like ; I don't care. Shoot 
it in ; shoot it in > It won't grow in your pockets, my lads. The jolly 
old favourite at two to one before he's a lot less. 

Fat (with frantic gesticulation). Finith to fere ! 8 Finith to fere ! 

Gus. Evens on the field * what did I tell you ? Bet levels, you devils. 
Shoot it in I Shoot it in ! 

Shark. Cow's calf I0 on Fish. 11 

Gus (interpreting to Fairy). Three halves 12 on Physic, 11 No. 433. 

Steamer. Three tossaroons 1S each way 14 on Treacle Tart. 

Gus (to Fairy). Treacle Tart : seven and six at fours to win ; evens 
a place. No. 434. 

Fat (in a hoarse stage whisper). Scrub 1B Treacle Tart! A bice and a 
half 18 is the best. 

1 With many thanks to the editor of The Cornhill Magazine, where, in a very 
slightly different form, it appeared in the last week of May, 1933, 

2 Nancy or Sissy, nouns and adjectives, are applied to a male pervert ; 
boy is sometimes added. Fairy is the American equivalent. 

In racing slang, a tictac man, occasionally just a tictac. 
A boy who goes from bookie to bookie with a pail of water in which the 
bookies dip the sponges used to rub off chalked odds from their betting boards. 
From flat-foot. Alternatively known as a grass (indelicate rhyming slang) . 
More generally, a racing " knowing one " ; alternatively a squib. 
Literally, a " mug " : rhyming slang out of steam-tttg. 
Odds now five to four. (Finith : German funf. Fere : a mere corruption.) 
The favourite is now at evens. 

10 Cow's calf, rhyming slang for half ; ten shillings. 

11 Race-course alternative pronunciations of the name of the racehorse Psyche. 

12 Ten shillings to win thirty. Ticket number 433. 

11 Tossaroon : half a crown ; from Lingua Franca madza caroon. Three 
tossaroons : seven and six. 

14 Two bets, each of seven and sixpence. If Treacle Tart win, punter draws 
thirty shillings for his win and seven and sixpence (evens) for his place money, 
plus his original stakes 2 12s. 6d. in all. If Treacle Tart be second or third, 
punter has his fifteen shillings stake money returned to him, thus neither winning 
nor losing. If Treacle Tart he unplaced, punter loses his fifteen shillings. 

15 Rub out the previous odds of four to one. 

ie The best offer from the Grandstand is now two and a half. Bice is from 
French bis, twice. 

241 R 


Gus (incredulously). Come orf it ! 

Fat (waving as if demented). Scrub it ! You'll do your dough, 1 
Treacle Tart's a springer. 2 It's deuces * ; it's exes to fere. 4 

Gus (altering his board). Too late will be the cry. Shoot it in ! If 
you haven't got any dough, leave your name and address, and well 
burgle your house to-night. We're bookmakers by day and burglars by 
night. Shoot it in ! Shoot it in ! 5 

Shark. A nicker e on the fav'rite ; a caser 7 on Treacle Tart and a 
{winking} pony in white 8 on Physic. 

Fairy (who has not seen the wink). Physic's our bogey, 8 Gus. 

Gus. On top, 10 you fool ! The pony in white's on top. 

Kid. Sponge ! Where's your sponge ? 'Ere ! The favorite's on the 
11 stand on me for that. 

Fat (agitatedly). 'Ear that, Gus ? 

Kid (pteasurably)* 'E'll finish like a crab 12 stand on me for that. 

Fat (to Fairy). We've gone ba ba blacksheep, 18 ain't we ? 

Fairy. Yerse. 

Kid. 'Ere, guvner. A lousy stever. 14 All the other bookie chaps 'ave 
all guv' me susies 15 or chips. 18 

Gus. I'll 'ave your guts fer garters. 17 Fairy, gi' us a dener 18 from the 
smash. 19 

Fat (whose agitation persists). D'yer 'ear wot the kid says, Gus ? 
*E said that the fav'rite's on the ribs. 

Gus. Yerse, an' an angel 'as married Tom Walls, and the biby's name's 
April fust, not fifth. 20 

Fat (to Fairy). If the fav'rite gets scrubbed 21 . . . 

Fairy. I cam/t see no bleedin' scrubbin '-brush. The fav'rite will 
skate it. aa 

1 Lose all your money. 

* A " dark " horse that has been " sprung " i.e., which has not been backed 
until the race is almost due to be run, with the result that its odds shorten 
suddenly, and bookies rely upon their tictac men to save them from pouncing 

3 Odds of two to one. 

4 Odds of six to four. (Exes : back-slang for six or sixes.) 

5 Many race-goers will have met the original from whom ten per cent, of Gus 
is borrowed and will recognize the above as a word for word transcription of 
Ms blague. 

* 1. Nicker is common in thieves* slang : see Shades of the Prison House, 

7 5s. Direct from the Yiddish. 

* A pony : twenty-five pounds. A pony in white, therefore, twenty-five 

* The worst horse to win from the bookmaker's point of view. 

10 A bet " on top " is a bet made by a pal of the bookmaker pour encourager 
le$ autrss. The clerk puts such a bet " on top " instead of in the body of the 
book for obvious reasons. 

11 In poor form ; certain to lose the race. 

ls A horse that sidled in like a crab would plainly be among the also-rans. 
18 Barred the favourite, i.e., the bookmaker had offered so poor a price for 
the favourite that in effect he had barred bets on it. 

14 Penny. Current in England for four hundred years ; from the Dutch. 

15 Sixpences. Susy is from sices or sizes, a dice-throw of six. 

16 Shillings. Ci chips, generic for money. 

17 A vivid figure often to be heard on race-courses. 

18 Shilling (alternative to chip). Or dena ; from thieves* slang. 

19 Loose silver in the bookmaker's hod. 

* Mr. Tom WaUYs April the Fifth won the 1932 Derby. 

21 Lose swept away as with a scrubbing-brush. 

22 Win easily. 


Gus. It'll win with its ears pricked. 1 

Fairy. If the fav'rite's scrubbed, we've caught the zig. s 

Gus. It'll win with a couple of handfuls, I tell you. 8 

Fairy. 'Ope yer right, guvnor. If it don't walk it 4 and there's no 
scnibbin'-bnish, we're a cock an" a 'en 5 overbroke. 6 

Fat (to himself). II I'd a-known this was a knockin' joint, 7 Fd a-turned 
the job up. 

Fairy (who has quick ears). Stop yer gap. 8 There's a grass 9 a-listemn' 
in. An' we ain't shished 10 yet. 

Gus. I'll box u carefully. Wot's the field-money ? la An' what does 
the bogey take out ? ls 

Fat (again in self-communion). It'll mean a carpet u for Gus. 'E's 'ad 
a moon- 1S twice. 

Fairy. 'Arf a stretch " more likely ! 

Gus. Keep yer eye on the 'od, 17 Fairy. Some of these racing coves 
are that crooked they carnt lay in their beds straight. 18 

Fat (suddenly becoming a human windmill). Saucy Sally's got a price. 1 * 
Twenties. 80 'Old 'ard ! There's annuwer show. 21 Twelves. 28 She's a 
bleedin' springer. 28 Scrub 'er, Gus, scrub 'er ! * 4 

Gus (to Fairy). Well get 'em up together, 25 (To the public.) Take 

1 Win easily : the ears of a horse that wins without being extended are often 

* We are " in the soup "* 

* Win easily. The origin is dubious. Bookmakers use a handful to mean 
five. If so used here, phrase reads : will win by ten (lengths). Alternatively and 
more obviously : will win with a lot in hand. 

* Win (more precisely, win easily ; cf. skate it). 

5 Ten pounds (rhyming slang : cock and hen for ten). 

* Gus's liabilities will exceed his assets by ten pounds, and be will welsh. 

7 A welsher's stand. A bookmaker's stool, easel, and board, banner (or 
flash) is known variously as his stand, joint, or kit. 

8 Be quiet ! (Slang not peculiar to the race-course.) 

9 A policeman. 

Welshed. (Knocked is an alternative.) 

11 Phrase used by a bookmaker who, having little money with which to bet 
(or to stand : cf . note 6, the verb being used as well as the noun) has to arrange, 
or try to arrange, that, whatever horse wins, he will not have betted overbroke. 

12 How much in all have you taken on the race ? Field is a collective noun ; 
strictly it embraces all the horses except the favourite in a race. Field-money 
is the money taken on. the horses without exception. 

18 How much shall I need to- pay out if my " worst " horse win ? 

14 Three months' imprisonment (for welshing). 

15 A month. (Thieves' slang, technically known as cant, tout court). 

18 Six months* imprisonment. A stretch is a year. Cant is current on all 

race-courses. -, .,- 

17 Bookmaker's leather bag in which he keeps his money or at least his smash ; 
for the wise bookmaker, knowing the ways and wiles of race gangs, keeps notes 
about his person, often next to Ms skin 1 

18 A race-course slogan in which there is much truth. 

i* previously no price had been quoted for this complete " outsider ". Gus 
would probably have shown it at 50 or even at a 100 to 1. 
* Odds of 20 to 1. . 

81 A tictac man at, or near to, the grandstand, has signalled new odds. 
* 2 Odds on Saucy Sally now 12 to 1. 
Cf . note 2 on p. 242. 
24 Rub out the big odds shown on your board (i.e., scrub them out with your 

** By increasing odds the bookmaker can hope to induce punters to wager 
on the three most " likely" horses excepting the favourite which he is 
" barring "so that his own liabilities in respect to each are roughly equal. 


odds ! take odds ! l Treacle Tart at fives 2 I don't care ! * Shoot 
it in ! Shoot it in ! Take odds ! Take a nice gel fer a walk ! Saucy 
Sally at tens. 4 'Ooll have a bit with the Saucy gel ? * 

Steamer. (A fat woman with a small girl.) Arsk the gen'leman wiv 
the big book if yer can stand on 'is box, duckie. Then youll be able ter 
see the gee-gees. 

Fairy. Wot a life ! 

Gus. Get orf the joint ! 6 D'yer want the whole bleedin' flash 7 dahn 
on our yeds ? 

Fat. 'Ell ! it's startin' ter juice. 8 

Gus. Run up the mush. 9 

Fat. 'Ope it ain't much. If it pours, anyfink may 'appen, 

Gus. If it pours 'ippopotanmses, the fav'ritell come up, 10 I tell yer. 

If we don't get a skinner, 11 well cop 12 a cock an' a 'en. 

Fat (gloomily). The fav'rite ain't worf two penn'orth of cold gin. 1 * 

Gus (soliloquizing). Only five bleedin' minutes more. An' then 'oo 

knows ? It's me twenty-fird Derby. I've been run 14 twice. An' each 

time I've *ad real live 'orses on me side an 1 they weren't no good ter me. 15 

Aw well, there's worser lives. 'Least, being a bookie bloke ain't tame. 

I'd sooner be me than a bishop. . . . That reminds me. Fat ! FAT ! 

Fat. Yes, guv. 

Gus. The missus gave me two pieces la to put on that 'orse Bishop 
Bluggeon I7 or somefing. Go down the line 18 and get the best price yer can 
see. 1 Oh, an' the nipper wants a ryer 20 on the Saucy gel. 'Ave it wiv 
next door. 21 Come to fink of it, 'ave em bof wiv next door they won't 
knock. (Exit Fat.) 

1 The favourite is now an " odds on " chance : a punter will have to wager 
(say) two pounds in order to win one. 
At five to one. 
Probably bookmakers near him are offering 4 to 1 only on Treacle Tart. 


" going a point over the odds," advertises the fact by his J don't care. 

At ten to one. 

Epsom has its doubles ententes no less than Mayfair or Bloomsbury I 
Bookmaker's stand. 7 Bookmaker's banner. * To rain. 

The bookmaker's umbrella resembles a gigantic mushroom, hence mush. 
The term is almost a century old. 

10 Will win. Gus's next remark suggests that he is " keeping his spirits up " 
by professing an optimism he does not feel. 

11 A race won by a horse no punter has backed and in which, therefore, Gus 
will be the ** skinner " and the backers the " skinned ". 

12 Show a profit (of ten pounds). Each race that ends as " a win for the 
book " is marked by the clerk at the foot of the page with a large " C " for 
Cop followed by the amount of " profit " made. (" Profit " is the technical 

13 Fat is, of course, a Georgian. To the mid-Victorian the phrase would have 
been far less graphic. 14 Arrested (for welshing). 

15 Bookmakers, like other business men, rarely admit that losses they have 
incurred are due to their own poor judgment. Always " the luck " has been 
against them. 

u Five shillings. A piece, like a tossaroon, is half a crown. 

17 The racing fraternity, like the rest of us, often quote Shakespeare 
unconsciously. Its knowledge of Browning is scanty. 

18 Bookmakers line the course. Gus is not noted for reverence. Yet some- 
thing of that quality can be heard in his tones when he refers to the line. For 
Mm the line is what 'Change is to the stock-brokex. 

19 The biggest odds. 

10 One and sixpence. Spelling dubious ; for bookies* is a spoken rather than 
a written language. Probably a corruption of the costers' hye t eighteen hence, 
eighteen pence. 

21 The bookmaker next in the line. 


Fairy. Wot's with the " c " ? * 

Fat (returning). The " c " ? Treacle Tart, 

Gus (dreamily}. Good old Treacle Tart I I was a guts 2 fer it when 
I were a kid. 

Fairy (pointing course-ward). Wot d'yer know abaht that, 3 guv'nor ? 

Gus (reading a red-lettered banner carried past by an evangelist). THE 
WINNER OF THE HUMAN RACE : JESUS. Christ A 'mighty \ It's bleedin' 
blarsphemy. Why don't the flatties 4 run 'im in ? 5 

Fairy. Put your shirts on 

Gus, Fat, Fairy, Kid, Flattie, Shark, Steamer, and a million odd 
others : They're ORF ! 

Fat. I 'opes all their bleedin' 'oofs drop orf 'cept the fav'rite's. 

Fairy. I'm paddin' me own 'oof 6 if we're overbroke. 

Gus (with eyes glued to his field-glasses). The fav'rite's lyin' fourth. 
'Go's the barstard in the blue 'oops. 7 

Fairy. That's Bishop Buggerun. 8 A springer, that's wot 'e is. 

Fat. Springer me a-se ! I got fifties * fer the guv'nor, next door. 

Gus. 'Ere, wot's that ? Fifties, did yer say ? Don't fergit I paid 
the caser on. 10 

Fat. Not a caser, guv' six an' a 'arf chips. 11 

Gws. You've made a basset. 12 I gave yer two pieces to put on the 
Bishop for the missus, and a ryer the Nipper wanted shoved on Saucy 

Fat. Sorry, guv'. 

Gus. It makes no odds. 13 

Fairy. Nark it, 14 Gus. If the Bishop scrubs the lot, it's rabbits out 
of the wood. 15 

Gus (excitedly). Yerse, the Bishop's skatin* it. The Missus 'as found 
it. 16 It was a nomen, 17 that's what it was. 

Fat. Wot was ? 

Gus. The sky-pilot's 18 bleedin' banner abaht the Yuman Race. 

1 When " the runners " (i.e., the horses running) in a race are " called over ", 
the caller known as " runners " adds with the " c " to the name and number 
of the horse of which, apart from the favourite, bookmakers should be careful. 

2 A glutton. Gus's " nipper " would probably have said greedy-guts. 

8 What do you know about that ? and Stand on me for that ! are slang slogans 
used ad nauseam by bookmakers and racing fans generally. 

4 Policemen. The term comes from the U-.S.A., where it is or was much 
used by the underworld. * Arrest. 

6 Here, to pad the hoof is to bolt ; its more usual meaning is to go on tramp. 

7 What jockey has blue hoops as his racing colours ? (Parenthetically, it 
is an odds-on chance that Gus does not know the true meaning of the word 
bastard, used by him as a term of opprobrium sometimes even of endearment.) 

8 Fairy also, has no acquaintance with. Robert Browning's work. 

8 Fat has on behalf of Gus backed Bishop Blougram at 50 to 1 with the 
bookmaker next door. 

10 Paid the five shillings at the time. Pay on is to pay cash ; a. "bet on the nod 
is a bet made on credit. 

11 Six and sixpence. 

12 A blunder. Origin dubious. Conceivably from basset-hound, since the 
racing fraternity has a considerable knowledge of dogs as well as of horses. 

13 It makes no difference. This general slang came originally from racing. 

14 Don't talk nonsense, Gus. In slang nark is more generally used as a noun, 
meaning something quite different. 

15 Origin dubious. Inquiry suggests that it is of local (mid-Sussex) usage. 
General sense : we shall be out of the wood ; our bacon will be saved. 

16 Has backed the winner. 

17 An omen. Though idiosyncratic on Gus's part, a nomen for an omen has 
many parallels in Standard speech, e.g., newt. 

18 Here, evangelist ; more usually parson. 


Fairy. An' we went ba ba ! * 

Gus. If only I'd 'a given the barstard some stick ! * 

j^a* (waving his arms unprofessional!? with even more than professional 
dementia}. The scrabbin'-bnish ! The scnibbin ' -brash ! 

5&#r&. *E ain't won nuffin* yet. 3 , t. n j. 

Gtcs. Wot*s the 'orse on the rails ? 4 Cherry cap an choc late 

Fairy. That's 2Y0a& Tar/, the bleedin' swinger ! * 

fat. Bit of a bogey, ain't it ? . 

6w. Allays fancied treacle tart when I were a kid. A nomen, 
that's wot it is. 'Ooll 'ave me guts fer garters ? 

Fairy. The Tart carnt stay. 6 Look ! 'er ears are flat, 7 flat as a 

Gus. Tell us, somebody ! Me glasses are all steamed up wiv me 
bleedin' sweat. 

Fairy and Fat and a thousand other bookmakers, bookmakers clerks, and 
tictac men. The Bishop wins ! The Bishop! The Muggy Bishop/ 

Gus (to Fat). 'Ere ; collect me dibs 8 from next door. Sixteen and 
a 'arf quid's ter corned They can *ave a basin of eels 10 with the ryer 

Fat. Not 'arf! 

Gus (fishing a battered cigar from his breast pocket and starting to roar) : 

" Arter that body blow u 
We'll 'ave annuwer go ! " 

Fat (waving his arms). The barstards 'ave knocked. 18 

Gus. The ! Ill have their bleedin' guts fer garters. Where's 

the gaffer ? 1S 

Fairy (to whom the next door clerk has been whispering). They ain't 
shishers. The clerk says you can 'ave 'arf naow and 'arf when they've 
counted the smash. 

Gus (mollified). Or! right ! Orl right I I thought Fat said they was 
knockin'. Us bookie chaps mustn't be 'ard on one annuwer. 14 

Steamer. I've got a dollar to come. 

Gus. Wait tffl the flag 15 goes up, Missus. 

Steamer. What flag ? 

Bar the favourite. 

If only I had encouraged punters to bet freely on the favourite ! 

A race-course slogan whose proverbial vis-a-vis is " there's many a slip ..." 

Next to the rails (of the course). 

Cl swing it on, to deceive or trick a person. 

Lacks stamina. 

A sign that the fiHy had drawn on her last reserves of strength. 
Alternatively : are back. Cf. pricked or cocked. 

The money due to Gus on his winning bet with " next door ". 

At odds of 50 to 1, a bet of six and sixpence brings the backer sixteen pounds 
eleven and sixpence, including the returned stake-money. 

10 Stewed eels are caviare in the eyes of the " bookie chaps ". 

11 Bookmakers, like boxers and card-players, have scraps of doggerel patter 
used as ritualisticaliy as the Norman French phrases traditionally associated 
with, the opening or prorogation of Parliament. Body blow : this is irony, for 
it is the punters who have received the body blow. 

18 Welshed. 

** The race-course steward to whom complaints are made. Gaffer is old 
North, of England workmen's slang for a master or employer, from gaffer = 
gmnfer = grandfather* any old man. 

14 Bookmakers are often exceedingly generous to their fellows in misfortune. 

l& Explained by Gus (in bis next " speech "), his explanation ending with 
another scrap of bookmaker's patter. 


Gus. On the flag-staff there. Near the stand see ? When the flag 
goes up, they'll have weighed in. When they weigh in I pay aht. See ? 

Fairy. Wot abaht a beer, Gus ? 

Gus. 'Ere, Fat ! Three beers. Giv' 'im a tossaroon from the 'od, 
Fairy. (To Fairy, as Fat disappears.) Me 'eart is still poundin*. Wot 
a life ! One 'orse goes by, 1 an' a pore barstard like me goes ter stir. 1 
Annuwer *orse comes up, 3 an' it's milk an' 'oney fer the free of us, a 
new mog 4 fer the missus, an' 

Fairy (impatient at Gus's sentimentality). 'Ere's the beer. 

Fat. Fanks, Gus. 

Gus. 'Ere's ter the bluggy Bishop! 

Fat. Wot-oh. 5 

Fairy. Wot-oh. 

Gus. Wot-oh ! Next year'll be me twenty-fourth Derby. It ain't 
a bad life, a bookie bloke's. . . . 

(Fairy spits. Fat waves frantically at a vendor of stewed eels. Gus 
begins to mark his board in preparation for the next race.) 


Many of the terms heard in the slang of the turf are Cockney, 
which has left a deep impression on another " on the margin of 
society " occupation and its slang : the circus. The smallness 
of the circus community would not entitle it to a place in this 
book were it not for the inherent interest of its slang, which has 
very close association with Cockney, with cant, and with Romany. 
But it is a slang gradually dying out, for the War almost destroyed 
it as an entity, the more so because it was on the wane in the 
preceding decade : now it has few terms peculiar to itself, now it is 
little more than such a mixture of Cockney and Romany (with 
a few words from Lingua Fra!nca and the underworld) as lacks 
individual character except in its vestiges which resemble ghosts 
rather than survivors : and this can, at several different angles, 
be seen by a careful reading of the Lady Eleanor Smith's Red 
Waggon, 1930 " A Story of the Tober," where tober, meaning 
the Circus field, derives from tobar, which in Shelta, the cryptic 
language of the Irish tinkers, signifies a road, especially a 
highway ; her Flamenco, 1931, though this deals in the main 
with the gypsies ; and her Satan's Circus and Other Stories, 
(January) 1932. 

This somewhat debased circus slang a slang that has much 
in common with Parlyaree should be compared with the 
examples given in Thomas Frost's Circus Life and Circus 
Celebrities, 1875. There we read that " circus men are much 
addicted to the use of slang ", this, of course, is still the case 
" and much of their slang is peculiar to themselves . . . But a 

1 Wins. * Prison. * Wins. 

4 A cat's skin (more probably coney) tippet or other fur, favoured by many 
wives of men like Gus. 

5 The toast most frequently heard on a race-course* 


distinction must be made between" slang words and phrases and 
the technical terms used in the profession, and also between the 
forms of expression peculiar to circus men and those which are 
used in common with members of the theatrical and musical 
professions." Contrary to a fairly general impression, few circus 
slang words are of an Italian or Spanish l origin, and Frost 
cites 2 " bono (good) . . . used both as an adjective and as an 
exclamation of delight or admiration. Dona (lady 3 ) is so constantly 
used that I have seldom heard a circus man mention a woman by 
any other term . . . The other words . . . are used in monetary 
transactions . . . Saulty (penny) may be derived from the Italian 
soldi ", and duey salty and tray salty, twopence and threepence 
respectively, " are also of foreign origin." Money " is spoken 
of as denarlies, which may be a corruption of the Latin denarii ". 

Rot seems originally to have been circus slang, but even in 
Frost's day it was gaining ground in general speech. " Toe rags 
is another expression of .contempt." Fake 41 is to fix, fakements 
the circus apparatus and properties. Letty, which occurs also in 
Parlyaree, signifies both a lodging and to lodge; this, like 
doing a Johnny Scaparey (absconding), shows Italian 5 influence, 
Frost is not very alert for disguised borrowings. " The circus is 
always called the ' show ' . . . Gymnasts call their performance 
a slang " connected with sling " but I am not aware that the 
term is used by other circus artistes.' 3 To miss ones tip is to fail, 
in riding, to clear the outstretched ribbons. Cutty is a circus 
comrade, while prossing is " a delicate mode of expressing a desire 
for anything ". Skbber swing is " a single circle " (upon the 
horizontal bar), " after which a beginner, not having given 
himself sufficient impetus, hangs by the hands." The Hindoo 
punishment or muscle grind is " a rather painful exercise upon the 
bar, in which the arms are turned backward to embrace the bar, 
and then brought forward upon the chest, in which position the 
performer revolves ". 

Frost refers also to " the acrobats who stroll about the 
country, performing at fairs and races in the open air. These 
wanderers are said to ' go a-pitching ' ; the spot they select for 
their performance is their * pitch ', and any interruption is said 
to ' queer the pitch ' . . . Going round the assemblage with a 
hat ... is ' doing a nob ', and to do this at the windows of 
a street, sometimes ... by one performer standing on the 

1 Of which there is practically BO trace. 
8 Now often corrupted to bona, boner. 

* Now, as in Cockney and in low slang, a girl. 

4 Probably from Romany (see Sorrow's Romano Lavo-Lil). The present 
circus meaning of fake is " to hit ". 

* Letty is Italian letto, a bed. The significant part of doing a Johnny Scaparey 
(of which the general slang-form is doing a bunk) is Italian scappare, to run off 
quickly. Now, to scarper. 


shoulders of another, is ' nobbing the glazes '. The sum collected 
is the ' nob V 

A recent and notable addition to books about circus life is 
Edward Seago's cleverly illustrated "Circus Company". 1 This 
most readable work contains a glossary of sixty-seven terms, 
which, on examination, appears to be formed of the following 
elements : Jargon, six terms ; genuine circus slang, forty ; 
cant, eight of which seven date back to the i8th century or 
beyond ; Cockney, one, though three or four others, while not 
derived from, are common in Cockney ; Romany, three, though 
another (vardo, a waggon) may be Romany, and yet another 2 
is certainly Shelta ; general, or almost general slang, five ; 
diverging from such slang, four. Of the terms recorded by 
Frost, Seago lists ten ; and Seago's list is not quite complete. 
It is pleasant to think that circus slang, which in the igih century 
detached itself from the moribund Parlyaree (the secret slang 
of actors, especially of strolling players), has survived to this 
extent, but it is doubtful if the close of the present century will 
see more than twenty of Seago's terms still in use. 


Les mathurins out une langue 
Oft le verbe n'est point prison. 
I/image y foisonne & foison, 
Or vierge dans sa rude gangne. 


The slang and the jargon of the sailor have exercised a 
considerable influence on general colloquial speech, whence they 
have sometimes passed into Standard English. Transport^ dans 
un autre milieu, le professional, writes M. Carney in that work 
from which we have already quoted often enough, conserve ses 
habitudes de pemte. Les objets et Us activites qu'il rencontre lui 
rappellent des aspects et des experiences de sa me de travail. II les 
assimile done en fonction de cette-ci et comme a travers cette-ci qu'il 
" projette " sur I' autre. Rien deplus caract&ristique d cepropos que 
k cas des hommes de mer qui trouvent de toutes parts des reminiscences 
de leur vie si spfaiale. Thus it is, he adds, that the everyday 
language has been affected by nautical terms, as for instance, 
the att aboard of the London bus, tram, and train conductors ; 
to land, e.g., on one's feet ; to be on the stocks, to be in preparation ; 
to catch (the turn of) the tide, to seize an opportunity, also to 

1 May, 1933. 

a Tober, which. I have counted under circus slang. The cant form is toby. 

3 See esp. Wilfred Granville, "Sea Slang of the 2oth Century", 1949. For 
Naval Slang of World War Two, see "A Dictionary of Forces' Slang" 104.8 bv 
W.G., Frank Roberts, E.P. * ' * y 

4 In La Mer, published in 1886; see the poem entitled "Parfer Mathurin/' 
Mathurin = matelot, a sailor. (From Sainean's Langage Parisien.) 


prosper ; to drift around, to idle about : of which only the last 
is slang, though all the others were so at their inception. Carnoy 
cites a very odd example : Put that on your boat and float it, an 
American phrase that represents a deliberate variation on the 
English put that in your pipe and smoke it, for which the French 
equivalent is prends cela pour ton rhume (try that for your cold). 

We all know the reputation of parrots taught by sailors ; and 
if soldiers' language is often bad, sailors' language is said to be 
worse. All things considered, the sailors' slang and profanity, 
while no less slangy, are more profane than those of the Army. 

The colloquial language ol the sea has characteristics of its 
own. As Mr. Logan Pearsall Smith remarked in The English 
Review in 1912 : " If we take the words in common use among 
English sailors, the terms, special or general, connected with the 
sea and ships, we find a vigorous and expressive vocabulary, very 
characteristic of the hardy and practical people who employ it. 
And if we examine these short and vivid words, which seem so 
essentially English in their form, and which are now being 
borrowed from our speech into most of the languages of the 
world, we shall find that the greater part of them are not of 
English origin at all." In sea slang there are many foreign words 
(less French and Italian than Dutch up to 1800, than the Spanish 
of Europe and South America after that date), but British sailors' 
colloquialisms and slang remain essentially English in character : the 
spirit of this breezy speech was as English as ever until about 1920. 

One of the latest and most entertaining recorders of English 
sea slang, Mr. Frank C. Bowen, in 1930 wrote that " There is no 
clearer indication of the changed conditions at sea than the rapid 
disappearance of sea slang, the language which was the seaman's 
own and which was frequently almost unintelligible to the lands- 
man. There was of course, a good deal of profanity mixed with 
it in the old days, but even without that it was expressive, 
characteristic and frequently poetical ". The same author goes 
on to remark : " When I enlisted as a seaman in the earliest days 
of the War, the old hands who were with me used a slang that 
was practically the same as that of the late Victorian navy and 
quite dosely allied to the navy of Nelson's day. When I went 
down to the Mediterranean Fleet in 1927, I found that this 
language had practically disappeared and had been replaced on 
the lower deck, and to a certain extent in the wardroom, by smart 
Americanisms, mostly picked up in the music-halls and picture 
houses, which have no reference whatever to the sea." The old 
slang, then, will become historical, and to those who wish to delve 
further into the subject I recommend the following books : 
Smyth's Sailor's Word Book, 1867 ; W. Clark Russell the well- 
known novelist's Sailors' Language 1883 ; Fraser and Gibbons' 


Soldier and Sailor Words and Phrases, 1925 ; and Frank C. 
Bowen's Sea Slang, 1930. For the technical terms the best readily 
accessible work is A. Ansted's aptly illustrated Dictionary of 
Sea Terms in the latest edition, though the more archaeologically- 
minded will turn to the great nautical Dictionary by William 
Falconer (f 1769), the author of The Shipwreck, 1 praised by 
Byron for " the admirable application of the terms of his art " 
and " a sailor-poet's description of the sailor's fate ", a poem 
that the eighteenth-century wits said was written to drive its 
readers to consult the dictionary, without which the lay reader 
is sometimes at a loss. 

Of the few yet typical examples that follow, every one is in 
Mr. Bowen's delightful little book. 

As among soldiers, so among sailors the question of food is 
always popular : many slang words and phrases therefore concern 
" grub ". A grub-spoiler is a cook ; bare navy indicates that only 
the tinned and otherwise preserved rations are to be had and in 
only the statutory quantity. Tommy, for example, is soft bread ; 
this word arose in either the army or the navy in the eighteenth 
century ; by 1865 it was used among workmen to mean food, 
provisions in general (Tommy-bag being the bag, or the handker- 
chief, in which the day's lunch and snacks were carried) as John 
Camden Hotten recorded. Admiralty ham was tinned meat ; 
so was Fanny Adams* the more usual naval word for the sea- 
slang Jane Shore and Harriet Lane : an unfortunate young woman 
named Harriet Lane was, I believe early in the nineteenth 
century, murdered and chopped up ; her body remained 
undiscovered for a long time ; crudely the sailors " feared " 
that any preserved meat. . . . More pleasing is the origin of 
grog (three-water grog t by the way, refers to a drink of which only 
one part in four was spirituous) for rum. In 1740, Admiral 
Vernon ordered that the men's rum at that time usually called 
arrack should be watered ; displeased, the sailors named the 
insulting beverage grog, because the Admiral was already known 
as Old Grog from his habit of wearing a grogram (i.e., a coarse 
fabric) garment, either cloak, or foul-weather coat, or breeches 
(the authorities differ !). Now but a memory is banyan days, 
those days on which no meat was served : probably derived from 
the Banyans, a caste of Hindus that abstained entirely from 
animal food ; Ovington uses the term in 1690, while Smollett 
expatiates on it in Roderick Random, 1748. Old Jamaica, short 
for Old Jamaica rum, was sailors' rhyming-slang for the sun. 

But sailors were not always thinking of that which the French 
call M . le Ministre de I'Interieur. The yard-arm, an important 

1 See my Eighteenth Century English Romantic Poetry, 1924, at pp. 37, 
178-9, and 248. 

8 See Brophy's Songs and Slang and my Words, Words, Words. 


part of the ship's anatomy, gave rise to the expression clearing 
one's yard-arm, meaning either to prove oneself innocent or to 
disclaim responsibility for anticipated trouble. Who would not 
sell a farm and go to sea ? a traditional exclamation when some 
particularly disagreeable task had to be performed; in the 
1914-18 days we used to snort : " Who wouldn't join the Army ? " 
To show the white feather is to maintain in the boilers a pressure 
of steam just sufficient to keep a wisp of white steam issuing from 
the safety-valves. Three decks and no bottom was such a con- 
temptuous description of a liner as was made by a tarpaulin (or 
efficient seaman) on a sailing-ship. To sandpaper the anchor is 
to do unnecessary work, while to carry the keg, a survival of the 
old smuggling days, is to continue a job started by someone^else. 
A brass-hat was a commander or other officer of still higher 
rank: in the Army this term denoted a staff-officer, also 
designated a red-tab. A mystery-ship, which is on the border line 
between colloquialism and slang, was officially a Q boat or a 
decoy ship : a merchantman specially equipped to deal with 
German submarines attacking cargo-boats. We may be sure 
that those " Q " men who died at sea went ^ to the heaven that 
is Davy Jones's Locker, while those who died ashore went to 
Fiddler's Green : in either " haven " they are now enjoying 
unstinted rum and unlimited tobacco. 

Of the novelists who have written notably of the sea and at 
the same time employed significantly the slang of the sailor, we 
may mention, as perhaps the best for that double purpose, 
Smollett in the eighteenth century, Marryat during the years 
1829-1848, and in the latter half of the nineteenth century 
Robert Warneford's The Phantom Cruiser/ 1865, the anonymous 
Nights at Sea, and the various novels of W. Clark Russell (1844- 
1911), particularly John Holdsworth, Chief Mate, 1875, An Ocean 
Tragedy, 1890, and The Convict Ship, 1895 ; among later writers 
there are especially Kipling, Conrad, Masefield, Frederick Niven, 
William McFee, James Hanley. From the view-point of the 
investigator into nautical slang, the richest yield comes from 
Tobias Smollett and Captain Marryat, the best of the sea-writers 
before Conrad; Conrad, however, has little, slang. More 
important, in this respect, than the author of Typhoon is W. W. 
Jacobs, who deals so amusingly with the Thames side. 


L'annee, comme tout corps etroitement constitue, ayant sa vie propre 
. . . et arrachant Fhomme a sa vie normale, a toujours en un parler 
propre tres developpe ; qui, naturellement, comme celui des matins, a 
servi a designer Men des idees extra-militaires. CARNOY. 

Soldiers have always had a language somewhat apart. 
Unfortunately we possess no records of the slang used in such 


wars 1 as those of Marlborough and Wellington and not much 
of that current in the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny. 

Nevertheless, Captain Francis Grose * lists seventy odd terms 
that in the last quarter of the eighteenth century were either 
soldiers' slang, soldiers' jargon, or general slang referring to soldiers. 
Many of these survived until well on into the next century and 
some ten are still in use. A few of the more interesting : 

Act of Parliament. (< Small beer, five pints of which, by an 
act of parliament, a landlord was formerly obliged to give each 
soldier gratis." 

Bad Bargain. More generally, King's bad bargain or one of 
the King's bad bargains. " A worthless soldier, a malingeror." 
Malingerer, -or, was always technical, but skulker, given by 
Grose, was at first slang. Grose, by the way, applies malingerer 
only to a soldier, skulker to a soldier, a sailor, or a civilian (" who 
keeps out of the way when any work is to be done "), and he 
records the verb to skulk. 

Bloody Back, also Lobster, a soldier. Both satirical, the latter 
occurring in B.E/s dictionary, 1690, and in the Civil War 
employed of a regiment of dragoons, x as Clarendon relates in his 
History- of the Great Rebellion. 

Brown Bess. " A soldier's firelock. To hug brown Bess ; to 
carry a firelock, or serve as a common soldier." This is the 
earliest mention, though brown musquet occurs in 1708 ; an old 
variant was black Bess. 

Brown George. " An ammunition loaf." Munition bread, 
bread supplied by contract. A naval as well as military term, 
Urquhart and Dryden using it in the seventeenth century. 

Burning the Parade. " Warning more men for a guard than 
were necessary, and excusing the supernumeraries for money. 
This was a practice formerly winked at in most garrisons, and 
was a very considerable perquisite to the adjutants and sergeant- 
majors ; the pretence for it was, to purchase coal and candle 
for the guard, whence it was called burning the parade." 

Cheese Toaster. A sword. In 1914-18 the Tommy called his 
bayonet, either cheese-toaster or tooth-pick. 

Eyes and Limbs. " The foot-guards s were formerly so called 

1 Shakespeare and Ben Jonson give us an inkling of the soldiers* slang of 
1590-1610. " Bearded with strange oaths/* as I once heard it described. 

2 A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 3rd ed., 1796 ; some of the 
editorial comments are taken from my reprint of 1931. Many of these old 
terms are treated, much more fully than is here possible, in Words, Words, Words, 
which contains two essays on English, two on French, and one on German soldiers' 
slang, as well as a comparative study of all three. For Italian soldiers* slang, 
see F. Guercio's II Gergo di Guerra Italiano, published at Lanciano early in 1933. 

3 Grose's precision is due to the fact that not only had he thirty years' 
experience of the militia but he, was a great military antiquarian ; his Military 
Antiquities of the English Army appeared in 2 vols. in 1786-8, a revised edition 
in 1801, a new augmented edition in 1812. An informative and readable work. 


by the marching regiments, from a favourite execration in use 
amongst them, which was, damning their eyes, limbs, and blue 

Fire a Slug. To have a drink, esp. a dram of something strong. 

Kit. st The whole of a soldier's necessaries, the contents of 
his knapsack/' 

Lansprisado. " One who has only two pence m his pocket, 
the only meaning recorded by B.E. " Also/' says Grose, " a 
lance, or deputy corporal ; that is, one doing the duty without 
the pay of a corporal. Formerly a lancier or horseman who being 
dismounted by the death of his horse, served in the foot, by the 
title of lansprisado, or lancepesato, a broken lance," the usual 
forms of the word being lancepesade from French and lanceprisado 
from Italian and the term originating in the sixteenth century 


Maltout. A naval as well as a military name for a marine : 
"probably a corruption of matelot, the French word for a 
sailor/' In the form matlo(w) the word has survived to the 
present day, but for at least a century it has been applied by- 
soldiers to sailors ; one of the characters in Philip Macdonald's 
thrilling War story, Patrol, 1927, is nicknamed Matlow. 

Nightingale. " A soldier who, as the term is, sings out at the 
halberts. It is a point of honour in some regiments, among the 
grenadiers, never to cry out, or become nightingales, whilst under 
the discipline of the cat-o '-nine-tails ; to avoid which, they chew 
a bullet/' 

Parish Soldier. A militiaman. 

Rag Carrier. An ensign, also called a walking cornet. This 
lowest commissioned infantry officer, obsolete in the British 
Army, carried the standard. 

Rag Fair. " An inspection of the linen and necessaries of a 
company of soldiers, commonly made by their officers on Mondays 
and Saturdays/' What in the War was officially known as a 

Roast and Boiled. " A nick name for the life guards, who are 
mostly substantial housekeepers, and eat daily of roast and 
boiled/' this last phrase being itself slang. 

Skink. i( To wait on the company, ring the bell, stir the fire, 
and snuff the candles ; the duty of the youngest officer in a 
military mess " : he was called, Grose informs us, Boots. 

Soldier's Pomatum. " A piece of tallow candle." 

Swad or Swadkin. A soldier, this being rather an underworld 
than a military term ; whence in the early nineteenth century, 
swaddy, chiefly by sailors of soldiers ; by 1900 swaddy was firmly 
established in the Regular Army for a private soldier, and in 
1914-18 it occasionally served as a vocative. 

Tame Army. The London trained bands ; long obsolete 


and not regarded with much favour even in the eighteenth 

Trull. This word, now literary, seems to have had military 
associations : see, e.g., Randle Holme's Academy of Armory, 

Unfortunate Gentlemen. The Horse Guards, "who thus 
named themselves in Germany, where a general officer seeing 
them very awkward in bundling up their forage, asked what the 
devil they were ; to which some of them answered, unfortunate 

Used Up. Killed. 

Sixty years later, Hotten has a short passage on military 
slang. After dealing with some words that are essentially officers' 
slang and therefore akin to that of the dandies, for instance, 
dreadful lore, bounder (a four-wheeled cab), not down the road or 
dickey (in bad condition), and tool one's drag (to drive one's four- 
in-hand), he passes to more general soldiers' terms : lobster-box, 
" a barrack or military station " ; mug up, to work for an 
examination ; spin, to fail a candidate ; rookery, " that part of a 
barrack occupied by subalterns," from the old Army rooky > 
a recruit, whether officer or private soldier. 

Fifty years later still, Ware in 1909 lists about eighty military- 
slang terms, which, if taken in conjunction with Collinson's 
reminiscences, "hereinafter to be mentioned/' are particularly 
interesting in that they include many words and phrases that the 
inexpert believe to have arisen in the War : certain of these 
Passing English entries originated even before Hotten published 
his dictionary. To gloss a few is therefore desirable. 

Abyssinian Medal. Introduced after the Abyssinian War, 
this denotes a fly-button left undone : what Society calls a sin 
of omission. A military synonym was star in the East. The usual 
euphemism is a button showing. 

Balaclava. A full beard, seen on many English soldiers on 
their return from the Crimean War, which has also contributed 
Balaclava cap or cap comforter, a woollen head-covering that, in 
the Great War, was worn underneath the steel helmet in winter ; 
sometimes just Balaclava. 

Bazaar Rumour. From 1882 and as the result of the military 
occupation of Egypt, equivalent to the British-residents~m-India 
Hamburg. The 1914-18 synonyms were latrine, or sh-thouse, 
rumour, the most general ; cookhouse rumour, ration-dump 
yarn or rumour, and transport tale or rumour : from these four 
popular points of assembly. 

Boobies' Hutch. A drinking place in barracks, often after the 
canteen is closed. In 1914-18, a booby-hutch or boob, generally 
supposed to be an American importation, meant a prison or 
detention-cell. Actually, Americans say booby-hatch. 


C.O. Commanding Officer of a battalion, the Colonel or the 
old man, this last having exact equivalents in French and German 
military slang. 

Chuck Ones Weight about. To display one's authority or one's 
f * physical magnificence " as Ware has it. 

Digger. The guard-room. Short for damned guard-room. 
In the War, as most people know, it designated an Australian 
soldier, the term coming from the gold-fields, and should be 
compared with the Australianism diggings, often digs, " from the 
time when gold-miners lived on their claims or diggings." 

Europe on the Chest, Homesickness. Dates from the '8o's, 
and originated in India. 

Grouse, To grumble. In the War, both noun and verb. Its 
etymology remains obscure, as The Shorter Oxford English 
Dictionary notes ; this remarkable work puts its origin at 1892. 

Hardware. " Ammunition in general, and shells in particular " ; 
ct the 1914-18 iron rations, shelling, and iron foundries, heavy 

Jacket. (Now obsolete for) a cavalryman or a horse-artillery- 
man. This last term is also obsolete. 

Keep One's Nose Clean. To avoid drink. 

Khaki. A volunteer, esp. a yeomanry volunteer, in the Boer 
War. In cheap eating-houses, cannon and khaki soon came to 
meln a "round beef-steak pudding and a dump of pease- 
pudding ". 

Marry Brown Bess. To enlist in the Army. Obsolete. 

Muck. " Scornful appellation bestowed upon all infantry by 
all cavalry/' Obsolete, like the cavalry. 

N.A.D. and N.Y.D. Military hospital abbreviation of No 
Appreciable Disease and Not Yet Diagnosed ; as slang they mean 
respectively shamming and drunk. 

Out of Mess. Dead. In 1914-18 the phrase was lost the 
number of his mess, borrowed from the Navy, 

Pink Wine. Champagne, An officers' term, and obsolete. 

Pongetto. A ranks* term for beer ; from India, and extant. 

Quiff. "The sweep of hair over the forehead." 1890 on. 
(The nineteenth century quifs, manoeuvres, is obsolete.) Scoop, 
which hardly survived the '80 J s, was a manner of wearing the 
hair c * when the mode of bringing it down flat upon the forehead 
came in ". 

Shave. A false rumour. Ware records for 1876, but it 
probably dates from the Crimean War and it was occasionally 
heard in 1914-18. From the barber's chair as the source of gossip 
and rumour. 

Smash a Brandy Peg. To drink a tot of brandy. 1880 on. 

Soldier's Farewett. " Go to bed," with certain noisy additions ; 
cf. a sailor's farewell, " f you, Jack, I'm all right ! " 


Soldier's Supper. Nothing, soldiers having none. 

Sticks. A drummer. Often in the vocative. 

Throw the Hammer. To obtain money tinder false pretences. 
The phrase has also an erotic meaning known to few but soldiers 
and obsolescent during the War, 

Whitehall. Cheerfulness. Chiefly in " He's been to White- 
hall ", i.e., he's got further leave, hence he's very cheerful. 

Widow, the. Queen Victoria. From 1863 to her death. In 
several of Kipling's poems, esp. in Barrack-Room Ballads. 

Wingers. Long flowing whiskers. They came in about 1865, 
when the Balaclava (beard) was thus superseded. 

When we arrive at the War itself, there are three main sources : 
Soldier and Sailor Words and Phrases, by Fraser and Gibbons, 
1925 ; the ten-page, tight-packed chapter entitled " War Words " 
in Collinson's Contemporary English ; and Songs and Slang 
of the British Soldier, by John Brophy. 

It is with no depreciation that I mention thus summarily 
the work by Edward Fraser and John Gibbons, for it is a most 
valuable book, which, I may say, appeared while the War was 
still " taboo " and so failed to achieve the popularity that it 
deserved. My only adverse criticism is that its tone was some- 
what too official, but what is for me a defect is undoubtedly a 
virtue for others, for all those others to whom Brophy's book 
will come, and has come, as something of a shock and an 

Professor Collinson's chapter on War words is doubly useful 
because of his pre-War experience of things military. He mentions 
that while at Bisley in 1909 he heard sighting shot and washout, 
both of which were, during as after the War, used often in a 
figurative, a slang sense : the former as a feeler ", an 
investigatory " shot in the dark " ; the latter as a rank failure 
or a worthless person or thing. To mop up and moppers up (those 
who clear a trench of debris and enemy wounded), cold feet (fear), 
see red and see it through are all " older expressions which the 
War introduced to wider circles ". In 1909-1910 he learnt also 
flea-bag for a sleeping bag, biscuits for small hard mattresses, and 
lot for latrine. " It was not until August, 1917, that I heard 
in the . . . Officers' Cadet Battalion at Cambridge the word 
click in the following applications, i. to do a drill movement with 
a click, 2. to click for a fatigue or a duty (i.e., to be put down 
for one), 3. to click with a member of the opposite sex, syn. to 
get off with one (also to dick absolutely without an object, e.g., in 
' he's clicked '} in the sense of * picking up or making the acquaint- 
ance of *, 4. a woman clicked if she found herself pregnant," but 
also in the second sense, though there the form ' to Sick with a 
fellow ' was more usual ; " In all these senses the word is still 
not uncommon " and it is likely to stay. He notes also cushy, 


of a light wound or an easy job, probably from Persian khushi, 
pleasure, a word that has worn very well " Glad rags is now 
less common, though occasionally used for one's best clothes " ; 
originally it applied to an officer's walking-out clothes or to a 
private's or a non-com. 's ordinary dress made to look as decent 
as possible. 

Collinson alludes also to such persistent makeshift words as 
gadget, umpteen, and oodles (of time) and to the figurative post- War 
use of key-position, go over the top (e.g., to get married), go west 
(to be mislaid), chit (a note, an invoice, an authorization), posh 
and pukka (smart and genuine respectively), brass hats (officials), 
a tin hat in put the tin hat on it (older, put the lid on it). 

Then the Professor checks, with Eraser and Gibbons's Soldier 
and Sailor Words and Phrases, the War expressions familiar to 
him ; he, by the way, occupied " a half-way position between 
the men at the front and the civilian population ", so that his 
evidence is peculiarly valuable to an old soldier like myself. 
Adopting his classification, I select a few terms from each of his 

1, Old Soldier Words : pawny, water, and rooty, bread, both 
from Hindustani, as, for the soldier, is buckshee (superfluous, 
costing nothing) ; swing the lead, to malinger, another word that 
has made a mark on general slang ; scoff, to eat, from South 
African Dutch ; come the old soldier, to throw one's weight about, 
to attempt to deceive. 

2, Officers' and Instructors' Words of Command : carry on, 
as you were, jump to it, and put a jerk in it have all become slang 
in general civilian use : they had all, indeed, been diverted by 
soldiers to slangy purposes during the War. 

3, Nicknames : Anzacs (which includes New Zealanders) and 
Aussies, Canucks (Canadians), Doughboys (Americans), Pork and 
Beans (Portuguese), Froggies, Fritz or more commonly Jerry for 
a Boche, a Hun, a German ; Big Willie and Little Willie, " from 
Hazelden's Cartoons in the Daily Mirror." 

4, Words Connected with a, Drinking : " originating outside 
the Army in many cases, but popularized during the War " : 
such as go on the binge or the razzle-dazzle or the ran-tan ; to have 
a blind ; canned, blotto, jogged, squiffy ; chin chin, as a toast, 
a phrase coming from the Chinese. 

b, Companionship with Women : square-pushing, going out 
with a woman, war-baby (esp. if illegitimate), and ring-money, 
a soldier's wife's allowance. 

c, Terms connected with Card Games. These are Greek to 
those who don't play them and are difficult to explain. 

d, Stories That Went the Round of the Army. These should 
be consulted in Stephen Southwold's " Rumours at the Front " 
in A Martial Medley : Fact and Fiction of the War, 1931. 


e t Sergeant-Majors' Pleasantries. Most of these are unrepeat- 
able, but thank God we've got a navy is a good example of the more 
respectable kind ; it was widely used among the men themselves. 

/, The Soldiers' Name for his Punishments : be strafed, clink. 

g, Guns and Shells : pip-squeak, whizz-bang, crumps ; a dud, 
still very common and likely to remain so ; fairy lights, the Very 
lights constituting a distress signal. 

h, Borrowings from outside England : bonza, Canadian, and 
dinkum, Australian, for good ; French tags like napoo, apree 
la guerre , boko ; minnie, from German Minenwerfer, strafe for 
bombard or bombardment, hate from Lissauer's Hymn of Hate. 

i, Miscellaneous Soldier Words and Phrases. Almost anything 
else, but these may well be treated separately, in relation to 
John Brophy's Songs and Slang of the British Soldier, 1914-18. 1 

5, Words Connected with Civilian Activities : silver bullets . 
money invested in the War Loans ; land girls ; C 3, which survives 
for inferior or in bad health ; Cufhbert, a slacker ; funk-hole, a 
Government office ; comb out, to send to the front. 

6, Naval Words : Chew the fat (to grumble) is still often 
heard; hush-hush ships; juice, electric current, has passed into 
general slang. Many more will be found in the works of 
' Bartimeus ', * Taffirail ', and ' Klaxon ', this last himself a 
submarine commander. 

7, Words Connected with Aviation : ace, bus, cock-pit, conk 
out (to fail), to pancake (drop flat), to zoom (soar vertically), crash 
dive, joy-stick, to taxi (roll on ground before mounting), to nose- 
dive, zepp, sausage (balloon), blimp (an aeroplane on coastal escort). 

Here, parenthetically, are a few Royal Air Force terms 2 
current in 1932 and, so far as I know, " stiU going strong " : slip, 
short for side-slip, is " a method of losing height quickly without 
gaining speed " ; to undershoot is " to use bad judgment and not 
land at the spot upon which you intended to land " ; rumble, 
a device " to reach that spot by the surreptitious opening of the 
throttle n ; a three-pricker is a perfect landing effected by 
" touching the two wheels and the tail-skid exactly simultaneously 
on the tarmac " often called the mac " or the apron which 
extends in front of the hangars " ; a brolly-hop is a parachute 
jump ; a split pilot is a clever but not necessarily a careful one ; 
a ham pilot is " such a one as would ruin a polo pony's mouth in 
half an hour " ; a thumped-in landing is a bad one, necessitating 
the use of the engine ; a pretty perch is a very neat landing ; 
an arrival is a landing of completest mediocrity ; and an under- 
cart is " the landing gear of an aeroplane ", of a kite as it is 

1 Published in 1930 ; the 3rd edition, 1931, is very greatly enlarged, and it 
is from, this that I quote. 

2 From a 1932 newspaper cutting signed A. D. S. ; sent by a Mend who 
omitted to say whence it came. 


sometimes called. It must be added that some of these terms 
are commoner to schools of instruction than to the air services. 

Collinson refers to Dr. Hans Ehlers's doctoral dissertation 
Farbige Worte im England der Kriegszeit, 1922 ; there the 
Doctor considers some of the highly coloured words and phrases 1 
current in the England of the War period. " Fortunately some 
of the most rabid terms of abuse were enlisted only for the 
duration (as we said of the new recruits) and have either receded 
into the background or even acquired a* playful or teasing 
significance ! " The mad dog, the mailed fist, the all Highest are 
not slang but journalese or a War jargon. " We still occasionally 
use frightfulness for any violent measures or unpleasant opposition, 
the hidden hand for secret or malign influences, a place in the 
sun for a chance in life, peaceful penetration for activities other 
than Germany's commercial ambitions, and Haldane's spiritual 
home has been used of other countries " : all these terms, in their 
literal senses, were jargon, but all have been turned to the brighter 
ways of slang. And somewhere in France, which was and is 
tolerable, has luckily died in its variants. " Finally/' remarks 
Professor Collinson, " I can assure Dr. Ehlers that most of us are 
now prepared to say to the worst expressions he has collected 
from our War literature : Napoo, toodle-oo, goodbye-ee! " 

Songs and Slang of the British Soldier, 1914-1918, contains, in 
addition to a hundred songs and some two thousand terms in the 
glossary, a very full representation of the sayings and catchwords 
that were so popular. Kitchener wants you 2 meant < you're 
wanted for some job ", usually difficult or dangerous or both ; 
remember Belgium " was heard with ironic and bitter intonations 
in the muddy wastes of the Salient. And some literal-minded 
. . . individual . . . would be sure to add : * As if I'm ever 
likely to forget the bloody place ! ' " Before you came or come 
up was the stock retort from an old soldier to a " reinforcement " ; 
variants were before your number was dry, before you lost the cradle- 
marks off your a-se, a rather similar but here unquotable one, 3 
the vulgarly realistic when your mother was cutting bread on you, 
and the milder while you were clapping your hands at Charlie 
(Chaplin), when you were off to school with a bit of bread and jam 
in your hands. From nigh a hundred, these three specimens 
will serve. 

On the slang of the soldiers, Brophy has a masterly essay, 

1 Almost wholly the jargon rife in the Press. For soldiers' slang it has little 
importance, but for political and journalistic jargon it is very important ; this 
resuscitation of War psychoses makes an Englishman feel ashamed of the violence 
displayed towards, e.g., the Kaiser. 

* I quote from Brophy's Chants and Sayings in the first edition, 1930. 
The corresponding sections in the second and third editions are by the present 

8 To be found in due place in the third edition, op. cit. 


which it were unfair to quote ; and still more unfair would it be 
to quote from his even better essays on soldiers' songs. It is, 
however, desirable to indicate briefly the salient features 1 of the 
slang. It was, all in all, gallantly cheerful, and where, as was 
often inevitable, bitterness crept in, that bitterness was usually 
ironical ; alongside of the pre-War Regular Army words, mostly 
from India with a few from Egypt and South Africa, there were 
resuscitations and/or popularizations of old slang and dialectal 
words and of purely Cockney or Colonial expressions ; fear and 
discomfort were " guyed " and turned into a racy jest or 
unforgettable phrase ; the ex nihilo neologisms were necessarily 
very few, but the sense-neologisms were very numerous ; French 
and, much less, German words and on the Eastern front 
Turkish, Greek, and Bulgarian words were freely and often 
amusingly adapted ; irony and sarcasm and a very effective, 
typically British understatement abounded ; authority was 
japed ; metaphors were vivid, clear-cut, and often either echoic 
or mirrors of physical exhilaration, whereas spiritual exaltation 
was rare. 

A few words that have not hitherto been treated at all or 
have received the barest of mentions may now be listed, 

Ally Sloper's Cavalry. The Army Service Corps. Sloper was 
a decidedly comic person in the pre-War popular paper Ally 
Sloper's Half-Holiday. " The A.S.C. were so named by the 
infantry and artillery because with their good pay, comfort and 
comparative safety, they were not considered soldiers at all ... 
A variant was Army Safety Corps." 

Arsty. Slowly ! go easy ! Like its opposite jildi, from the 

Asquiths. French matches, because during the War they were 
slow of ignition. ' Wait and see/ 

Blighty, From the Hindustani "bilaik, a foreign country, and 
bilayati, foreign, it was perhaps influenced by Arabic beladi, my 
own country. It meant England or a wound just sufficiently 
serious to cause one to be sent to England, or, as an adjective, 
English or ideal, first-rate. Blighty was first used in print in 1915, 
according to the Shorter Oxford Dictionary. 

Boche. From the French and used mainly by officers and 
journalists ; fire-eating retired colonels preferred Hun ; the 
Tommy said Fritz -in 1914-15, Jerry (from Gerry = German) in 
1916-18. These four words were adjectives as well as nouns. 
" Poor old Jerry's copping it to-night," apropos of a heavy 
bombardment, was characteristic of 1917-18. 

Chatty. A louse ; to de-louse (intransitively). Probably, as 
Grose suggested, from chattell, a personal belonging. An admirable 
account occurs, at gau, in Fran9ois Dechelette's L' Argot des 

1 These will be exemplified in the ensuing selection of slang terms. 


Poilus, 1918, and an interesting sidelight in A. J. Evans's The 

Escaping Club, 1921. 

Dodging the Column. "The art and science of avoiding 
unpleasant and, especially, dangerous duties. The phrase 
originated in India and South Africa, where a column was a mobile 
body of troops seat forward into hostile country." To swing the 
lead, originally nautical, meant outright malingering. 

Duckboard. The ribbon of the Military Medal The arrange- 
ment of the colours resembled the formation of the wood in a 
duckboard, ct a device for flooring trenches and making foot 
tracks across marshy ground," A duckboard harrier was a 
messenger or " runner ", a duckboard glide a quiet walk along 
the tracks at night. 

F.A. Sometimes this most unquotable phrase, meaning 
"nothing", was lengthened to sweet F.A. or euphemized to 
Sweet Fanny Adams, this last being originally a^ naval term for 
tinned meat, from the notorious murder of a girl so named in 
1812, so that the obscene F.A., in full, is presumably the rough 
soldiers' adaptation of Fanny Adams. 

Foot-Slogger. An infantryman. Variants in the 1890'$ were 
mud-crusher, beetle-crusher, worm-crusher, of which the first and 
the second were occasionally heard in 1914-18. 

G.S. General Service. In slang it connoted either regimental, 
smart, or unnecessarily officious and formal. 

Jig~a-Jig. Sexual intercourse, especially if mercenary. As a 
verb, jig-jig occurs in a street ballad as early as 1848. 

Kamerad. A comrade. Frequently employed by German 
prisoners asking for mercy, whence the facetious use among 
Tommies for have mercy ! stow it ! that's enough ! 

Kip, A, or to, sleep ; a place in which to sleep. Kip-shop, 
a brothel, is nearer to the original Dutch kippe, an ale-house, a 
mean hut. 

Landowner, to become a. To be dead and buried. 

Maalish* Never mind ! From the Arabic as is mafeesh, 
nothing, finished, dead, the Eastern Front's equivalent to the 
Western Front's napoo. 

Muck-in, io ; Mucking-in. " A method of sharing rations, 
sleeping-quarters, and certain duties. Quite informal and 
arranged by the men themselves. A set of mucking-in pals, two, 
three, or four, formed the real social unit of the Army." (See esp. 
Her Privates We, 1930.) Perhaps ex U.S. mining. 

Ooja, Ooja-ka-piv, Ooja-cum-pivvy. Thingummy, thingummy- 
tite ; " oh, dammit ! you know what I mean/' 

Over the Bags was a frequent variant of over the top, for which 
further synonyms were over the lid, over the plonk (plonk being 
mud). Over the top, lads ! (or men!) was the officers', Come on, 
my lucky lads the sergeant-major's cry ; both sometimes varied 


it with the grimly humorous D'ye want to live for ever ? For the 
finest picture of a Regimental (i.e., a Battalion) Sergeant-Major, 
see Hugh Kimber's powerful and very remarkable novel Prelude 
to Calvary, 1933. 

Packet. A wound ; esp. in to cop a packet. 

Pill-Box. A fortified keep or blockhouse of reinforced 
concrete. Not before 1917 ; in the Ypres Salient. 

Push. An attack. 

Red Caps. The military police. See A. M. Burrage's War 
Is War, 1930. 

Rooty Gong or MedaL For " eighteen years of undetected 
crime " or service in the Army, Pre-War. 

San Fairy Ann. It doesn't matter. It makes no odds ! From 
the French ca ne fait rien. A very popular phrase, used 
philosophically and frivolously, vigorously or resignedly. The 
chief variants were san fairy Anna and san fairy. A certain novel 
published in 1927 ends thus : " There is a magic charter. It 
runs ' San Fairy Ann V 

Snaffle. To steal. Variants, pinch, make, win, the last two 
from eighteenth-century cant, the first from slightly more 
respectable nineteenth-century slang. 

Trez Beans. Good ; well. From tres bien. A comic variant : 
Fray bentos, from the name of a much-eaten brand of bully beef. 

Up the Digger or Jigger. Up to, or in, the front line. 

Wangle. To procure something illicitly or by cunning, 
whether food or a " cushy " job. The noun meant " a successful 
piece of jobbery or an unwarranted privilege ". Also wangler, 
one thus successful, esp. if habitually. One of the War's six most 
famous terms, the others being blighty, san fairy ann, napoo, 
wind up, and 

West, to go x (to be killed), which is also the most poetical. 
Pre-War, but not in general use before 1915. Probably from 
thieves' slang, wherein to go west meant to go to Tyburn, hence 
to be hanged, though the phrase has indubitably been influenced 
by the setting of the sun in the west. 

Wonky, occasionally wanky. Defective. In pre-War slang it 
signified spurious or doubtful (esp. of coins). 

Wypers, Wipers. Ypres, which was also pronounced Eeps, 
Eepree. From long before the War, the Ypre Tower at Rye 
has been called the Wipers Tower. 

Zero Hour. Properly, technical ; in facetious uses, slangy. 
The hour fixed for an attack. There was also a Zero Day, but this 
remained technical, as did -X" day, Y day, Z day. 

Perhaps no account of soldiers' dang could be considered 
complete without a genuine, War-made soldiers* song. The 

1 See, I think I may say especially, " British Soldiers' Slang with a Past," 
in Words, Words, Words, pp. 152-3. 


following, parodying the hymn Take it to the Lord in Prayer, is 
entitled When this Blasted War is Over ; it is one of the best 
known, though not so famous as Mademoiselle from Annenteers. 
It runs thus : 

When this blasted War is over, 
No more soldiering for me. 
When I get my civvy clothes on, 
Oh, how happy I shall be ! 
No more church-parades on Sunday, 
No more asking for a pass, 
I shall tell the Sergeant Major 
To stick his passes . 

The next stanza, after the first four verses as above, continues : 

I shall sound my own revally, 
I shall make my own tattoo : 
No more N.C.O.s to curse me, 
No more bloody Army stew I 

And the third stanza ends with : 

People told us when we 'listed, 
Fame and medals we should win ; 
But the fame is in the guard-room, 
And the medals made of tin. 

Many units sang two additional stanzas, the first ending : 

N.C.O.'s will all be navvies, 
Privates ride in motor-cars ; 
N.C.O.'s will smoke their woodbines, 
Privates puff their big cigars. 

The second thus : 

No more standing-to in trenches, 
Only one more church-parade ; 
No more shiv'ring on the firestep, 
No more Tickler's marmalade. 

Of pre-War writers, the man who has best rendered the 
soldiers' talk is Kipling, especially in Barrack-Room Ballads and 
Soldiers Three. Of the novelists and memoirists of the War, the 
following have done justice to the language, whether ordinary, 
colloquial, or slangy, of the Tommy : C. E. Montague, Richard 
Aldington, Robert Graves, Frederic Manning, R. H. Mottram, 
John Brophy, Philip Macdonald, and A. M. Burrage. The first 
five of these are also the authors of five of the ten best war novels 
by English writers ; two of the others are A. P. Herbert and 
Wilfred Ewart ; the remaining three well, frankly I don't know. 


Here, need it be said ?, is considered not Yiddish itself but 
such Yiddish as has penetrated into general English slang. 
Yiddish is from the German judisch Deutsch, Jewish German, and 


although it is properly applied to " a form of old German (with 
words borrowed from many modern languages) spoken by Jews 
in or from Slavonic countries " (The Concise Oxford Dictionary), 
it also, and often, serves to designate either a non-" classical " 
Hebrew spoken by Jews in various countries or a Yiddish much 
altered according to the country in which it is spoken. 
" Yiddish "* we read in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, " is 
essentially a folk tongue, it has no written grammar, it eludes 
all strict grammatical analysis, though efforts are now being 
made to bring about uniformity in its spelling in view of its 
continued existence among the Jews of East Europe." 

It is, however, very difficult for the person without a know- 
ledge of Yiddish, of whatever kind, to obtain a knowledge of 
Yiddish words, for there is no 2 Yiddish-English dictionary 
suitable to the " layman ". A glance at the few easily accessible 
authorities will show this difficulty. 

In 1890, Professor William Sproull (of Cincinnati) published 
in Hebmica, an American periodical, a short list of " Hebrew and 
Rabbinical Words in Present Use J> , but he failed to note their 
slang Yiddish affiliations, except for kosher, meat or rather " the 
meat of animals killed and dressed according to the law. Kosher 
designates also a pious person " ; the post- War sense of kosher 
is any typically Jewish food. Much more important and readable 
is " The Hebrew Element in English " in the April and May 
1920 numbers of English, the* writer being Israel Ben Aryah. 
This, however, as is only natural, restricts itself to Standard 
English words. 

We find, then, that the best source for Yiddish as used in 
English slang is, as so often, Ware's Passing English, since the 
publication of which in 1909 only one Yiddish word has added 
itself to English slang, nor is that one at all widely known : 
briss, to circumcise. Ware has the following terms : 

Bexandeb is not Yiddish, but a comment on the Cockney 
attitude to the Jews, for it represents, from the eighteenth 
century onwards, the East London name for a young and easy- 
going Jewess. A combination of Beck, Rebecca, and Deb, 
Deborah, it is usually said satirically. 

Cady. A hat. " In 1886 a song-chorus began Met a lady ! 
Raised my cady." Perhaps Latin cadus, a jar or pot. 

Ware suggests a Hebrew derivation : the O.E.D., Farmer 
and Henley, and Weekley provide no etymology. 

Cdttoh. A bride ; also, a young girl. Often spelt cottah or 
kollah. Ware has some interesting but lengthy comments at 
cottah carriage* one filled with women. (Cf. clinah, p. 415). 

1 Yiddish proper. 

2 Fortunately there are numerous translations from Yiddish. 


Clobber. Startling clothes or clothing. Since the Wax, as 
sometimes before, it has meant any sort of clothes : the soldiers 
in 1914-18 employed it of all their wearing apparel, even to socks. 
It is a word much used by the underworld, esp. tramps (see a 
review by W. H. Davies, " the Super-Tramp," in The New States- 
man of i8th March, 1933). The original sense, recorded thirty 
years before Ware's glossary appeared, was old clothes. 

Ganoph. A thief. " An old English word (from the Hebrew), 
but resurrected about 1852 and much used ever since/' In the 
American underworld, 1 which often pronounces it gonov and 
abbreviates to gun, the word is usually applied to a thief associated 
with pickpockets or cheap pilferers. 

(Gord Keep Us. " A vulgar translation of one of the most 
beautiful Hebrew ejaculations/'} 

Kosal Kafa. One (shilling) and six (pence). 

Kosher. Pure, undefiled. (Already noticed.) 

Link, Froom. Ware quotes The Referee of 3rd February, 
1889 : " Dolly, who was a Jewess, but who was link rather than 
froom, was about forty years old at the time of her death/' The 
phrase implies : not a very strict observer of Jewish regulations. 

Manny. { ' Term of endearment or admiration prefixed to Jewish 
name, as * Manny Lyons'. Apparently a muscular Hebrewism/' 

Schlemozzle t Shemozzle. A noise of any kind; a quarrel; a riot. 
From the i88o's. As a verb, to decamp, it has invaded general slang. 

Sheeny. 2 A Jew. Rarely employed by Jews, this term may 
arise it dates from the early nineteenth century from the 
Yiddish pronunciation of German schdn, beautiful, " much used 
in praising wares " (Weekley). 

Sheol Hell. 

ShofeL A hansom cab. 

ShooL Church or chapel. 

(Snide and Shine. An East London term for a Jew.) 

Trifa, . Trifer. Defiled the opposite of kosher. " Ritually 
unclean " (Zangwill). 

Of the modem novelists that have dealt much in Jewish 
themes, we need mention only Israel Zangwill (f 1926), whose 
Children of the Ghetto, 1892, made his name ; Gilbert Caiman, 
passim ; " G. B. Stem " (Mrs. Geoffrey Holdsworth) as in Tents 
of Israel ; and Louis Golding, especially in Magnolia Street, 1930. 

To these, however, there might be added Ysroel, an omnibus 
volume published by John Heritage in 1934, 

x. CANT 

Of cant, the slang of the underworld (criminals and their 
associates ; prostitutes and their bullies ; beggars and tramps), 

1 See Godfrey Irwin, op. cit. * Not in Ware : I add it for its interest. 


sometMng has been said in that earlier chapter l which deals with 
English slang in the sixteenth century. As Bradley once 
remarked : " The first extensive records of English slang occur 
in the cant or canting language ... of the sixteenth century, 
To a certain extent this professional cant of thieves was probably 
a secret language, but this could hardly have been the main 
motive in the invention of the cant " ; in that of certain terms,, 
yes. " Thieves and vagabonds were a group with a strong sense 
of corporate unity and one also with certain sporting attitude^ 
that would be highly favourable to the development of a class 

Cant, in fact, is largely a " secret " language ; that is, it has 
a number of terms for its own private use, but iiots.^eneral 

andjbw_i^l^^ Cant, in its essence, is not slang at all, 

but because its contribution to slang, like slang's to the spoken 
language, is large, it merits a short section in this book. Until 
about 1880 it was English with a slight admixture of "French, 
German, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, and Lingua Franca ; from 
1880, and especially since the War, it has received a large accretion 
of Americanisms chiefly, as is natural, the Americanisms of the 
underworld and vagabondia. It is largely the influence of those 
American films which (as so many of them do) treat of gunmen 
and racketeers and rum-runners that has caused the present 
interest in the underworld and its language, a language that has 
been admirably set forth by Godfrey Irwin in his American 
Tramp and Underworld Slang, to which he adds A Collection of 
Tramp Songs. With the criminals are lumped, often unfairly to 
the latter, the tramps ; and the tramp has been in the public 
eye of late, three recent books being Joseph Stamper's Less than 
the Dust, the Rev. Frank Jennings's Tramping with Tramps 
(a title borrowed from the American, Josiah Flynt's better-known 
work), and George Orwell's Down and Out. 

But to deal adequately with twentieth-century cant would 
require many pages, and a more characteristically English product 
is seen in the cant songs of 1530-1900. We will take one song 
from each of the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth, and 
nineteenth centuries. 

The sixteenth century example comes from the earliest printed 
record of cant in English : Robert Copland's pamphlet The Hye 
Way to the Spyttel House, published about 1536. The piece is 
very sorry verse of sorry meaning, a " jingle of popular Canting 
phrases, strung together almost at haphazard ", as John Farmer 
says in his Musa Pedestris, 1896. That this was not the slang 
of the period but, in its essence, the something different that 
is cant will appear to even the inexpert eye, and in this 'example, 

1 See also this Part, Chapter I : " Affiliations." Esp. pp. 139-40. 


as in the three to follow, I purposely append no footnotes in order 
that the difficulty of many words may be no less obvious than the 
" ordinary Englishness " of the general structure and vocabulary. 
In form, it is a question by Copland, the answer by a porter, and 
a soliloquy, the first and third in Standard English, the second 
in cant. 

C. Come none of these pedlers this way also, 
With pak on bak with their bousy speche, 
Jagged and ragged with broken hose and breche ? 

P. Ynow, ynow ; with bousy cove maimed nace, 
Teare the patryng cove in the darkeman cace 
Docked the dell for a coper meke ; 
His watch shall feng a prounces nob-chete, 
Cyarum, by Salmon, and thou shall pek my jere 
In thy gan, for my watch it is nace gere 
For the bene bouse my watch hath a coyn. 

C (to himself it seems) 

And thus they babble tyll their thryft is thin 
I wote not what with their pedlyng frenche. 

The second example is from A Warning for Housekeepers, 1 
by one who was a prisoner in Newgate, and published in 1676 : 

The budge it is a delicate trade, 

And a delicate trade of fame ; 
For when that we have bit the bloe, 

We carry away the game : 
But if the cully nap us, 

And the lurries from us take, 
Oh then they rub us to the whitt 

And it is hardly worth a make. 

But when that we come to the whitt 

Our darbies to behold, 
And for to take our penitency 

And boose the water cold ; 
But when that we come out agen 

And the merry hick we meet, 
We bite the Cully of his cole 

As we walk along the street. 

The next two stanzas are very imperfect, but the text of the last 
is complete : 

But when that we come to Tyburn 

For going upon the budge, 
There stands Jack Catch, that son of a whore, 

That owes us all a grudge. 
And when that he hath noosed us, 

And our friends tips him no cole, 
Oh then he throws us in the cart 

And tumbles us into the hole. 

1 I quote from the 1676 edition, not from the more intelligible and logical 
version in The Triumph of Wit, 1712; the latter contains that supposedly 
American expression, sow of a bitch. 


In 1789 George Parker included in his Life's Painter of 
Variegated Characters the following poem, which in its first 
stanza exhibits only one cant term : 

Joe. Ye slang-boys all, since wedlock's nooze 

Together fast has tied 
Moll Blabbernmms and rowling Joe, 

Each other's joy and pride ; 
Your broomsticks and tin kettles bring, 

With canisters and stones : 
Ye butchers bring your cleavers too, 

Likewise your marrow-bones ; 
For ne'er a brace in marriage hitched, 

By no one can be found, 
That's half so blest as Joe and Moll, 

Search all St. Giles's round. 

Moll. Though fancy queer-gammed smutty Muns 

Was once my fav'rite man, 
Though rugged-muzzle tinkering Tom 

For me left maw-mouth'd Nan : 
Though padding Jack and diving Ned, 

With blink-ey'd buzzing Sam, 
Have made me drunk with hot, and stood 

The racket for a dram ; 
Though Scamp the ballad-singing kid, 

Call'd me his darling frow, 
I've tip'd them all the double, for 

The sake of rowling Joe. 

Chorus. Therefore, in jolly chorus now, 

Let's chaunt it altogether, 
And let each cull's and doxy's heart 

Be lighter than a feather; 
And as the kelter runs quite flush, 

Like natty shining kiddies, 
To treat the coaxing, giggling brims, 

With spunk let's post our n eddies ; 
Then we'll all roll in bub and grub, 

Till from this ken we go, 
Since rowling Joe's tuck'd up with Moll, 

And Moll's tuck'd up with Joe. 

That was written by one who knew the underworld intimately, 
and a century later at least three writers who knew its language 
well, though their poems may be described as literary in nature 
but of a vocabulary consisting of cant interspersed among slang 
and colloquialism : Henley, Sims, and Baumann, whose " Rum 
Coves That Relieve Us ", serving as a preface to Londonismen, 
1887, was, for a foreigner, a triumph of virtuosity. In this poem 
he describes these 

Rum coves that relieve us 
Of chinkers and pieces, 


and notes that generally they are either lagged or scragged. He 

continues : 

Are smashers and divers 
And noble contrivers 
Not sold to the beaks 
By the coppers an* sneaks ? 

He passes to the way in which he got the material for his book : 

Tell ye 'ow? Vy, in rum kens, 
In flash cribs and slum dens, 
I" the alleys and courts 
'Mong the doocedest sorts ; 

When jawin' with Jillie 
Or Mag and 'er Billie . . . 

From the blowens we got 
Soon to know vot is vot. 

In the twentieth century there is, so far as I can discover, no 
writing of cant songs. 


This section does not aim to do for slang what a "sweeper " 
(train) does on a railway : it aims simply to bring under one 
heading a few word-groups that do not deserve a separate treat- 
ment. Moreover, certain groups must be omitted, not because 
they are uninteresting they may " palpitate with interest " 
but because they hardly affect the general flow and constitution 
of slang : the two most notable 1 of these omissions are 
" Canalese " and " Brickese ", the slangs of the English canals 
and of the English brickfields. Both deserve a monograph, yet 
neither has had any appreciable influence on slang outside its 
restricted milieu* 

The baby-talk of childhood is obviously not slang when it is 
that of the children themselves ; when that of parents, nurses, 
and well-meaning friends and strangers, it is jargon. But when, 
as often, this baby-talk is deliberately used between two adults, 
especially if jocularly, then it certainly is slang, as pinny (pinafore) , 
moo-cow, bow-wow, jumbo, puff-puff, and piggy-wiggy will serve 
to show ; diddums is by no means the privilege of children. Most 
adults, however, feel that such slang except between lovers, to 
whom nothing seems ridiculous is a little childish and 
exasperating. And much the same, though mildness is here 
called for, can be said of the slangy adaptations of words and 
phrases from nursery rhymes and from children's games. 

1 Frankly, I know nothing of either, but I have watched very carefully for 
evidence of them in general slang. 

2 In the following paragraphs I am tremendously indebted to Professor 
Collinson's Contemporary English. 


Among the last are card-games played mostly in childhood and 
youth. Cribbage, for instance, has yielded such slang terms as 
level pegging, one for his nob (a good knock, physical or moral), 
and get on the home stretch (to be in sight of one's goal) ; nap, to go 
nap ; whist-drives, get the booby-prize and dibs (the stake). But 
" the card-expressions now most prevalent in a figurative applica- 
tion are drawn in the main from bridge ", for example after you, 
partner ; honours are even, the verb being often omitted ; to finesse ; 
to call one's hand or one's bluff ; to trump, to overcome an opponent 
or his move ; grand slam, complete success. 

Akin to these are such slang terms from hobbies as swap, to 
exchange, and fudge (a fraudulent imitation) from stamp- 
collecting, and to fake and to snap from photography. 

Clothes and fashions in clothes are as variable as hobbies 
and considerably more important for the slang with which they 
have enriched the general stock. A few examples : tails for a 
dress-suit ; boiled shirt for a stiff one ; hanky ; togs and duds, 
clothes in general, whereas kit is clothes plus equipment ; 
flannels, blazer, sweater, and grey ers (grey flannel trousers and coat) ; 
gamp or brolly ; goggles and specs, for which the colloquialism is 
glasses ; chubby or dumpy, a small squat umbrella ; nightie ; 
undies &nd woollies, 

Less known is the slang connected with modern houses, 
house-hunting, household-management, servants and furniture, 
and great credit redounds to Professor Collinson for his pioneering. 
Key-money is the " premium paid to secure a tenancy " ; bed-sitter 
has already been mentioned ; parlour house, one containing a 
sitting-room ; a three-nines agreement, house-agents' slang for a 
999 years' lease ; h. and c., hot and cold water ; lino has long 
been colloquial where once it was slang ; den, a private room ; 
snuggery, a very comfortable room for more or less private use. 

Pioneer, too, is the Professor in his sections on psychology 
and the relations of the sexes. Hypnotism has brought to make 
passes, to go off (to sleep), and a deep trance into the purview and 
precincts of slang. Self-persuasion has produced every day and 
in every way, to which the varying completions are numerous, 
but the various Cou phrases so popular in 1923-6 are already 
obsolescent. Experimental psychology and psycho-analysis have 
not only familiarized but turned to slangy purposes such terms 
as complex, inferiority complex, . sublimation, repression ; to 
psyche (pronounced saik) is pure slang and in part due to Susan 
GlaspelTs skit, Suppressed Desires. Certain other psychological 
terms frequently misunderstood and occasionally " ^languished " 
are the personal equation, the specious present, stream of conscious- 
ness, and that evergreen psychological moment which, from the 
German das psychologische Moment (1870), rightly means the 
determining factor. 


Sex is responsible for much that is amusing in slang. In 
courtship we find to spoon, to canoodle, to pet, of which the second 
is obsolescent ; to pop the question and this is so sudden, both often, 
employed in other circumstances ; to play gooseberry ; a fiasco 
or a finance for a fiance ; lady friend ; to give the go-by or the bird, 
he-man, pash, sheikh. Many of these, when used at all by educated 
people, are jocular or derisive or allusive. 


In addition to the various class-slangs and vocation-slangs, 
there are certain oddities that, like rhyming and back and 
centre slang, arose not before 1830 or 1840, or that, like ziph and 
gibberish, represent a permanent, childishly mystifying tendency 
in human nature, or again that, like Spoonerisms and blends, 
result from a tendency, involuntary or voluntary, in the very 
essence of the spoken as opposed to the written language : of 
these groups the first is indisputably slang, the second almost 
certainly slang, and the third so pertinently analogous to slang 
that it were an evasion to ignore it and a pity to forget it. Not 
one of these eccentric slangs, however, has an importance 
comparable with that of at least twenty of the class- and vocation- 
slangs treated in the preceding chapter. 


It is well known that a tendency to rhyme, assonance, and 
alliteration is inherent in the human race : the average man 
likes a jingle ; many an educated man alliteration and assonance. 
Many idiomatic phrases are based on either rhyme or assonance, 
a few on both, and this trait is found in Romantic as well as 
Teutonic languages : Niceforo and Bauche give some curious 
examples in French. 

Rhyming slang needs no definition, for the term is its own 
definition : here, moreover, is an instance where example is much 
superior to precept. 

The beginnings of rhyming slang are obscure. In colloquialism 
and slang and cant there are scattered traces of it in the 
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but there existed no body 
of rhyming slang before about 1840, and until the War it was 
confined to Cockneys, to a few poor dealers and newsvendors in 
the provinces, and to these as emigrants in the Colonies. It 
may well have originated as rhyming synonym, and not until 
there was a considerable aggregate of such synonyms did those 
alertest of people, the Cockneys, perceive the possibility of a 
rhyming-slang vocabulary : probably the criminal Cockney 
saw it first and their fellows soon heard of and adopted it. 

1 A very different treatment of the oddities examined, in this chapter will be 
fonnd in Words, Words, Words; 

273 T 


A few illustrations of rhyming synonyms will suffice. 1 The 
seventeenth to eighteenth century Plymouth cloak was a cudgel ; 
Plymouth is due to nautical associations, but cloak is probably 
a pun on oak, for that was the wood generally used ; cf. also 
Grose's oaken towel a cudgel. Grose, moreover, has bubbly Jock 
(a turkey cock), common in both slang and dialect ; the dogs 
have not dined of a man " whose shirt hangs out behind " ; to 
cry beef, " to give the alarm," i.e., to cry thief, there being the 
variant to give beef or to give hot beef; jerrycummumble, to tumble 
(about, to " touzle "), which is exceedingly interesting, for from 
this old phrase came jerry, to tumble to in the sense of suspect, 
while tumble, to suspect, became rumble, to suspect or to detect. 
Finally, Wright gives the Warwickshire term My friar, a liar, 
to which may be related several friar proverbs. 

The first book to give rhyming slang at all, so far as I know, 
was The Vulgar Tongue, by Ducange Anglicus, 1857, l8 59 ; the 
second edition being much the better, the examples are drawn 
from that. Since this earliest collective record has its importance, 
all the relevant entries are quoted : those starred are, I believe, 
obsolete. Apples and pears, stairs ; artful dodger, a lodger ; 
*baby~pap, a cap ; Barnet Fair, hair ; Billy Button, mutton ; 
birch-broom, a room ; bird-lime, time ; *Bob my pal, gal (girl), 
the modem form being rob my pal ; *Brian O'Lynn, gin, the 
modem form being needle and pin ; Cain and Abel, a table ; cat 
and mouse, a house, now often rat and mouse ; Chalk Farm, arm ; 
Charing Cross, a horse ; Charley Prescot, a waistcoat ; Charley 
Lancaster, t handkercher " ; cherry ripe, a pipe ; Covent Garden, 
a " farden " (farthing) ; cows and kisses, the missus ; east and 
south, mouth, now generally north and south ; *Epsom races, 
faces, now airs and graces ; Everton toffee, coffee ; *flounder 
and dab, cab ; fly my kite, alight ; *German flutes, boots, now 
daisy roots, or just daisies; gooseberry puddin(g), a woman; 
^hang-bluff, snuff; *Houn$kw Heath, teeth, now Hampstead 
Heath ; I suppose, a nose ; Jack Dandy, brandy, the now being 
usually placed before dandy ; * Jenny Linder, a window, from the 
name of the famous singer, burnt cinder is the present-day 
term ; lath and plaster, a master ; *Uan and fat, a hat (of a special 
kind), now tit for tat or titfer; lean and lurch, a church ; linen 
draper, paper ; *live eel, field ; Lord Lovel, a shovel ; lord of the 
manor, tanner (sixpence) ; lump of lead, a head, the same now 
with variant Uncle Ned, though this more generally represents 
a bed ; Maidstone jailer, a tailor ; mince pie, eye ; *nose-my, 
" baccy " ; oats and chaff, -footpath ; *plate of meat, street, but 
now for feet ; read and write, to fight, also a flight (this latter 
being obsolete) ; round me (later, the) houses, trousers ; rogue 
and wttain, a shilling ; Rory o* More, floor, but later for a door 
1 Some day, I hope, I shall go to the root of the matter. 


or a whore ; *$hip in full sail, ale ; *Sir Walter Scott, pot (of 
beer) ; *split~pea, tea, which is now Jenny, or Rosie, Lee ; ^steam- 
packet, a jacket ; *St. Martin's le Grand, a hand, now German 
band ; ^three-quarters of a peck, neck ; *throw me the dirt, a shirt, 
now Dicky Dirt ; Tom Right, night ; top jint (joint), a pint ; 
*top of Rome, home ; and turtle dove, glove. 

Of rhyming slang, as of back and centre slang, the first account 
was given by Hotten, whose sound though very discursive notes 
and opinions we need not discuss any more than we need examine 
the examples that he cares to give. But Ware's examples belong 
to a date fifty years after the first dictionary-record and, through 
the influence of the War, come so close to the 1930*3 that we 
must note at least a few of his entries. 

Bit o* Tripe. A wife. Assonance is frequent in ostensibly- 
rhyming slang. 

Bullock's Horn, the. Pawn, as a noun. Often just bullocks, 
precisely as " Bill's elephants " is "Bill's elephant's trunk ", drunk. 

Chatham and Dover. Over. Chiefly as C. and D. it, give over ! 

Hot Potato or Potater. A waiter. 

Oak. Joke. 

Oliver. A fist ; short for Oliver Twist. Obsolete. 

Rotten Row. A bow. 

Scotch. Short for Scotch peg, a leg. 

Umble-Cum-S tumble. To rumble, i.e., to understand; also 
to suspect or to detect. (Cf . Grose's jerrycummumbU.) 

We may, before passing to present-day rhyming slang, note 
that the Tommy in 1914-18 not only employed such terms very 
freely indeed but he changed and coined a few to suit the change 
of scene. The old almond rock, a sock, became army rock, which 
is satire as well ; false alarms for arms (the human) ; Kate Karney, 
the Army ; put in the boot, to shoot ; heaven and hell, a shell, 
but perhaps I have imagined this last, for in casting one's mind 
back to those madly, gladly bad days, one sometimes mistakes 
imagination for memory. 

This slang may be said to have been canonized or, at the very 
least, beatified when, in the autumn of 1931, Mr. J. Phillips 
issued A Dictionary of Rhyming Slang, which contains precisely 
six crown-octavo pages of definitions, with examples in sentences 
or verses. In the Foreword, the author claims that this is the 
" authentic stuff, understood anywhere within the sound of 
Bow Bells " and states that rhyming slang originated in the 
East End of London, which is probable, and that " it first knew 
the light as a thieves' jargon ", which, as Ducange Anglicus 
shows, is probable, though is not at aU certain. When he says 
that " the true art of using this slang . . . lies in the correct 
abbreviation ", he is obscure, for although it is the abbreviations 
which cause the most difficulty to the beginner, yet those 


abbreviated forms are less numerous than the full forms and 
even where an abbreviation exists the original, as often as not, 
persists alongside it. 

The rhymed form consists rarely of one, generally of two, 
rarely of more than three words, the last of which rhymes or 
nearly rhymes with the word in question : as in Chalk Farm 
for arm, engineers and stokers for brokers, gooseberry puddin 3 for 
old woman (i.e., wife). When the rhymed form is abbreviated, 
it is always the first word which is retained : for instance, china 
plate (a mate) becomes china, plates of meat (feet) becomes 
plates, tumble down the sink (drink) becomes tumble ; if, however, 
of three or four words, two are significant, the first two are 
occasionally retained, as in beggar's boy's short for beggar's boy's 
ass (Bass). 

As a rule, there is no clear reason why a certain rhyme should 
be used, but occasionally there is wit or humour or pointed 
allusiveness. There seems no sense in cock sparrow for a barrow, 
but there is sense in trouble and strife for a wife, or in typewriter 
for a fighter, or in Gawd forbids for kids (children) . And in certain 
rhymed-slang terms there is decided cleverness, as in the genesis 
of hand = fingers = forks = Duke of Yorks = Duke, duke, dook ; 
nor is that an isolated example. 

Rhyming slang received from the War a stimulus that it has 
not yet lost, and certainly it has a much better chance of survival 
than have back slang and centre slang. 


Back slang has already been mentioned at almost adequate 
length in that paragraph in the section on Cockney Slang which 
deals with the words and phrases peculiarly affected by the 

The general rule is to spell a word backwards, and then, ideally, 
to employ the pronunciation approaching the closest to that often 
impossible arrangement of letters, but, in general practice, to 
adopt any approximate possibility, above all any approximation 
that is identical with or very similar to an already existing word. 
Mur is exact back slang for " rum " and was so frequently used 
in the War that many did not perceive that it was back slang ; 
so is top o' reeb for a " pot of beer ". E>ut say is not precisely 
" yes ", though it is satisfactory, and in flatch for " half " we 
see the disguising so common in this type of slang. Cool ta the 
ditto nemo is " look at the old woman ", a less obvious trans- 
formation. Less obvious still is kennetseeno for " stinking ". 

The master-speakers, the lawgivers, have variations of their 
own, but these variations are usually made on the already 
accepted back-slang form : generally by the simple expedient of 


adding a syllable like eno (one), as was the practice 1 of that 
<4 authority ", flourishing over seventy years ago, who gave to 
the generally accepted words " a new turn, just as if he chorassed 
them, with a tol-de-rol ". 

Of the back-slang terms current among " the troops " in 
1914-18, almost every one existed when Passing English appeared 
in 1909 : it is therefore permissible to reproduce those listed by 
Ware, with the comment that, although back slang is on the 
wane, most of them are extant. 

Blooming Emag. In this stock phrase only game is reversed : 
this often happens in stock phrases, as in chuck a yannep (penny). 

Delo Diam and Delo Nammow. Old maid and old woman. 

Enob. Bone. 

Kacab Genals or Kabac Genals. Back slang. In kacab the 
first a is euphonic ; in kabac there is a further mystification. 
Both these features are common in back slang. 

Kew. Week. Such omission of one vowel of a pair is also 

Neetrith. Thirteen. In a back-slanged word, the almost 
impossible final ht, like the quite impossible initial tot, is usually 
made th ; hw is also usually left in its original form of wh. 

Nosper. Person. Here the son is " backed ", but for some 
obscure reason per is not changed to rep. 

Nottub. Button. 

Stun. Nuts, The singular tun is hardly ever found. 

Tekram. Market. A much-used word. 

Tenip. Pint, tnip being impossible. 


Closely akin to such examples as nosper, which might fairly 
be considered as a transposition, is centre or medial slang, which, 
from its very nature, degenerates often into approximations that 
are best called transposition. 

It is generally considered to have arisen later than, and as if 
prompted by, back slang, which, like the letter h, is occasionally 
added as a desirable mystification. Central slang is applied 
only to significant words, and in these words the sole vowel, 
the former vowd of two, or the middle vowel of three or a 
double vowel sounding as one in any of these three positions 
becomes the initial letter ; that initial vowel is followed by the 
consonant that originally followed it, thus forming the first 
syllable of the new word ; then one or two syllables, e.g., -mer 
or -erfer or -ee t are added. Hotten exemplifies with these six 
words : mug becomes (fyugmer, fool (tyookrfer, flat (h)atfler, thief 
(fyevethee (euphony here playing a very necessary part), wdcher 

1 Henry Mayhew : London Labour and the London Poor, vol. i, p. 24. 


(h)ekherwer or (fyelchwer, a sticker-up (esp. of skittles) (h)ickit$er- 
pu. As that historian says, " boldness is the chief essential for 
anyone possessed of a mobile tongue and a desire to become 

In the following list, taken from Ware, I include genuine 
medial-slang words with others that, either from the carelessness 
or the recklessness of the creator or from the intractability of the 
word to be " centralized ", are mere transpositions, although the 
transposition may be simple or complex. Anguaagela is language 
and what language ! Eautybeau is beauty ; eekcher, cheek ; 
eetswe, sweet ; eicepie, piece, the plural being eicespie ; genitrave, 
a farthing ; ietqui, quiet ; ightri, right ; lemoncholy, melancholy ; 
mentisental, sentimental, which might be described as a one- 
word Spoonerism ; ochorboc from (bocca, corrupted to) bochor, 
an Italian organ-grinders' term for beer ; oolfoo, a fool, cf . oolerfer 
in the preceding paragraph ; and operpro, proper. Such trans- 
position is found, 1 though very rarely, in French cant, in that 
queer dialectal slang of Savoy which is called Mourme (tessan = 
santt, health, and brachanna = chambre, a (bed-)room, are 
examples), and in Germania as Spanish cant is named (examples 
being chepo pecho, chest, and toba = bota, a boot). 


Ziph is a special and intentional kind of gibberish, and it 
may be described as children's gibberish. Gibberish itself may 
be unintentional as among idiots (e.g., shuvly house, a half-witted 
girl's flustered attempt at public house), nervous or backward 
children, and adults temporarily so frightened or so perturbed 
that they do not notice what they are saying, or it may be the 
deliberate childishness of adults, to whom, however, it- is only 
fair to allow that occasionally they may use it to ensure secrecy. 

Deliberate gibberish, for of the unintentional sort no more 
need here be said (it is, however, an excellent field, considerably 
explored already, for experimental psychology), is of various 
kinds. Niceforo mentions that which consists in the rapid 
intercalation of utterly meaningless syllables or words or even 
phrases between the ordinary words, and another in which, 
differently at the end of each successive word, one of a restricted 
number of senseless syllables was added ; Sainean deals with 
another kind, best exemplified by the Loucherbem of the Paris 
butchers, a gibberish in which, e.g., boucher becomes loucherbem 
by the process of transferring the initial consonant to the end 
and adding em and by prefixing I to the new word. In English- 
speaking countries it has generally taken the form deplored by 
Grose as "a disguised language, formed by inserting any 

1 Sainean : L' Argot Ancien, 1907, at pp. 47-8. 


consonant between each syllable " : if the letter be, e.g., /, the 
gibberish is called " the F gibberish ", if the more usual g " the 
G gibberish ", Grose exemplifying " How do you do " by howg 
dog youg dog. 

Children delight in this gibberish, which then becomes Ziph. 
They prefer the subtler form that turns " Shall we go away in 
an hour " into Shagall wege gogo agawaygay igin agan hougour or 
the intermediate form shown in shallvis wevis govis awayvis invis 
anvis hourvis. Both are very common among children, who 
also much affect the suffixes la, ly, ki, ve, y and who vary this 
method with that of such prefixes as be, do, my. Concerning such 
prefixes or suffixes added to every word to form a mutilated 
and " secret " language, a gibberish, a ziph, Dr. L. R. Hirshberg, 
of the Johns Hopkins University, has pertinently written 1 : 
" [Such] gibberish seems manifestly too plain to be secret, yet 
I have heard children converse thus with great mystery for a 
half-hour or more. The behaviour of children under these 
conditions indicates that there is a response to something more 
than mere mystery or secretiveness. There are included, elements 
of responsibility, dignity, superior knowledge, the pleasure of 
play combined with a whetting of the intellectual appetite." 

This children's habit of deforming words belongs to almost 
every country and period. Sainean, 2 in a well-packed, importantly 
informative page on what he calls the argot scolaire, points out 
that in France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries there 
was just such a gibberish among the children at Metz and that 
about 1850 the schools affected one in va, this being called la 
langue de Java or le javanais. Javanais passed to the studios, 
thence to the prostitutes, and finally to the general public : 
in the 1860 's it had a vogue. But since the War these gibberishes 
have become much less popular even amongst schoolchildren. 


Analogous to transposition and in one way to gibberish is 
spoonerizing. Spoonerisms were known to Hotten in 1859, 
about the time of the birth of the Rev. W. A. Spooner (who died 
in 1930), to whom the usual accidental process is wrongly though 
very generally attributed, who did in fact commit some of the 
best specimens of this happy art (e.g., kinquering congs for 
conquering kings), and who was quietly famous as the original 
of the White Rabbit ; and they were known and commented on 
long before Spooner was born. Hotten, having disposed 
summarily of gibberish, continues : " Another slang has been 
manufactured by transposing the initial letters of words, so 

1 The Pedagogical Seminary, June, 1913. 

2 Le Langage Parisien, pp. 433-4 ; cf. Niceforo, op. cit., at p. 107. 


that a mutton chop becomes a chutton mop . . . , but it is 
satisfactory to know that it has gained no ground, as it is remark- 
able for nothing so much as poverty of resource on the part of 
its inventors. This is called ' Marrowskying ' or ' Medical Greek ', 
from its use 1 by medical students at the hospitals. Albert 
Smith * termed it the ' Gower Street Dialect ' and referred to it 
occasionally in his best-known works/* And elsewhere he calls 
it " this disagreeable nonsense ". 

It is important to note the earliest date at which the terms 
Gower Street Dialect, Marrowskying or Morowskying, and Medical 
Greek are recorded : the first, about 1845 ; Marrowskying about 
1850, Morowskying about 1860 ; and the third in 1855. Not 
one of the three terms or four forms appears in the O.E.D. ; all 
three terms appear in Hotten ; and the second (as Mowrowsky) 
appears in Ware, 3 whose note on the subject is worth quoting : 
" Mowrowsky . . . interchange of initial consonants ... by 
accident or intention, as bin and jitters for ' gin and bitters '. 
Very common, 1840-1856, Brought into fashion by Albert Smith 
from hospital life. Now/' 1909, " chiefly patronized in America/' 
As various philologists have pointed out the metathesis operative 
in one word, e.g., ruskit for rustic, so Ware has shown a further 
possibility for evil-doing : "A mowrowsky is often a transfer 
of two words, as in the Taming of the Shrew, where Grumio cries, 
in pretended fright, ' The oats have eaten the horses '. During 
the Donnelly discussion (1888) ... an intended satirical 
mowrowsky was invented by an interchange of initials . . . 
Bakespeare and Shacon." 

Another Oxford celebrity, this time with justice, has been 
the active figure in the movement for more and better words. 
Portmanteau words as, led by their great expositor, we English, 
blends as the Americans call them, were doubtless implicit in the 
language before C. L, Dodgson, alias Lewis Carroll, was born in 
1832 ; wadge* for instance, is recorded for 1860 and was probably 
used in conversation many years before that date for wad + 
wedge ; it means " a large loose bundle ", a heap (e.g., of 
manuscript papers), a chunk (e.g., of bread), but is rarely heard 

When Dodgson wrote 

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves 
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe : 

All mimsy were the borogoves, 
And the morne raths outgrabe, 

he blended, transformed, and invented words, in the second 

1 Not in this century ! f I860. 

3 Farmer and Henley give all three. 

4 I first heard this term used by Mr. Richard Ince, the author of that witty 
and lively historical novel, "When Joan was Pope ; a family word, he tells me. 


giving us in brittig a quaint twist to brilliant, in the last a lyrically 
amusing form as in borogove, and in the first most skilfully 
combining two words and infusing into the combination some- 
thing not in the entities and sum of those two : " who will 
agree," asks the leader-writer in The Times Literary Supplement 
of 28th January, 1932, " that ' slithy ' means only ' lithe and 
slimy ' or ' mimsy * merely ' flimsy and miserable * ? " He is 
right when he adds : " The dictionary, rather, must expand to 
accept their designations." Gimble is to gambol nimbly, just as, 
elsewhere in " Lewis Carroll ", galumph is to gallop triumphantly 
or to gallop and triumph : 

He left it dead, and with its head, 
He went galumphing back. 

Another of his inventions is chortle (chuckle + snort), but dumb- 
found (? dumb + confound), luncheon (? lunch + nuncheon), and 
blurt (? blare + spurt) are very old words, nor are they certain 
blends : the first is probably due to a confusion (as in needcessity) , 
the second to .a simple extension of lunch on the analogy of 
nuncheon, and the third to onomatopoeia. Modern are squarson 
(squire + parson), of a parson fond of sport or being both the 
squire and the parson, and Bakerloo (Baker Street and Waterloo 

Perhaps it was Oxford associations and the memory of Lewis 
Carroll which prompted Mr. Compton Mackenzie, in that delightful 
novel Fairy Gold (1926), to make the two girls employ, as a kind 
of family slang, the following portmanteau words : blamb t 
blessed + lamb, i.e., a perfect dear ; glumpy, gloomy + grumpy ; 
sloach y slow+ coach, i.e., a lazy or a dull or an old-fashioned 
person ; uffish, uppish + selfish. 


In September, 1853, Charles Dickens wrote thus acerbly : 
" If we continue the reckless and indiscriminate importation into 
our language of every cant," i.e., slang, " term of speech from 
the columns of American newspapers, every Canvas Town epithet 
from the vocabularies of gold-diggers," here attacking 
Australianisms, " every bastard classicism dragged head and 
shoulders from a lexicon by an advertising tradesman, every slip- 
slop Gallicism from the shelves of the circulating library ; if we 
persist . . . the noble English tongue will become, fifty years 
hence, a mere dialect of colonial idioms, enervated ultra- 
montanisms and literate slang . . . Should we not . . . rescue 
it from . . . verbiage and slang ? " 

In 1903 the English language was almost as pure as in 1853, 
and certainly it had not been debased by the importations. The 
right attitude is surely that of the American scholar l who in 
1931 wrote : " The fact should be borne in mind that the treat- 
ment given the English language in this country does not differ, 
in kind from that given to the language wherever English colonists 
have gone. In India, Canada, Australia, and Africa the English 
language has been modified in very much the same way as it 
has in this country." 

The amount of slang that has come to England from some 
one or other of her dominions is, in the aggregate, considerable ; 
the total debt is very considerable, for many colonial words have 
been incorporated into Standard English or into good colloquial 
English. My intention, however, is not to assess the indebtedness 
of England to the various colonial slangs but to glance, very 
briefly indeed, at those slangs themselves. 2 


" Words of Indian origin have been insinuating themselves 
into English ever since the end of the reign of Elizabeth and the 
beginning of that of King James, when such terms as calico, 
chintz, and gingham had already effected a lodgment in English 

1 M. M. Mathews : The Beginnings of American English. 

31 Any one of these requires a monograph ; four of the dominions have their 
own dictionaries. Of the inadequacy of this chapter I am more conscious than 
perhaps any of my critics ; but lack of space prevents a lengthier treatment. 



warehouses and shops, and were lying in wait for entrance into 
English literature. Such outlandish guests grew more frequent 
. . . when, soon after the middle of [the eighteenth] century, 
the numbers of Englishmen in the Indian services, civil and 
military, expanded with the great acquisition of dominion then 
made by the Company ; and we meet them in vastly greater 
abundance now/' that is in 1886. Thus Colonel, afterwards 
Sir Henry Yule in the Remarks introductory to Hobson-Jobson, 
published in that year, and compiled by Dr. A. C. Burnell (f 1882) 
and himself. 1 

His next paragraph, if we remember when it was written, 
affords a sidelight as to how lowly terms achieve respectability 
or not. " Of words that seem to have been admitted to full 
franchise, we may give examples in curry, toddy, veranda, cheroot, 
loot, nabob, teapoy, Sepoy, cowry ; and of others familiar enough 
to the English ear, though hardly yet received into citizenship, 
compound, batta, pucka, chowry, baboo, mahout, aya, nautch, first- 
chop, competition-^#//0&, griffin, etc. Compound is now Standard 
English, while baboo now generally babu, aya now ayah, and 
nautch are just within the Standard, and mahout may soon be 
admitted ; batta, chowry, and first-chop have remained where 
they were fifty years ago, and pucka (now pukka) and wallah are 
still slang, while griffin, often shortened to griff, a newcomer to 
India, has become obsolete. Colonel Yule goes on to point out 
that two locutions very English in appearance are "phrases 
turning upon innocent Hindustani vocables " : that is the cheese, 
from chiz, thing, and I don't care a damn, properly dam, from a 
coin so named and of very low value, the expression being 
equivalent to I don't care a brass farthing. This etymology is 
supported by Farmer, rejected by the O.E.D., and championed 
by Weekley, and the phrase is quoted by Grose, who also has 
tiffing, now tiffin* " eating or drinking out of meal time/' Perhaps 
it may be added that Hobson-Jobson is an extremely entertaining 
dictionary and that its treatment of the slang and colloquialism 
of the British residents in India is very comprehensive and 

Hotten had already, in 1859, remarked on the arrival of 
" Anglo-Indian " slang words in England. " Several of these 
such as * chit ', a letter, and * tiffin *, lunch, are fast losing their 
slang character, and becoming regularly-recognized English 
words. ' Jungle * ... is now . . . English . . ; a few years 
past, however, it was merely the Hindostanee * junkul '. This 
. . . can hardly be characterized as slang. . . . While these 
words have been carried as it were into the families of the upper 

1 A new edition, edited by William Crooke, appeared in 1903. 

2 I often heard this word in New Zealand in 1902-7. For a fuller treatment 
of tiffin, see " The Art of Lightening Work " in my Words, Words, Words. 


and middle classes, persons in a humbler rank of life, through 
the sailors and soldiers and Lascar and Chinese beggars that 
haunt the metropolis, have also adopted many Anglo-Indian and 
Anglo-Chinese phrases"; this latter contingent is much the 

The War, through the numerous Regular Army men that had 
served in India, reinforced the influence of Rudyard Kipling, 
E. W. Bain, G. Lowes Dickinson, Mrs. Flora Annie Steel, and 
Maud Diver, in familiarizing thousands of people with Indian 
terms, respectable or slangy. The Indian element in soldiers' 
slang has always been large, during the War it was larger still, 
and, on the demobilization of so many, that element has, though 
by no means in its entirety, invaded the national stock of general 


South Africa has twice influenced the English language : at 
the time of the Boer War, as we have already seen, and, though 
then much less, during the Great War. Most of the words 
introduced on the former occasion have, despite their still slightly 
exotic air, entered the language, but those of the second occasion 
were the slang of the South African troops and, so far from 
coming into the limelight of the Press and general public, exercised 
their influence only on the troops whom they met in camp, in 
billet, and the field. This second influence was confined almost 
wholly to slang, and the few traces it has left are visible chiefly 
among ex-Servicemen . 

Ware records only three terms : Cape smoke, the Cape 
Colony's indigenous brandy, " very cloudy in tone," already 
infamous in 1878 ; go into laager, to take precautions against 
danger, long precedes the Boer War and even in 1885 had the 
variant be laagered, to put oneself on the defence behind waggons 
echelonned in line or in square. 

Just before the War, the Rev. Charles Pettman brought out 
his dictionary of colloquial and slangy Africanderisms, which 
though incomparable with Hobson-Jobson or even with Austral 
English has a notable if somewhat parochial interest. The truth 
is that South African slang, as distinct from indispensable 
Africanderisms, is not intrinsically so vivid, humorous, witty, 
or divinely earthy as Canadian or Australian slang, nor is it 
nearly so extensive, nor has it, except during the Boer War, 
succeeded in imposing itself upon English slang, much less upon 
Standard English : and therefore, while anybody writing a book 
on English as She is Spoken in the Dominions would necessarily 
devote several^ pages to the essentials of South African slang, 
the present writer is bound to preserve a certain proportion by 
concluding with the remark that this particular colonial slang 


atones for its negative defects with a sunny manliness, a fresh-air 
directness, an open-space simplicity, which is not the same 
thing as saying that it is, in the worse sense, ingenuous ! In 
point of fact, true Colonials rarely become sophisticated, however 
intelligent or however dissipated or however cultured, cultivated, 
and widely travelled they may be. And in this enduring boyish- 
ness, in this invincible freshness, this unflinching gaze on life, 
and this quiet sense of (a very often dry and whimsical) humour, 
South African slang takes second place to none of the Colonial 
slangs, all of which retain the unblinking objectivity of Cockney. 


New Zealand is like South Africa in that its population is too 
small to have much influenced the language of the mother country 
whether in Standard or in unconventional English. New Zealand 
suffers too from its nearness to Australia and from the fact that 
it has had in its history no event comparable with the Boer War. 

In 1898 Professor Edward Morris included in Austral English 
a certain number of New Zealand colloquial and slang words, but 
rarely are they remarkably different from those current in 
Australia at the same period. In one respect, however, the 
smaller has the advantage over the larger country : Maori words 
have been much more widely adopted or adapted than, 
respectively, have Australian aboriginal words. Some of these 
Maori words, e.g., kapai for good, were used slangily, as was 
natural with those for which there existed not the slightest need 
in the English of the settlers. But none of the Maori words has 
come into general English slang, and extremely few of the other 
New Zealand slang terms. During the War (as before and after it) , 
whenever a New Zealand slang term became famous or very 
widely used it was discovered to be equally or more famous or 
widely used among the Australians. 

Some idea of New Zealand slang can be obtained from the 
following short list x of words employed by those who served 
in the War and by many persons still : New Zealand slang is 
perhaps the most conservative of all the colonial slangs : 
mag, to talk, generally in an aimless manner; fast, a farce 
theatrical or otherwise ; mad money, return fare, it being very 
generally believed by the New Zealand troops (Fernleaves or, 
as they preferred to call themselves, Diggers) that every English 
girl infallibly carried her return fare in case her soldier friend 
became mad, i.e., acted with an excessive freedom of manner ; 
cut, a share, where the Tommy preferred whack ; goori, a dog, 

1 From material kindly supplied by Messrs. G. G. M. Mitchell and A, E. 
Strong, M.M., both of New Zealand, where I myself lived till I was nearly 14. 


from Maori kuri ; komaty, dead, from Maori ka mate ; Pen and 
Ink and Inch and Pinch, the Peninsula of GaJlipoli ; hoot, money, 
from Maori hutana ; set in a crack, to settle (a matter) quickly ; 
stone ginger, certain, a certainty ; a hard thing, a man noted for 
Ms outspokenness, his hardihood, or his kindly if abrupt 
eccentricity, with which compare the more widely known hard 
case ; kerb-stone jockey, the rider of a fully harnessed horse of 
the transport section of the Army Service Corps, for the animal 
was so laden that the man was as safe as on the ground ; tinny, 
lucky ; Hue duck, a rumour, esp. a baseless one ; ti-tree oneself, 
to take shelter from artillery, the ti-tree being very common in 
N.Z., where, during the Maori War, the natives had an 
exasperating habit of retreating to " the bush ", wooded country ; 
waipiro, intoxicating liquor, from the Maori ; shrapnel, the French 
currency notes of small denomination were generally very worn 
and holey, like a man sieved with shrapnel-pellets ; North Sea 
rabbits, English herrings ; Anzac wafer, a hard biscuit ; a sweet 
job, equivalent to the Tommy's cushy job ; tabby, a young lady 
no matter how good her temper, irreproachable her morals, or 
lofty her station ; Rainbows, such reinforcements as had not 
reached the front when Armistice was signed, from their arrival 
after the storm ; turn it up ! give over ; put the boot in, to take an 
unfair advantage ; how are you holding ?, how much money have 
you ; how's the way ?, how are you (faring) ; tin plate, a companion, 
this being the equivalent of the Tommy's china plate, usually 
shortened to china, for a mate ; pull out, to depart, from the 
artillery's pulling out the guns from the emplacements ; binder, 
a feed, because Army food is, inevitably at the front, somewhat 
constipating ; stunned, drunk ; swept, cleaned out of money ; 
Woodbines, the Tommies ; turkey off, to go away without per- 
mission ; kidney pie, insincere praise or what Americans call 
bull, and Australians bullsh, and both, in less hurried moments, 
bull-$h~t ; bush baptist, a person of uncertain religion ; give 
someone a pop, to have a " go " at, especially in fisticuffs or in 
shooting with rifle or machine-gun ; to be protected, uncannily 
lucky, as in " Well, I'm protected " said after a narrow escape or 
in " You must be protected " spoken by friends after one has 
a lucky bet ; hooray !, the New Zealander's good-bye. The 
purely military among these terms are dying out, but the others 
are alive and hearty, as are those words (dinkum, Aussie, Digger, 
etc.) which they share with Australians. 

Some of these terms occur in the following dialogue very 
kindly written for me by Mr. A. E. Strong, of Auckland, New 
Zealand ; the other terms I leave to the reader's ingenuity. 
While all these terms are still in use in New Zealand, it should 
be added that this dialogue is considerably more slangy than the 
average New Zealander's speech and that the scene is laid some 


miles behind the Front Line, whence Joe has just arrived ; a 
group of four comrades greet him. 

Group. How's the way, Joe ? This little possie is out on its own. 
Where's your Tin Plate ? I suppose he has been making it too hot lately 
and they have kept him in the line. He will get plenty of sandbag duff 
up there. He is a crayfish, isn't he, Joe ? 

Joe. Now don't say that about my tin plate or 111 go crook : He is 
out on his own and, in fact, he is shook on me. When I done all my sugar 
and never even had the makings, he went very hostile because I never 
told him I was swept. There is nothing lousy about him, and I always 
believe in giving a man a fair go and that's why I object to the word 
crayfish and I think you fellows are making it too hot when you say 
that. I'll admit I was stiff when I lost that fifty francs, but my cobber 
produced another ten ; and when the ring-keeper said " Up and do 'em ", 
I collected 200 francs. Of course I had to give the ring-keeper a boxer. 
He is a shrewd head, but I think he would give a man a fair go although 
he is a base-walloper. Anyhow, to give you the fair dinkum guts I put 
across a beauty when I found the double-headed penny in the ring, and 
that's how I won 200 francs. 

A. How did you get down here, Joe ? 

Joe. Well, I was so stiff I nearly turkeyed off from the line, but I 
decided to wait. I pulled out from the line at 4 a.m. and hailed a limber 
on the road. Fritz landed a daisy-cutter and the transport driver done 
his block and took his hook. He absolutely dropped his bundle, and, to 
make matters worse, I had started off with a duck's breakfast, but I saw 
a cookhouse and decided to give it a pop for a binder. I put the nips into 
the fellow in charge for a feed. He was a quean to look at, yet he produced ; 
but when I tried to put the nips in for a franc he said he had been stung 
before, so you see I came a gutser. His offsider said " Give a man a fan- 
go *', so I gave him a bit of kidney pie and there was nothing lousy about 
him, but he said he had to be careful because the other fellow was the 
trump of the dump. Although, he said, he was the white-haired boy with 
the trump he was due for a shake-up and he had to take a tumble to 
himself as to how he gave the company-rations away. Anyhow, he said 
they had captured a sugar boat, so I put a few handfuls in my kick. When 
I said " Hooray " he called me back and gave me a few francs ; I reckon 
I was very tinny. But I had to walk. 

B. Yes, you were protected, Joe. 

C. I believe we are in for a big smack-up. There will be plenty of 
stoush and somebody is bound to get cleaned up. I bet our guns will 
lay it down thkk and heavy, and if I get out of the smack-up with a 
whole skin I will shout for all hands. 

B. There is Church Parade to-morrow and Teddy Woodbine with all 
the heads of the Army is going to review the troops. Good job I'm a bush 
baptist ; I can please myself as to what rank I parade with. I might 
even go to the Sallies ; they have the shortest service. You can take my 
word that I am no Bible-banger. 

A . Well, you are hot stuff speaking of religion in that way. 

B. It's time I struck a sweet job. In London, for preference ; there 
I can have a mag to a tabby, or if any of you fellows put the boot into 
me in any way, I'll parade sick and join Colonel Peerless 's Light Infantry 
at the base. 

C. Well, you have had a fair go behind the line and it's just about 
time you turned hostile. I think the whole lot of us are getting due for 
a shake-up. 

B. Hey, turn it up and stop all those gloomy forecasts or you will 


find that I can go very hostile, and it's time we all took a tumble to our- 
selves and discussed something pleasant, say a little party. 
A. I'm stiff. 

C. How are you holding, D ? 

D. All right. 

A . Youll do me, D ! You are out on your own. You never were 
a twister, because if you had been you could have denied being financial, 
and now you are going to shout for the boys. 

Joe. You know that cook ? I believe he is a bit of a pointer because 
he asked me what billet I was coming to and I wouldn't be surprised if he 
came along any minute. It's the offsider I'm talking about because 
he winked at me when the trump of the dump asked him if he had barbered 
the spuds for to-morrow's breakfast. I think he is a Woodbine, but he 
will do me for a tin plate because when I heard him talking to the trump 
about to-morrow's spuds, he told a tale that would make a man cry : 
so he deserves his liberty to-night, and even if he gets stunned he deserves it. 


Australian slang is recorded in Morris's Austral English, Jice 
Doone's Timely Tips for New Australians, and in the New York 
edition of C. J. Dennis's Doreen and The Sentimental Bloke ; all 
of which bear witness to its force and picturesqueness, its richness 
and variety, qualities due in part to the exhilarating and often 
romantic occupation of this vast country and in part to the 
intrepidity and resourcefulness of the early settlers and to the 
continued need for those moral assets as well as the persisting 
exhilaration. There is a lot of truth in Colonel Arthur Lynch's 
verdict, 2 couched in Australian slang and delivered in 1919 : 
" In the [United] States the [dominant] note [of slang] is direct- 
ness, energy. . , . The American [slang] has a rival, which, 
though young, is exuberant in vitality and full of character the 
Australian. I am not poking borak [i.e., jesting or " leg-pulling "], 
here ; it's dinkum . . . An Aussie who has been through the big 
stouch [i.e., fight ; hence the Great War] or a larrikin [i.e., a rough] 
from Little Bourke St. [in Melbourne], or a sundowner 3 [i.e., a 
professional tramp] who has lumped his blue [or bluey, i.e., carried 
his bundle of clothes, provisions, etc.] on the wallaby [i.e., on the 
track or tramp] to the Barcoo [an up-country river] . . . refuses 
[sometimes] to be pally ; if you give him the straight griffin 4 
[i.e., if you speak to him frankly and without affectation], he'll 
be a cobber [i.e., a friend]." 

In Australian slang there is much American, just as there is 
much Cockney influence, and this American element is naturally 
strongest in the larger seaports. Mencken has some valuable 

1 The comparative brevity of treatment accorded to this, the most important 
of the Colonial slangs, is due to the fact it alone finds a place in the vocabularies 
at the end of this volume. * In the July issue of English. 

3 Originally and long a tramp that made a practice of arriving at a sheep- 
or cattle station at sunset and demanding rations and a place to sleep. 

* literally, the straight tip. F * 


notes on the subject. He points out that even the bush, for the 
back-country, is originally American, as are bush-whacker 
(unrecorded by Morris) for a backwoodsman (America) or simply 
a person living in remote parts, bush-road, bush-town, etc. ; this 
use of bush is common also in South Africa and was originally 
due to the Dutch settlers in America. " The English of Australia/ 1 
he says in 1923, " though it is Cockney in pronunciation and 
intonation, becomes increasingly American in character " : that 
is true, but not to the extent which that very acute critic supposes, 
for Australian slang arift colloquialisms still take as many new 
words from Cockney as from American and retain most of the 
Cockney terms that have been adopted during the last century 
or more. The constituents of the Australian slang of 1933 are, 
I should say, something like 40 per cent, native, 35 per cent. 
Cockney, and 25 per cent. American. In the glossary to Dennis's 
Doreen and The Sentimental Bloke, Mencken finds the following 
terms familiar to him as an American : (verbs) beef, biff, bluff, 
boss, break away, chase oneself, chew the rag, chip in, fade away, 
get it in the neck, back and fill, plug along, get sore, turn down, and 
get wise; (nouns) dope, boss, fake, creek (not slang), knock-out 
drops, push (a crowd) ; (adjectives) hitched, married, and tough 
with luck ; for keeps (always) and going strong. At least four of 
these terms are drawn from English slang or, like fake, from 
English cant, but if all of them were of American origin they 
would not prove, however well they illustrate, his case. Never- 
theless, I agree with Mr. Mencken when he says that " In direct 
competition with English locutions, and with all " except that 
of certain trades " the advantages on the side of [English], 
American is making steady progress/ 1 

Also in 1923, McKnight * made some very interesting 
comments on the parallels and the differences between American 
and Australian English. " If variation in the names of things 
appears within a country, it is to be expected that in the widely 
separated parts of the English-speaking world the same 
phenomenon should appear . . . American candy is called in 
English sweets, in Australian and Anglo-Indian lotties * or sweets. 
American sheep-ranch is Australian sheep-nm, 8 English sheep- 
walk. American up-country and farmer are Australian bush 4 
and bushman. American tramp or hobo is Australian sundowner.* 
American alfalfa is Australian lucerne. American grub* * some- 
thing to eat/ is Australian tucker, 7 Anglo-Indian and South 

1 Both the Mencken and the McKnight quotations are, from among their 
various valuable and stimulating works, in the opera titata. 

* Lollies is very general slang. * Or station. 

4 Which, taken with the preceding paragraph, tends to show that bush is 
obsolescent in America. % * Or swag(s)man, usually swaggie. 

* Incidentally, this is more English than American, by nativity if not by use. 
7 Slang. 


African scoff' 1 The professor then aligns the American and the 
Australian soldiers, who met and daily fraternized in 1918 : 
as the " Jocks ", so the " Yanks " got along extremely well with 
the similarly hard-bitten, free-and-easy, to others disconcertingly 
direct " Aussies " or " Diggers ". McKnight phrases it rather 
differently : " When the American soldier in France was brought 
into association with his Australian allies, he learned that 
c Aussies' * English often differed from his own. He learned 
shickered for drunk, smoodging for making love . . . and a number 
of synonyms for his own slang words, such as bloke for ' guy ', 
skiting for * four flushing *, nark for ' crab '. Occasion for 
misunderstanding was ever at hand . . . For instance, the word 
grafter, in American use, insulting in its force, in Australian 
means simply a ' hustler '.* On the other hand spieler, conveying 
to an American a meaning innocent enough, to an Australian means 
' crook * or ' jail-bird V* 

But, he notes, " there is shared 2 by the two distant countries 
a remarkable amount of slang language," and he cites also ran, 
Woc#(head), bookie, cove, dago, duds, groggy, king pin, monniker, 
pal, peach (a pretty girl), rattled, sore head, stunt, togs, yap, a list 
equally remarkable for the number of English originals to this 
American and Australian slang. Significant too is the fact that 
in McKnight's ensuing list of words cited as Australian, six out of 
twenty come direct from England. 3 If Australians like an English 
word, slang or standard, they adopt it and make it their own : 
an attitude differing sharply from that expressed in 1853 by 
Dickens, who wrote, " The arrival of every mail, the extension 
of every colony, the working of every Australian mine would 
swell [the list of slang words]. Placers, squatters, diggers, 
clearings, nuggets, cradles, claims where were all these words 
a dozen years ago ? And what are they, till they are marshalled 
in a dictionary, but slang ? " Of these words, claim is equally 
American and Australian, clearing and placer were American 
before they were Australian, and squatter, which applies not to 
a miner but to a sheep-farmer, was used in America fifty years 
before it was in Australia, there being, however, this difference 
that in America the squatter anticipated, often illicitly, the 
government's survey, in Australia the squatter occupied land 
as the Crown's tenant though not always with the Crown's 

To the slang terms already noted there is little need to add : 
besides, there is the Vocabulary of Australian Slang, where such 
words as cookie &nd pommy and saddling-paddock, very Australian, 

1 Or simply one who, without hustling, yet works hard. In Australia, graft 
is work ; nearly always preceded by hard. 

2 Observe the difference between McKnight's and Mencken's standpoint. 

3 Cl the list of Australian slang words appended to the Encyclopaedia 
Britannica's article on Slang. 


take their place with diner and doner and spieler, of Yiddish^ 
Spanish and German origin. But here, by " Baconstealer ", is 
a poem I elicited by an Australian general's remark, made late 
in 1932 at an infantry battalion's reunion, that " some of the 
fellows were dropping out of the old friendships, and that they 
needed the humorous A.I.F. 2 incidents and furphies 3 again 
related to wake them up ". This is very Australian, with a fair 
admixture of slang War words. 

'* Now this is dinkum 

When you think hard back to the days when you were in the A.I.F., 
And the different types of troop that helped box on 4 : 
The tough ones, and the rough ones, the leadswinger and bot, 5 
And the cove who always reckoned things * tres bon '. 
There were all sorts in our Army, but one we would have missed 
More than most, in every unit he was known ; 

[He was known in the Fourteenth 6 as Snowy the Old Bloke.] 
Who gets the dinkum oil 7 on his own . . . 

" Now here he comes off sick parade : 
' What did the Quack * say, Snow ? * 
* That quack ? He ain't a doctor ! 
Why, a bloke was telling me 
This bloke in Aussie lived to him next door 
The blighter's no decocter 
Of the cure-all stuff at all, 
But a blacksmith of the days before the war 
And that's dinkum 1 ' * 

"I've just got back to Company, with furphies floating round. 

I'll find old Snow. Hell know if there's a raid. 
Colonel's dingbat 10 is his cobber, so what he says is bound 

To be a joke he sees the orders from Brigade. 
Now here he comes with Dingbat. * Have an Aussie Capstan, 11 * ' Snow " ? ' 

' Strewth 1 A full tin ! Buffet open/ Mafish fags. la 
Says Snow, ' Dig., don't go butcher's, 18 you won't want them any more 
Neuf heure, ce soir, Battalion hops the bags * 1 
And that's dinkum ! 

" Snow says we're going to billet right in Amiens this time > 

We're dumping all equipment and our packs, 
Next pay, each man is issued with a buckshee forty francs, 
And Headquarters has withdrawn the Anzac Jacks. 16 

But the billets that we went to was the one in Ribemont ! l * 

1 In the New South Wales ex-Service monthly magazine, Reveille, the 
January, 1933, number. 

2 Australian Imperial Forces ; AJ.F. was the American Expeditionary 

3 Rumours, especially false and far-fetched. An Australian soldiers' slang 
word. * Fight or carry on. 

5 Or bot-fly, a fussy and troublesomely persistent person. 

6 Sc. Battalion. 7 Authentic news. 
8 Medical Officer. * True, genuine. 

10 Batman. 1X Sc. Cigarette. 

18 No more cheap cigarettes. 13 Short for butcher's hook = crook = angry. 

14 Make an attack. 1S Military policemen. 

16 Whence a short march to the Bullecoiirt sector. 


" We had to bayonet straw-bags on a post. 

A Sergeant said, ' Snow's bayonet is all burnt at the end. 1 
Snow said, ' It's only used for making toast/ 

Then this Sgt. goes * old Snowy * Point withdraw again on guard ! 
You've killed one Fritz he's lying in the muck, 2 

Another Fritz comes at you, and now, man, what do you do ? ' 

And Snow says, ' Rat * the that I stuck.' 

And that's dinkum ! 

"Snow reckons how the Pay Corps's getting drafted to the line, 

The A.S.C.'s must not sell issue smokes, 

They're going to buy our chats 4 off us at half a franc a time, 
And the Somrne is ' out of bounds ' to all us blokes 
But that wasn't dinkum I " 


Canada also has an extensive and picturesque objective slang, 
but that slang 5 is 80 per cent. American, with, the remainder rather 
more English than native-Canadian. Canadian slang is, then, of 
less importance in a study of English slang than it might at 
first thought appear to be, although it is linguistically unfair to 
condemn it for being so much indebted to its near and "pushing " 
neighbour ; nevertheless, one naturally feels a little less interested 
in it when one fears that in another fifty years it will be almost 
as American as the slang of the United States, an Americanization 
that will affect the general speech almost as much as does the 
slang. It is true that the language of the French Canadians e 
has exercised some small influence on the colloquial speech of the 
rest of the population, yet that influence is not only very local in 
its effect, but it is rapidly waning with the gradual disappearance 
of Canadian French. Certainly it would be difficult for the 
average Englishman to mention more than a couple of English 
slang words that originally came from Canada, though he might 
run off a dozen that were actually American. Moreover, Ware in 
Passing English records only one word of Canadian slang (broom- 
stick, a shotgun or a rifle, and that term is obsolescent) and there 
is for Canadianisms no dictionary so full or scholarly or enter- 
taining as Hobson-Jobson, Austral English, or Africanderisms : 
not that any logical person would risk a far-reaching deduction 

1 Goes for " attacks '\ * Mud. 3 Rob. 4 Lice. 

8 " Our proximity to the United States makes it easy for Canadians to adopt 
American slang terms, and this process has "been rendered still more facile by 
the coining of the wireless and-the moving picture " : Professor G. H. Clarke, of 
Kingston, Canada, in a private letter of March, 1933. John Sandilands's Western 
Canadian Dictionary bears this out. 

8 See, e.g., L. de Montigny's La Langue Fran^aise an Canada, 1916 ; S. Clapin's 
Dictionnaire Canadien-Frangais, 1894 ; and N. E. Dionne's Le Parler Populaire 
des Canadiens-Fran^ais, 1909. All published in Canada. 


from those two incidental, though far from meaningless 

Lest it be thought that I am exaggerating, listen to Mencken l : 
" The impact of this flood [of common-speech, non-fashionable 
Americanisms] is naturally most apparent in Canada, whose 
geographical proximity and common interests completely 
obliterate the effects of English political and social dominance. 
The American flat a has swept the whole country, and American 
slang is everywhere used ; turn to any essay on Canadianisms, 2 
and you will find that nine-tenths/' well! not quite, 3 "are 
simply Americanisms. No doubt this is chiefly due to the fact 
that the Canadian newspapers are all supplied with news by 
the American press associations, and thus fall inevitably into 
the habit of discussing it in American terms. ' The great factor 
that makes us write and speak alike/ says [Harvey M. Watts 
in November, 1919], * is the indefinite multiplication of the 
instantaneous uniformity of the American daily . . . due to a 
non-sectional, continental exchange of news through the agency 
of the various press associations/ In this exchange, Canada 
shares fully. Its people may think as Britons, but they must 
perforce think in American." 

That is so or very nearly so. But it is none the less interesting 
to turn to a volume of poems or a novel by Robert W. Service or 
to glance at a glossary of the soldiers' slang of 1914-18 and there 
pick out a few Canadian terms, 4 by which, let me hasten to add, 
I mean terms employed by Canadian soldiers from October, 
1914, to the bitter end. Boneyard, a cemetery; buck, to talk, 
boast, or complain ; buck private, equivalent to the Tommy's 
full private, occasionally to his rear-rank private, an inferior 
soldier ; bunk in with, share a " bivvy " or a funk-hole with 
someone ; cagnas, barracks ; Charlie Chaplin's Army Corps, 
the Canadian Casualty Assembly Centre, at ShomcHffe, in the 
south-east of England ; cow, milk ; Coxey*s army, a " ragtime " 
army ; criq, brandy, from the French Canadians ; dosh, a " bivvy " 
or a funk-hole ; gat, a revolver ; Heinie, a German ; honey- 
bucket, a latrine-bucket or can ; hooch, spirits, like gat and buck 
it was general among the Americans ; hooza-ma-kloo, equivalent 
to the Tommy's ooja ; jake, good, genuine, heard often among 
the " Aussies " ; Java, tea ; mazuma, money ; mulligan, camp 
stew ; outfit, an Army unit, also an Americanism, as was pard t 
a pal ; pill, a cigarette ; punk, bread (an Americanism too) ; 
the Ross, the Ross Rifle used by the Canadians until May, 1915 ; 

1 Allowing much for his very natural and proper pride in America, we must 
still recognize the authoritativeness of his opinion. 

* See Mencken, op. cit., 3rd edition, p. 436, 

3 Mencken does not allow enough margin for those Americanisms which are 
simply Anglicisms. * Nearly all, originally American. 


rustle, rustler equal scrounge, scrounger ; sand, sugar ; side kick, 
a chum ; S.O.L., short of luck * ; swipe, to steal ; take ! O.K. ; 
and toodle-em-buck, the game of crown and anchor. A full 
glossary of the Canadian soldiers' slang would yield valuable 
material for linguistic generalizers, but it would not, I believe, 
rebut the general Americanization of Canadian slang. 

1 The polite definition ; actually, sh-t ! out of luck. A pun on S.O.S. 



The use of slang is at once a sign and a cause of mental atrophy. 

Slang is the speech of him who robs the literary garbage cans on their 
way to the dumps. AMBROSE BIERCE, c. 1900. 

Mr. Mencken 2 quotes these two verdicts eaxly in his excellent 
chapter on American slang in The American Language. " Litera- 
ture in America," he adds, " remains aloof from the vulgate/' 
a statement that holds rather less in 1933 than in 1923, when 
the scholar-journalist and pungent critic last revised his great 
work, and even he perhaps rather he than any other American 
writer is forced to admit the marked duality of American 
literature and the American language, the latter exhibiting it in 
a much more definite form : the trailing at the skirts of the 
language and the literature of Great Britain on the one hand, 
and on the other the fierce independence of Americans. Naturally 
that independence is much more consistent and far-reaching 
in the spoken language than in the literature. And as the general 
speech, so the slang ; so, even more, the latter, the advance-guard 
and the none too respectable freebooter of language. But the 
slang need not, at the present stage, be dissociated from the 
more seemly part of everyday speech, all the more that such 
dissociation is far less easy or advisable in American than in 
English, as will be shown in the chapter on affiliations. 

" American," writes H. L. Mencken, " shows its character in 
a constant experimentation, a wide hospitality to novelty, a 
steady reaching out for new and vivid forms. No other tongue 
of modern times admits foreign words and phrases more readily ,* 
none is more careless of precedents ; none shows a greater 
fecundity and originality of fancy. It is producing new words 

1 It need hardly be said that Part I of this book is just as necessary a back- 
ground to American as to English slang. In this Part, 1 am vastly indebted, for 
alterations and corrections made in the sepond edition, to Dr. Jean Bordeaux, now 
of Los Angeles, and, at second hand via Dr. Bordeaux, to Dr. Frank Vizetelly. To 
Dr. Bordeaux, indeed, is due 95 per cent, of the improvement noticeable in 
JPart IV as in the American vocabulary. He is a mine of knowledge concerning 
unconventional American. 

* Professor Krapp is very interesting on American slang, but I find his 
views less practical, much less " Hved '*, and less reliable than those of Mencken : 
it is therefore natural that in this chapter I seem to ignore the professor and to 
follow the critic very closely : the former theorizes judiciously, but the latter 
goes to the heart of his theme and is a scholar as well. 



every day, by trope, by agglutination, by the shedding of 
inflections, by the merging of parts of speech, and by sheer 
brilliance of imagination. It is full of what Bret Harte called 
the ' saber-cuts of Saxon ' ; it meets Montaigne's ideal of ' a 
succulent and nervous speech, short and compact, not as much 
delicated and combed out as vehement and brusque, rather 
arbitrary than monotonous, not pedantic but soldierly, as 
Suetonius called Csesar's Latin'. One pictures the common 
materials of English dumped in a pot, exotic flavorings added, and 
the bubblings assiduously and expectantly skimmed. What is 
old and respected is already in decay the moment it comes into 
contact with what is new and vivid. ' When we Americans 
are through with the English language/ says Mr. Dooley, ' it will 
look as if it had been run over by a musical comedy/ " 

Yet note the duality : " The American, even in the early 
eighteenth century, already showed many of the characteristics 
that were to set him off from the Englishman later on his bold 
and somewhat grotesque imagination, his contempt for dignified 
authority, his lack of aesthetic sensitiveness, his extravagant 
humour/' but, as Mencken says on another page, 1 " some of the 
tendencies visible in American e.g., toward the facile manu- 
facture of new compounds, toward the transfer of words from 
one part of speech to another, and toward the free use of suffixes 
and prefixes and the easy isolation of roots and pseudo-roots go 
back to the period of the first growth of a distinct American 
dialect and are heritages from the English of the time. They 
are the products of a movement which . . . was dammed up at 
home . . . but continued almost unobstructed in the colonies/' 
To these two points it is necessary to add that the break between 
English and American became recognizable about the end of 
the eighteenth century and that the differentiation affected both 
vocabulary and pronunciation. But the growth of American 
was, in and about 1800, hindered by " the lack of a national 
literature of any expanse and dignity and ... an internal 
political disharmony which greatly conditioned and enfeebled the 
national consciousness ". 2 These remarks evoke two comments. 
Most American critics have adequately and generously admitted, 
even while many of them have deplored, the tremendous prestige 
English literature has had for their countrymen and the welcome 
(much less opposed, this!) given to contemporary English 
authors : a prestige and a welcome that have inevitably resulted 
in American writers taking English methods as the standard and 
written English as a good model for written American. (Extremely 
few Americans try to speak like the English in either vocabulary 
or pronunciation.) But there is another aspect, one that is 

1 p. 189 ; cf . p. 71 , 2. (All references are to the 1923 edition of The American 
Language.) a Mencken, op. cit., 77. 


constantly ignored by American publicists and, to a surprising 
extent, by American scholars : and that is the size of the debt 1 
owed by spoken American, especially by slangy American, and, 
most markedly of all, by underworld American to English not to 
Standard English but to the varieties of English on the outskirts, 
in short to English dialect, English slang, and English cant. 
Pick up a glossary of low American slang and you will be surprised 
at the number of words and phrases that come from the dialect, 
the slang, or the cant of Britain, and often from slang and cant 
that are very old and perhaps obsolete in Britain or from dialect 
that is highly " provincial " or " deep ". 

The second comment is an analogy. The rise of American 
closely resembles that of Australian. The first settlers in both 
countries were adventurers and exiles. Men and women of a 
brave and independent spirit, no great respecters of rank, 
authority, or custom. Then came the convicts, who ceased to 
be sent to America when the War of Independence broke out 
and who, a generation later, began to be transported to Australia. 
Convicts were " marinated " over a much longer period to 
America than to Australia, but in larger numbers, in proportion 
to the ordinary population, to Australia than to America. When 
convicts were no longer sent to these two countries, those in 
servitude either, and mostly, died out or became settlers, and 
the latter were soon absorbed and their pasts forgotten. To both 
countries, too, have gone many ex-convicts or other ex-prisoners, 
as also those criminals who found Britain " getting too hot " for 
them : and of these, far more have gone to the United States 
than, because of the very much greater distance and consequent 
expense of the journey, have emigrated to Australia. Therefore, 
though I can offer no statistics, I should say that the actually 
and the potentially criminal dements, taken together, were 
roughly equal in the two countries until Prohibition was 
introduced into the States, from which date the criminal and 
near-criminal proportion of the population has been very much 
larger in the States than in Australia. But there are further 
analogies between America and Australia : the settling of both 
countries was a difficult and dangerous task, calling for bravery, 
endurance, and a sense of humour, and if the colonists in America 
ran a greater risk from the Red Indians than did those in the 
island continent from the Aborigines, the latter, once they left 
the coast lands, had a far less fertile and well-watered country 
to conquer ; moreover, the Australian settlers did not proceed 
in such large groups as, for safety and in mere good sense, the 
American settlers. In both lands, however, immense distances 
had to be contended with, and hardihood and physical hardness 

1 This book is not the place in which to develop such a statement. The 
task, moreover, should be performed rather by an American than by a Britisher. 


were equally necessary in America and Australia. What wonder, 
then, if quite apart from the American influence so marked on 
the Australian vocabulary the everyday, as well as the under- 
world, speech of the two countries has so many features in 
common ! 

These aspects are touched on by Krapp I when, referring to 
America, he says : " The mixture of races and the general breaking 
of old associations which accompanied the first greaf western 
migrations were peculiarly favourable to the development of a 
highly flavoured colloquial style. And in general it may be said 
that the frontier in America, after the colonial period, has always 
been a border line of romance between reality and unreality 
in which slang expressions have made a vigorous growth/' 

There are certain differences between English and American 
(or American English, as some prefer to call it), both in the general 
colloquial speech and in the slang. These differences are 
sufficiently marked for Professor Ernest Weekley, 2 writing in 
1929, to say : "If ... the American temperament, despite 
its general docility to standardization, persists in its present 
attitude towards a standardized language, spoken American 
must eventually become as distinct from English as Yiddish 
is from classical Hebrew." One of the chief differences 3 is that 
American, largely owing to " constant familiarity with . . . 
immigrants from foreign languages and with the general speech 
habits of foreign peoples' 1 , is "a good deal more hospitable to 
loan-words than English, even in the absence of special pressure. 
Let the same word knock at the gates of the two languages, and 
American will admit it more readily, and give it at once a wider 
and more intimate currency ". 

Both Englishmen and Americans are often surprised at the 
numerous differences that exist in the two languages for terms 
in everyday use. Mencken 4 gives an admirable list from which 
I cull a few examples, the American preceding the English : 
Ash-can and ashman for dust-bin and dustman ; baggage-car for 
luggage-van ; boardwalk (sea-side) for promenade ; calendar 
for cause-list; checkers (game) for draughts; city-ordinance for 
by-law ; daylight-time for summer-time ; derby (hat) for bowler ; 
fraternal order for a friendly society ; garters for men's (sock-) 
suspenders* and suspenders for their braces, while braces is not in 
America an ordinary appurtenance of the toilet so I surmise 

1 The article on Slang in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. 

* Adjectives, 1930, at the end of his witty essay on Americanisms. 

8 Mencken, op. cit. 

4 Ibid., 116-19. 

5 Mr. Mencken makes an amusing mistake when of the Englishman he says : 
" Suspenders are his wife's garters ; his own are sock-suspenders" for to adopt 
English notation men do not wear garters, nor are women's garters at all the 
same as their suspenders, the latter being necessary, the former ornamental and 
" not quite the thing " 


but what we in England call shoitlder-straps, not the shoulder- 
straps of a woman's evening dress but those employed to prevent 
stooping or rounded shoulders and compressed thorax ; hard- 
ware dealer for ironmonger ; janitor for caretaker ; newspaperman 
for journalist ; patrolman for policeman ; public school for board 
school ; shirtwaist for blouse ; spigot or faucet for tap ; tenderloin 
for undercut or fillet ; trolley-car for tramcar ; type-writer for 
typist ; vaudeville-theatre for music-hall ; wash-rag for face-cloth. 
Those few are taken at random from some two hundred terms, 
which do not include buxom and homely, a dangerous pair that if 
one is not careful may lead, the former to a " bumping-off " in 
America, the latter to the icy stare in England. 

It is extremely difficult to define the differences between English 
slang and American slang, for in all the essentials they are at 
one. Not a single aspect mentioned in, not a single section of 
the First Part of the present book could be said not to be part 
of, not to apply to both slangs, though certain remarks would be 
slightly more applicable now to one, now to the other. Yet the 
non-essential differences, the differences incidental not so much to 
the qualities of slang itself but to outside circumstances, should 
not be ignored. As John Brophy * has said : " American idiom 
is in a constant state of flux, slang being more copiously produced, 
more quickly taken up into accepted usage, but also 2 more 
quickly discarded/' It may, I believe, be stated that while, at a 
given moment, there are far more slang terms in use in the United 
States than in England (a fact due almost wholly to the much 
greater population and the very much greater area), there are 
comparatively few more terms in use in New York than in 
London : that, five years later, the slang vocabulary of New York 
and of the rest of the country with it will have changed very 
greatly, whereas in London and correspondingly in England as a 
whole the vocabulary will not notably (unless a cataclysm 
supervenes) have changed : that in the States a larger number 
of slang terms will have been ennobled than in England and 
that, vice versa, far more dang terms will have been rejected 
and forgotten in the former than in the latter country. American 
slang is more volatile than English and it tends, also, to have 
more synonyms, but a greater number of those synonyms are 
butterflies of a day : English synonyms are used more for variety 
than from weariness or a desire to startle. American slang is 
apt to be more brutal than English, just as American cant is 
even more brutal than English cant : apart from the educated, 
the cultured, and the naturally gentle, Americans (men far more 

1 English Prose, 1932, in the spirited chapter entitled " Idiom and Slang *'. 

* This explains why the American vocabulary at the end of my book is 
comparatively so small : I have attempted, for the most part, to list the more 
enduring terms. 


than women) are, I believe, more callous than English, just as 
Canadians and Australians are more callous than New Zealanders, 
and New Zealanders than Englishmen ; on the other hand, the 
educated, the cultured, the innately gentle, and the well-born 
American is generally whether man or woman a very charming 
person, a delightful fellow. Another difference is this : all in all, 
English slang, though slower to arise, is concerned with slightly 
more enduring things and therefore less quickly becomes 
superannuated. And yet another: English slang is, in the 
aggregate, more witty, American more facetious, and facetiousness 
rarely survives. But the differences x are comparatively small, 
and American slang, like general American idiom, may differ 
greatly in vocabulary from the English while it yet maintains 
" the English tradition of brevity, pithiness, and vivid imagery ". 2 

And it is much rather the numerous affinities in essentials than 
the many differences in detail which have caused a large amount 
of American slang to be adopted in England. In general, Americans 
rejoice at this adoption, Englishmen either deplore it or are at 
some pains to oppose it in a judicious manner. Let us consider 
several typical Americans Mencken, McKnight, and M. M. 
Mathews and a few typical English writers and scholars 
Dickens, the Fowlers, Professors Collinson and Weekley, and John 

Mencken quotes a newspaper report that, dealing with an 
English protest made early in 1920 against Americanisms, runs 
as follows : " England is apprehensive lest the vocabularies of 
her youth become corrupted through incursions of American 
slang. Trans-Atlantic tourists in England note with interest the 
frequency with which resort is made to ' Yankee talk ' by British 
song and play writers to enliven their productions. Bands and 
orchestras throughout the country when playing popular music 
play American selections almost exclusively. American songs 
monopolize the English music haE and musical comedy stage, 
It is the subtitle of the American moving picture film which, it 
is feared/ constitutes the most menacing threat to the vaunted 
English purity of speech/' 

Mencken has a chapter on the exchanges between England 
and America and devotes eleven pages to Americanisms in 
England ; these include both conventional and unconventional 
language. What he said in 1923 does not hold quite so emphatic- 
ally in the 1930*5 : " Though the guardians of English . . . 
still attack every new Americanism vigorously, even when, as 
in the case of scientist it is obviously sound, or, as in the case of 
joy-ride, it is irresistibly picturesque, they are often routed by 
public pressure, and have to submit in the end with the best grace 

1 See esp. Mencken, op. cit., " Introductory/* section 3. 
* Brophy, op. cit. and loc* cit. 


possible/' The former word, according to the Shorter Oxford 
Dictionary, which says nothing about an American origin, first 
appeared in print in 1840, the latter, according to Weekley, in 

The main channels are American plays, books and magazines, 
American travellers, American and English sailors, English 
visitors to America, and the American films. And, despite many 
protests, "the majority of Englishmen make borrowings from 
the tempting and ever-widening American vocabulary, and many 
of these loan-words take root, and are presently accepted as sound 
English, even by the most squeamish. ... It is curious, reading 
the fulminations of American purists of [1865-1900], to note 
how many of the Americanisms they denounced have not only 
got into perfectly good usage [in America] but even broken 
down all guards across the ocean. ... So many Americanisms, 
in fact, have gone into English of late that the English have 
begun to lose sight of the transoceanic origin of large numbers 
of them." 

In the same year as the third edition of Mencken's provocative 
but vigorous, suggestive, and scholarly book appeared McKnight's 
less provocative and vigorous but equally suggestive and scholarly 
English Words and their Background. McKnight, though more 
temperately, says much the same as Mencken concerning 
Americanisms in England, and so we may leave him for M. M. 
Mathews, whose volume of essays and comments, The Beginnings 
of American English, appeared in August, 1931 (though it was 
hardly heard of in England until 1932), and who urbanely says, 
" At the present time some English people are perturbed about 
the Americanisms in both vocabulary and pronunciations that 
are invading England by way of talking pictures. American 
actors and actresses are, meantime, doing their utmost to talk 
as they think English people talk. The results achieved are often 
interesting but never criminal. The fact is that pronunciation 
is not intrinsically one of the fundamentally important things 
of life." 

The English view is the more important, for it is English, not 
American, which is at stake, just as, if we were considering 
Briticisms or preferably Anglicisms in America, we should stress 
the American viewpoint. We need not refer to the occasional 
attacks or defences made in the years 1700-1850, for when not 
angry snortings they are extravagant tours-de-force. But in 
1853 Dickens > in an already much-quoted article, inveighs thus : 
'* We have learnt a great portion of our new-fangled names and 
expressions from America . . . Our transatlantic cousins have 
not only set us the example, but have frequently surpassed us in 
their eagerness to coin new words, and to apply names to things 
to which they have not the remotest relation." 


Passing over the later Victorian indignants, we come to the 
Fowlers, 1 who in The King's English (ist edition, 1906) are some- 
what severe. " Americanisms," they assert, " are foreign words, 
and should be so treated. To say this is not to insult the American 
language. ... We are entitled to protest when any one assumes 
that because a word of less desirable character " than fall for 
autumn " is current American, it is therefore to be current English. 
There is a real danger of our literature's being americanized, 
and that not merely in details of vocabulary ... but in its general 
tone. . . . The English and the American language are both 
good things; but they are better apart than mixed". They 
proceed to examples " Fix up (organize), back of (behind), 
anyway (at any rate), standpoint (point of view), back-number 
(antiquated), right along (continuously), some (to some extent), 
just (quite, or very ' just lovely '), may be adduced as typical 
Americanisms of a very different kind from fall or antagonize 2 ; 
but it is not worth while to make a large collection ; every one 
knows an Americanism, at present, when he sees it ; how long 
that will be true is a more anxious question," so anxious indeed 
that only the most scrupulous writers and the most profound 
students of English can now be sure that never do they employ 
an Americanism. Professor Collinson, for instance, remarked in 
1926 : "I have in my survey deliberately refrained in many 
cases from specifying a given expression as American, as I am often 
unaware whether it is in origin American or not, and was surprised 
when reading Mencken to see how much I had just taken for 
granted as native English." 

During the War, at least until 1918, Americanisms were not 
at all popular, but they afterwards made up the lost ground. 
Writing in 1926, Professor Collinson 3 could say : "In view of the 
various articles published on the influence of the picture house on 
the language of to-day (cf. Spies, passim) I will content myself 
with a brief note." At that date, though movies was familiar 
to Englishmen at home and abroad, pictures and cinema were 
still the more frequent ; now it is all movies when it is not flicks 
(earlier flickers). Screen, reel, fade-out (noun and verb), to register 
an emotion, close-up, to feature and to star " have passed into 
general use ". " Among the Americanisms which constantly 
appear in the captions of the films and have probably more 
through them than through other means attained a measure 
of popularity are ... sob-stuff, mush, mushy ; guy, stiff, boob, 
mutt . . . ; joint . . . ; to put wise, get wise ; make a get 
away, beat it ..." 

1 So, passim, is H. W. Fowler in A Dictionary of Modern English Usiage, 

2 " A very firm stand ought to be made against placate, transpire, and 

3 Contemporary English, 1927. 


Also, " the newspapers and magazines as well as many popular 
novels (especially detective stories and authors like Sinclair 
Lewis) play a great part in familiarizing us with Americanisms. 
We probably " read " certainly " " do not keep pace with 
the neologisms, nor do we ever attain to the rich diversity of 
American slang (in particular we are immune from the slang 
of the base-ball field), but we seem to offer less and less resistance 
to the new importations." 

A year later, Professor Weekley (in his admirable " Benn's 
Sixpenny ") writes l : " The foreign language which has most 
affected English in our own time is contemporary American/' 
Having noted that spoken American is becoming ever more 
remote from written and spoken English, he draws attention to 
the fact that " the more slangy element of our [English] language 
is being constantly reinforced by words and phrases taken from 
American, especially that type of American which is printed in 
the cinema caption and spoken in the pyjama comedy ", the 
" talkies " not having then been introduced. He cites crook, 
crank, boom, slump ; bluff, pep, stunt, blurb ; tall, steep, thin ; 
ivory-domed ; till hell freezes, greased lightning, easy to look at ; 
and the development- of the preposition (a process that 
Dr. Johnson had intensely disliked) as in up against it, up to, 
out for, to let on, fall for, do in. To some of these it is instructive 
to apply the criterion of the Shorter Oxford Dictionary, which 
records crook at 1886, crank at 1881, boom at 1879, slump at 
1888 ; bluff at 1848, though uncommon till the i88o's ; pep at 
1920 ; stunt at 1895 ; blurb at 1924 ; tall (e.g., story) at 1846, 
steep at 1856 ; thin it ignores, as it does ivory-domed. 

In Adjectives and Other Words, 1930, Weekley remarks 
that " of late years English has been inundated with American 
slang pure and simple. Intercourse between the two nations 
has never been so intimate . . . and there is to Englishmen 
such an attractiveness in American idiom that very slight contact 
with it is quickly reflected". 

An attitude somewhat different from the sentiments expressed 
by all the foregoing writers manifests itself in the last two that 
I shall quote. In 1932 John Brophy, distinguished novelist, 
short-story writer, and essayist, acute critic, and an expert 
slangster, wrote in his charming and suggestive English Prose : 
"... I am aware of a distinct prejudice in England against 
American locutions. Many intelligent and educated people 
resent them as if they were a poison in the well of English 
undefiled. There are some grounds for this resentment, because, 
chiefly through that American domination of the cinema industry 
which arose during the War, American slang has been thrust too 
copiously down the throats of an English public ignorant of its 

1 The English Language, 1928. 


origins. But as a general principle, the prejudice cannot be 
justified. . . . We should not pharisaically (stifling all memories 
of our sinful past, such as ' Chase me, Charlie ! ' and ' Keep your 
hair on-! ') talk and think as if American slang consisted only of 
' Says you I ' and ' Oh yeah 1 * and ' big boy '. And we need to 
sharpen our wits to give as good, if not as much, slang as we 
receive. For English is one language wherever it is spoken." 
The second is an anonymous writer, who, without speaking 
directly of Americanisms, yet says something that, in its implica- 
tions, has a profound significance. In March 1933, addressing 
the readers of a popular weekly 1 in the familiar style dear to 
journalists, he deals thus with a book then just published : "If 
you want to see how American slang and its general terminology 
has permeated the English language, have a look at a book . . . 
called Shooting the Bull, by David Ellby," actually Blumenfeld 
and son of the celebrated Fleet Street journalist. " It is the story 
of a reporter who has done everything possible on both sides of 
the Atlantic ; attractive in style, violently vulgar in spots, 
inexplicably clever and ingenuous as well as sophisticated, with 
perfect little cameo portraits . . . The author . . . stamps 
ruthlessly as well as good-naturedly on every literary convention. 
A rather astonishing effort." That thumb-nail review takes for 
granted the American influence on English slang and general 
speech : the infection has gone beyond prevention and no cure 
is proposed. 

But perhaps this constant infiltration of Americanisms into 
English slang is a means whereby, through the enduring best 
from among these newcomers, the English language shall retain 
its youth. By all means let us discriminate, select those 
Americanisms which seem best suited to the genius of English, 
and adapt them to our linguistic ends : by careful selection and 
no less careful adaptation, we shall be enabled, if the need arises, 
to replace an effete or antiquated Anglicism by a vigorous, 
picturesque Americanism or to welcome a true neologism ; but 
we should accept only such Americanisms as do pay their way 
in this best of all manners. 

1 Everyman, 25th March, 1933. 



The affiliations of American slang with dialect, cant, low 
speech, general colloquialisms, are infinitely more difficult to 
demarcate than they are in English, although it is easy enough 
to set the slang apart from the standard and the literary language. 

Dialect in America is a very different thing from dialect in 
England. Of the three chief characteristics of American the 
first is its receptivity, the second its productivity, and the third 
its uniformity, " so that dialects, properly speaking, are confined 
to recent immigrants, to the native whites of a few isolated areas, 
and to the negroes of the South/' observes Mr. Mencken, 1 who 
then quotes from the defunct World, saying as early as 1909 : 
" Manners, morals, and political views have all undergone a 
standardization which is one of the remarkable aspects of 
American evolution. Perhaps it is in the uniformity of language 
that this development has been most noteworthy. Outside of 
the Tennessee mountains and the back country of New England 
there is no true dialect." He drives home this fact by saying : 
" This uniformity ... is especially marked in vocabulary and 
grammatical forms the foundation stones of a living speech. 
There may be slight differences in pronunciation and intonation 
a Southern softness, a Yankee drawl, a Western burr but in the 
words they use and the way they use them all Americans, even 
the least tutored, follow the same line." 

Of post-War American this is strikingly true, though to not 
quite the extent claimed by Mencken. In 1923, Professor 
McKnight 2 (whom no one will accuse of being over-academic) 
declared : " Local variations in vocabulary are everywhere in 
evidence ... In names of things outside the sphere of schools 
and literature the tendency towards variation is strikingly 
apparent." He draws up a parallel list of words illustrating the 
difference between Wayne County (in New York State) and 
Central Ohio. This list was compiled about 1903, and he fully 
recognizes that " both forms may be known in one or both of 
the sections of country, due to the rapid mingling of dialects in 
modern times " ; nevertheless he maintains that there is a 
" constant tendency toward differentiation in the vocabularies 
of different communities ". That tendency is a linguistic law, 
but the counteracting influences of civilization are, I think, even 

1 Op. cit. 2 Op. cit. 

305 x 


stronger than that law, and since 1923 the wireless has introduced 
a levelling process of the utmost significance. In the United 
States, as in Great Britain and Ireland, dialect is doomed to 
final extinction ; and barring a cataclysm that immobilizes 
civilization for a generation in seventy years' time the only 
traces of dialect will be that climatic product, pronunciation, and 
a very few localisms in nomenclature or in turn of phrase. 

Yiddish 1 is a different matter. Since 1897, when Abraham 
Cahan founded the Jewish Daily Forward and thereby created 
modern Yiddish journalism, the work of the Yiddish press has- 
been America's most distinctive contribution to the Yiddish 
literature of the world. Much of the best Yiddish literature, 
especially in poetry, has come from the United States, and all 
of it has been strongly influenced by Russian literature. " Next 
to the press the stage has been the most potent cultural influence 
in the life of the Jewish immigrants/' and in 1929 there were 
some twenty Yiddish theatres in the States, half of them being 
in greater New York. 2 From these two sources has come the 
Yiddish element in American slang. 

" The Italians, the Slavs, and above all the Russian Jews, 
make steady contributions to the American vocabulary and 
idiom, and though these contributions are often concealed by 
quick and complete naturalization their foreignness to English 
remains none the less obvious. / should worry, in its way, is 
correct English, but in its essence it is as completely Yiddish as 
kosher, ganof, schadchen, oi-yoi, matzoth or mazuma," words 
frequently heard in American slang. " Yiddish, even more than 
American," says Mencken, " is a lady of easy virtue among the 
languages . . . Transported to the United States, it has taken 
in so many words and phrases, and particularly so many 
Americanisms, that it is now nearly unintelligible ... to recent 
arrivals from Russia and Poland. . . . For all the objects and 
acts of everyday life the East Side Jews commonly use English 
terms. . . . Many of these words have quite crowded out the 
corresponding Yiddish terms, so that the latter are seldom heard. 
. . . Yiddish inflections have been fastened upon most of these 
loan-words. . . . Some of the loan-words, of course, undergo 
changes on Yiddish-speaking lips. Thus landlord becomes 
lendler, certificate (a pretty case of Hobson-Jobson !) becomes 
stiff-ticket, lounge becomes lunch, tenant becomes tenner,' 3 The 
movement for the purification of Yiddish has met with little 
support in the States : " The Americanisms absorbed by the 
Yiddish of this country have come to stay," says Abraham Cahan. 

Yiddish has invaded the language of the underworld ; witness 
ganov, there usually gonov or gonoph. In the United States, 

1 For definition and comments, see Part III, " Affiliations/' 

2 I owe all this to Nathaniel Zalvwitz's article in the Encyclopaedia Britannica,. 


cant the slang of the underworld is much more intimately 
connected with general slang, and the latter borrows more words 
and borrows them far more quickly from cant, than in England. 
Godfrey Irwin, the author of American Tramp and Underworld 
Slang (published in London in 1931), in a letter dated November, 
1932, to the present writer, says : " Over here there is but scant 
difference between cant and slang as generally used/' a testimony 
arrestingly supported by James Spenser, who in Limey (published 
in London in March, 1933) remarks that the underworld is a 
misleading "favourite journalese expression", for the simple 
reason that " in America ", that is the United States, " the 
* worlds ' of crime and business and politics have no frontiers/' 
The States must indeed be " a great place " for those who like 
the contiguity of crime. 

Likewise vulgarisms and low speech can hardly be 
differentiated from slang, but with colloquialisms we are on 
safer ground, though here, too, the dividing line is difficult to 

In the United States the tendency to be highly colloquial, 
with the natural result of frequent slanginess, is even more marked 
than in England : "as always, the popular speech is pulling the 
exacter speech along/ 1 Thus Mencken, who adduces some very 
interesting examples of the increased colloquialization of American, 
a linguistic process that is of the first importance in the study of 
slang, for while it may ultimately produce a fusion of 
colloquialisms and slang so intimate and so complete that 
optimists will rejoice, crying aloud : " Lo ! there is no more 
slang/' the realist will say : " No ; for all is slang, there being 
no more colloquialisms/' It is fairly safe to prophesy that the 
continuation of this colloquialization would not improve the 
general standard of spoken American, nor purge away the slang, 
but would increase the amount, scope, and influence of slanginess, 
with the always dangerous result that there will be an ever- 
growing gulf between the spoken and the written language. 

Some of those features in the vulgarization of American 
which are noticed by Mencken may briefly be mentioned : the 
remarkable rapidity with which words are clipped, this process 
being applied to almost every word of three or more syllables 
(mutt for muttonhead) and to many of two (vamp for vampire], 
especially with new words ; the growing prevalence of port- 
manteau-words, " clearly made for convenience ... to save 
time and trouble/' as in boost (boom + hoist) ; " the great 
multiplication of common abbreviations," as in C.O.D. ; verbal 
economy, a very general trait indeed ; racy neologisms (tight-wad, 
sob-sister, four-flusher) ; the frequent adding of an adverb or 
preposition to a verb (hurry up) ; the readiness with which new 
prefixes and especially suffixes are adopted ; the part played by 


trade-names, natural or artificial ; words like scallywampus, 
" stretched forms " as they have been called by Dr. Louise 
Pound, who has done much brilliant and amusing work (most of 
it, unfortunately, in periodicals only) in such by-ways of language 
as Modern Trade Names, Vogue Affixes, Blends, " Stunts " in 
Language ; a nonchalant employment of words in unexpected 
parts of speech ; and the arresting and often inconsequent 
vividness of metaphor. 

The relation of slang to standard American is easily deducible 
from the preceding paragraphs. That relation is implied by 
Dr. H. M. Ayres when * he writes : " The wish to see things 
afresh and for himself is so characteristic of the American that 
neither in his speech nor in his most considered writing does he 
need any urging to seek out ways of his own. He refuses to carry 
on his verbal traffic with well-worn counters ; he will always be 
new-writing them. He is on the lookout for words that say some- 
thing." True ; but occasionally it seems that what they say 
wasn't worth the saying or had been equally well, if not better, 
said years before. 

Much of the startling appositeness, the brave coloratura, the 
arch boyishness, the swashbuckling adventurousness, and the 
picturesque word-painting, as well as of the humorous crankiness, 
the useful crudity, the cruel insensitiveness, is explained, though 
only by implication, in a passage by Mencken so masterly and 
penetrating that I would blush to paraphrase it. "It is of the 
essence of democracy that it remain a government by amateurs, 
and under a government by amateurs it is precisely the expert 
who is most questioned and it is the expert who commonly 
stresses the experience of the past. And in a democratic society 
it is not the iconoclast who seems most revolutionary but the 
purist. The derisive designation of high-brow is thoroughly 
American in more ways than one." The same critic notices that 
there is " a far greater prevalence of idioms from below in the 
formal speech of America than in the formal speech of England. 
There is surely no English novelist of equal rank whose prose 
shows so much of colloquial looseness and ease as Howells 2 . . . 
Nor is it imaginable that an Englishman of comparable education 
and position would ever employ such locutions as those [in] the 
public addresses of Dr. [Woodrow] Wilson that is, innocently, 
seriously, and as a matter of course. , , . In the United States 
their use is the rule rather than the exception ; it is not the man 
who uses them, but the man who doesn't use them who is marked 
out. . . . This general iconoclasm reveals itself especially in a 
disdain for most of the niceties of modern English. The American, 

1 The Cambridge History of American Literature, vol. iv : " The English 
Language in America/' 

2 William Dean Howells (1837-1920), essayist, novelist, critic. 


like the Elizabethan Englishman, is usually quite unconscious of 
them and even when they have been instilled into him by the 
hard labour of pedagogues he commonly pays little heed to them 
in his ordinary discourse ". 

In short, standard American is not nearly so correct 
grammatically as standard English. It is only very formal 
writers, those engaged on theses and in academic works, who 
aim to be correct at all points, and it is only the old-fashioned 
men of letters and the cultured scholars who consistently 
endeavour to combine correctness with the graces. There are 
still, in the United States, as there always have been since the 
beginning of the nineteenth century, many authors who write 
genuinely " literary '* English, but they are men that, to a sound 
education, add both good taste and natural vigour. When * they 
lack the vigour or a distinguished talent, their " literary " writing 
is apt to be jejune, insipid, and vaguely uncertain of itself ; to be, 
at times, an unintentional pastiche. But there is also what 
I shall call a literary American, the American written by 
Dr. Richard Burton, the late George Washington Cable and 
Ambrose Bierce, Mr. H. L. Mencken, Mr. Ford Madox Ford, 
Mr. Christopher Morley, and others : an American that differs 
from the best English only in the use of ash-can for dust-bin, 
suspenders for braces, and so forth; in a rather fresher use of 
metaphor ; in a slightly less logical and somewhat less musical 
sentence-building ; in a certain disregard of the nicety of shall 
and will, can and may, would and should, if and though, each other 
and one another, and at the same time in a fondness for the 
subjunctive, often using the present where an English writer 
would, if employing the mood at all, prefer the imperfect sub- 
junctive ; and in a rather more hospitable attitude towards 

1 American theses on literature afford many painful examples. ** If only 
they'd write American . . .", one sighs. 


So much has already been said on the subject of characteristics 
that here I have merely to draw attention to a few important 
aspects that have hitherto been only parenthetically mentioned 
or that have not arisen for relevant discussion. 

It has often been noticed that the metaphors of American 
slang are vigorous and picturesque. Carnoy 2 has a notable 
passage : L' anglais (surtout en Amerique], he says, est particuliere- 
ment riche en metaphor s verbales qui sont a la fois tres pittoresques 
et tres hyperboliques* On substitue aux verbes normaux des mots 
empruntes a d'autres domaines oil les actions assument un caractere 
plus violent ou, du moins, plus frappant, plus evocateur. Ainsi 
I'idee du mouvement peut etre occasionnellement rendue par toute 
une serie d' expressions dnergiques, picturales et tout a fait forcees, 
exagerees telles que : one whales a home run . . . one flops in ... 
one steers for the hotel . . . one hops when the bell rings. ... 
Cette abondance de termes " expressifs "... donne a ce genre de 
style quelque chose de la saveur d'une langue concrete et intuitive. 

The Americans are fond also of the rather more subtle practice 
of meiosis or, as it is called in its negative form, litotes (a statement 
so moderate that it becomes ironically humorous) as in the long- 
established make oneself scarce and in the twentieth-century 
sitting up and taking nourishment, two examples mentioned, in 
his amusing and witty, already cited essay, " Americanisms " in 
Adjectives and Other Words, by Professor Weekley, who directs 
our attention to these further characteristics of American slang ; 
its brevity, its liking for substitution, its lack of correctness, and 
its occasional rather startling poverty The last is seen in the 
shameless overworking of get and is often, though far from always, 
explainable by the powerful influence exercised by the 
" American " of foreign origin, who naturally tends * to use as 
few words as possible and to simplify the language that, in order 
to make money, he is forced to acquire rather than learn. The 
grammatical incorrectness of American slang is most marked, 

1 As the characteristics of American slang axe very much the same as those 
of English slang and as certain relevant features have been mentioned in the 
first chapter of this Part, this will necessarily be a chapter only a quarter as 
long as, intrinsically, the subject demands. 

* A. Carnoy : La Science du Mot, 1927. 

* E.g., greased lightning. 

4 See Weekley, loc. cit., p. 174, and an invaluable passage in Mencken, op. cit. , 



but then you have only to glance at the various series of 
Mr. Mencken's Americana and at the issues of the periodical 
entitled American Speech for confirmation " it would seem 
that not only in business American, but also in conventional 
American, outside really cultured and literary circles, grammatical 
correctness is no longer regarded as either necessary or desirable/' 
Substitution is the result of the itch for novelty, for a picturesque 
alternative, and it links up with synonyms. 1 Brevity may not 
be the soul of American slang, but it "is perhaps the chief 
feature. This is attained either by apocope, as in vamp for 
vampire, mutt for muttonhead, fan for fanatic (apparently), etc., 
or by the substitution of an expressive monosyllable or compound 
of monosyllables for a longer word or description. It is here 
that American slang has made a real and useful contribution to 
colloquial English. There is about these American tabloids a 
terseness and a finality which leave nothing more to be said. 
When we have defined a Communist as either a crank or a crook, 
the subject is really exhausted. It is difficult now to imagine 
how we got on so long without the word stunt, how we expressed 
the characteristics so conveniently summed up in dope-fiend or 
high-brow, or any other possible way of describing that mixture 
of the cheap pathetic and the ludicrous which is now universally 
labelled sob-stuff. The amount of expression that American 
can give to the inexpressive [preposition] is truly marvellous " 
as in up to, up against, out to, with which compare the Cockney 
for in for it, due for trouble, and the American going to get his, 
going to get what's coming to him. Contrasted with these 
felicities is the American proneness to catchwords and stock 

Meaningless or almost meaningless words and especially 
phrases have already been treated. Oliver Wendell Holmes, in 
The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, described them as " blank 
cheques of intellectual bankruptcy ". McKnight quotes two 
examples of " such convenient substitutes for expression ", the 
one from the Age-Herald of Birmingham, Alabama, the other 
from the Star of Kansas City : 

Two adjectives Susannah knows, 

On these she takes her stand ; 
No matter how this world goes, 

'Tis either "fierce" or ''grand**, 

though at the present day it is more probably " punk " or " fine ". 
In the other a friend questions " Pink ", a returned soldier : 

Did ye get clean over, Pink ? 

Oh, boy, did I ? 
Git sick on th' ocean ? 

Oh, boy, did I ? 

1 See the next paragraph but one. 


Did] a go over the top, Pink ? 

Oh, boy, did I ? 
How'd it feel ? 

Oh boy, believe me. 
Pink, didja kill any Germans ? 

Oh, boy ! 

On the other hand, American slang is extraordinarily rich in 
.synonyms. Although synonymieslT^e^ik^ 
already, they so reveal better, indeed, than any theorizing can 
do the nature of American slang that a few examples are 
demanded. Acute psychologists will perhaps note certain slight 
differences in those lists of 1911, 1923, 1931 which are quoted 

In 1911 at the Madison High School, Wisconsin, 1 the pupils 
(boys and girls) employed the following terms to express ridicule 
or contempt of a person : mutt, bonehead, guy, carp, high brow, 
tight wad, grafter, hayseed, hot-air artist, rube, tough nut, chump, 
and pea-nut, with the epithets off your perch and yellow-. It may 
be noted that guy has entirely, mutt has partly lost its pejorative 
sense, and that carp and pea-nut are obsolescent. " Shut up ! " 
was conveyed by : cheese it, cut it out, shut your beak, subside, 
come off, choke it, cut out the rough, drown it, ring off, souse it, button 
your lip, forget it. " Get out ! ", " go away ! " : fade away, 
beat it, beat it whik the beating is good, get under the stove,^ skidoo, 
take a sneak, go on, scat, come off your perch, hit it up, go jump in 
the lake, vamoose, expire, mosey along, aw ! forget it. A head was 
dome, ivory dome, solid ivory, coconut, bean, while intoxicated 
was (to be) full, piped, tight, (half)stewed, (half) shot, loaded, or 
(to have) a skate on t an eye-opener. To understand could be to 
pipe the lid or the hat, rubber, catch on, catch on to the phiz, get 
on to, get next to, get wise to, get me ?, be dead on. These pupils, 
when asked why they used slang, gave the following reasons 2 
(listed in descending order of frequency) : reasons that, to a 
striking degree, reflect the environment : 

1. From habit. 

2. Slang more concise, emphatic, expressive, 

3. More impressive. 

4. Expresses feeling and/or thought better. 

5. In imitation of others. 

6. When angry. 

7. Natural to use slang. 

8. Without knowing why. 

9. For fun. 

1 The Pedagogical Seminary for March, 1912 : A. H. Melville's invaluable 
article, " The Function and Use of Slang." 

8 Ci above, Part I, Chapter II. The wording is approximately that of the 


10. Instead of profanity. 

11. From carelessness. 

12. To express ridicule and contempt. 

13. More appropriate. 

14. It's manly. 

15. Because some university professors approve of slang. 
Only two pupils gave the last reason, only three the last but one. 
Reasons Nos. 8-13 came from 14-4 pupils, but No. i from 74, 
No. 2 from 60, No. 3 from 50, No. 4 from 40, No. 5 from 22, 
No. 6 from 18, and No. 7 from 15. 

To return from that (I think, pardonable) digression, it is 
instructive to compare those high-school pupils' terms for 
" intoxicated " with Mencken's examples of the terms used in 
1923, in many instances by those very boys become men : piffled, 
pifflicated (after spifflicated), awry-eyed, tanked, snooted, stewed, 
ossified, slopped, fiddled, edged, loaded, het-up, frazzled, jugged, 
soused, jiggered, corned, jagged, and bunned. Also to 1923 belongs 
the. following passage from McKnight : "In the vocabulary of 
modern youth, chivalry is dead. The maiden is no longer placed 
on a pedestal or throne. She no longer is worshipped as a divinity. 
A girl is a jane," still the most frequent term ten years later, 
" a dame, a moll," rather a cant than a slang word, " a flapper, 
a worm, a skirt " (another very general term), '* a smelt, a squab, a 
chicken, a doll, a sardine, a flirt, a damsel, a frail, a hairpin, 
a piece of calico, a petting skirt. If she is popular, she is a darb " 
(often applied also to a man), " a peach, a bird, a belle, a live one, 
a baby vamp, a whizz, a pippin, a star, a sweet patootie, a baby, a 
choice bit of calico, a sweetums, a snappy piece of work, a pretty 
Genevieve, a thrill, a flesh and blood angel. If she is unpopular, 
she is a pill, a pickle, a lemon, a dead one, a priss, a tomato, a chunk 
of lead, a drag, a gloom, a rag, an oilcan, a crumb, a nutcracker face, 
a flat-tire, a mess. 

" The girls' list of names for members of the other sex is 

nearly as rich. Noncommittal in general are : dude, goof, John, 

jake, raspberry, yap, guy, kid. The young man who does not 

take his girl about is a chair-warmer, a tight wad, a porch-warmer, 

a lounge lizard, or parlor leech, a flat wheeler, a ham. The one 

in favour, however, is a candy-leg, a gold mine, a Jack full of money, 

r a~m/% guy, a thriller, the regular guy or full guy" 

' In 1931, the underworld terms l for a rifle were hardware, 

long rod, sawyer, and speakeasy ; for a revolver, canister, cannon, 

gat, gun, heater, rod, smoke pole or wagon, and torch, the commonest 

1 Godfrey Irwin : American Tramp and Underworld Slang, 1931, supple- 
mented by " Dean Stiff " : The Milk and Honey Route, 1931 ; by Lewis E. Lawes : 
Twenty Thousand Years in Sing Sing, 1932 ; and by James Spenser : Limey, 


being gat and gun, with rod not far behind. Prison was band- 
house, big house (very general), blue goose, boarding school, booby- 
hutch, boodk jail, brig, butt-pen or, as is now more usual, merely 
pen, bull ring, cage, catty, can, cooler, coop, crapper, hole, hoosgow, 
ice box, iron house, jail house, jug, little house or school, rest house, 
Siberia (generally specific), stir (an old and much-used term), 
stone crock or John or jug, tank, up the river, zoo. 

Some of the sources of American slang deserve mention, 
and here it is impossible to avoid quoting a long passage from 
McKnight, who provides the locus classicus on this as on other 
aspects of the slang of his country. 1 Writing in 1922-3, he does 
not mention wireless, which was then a novelty and by no means 
a widespread novelty, nor, obviously, could he mention " the 
talkies ", whose effect on slang commenced to operate only 
in 1930. " The sources of slang are extremely varied. From 
the vaudeville stage as from the sporting pages of newspapers are 
started in circulation* winged words, the products of sophisticated 
wits. From quite a different direction come the words and 
phrases that express the spirit of frontier life, of lumber camp 
and mining camp. From such sources come fresh figures that 
are created in part from the desire for gay ornamentation in 
speech, in part from lack of command of standard resources of 
expression. The word creations of the Argonauts of California, 
the rivermen of the Mississippi, and the ranchmen of Texas have 
afforded rich mines of expression for such literary exploiters as 
Bret Harte, Mark Twain, and O. Henry, and have offered patterns 
that have been followed by other later sophisticated creators of 
slang phraseology. 

" Similar in nature to the word creations of frontier life are 
the special, semitechnical vocabularies that grow up in the speech 
of men engaged in various special activities. Within a profession 
there comes into use a familiar set of expressions not sanctioned 
by the standard speech of general use ... To the vocabulary 
of railroad men belong such words as car whacker for ' repairer ' ; 
hog for ' locomotive ' ; and hogger or hogshead for ' engineer ' ; gold 
buttons or brains for ' conductor ' ; braker, hind-pin or hind-shack 
for ' train-man ' ; . . . highball for * full-speed signal ' ; washout 
for * stop signal ' ; pulled a lung for ' pulled out coupling ' ; cripple 
for * damaged car ' ; go to the hammer treck for ' go for repairs \ 

" The interurban railroad in turn has its own vocabulary 
such as dinky for ' city car ' ; . . . steel boy for ' steel car '; ... 
heavy load, when cars 2 are dose together ; pulling heavy, when a 
number of big cars are on the same line. 

1 In dealing^ with American slang I am immensely indebted to Sechrist, 
Mencken, McKnight, and Irwin, and I certainly do not intend to " camouflage " 
the debt : I like, however, to think that even here I have succeeded in contributing 
something new to the discussion. 

2 Trucks, or carriages, or vans. 


" The development of the motor car . . . has resulted in the 
creation of terms almost countless such as flivver, . . . hitting on 
all four, . . . step on it . . . Humorous depreciation of the 
Ford has found expression in a long series of names with varying 
shades of contempt from flivver, Henry and its feminine Henrietta, 
tin can, can opener, 1 and sardine box, to sputter bus, tin Lizzie," 
later Lizzie, " road louse and perpetual pest. 

" The theatre has its word contribution to offer : fake and 
gag and guy (verb), and . . . business, . . . sky-borders, bunch 
lights, . . . and the newer motion picture industry, with its 
traditions in the making, is responsible for reel off, register, . . . 
sob-stuff, fade-out, . . . camera lice, grip, ham, and for the vogue 
of ... vamp. 

" The political world is a fertile field with its ... heelers, 
its pipe-laying and wire-pulling, . . . and its long series of names 
for parties and factions . . . 

" The riddle language, by which orders are conveyed from 
the waiter to the kitchen in a restaurant, often involves a strain 
of the imaginative faculty as in stack of bucks ; Adam and Eve 
on a raft,' 2 ' wreck *em" ? poached eggs on toast ; " two " eggs, 
" sunny side up," ? fried ; " two with their eyes open," also of 
eggs, as in " two on a slice of squeal ", fried, with bacon ; " twelve 
alive on the shell," oysters no doubt ; " bossy in the bowl," beef 
(Latin bos) stew ; " boiled leaves ...(... a cup of tea) ; slab 
of moo (beef). One complete order in this lingo runs : One 
splash of red noise (tomato soup) ; platter Saturday nights (beans) ; 
dough well done, cow to cover (bread and butter) ; Eve with the 
lid on (apple pie) ; chaser of Adams ale . . " Some of these 
terms are familiar to English tramps. 

" The drug store contributes : knock out drops for chloral 
hydrate ; turps for turpentine ; mud for antiphlogistine ; Old Joe 
for U.S. Dispensary book of formulae ; rollers for pills ; plugs 
for corks ; fakes for patent medicines. . . . 3 

" In the language of the orchestra a complete set of new 
names has been created : sliphorn (trombone) ; hambone (ditto) ; 
lantern (baritone) ; dog-house,* dog-kennel (bass violin) ; gob stick, 
silver sucker (clarinet) ; whistle (flute) ; hobo (oboe) ; pretzel 
(French horn) ; tin pan (tympanum) ; shiny back (orchestra 

McKnight deals also with college slang and baseball slang. 
Of the former he says : "In our own time it sometimes seems 
that the inventiveness of early days is exhausted, as if musical 

1 Americans use hyphens far less than Englishmen do, but they vary greatly 
in this matter (e.g., Mencken more than McKnight). 

2 Without wreck 'em the phrase means two fried eggs on toast. 

8 I omit the glass-blowing terms given by McKnight, for this is an almost 
obsolete industry. 


comedy and vaudeville and the popular weeklies had stifled all 
originality. . . . Youth is not the age of fastidious criticism. In 
the language of youth one is not surprised to find forms of slang 
either already far advanced in decay or at least beginning to show 
taint." He cites the following expressions " circulating in the 
year 1920 " : Ain't you right ?, Oh, baby !, How do you get that 
way ?, Watch your step !, Believe me, baby, and You know me, A I. 
" But along with readiness to assimilate second-hand wit, student 
language still manifests, occasionally, some power of creation. In 
student use in the year 1920 were . . . such new words as razz * 
for fc heckle ' . . . ; ftusey* for ' girl ' ; spuzzy for ' snug ' . . . ; 
spuzzed up for ' dressed up ' ; Be shaggy or Til knock you in a row 
(when bumped in a dance) ; having the impuck for ' slightly 
indisposed '. 

" Occasionally a figure ... is to be classed as poetic, as in 
fire bugs for ' electric lights ', horn in for ' butt in ', . . . oozed 
out for ' slipped out ' of a room, skulldragging for ' study ', and 
a dish of shimmie for ' jelly Y 1 

Moreover, "hearty enthusiasm in youth is responsible for 
m tell the world and yea bo ! " 

Mencken finds "some of these college forms . . . very 
picturesque, e.g., . . . dent for dental student . . . and psych 
for psychology ", and notes that " many back-formations originate 
in college slang, e.g., prof for professor, prom for promenade, soph 
for sophomore, grad for graduate (noun), lab for laboratory, dorm 
for dormitory, plebe for plebeian ". True ; it should, however, be 
added that lab and dorm are equally school slang, and very old 
at that. 3 

Base-ball is also mentioned by McKnight, who says that 
"to the student of language ... it has a special interest 
because nowhere else is slang production in such full activity, 
and nowhere else can one better observe the rapidity of change 
in fashion, a rapidity which renders faded and obsolete to-morrow 
the highly coloured expressions of to-day ". The greatest of all 
base-ball writers is Ring W. Lardner, of whom Mencken has said : 
" A page from one of ... Lardner's base-ball stories contains 
few words that are not in the English vocabulary, and yet the 
thoroughly American color of it " is unmistakable. This Chicago 
newspaper-reporter became famous with "his grotesque tales 
of base-ball players ", You Know Me, Al, published in 1916, 
and, very accurate observer and vivid writer, he has already 
exercised considerable influence on American literature : " one 
sees it plainly/' says Mencken in 1923, " in such things as Sinclair 

1 " Probably from the slang of aviators/ 1 says McKnight ; more probably 
from razz, razzer, raspberry, as in give the raspberry. * Or floosey. 

a Old U.S. university slang and jargon is best sought in R. H. Hall's 
College Words, 1851, preferably in the 2nd ed., 1856. 


Lewis's ' Main Street V which startled the America of 1920. 
The great critic quotes a Lardner passage containing the following 
base-ball terms, some being jargon and others genuine slang : 
in there, in the pitcher's position ; up there, in the striker's or 
batter's position ; to shake off, (of the pitcher) to refuse to pitch 
the kind of ball signalled-for by the catcher ; waste, " to pitch 
a ball so high or so far outside that the batsman cannot reach it " ; 
dink, to throw a slow ball ; titty-high, chest-high, especially of a 
ball so pitched ; hook, a " curve " ball, i.e., one with a swerve ; 
peg, a throw ; hop (of the ball) to bound ; hit the dirt, to slide ; 
cross up, to deceive ; yes, to nod agreement to someone, esp. 
to the catcher or the pitcher, as in he yessed me. 

With these terms current in 1923 compare a few current 
exactly a decade earlier. Sechrist shows that there were the 
following terms for hitting a ball : "He pummeled a liner, 
larruped a home-run ... ., banged the ball on the nose, punched 
a hit to right, smashed a drive, whacked a grounder, slapped an 
easy grounder, planked a sizzling one, spiked a one-base shot to 
center, rammed a single to left, lammed a single past Larry's 
ear, slammed a single to centre, whaled a home-run, etc. A hit 
may be called a jab, a rasping single, a peppery grasser, a popfly, 
a homer, a horse-shoe drive, a dinky fly, etc., according as it 
varies in length, speed, motion, the sound it makes, or the curve 
it describes." To the Britisher the synonyms for hitting a ball 
are particularly interesting because all except to spike have at 
one time or another been employed by writers on cricket in either 
England or Australia. 

Analogous to slang are the malapropisms so frequent among 
boxing men. As originally used they are not slang, but if they 
become the common coin of boxers and their managers, and 
especially if they are used outside of boxing circles, they then 
are slang. In the (New York) Daily Mirror of the yth and the 
2ist of January, 1933, Dan Parker gives a glossary, " Lexicon of 
a Fight Manager," concerning which Godfrey Irwin, the great 
authority on American cant and American slang, has remarked * : 
"That 'lexicon * . . ., sad to say, is a fair exposition of the 
speech of many and many a pug ' and just as many managers. 
That is to say, these benighted fighting men (if Kipling will 
pardon me) use malapropisms as cheerfully as may be, knowing 
not their ignorance. I have heard the words or similar 
words, used just as Parker uses them ..." Here are a few 
examples, which, however, are not to be taken literally. 

Pacifist. <( To make a pass at someone with the fist." 
Perspicuous. " Any person who looks like a Filipino or 

spick." A spick is a Mexican : see, passim, James Spenser's 


1 In a private letter dated 13th February, 1933. 


Punctual lt Anything that is pretty ousylay/' Ousylay is 
a transposition of lousy, and the word-play is on punk, bad, 

Larynx. "An animal something like a wild cat found in 

Paragon. " A country in South America/' 

Gangrenous. " Relating to gangsters." 

Superficial. " Anyone who puts on full evening dress/' 

Ritual. lt The state of being wealthy." 

Ratify. " To squeal on a pal." 

Exploit. " A boxing writer/' 

Unicorn. " A fancy suit worn by ushers, etc., at fight clubs/ 1 

Blemish. "A language spoken by Belgian fighters." An 
unintentional blend of Belgian + Flemish. 

Mitigate. " To slip someone the mitt or shake hands." 

Succulent. " One who fawns or sucks around his superiors. 
A handshaker." 

Naive. " One who belongs to a place, such as : ' Schmeling's 
a naive of Germany/ " 

Elocution. " Dying in the electric chair." 

Etymologist, tl One who studies the art of eating/' 

Masticate. " To kill in wholesale numbers." 

Incinerator. " One who makes nasty cracks about people." 
Crack, a remark, is generally heard in the phrase a wise crack. 
The word malapropized is insinuator. 

Circumference. f< What the boss is always in when an 
insurance agent calls." 

When Mr. Parker published those two lists, in which he 
probably included a few of his own " wise cracks," he perhaps 
caused some of them to circulate among the general public and 
thus to become genuine slang. The influence of the Press in 
such things is hard to over-estimate. " A very large part of 
our current slang is propagated by the newspapers, and much 
of it is invented by newspaper writers," observes Mencken, who 
considers that most base-ball slang is of their making : "an 
extra-fecund slang-maker on the press has his following. . . . 
In all other fields the newspapers originate and propagate slang, 
particularly in politics. Most of our political slang-terms since 
the Civil War, from pork-barrel to steam-roller, have been their 
inventions." Sixty years ago, Edmund Stedinan wrote to 
Bayard Taylor : " The whole country, owing to the contagion 
of our newspaper ' exchange * system, is flooded, deluged, 
swamped beneath a muddy tide of slang," Mencken's comment 
being : "A thousand alarmed watchmen have sought to stay 
it since, but in vain." 

Hardly known in England but famous in New York is Walter 
Winchell, whose weekly column, " Walter Winchell on Broadway," 


makes the Daily Mirror (of New York) sell better on Monday 
than on any other day of the week. His reputation is based on 
an audacity that has got him into trouble more than once, on 
a wit that would obtain him a good post on almost any paper 
in the world, on a keen if somewhat sardonic sense of humour, 
on a highly personal whimsicality, and on the ability of his 
writing, whether in standard, colloquial, or slangy American, 
for his familiar style contains a disconcerting mixture of those 
three categories. As a very able American slangster tells me, 1 
" the gentleman is rather in a class by himself so far as language 
is concerned." In the Daily Mirror of 26th November, 1932, 
he heads the column : " Nothings I never Knew till Now," such 
as " That you lose social caste (but gain a discount) if you pay 
your fashionable London tailor cash on the spot ". 

" That the King of England is no rubber-stamp monarch. 
Geo. V does a good bit of actual ruling between cornerstone 

" That if you go ritzy and call it ' toe-inah-toe ', you do so 
without authority from the dictionary so act your age." 

" That every British item to-day and several others were 
written by a Yank publisher while riding the skies there. (What 
a pal !) " 

On the following Monday the column is entitled " Things I 
never Knew till Now ", with the italicized and parenthesized 
gloss, " Don't you remember ? I was the kid with the drum ! " 
A very brief selection : 

" That Chicagoans say Halstead St. is the longest street in 
the world. (Them's fightin' words, Chicago !) " 

" That Capt. Kidd, the first of the ace hijackers and tough 
guys (away back in 1690) was a minister's boy ! ' 

" That it's about time some writers threw themselves in the 
waste-basket. (Come outside and say that, you heckler, you !) " 

" That ten of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence 
were born in Massachusetts. (And Boston is so strict !) " 

" That spinach (ugh !) came from Arabia, and we would just 
as soon it went back there. 

" And that Los Angeles keeps more cows than any large city 
in America. (Not counting movie actresses.) " 

And finally a few from the issue of loth December, 1932, 
" Things I'd never Have Known (// it weren't for you, you, you 
and you !) " 

" That a Socialist who ran for office in Connecticut is actually 
named Jasper McLevy. (Hollo, Mec ! Vuss machts. du ?) " 

" That Marseilles makes any of the American gun-mob 
populated cities look like sissy towns. (Toughest city in Europe.) ' ' 

1 In a private letter, 14th December, 1932. 


" That New York's first City Hall was located on Pearl St., 
the crookedest street in Manhattan. (Is that being too nasty ?) " 

" That Sid Weiss knows a guy in town who shaves every 
fifteen minutes and stiU has a beard. (He's a barber, you dope !) " 

" That barbers practiced medicine in the old days. ^ To-day 
most of them are practicing surgery. (I oughta write radio 
jokes, huh ? ) " 

" That no more Americans will be accepted for enlistment in 
the French Foreign Legion. (That won't make me sore at all.) " 

(That's the sort of thing that looks easy and isn't.) 

Winchell is a literary gunman, a fine verbal shot, but he 
rarely employs the slang of the underworld. In the United 
States there is a cant, but, owing to the very great number of 
persons using it, that cant is much more of a true slang than it 

American cant, however, does show certain differences from 
.American slang: it is more brutal and callous, even more 
picturesque, and it owes more at once to Yiddish and to English 
cant. "(Many words of Yiddish origin," says Mencken, " have 
got into American thieves' slang, e.g., schlock, meaning junKj 
swatch, meaning a sample which a thief offers to a receiverDf 
stolen goods, and kibbets, meaning a syndicate of small dealers 
formed to buy stolen goods." (And many of the American cant 
terms are either identical with, or easily recognizable develop- 
ments from, English colloquialisms, slang, and cantTI Of the 
words in Irwin's American Tramp and UnderWofla Slang, 
approximately one hundred derive from English cant, while 
another thirty or so are taken from English slang or English 
dialect. There are very few reliable glossaries of American cant 
before Irwin's : MatselTs Vocabulum, 1859, owes a shameful 
amount to Grose's Vulgar Tongue ; but Josiah Flynt's Tramping 
with Tramps, published in the 'go's (English edition, 1900) has 
an interesting essay on what he calls " the tramp's jargon " and 
a valuable glossary. Perhaps his most significant observations 
are these : " Almost the first thing that one remarks on getting 
acquainted with tramps is their peculiar language " ; "a number 
of words used by tramps are also in vogue among criminals " ; 
and, especially, " it is one of the regrets of the hobo that his 
dialect is losing much of its privacy. Ten years ago it was 
understood by a much smaller number of people than at present, 
and ten years hence it will be known to far more than it is now." 
This vulgarization he attributes to the " gay cats " or amateur 


American English arose "when the colonists and settlers 
began to adopt new terms and develop new senses of words, and 
... it became more definite when the vernaculars of the various 
groups began to coalesce into one recognized form of language 
somewhat distinct from the English of the mother-country". 
Naturally, the beginnings of American long antedate " the earliest 
written comments on the modifications that had taken place in 
the language ", as Mr. Mathews x has said after due research. 

Mathews points out that the first settlers in New England were 
mainly of humble birth and little education and that the ministers 
of religion were not sufficiently numerous to fill all the .religious, 
much less all the official and administrative positions that were 
almost immediately found to be necessary: "unusual and 
important functions frequently devolved upon men who in their 
homelands would never have been faced with such tasks," e.g. 
the keeping of the records. These records show that unstressed 
vowels disappeared, diphthongs became simple vowels, spellings 
were largely " phonetic ", many new words appeared, often at 
dates very much earlier than those which the dictionaries give 
them, and old words were adapted to new situations and objects. 
" This tendency on the part of words . . . to take on in America 
slightly different meanings, and meanings in addition to those 
possessed in standard English use, has been quite marked/' On 
the other hand, the colonies preserved many words and locutions 
that were already obsolescent in England early in the seventeenth 
century and were obsolete by the beginning of the eighteenth. 

For more than 150 years the English language in America 
deviated from English standard usage, a deviation due to the 
distance from England and the isolation of the settlers, but 
also to the variety of nationalities that, beginning with the 
Dutch, came to make American English, especially on the east 
coast, ever more different from British English. Two facts, 
says Mathews, have united to cause English and American to 
be contrasted. 

"The Revolutionary War caused the differences between 
Americans and Englishmen to be sharply accentuated. There 
was a tendency after the war for writers to single out and stress 
points of contrast ... It was easy to be seen by the end of the 

1 M. M. Mathews : The Beginnings of American English, 1931. 

321 Y 


eighteenth century that in details the language employed in the 
United States differed from that used in England. The Americans 
were quick to claim that the language as used by them was vastly 
superior to that employed in England, and the English lost no 
time in taking the opposite view . . . These two views have 
since "been maintained with varying degrees of vigor by their 

" In the second place, among the colonies planted by England 
it has been only in the United States that a literature has been 
produced which can even remotely be thought of in comparison 
with that produced in the homeland." The two literatures have 
been contrasted and compared : such contrasts and especially 
such comparisons inevitably lead back to discussions of the 
media at the command of the two literatures. 

As Mathews says, "these bickerings . . . have become 
somewhat tiresome/' and he expresses a viewpoint so refreshing 
that, at the risk of seeming to quote too much from this urbane 
writer, 1 I give it verbatim : " The really surprising thing about 
the English of England and that of the United States is not 
that they differ . . ., but that their difference is as slight as it is. 
When we consider the great number of people of different 
nationalities who have [gone to the United States] during the 
past three hundred years we may well marvel that the present- 
day [American] speech is so nearly . . . English that wherever 
an American travels in the English-speaking world he has no 
real difficulty in understanding the English speech he hears and 
in making himself understood/* 

In all that Mathews says, as until about 1850 in those 
early writers 2 who commented on Americanisms, there is little 
about slang. For this reason, then, we shall but glance at the 
early commentators, or rather the more important of them. In 
1781 the Rev. John Witherspoon 3 (1722-1794) contributed to the 
Pennsylvania Journal three papers on language, especially in 
reference to " an enumeration of such peculiarities of American 
speech as had fallen under [his] observation ". These peculiarities 
are divided into eight classes of which the sixth is slang 
Witherspoon calls it cant. But all the slang terms he cites are 
English, not American ! 

In 1784, Noah Webster (1758-1843) published his Disserta- 
tions on the English Language, wherein he exhibited an eager 
haste to " establish a national language as well as a national 
government ... a system of our own in language as well as 
in government/ 1 In 1815, more relevantly to our purpose, 

1 It is worth running that risk if for no other reason than that he ought 
to be much better known in England. 

a See W. B- Cairns: British Criticisms of American Writings, 1783-1815, 
pub. in 1918 ; Mencken, op. cit. ; and Mathews, op. cit. 

* Who coined the word Americanism. He was Scottish. 


David Humphreys published a play entitled The Yankey in 
England and to it he appended a glossary containing some 275 
expressions, of which " over 150 . . . represent pronunciations 
more or less common in England and America before 1815 ". 
Better known is A Vocabulary or Collection of Words and Phrases 
which have been supposed to be peculiar to the United States 
of America, issued in 1816 by John Pickering (1774-1846), who, 
like Humphreys, was a native of America. He was perhaps a 
better philologist l than Webster, and his " thin collection of 
500 specimens sets off a dispute which yet rages on both sides 
of the Atlantic " (Mencken). Many of these words are now 
an unquestioned part of American, some have become part of 
English, and many have " histories reaching well back into the 
past ". In 1839 > r * Romeyn Beck 2 published a very interesting 
paper (read to the Albany Institute a year earlier) on Pickering's 
vocabulary, which, as Mencken observes, was not supplanted 
until, in 1848, John Russell Bartlett (1805-1886) issued his 
Dictionary of Americanisms. Between Beck and Bartlett, the 
chief writers on Americanisms were Dr. Robley Dunglison, 
Professor George Tucker, and, in 1838, James Fenimore Cooper. 

Bartlett, a native of Rhode Island, " was a banker, patron 
of the arts and sciences, and public official/' 3 and the dictionary 
was a hobby in the leisure of a busy life. In the Introduction 
he deals with dialects, loan-words from Indian, Dutch, Spanish, 
and other countries, with misspellings, the influence of American 
history, and other factors affecting American English. In 1859 
appeared the second edition, " greatly improved and enlarged," 
and in both editions were many slang words. In 1855, Charles 
Astor Bristed (the grandson of John Jacob Astor), who spent 
five years at Cambridge and wrote a book on his life there, 
contributed to Cambridge Essays " an extremely sagacious 
essay " on the English language in America. 

In 1872 Schele de Vere (for we may omit the inferior Supposed 
Americanisms by Elwyn, 1859) published a study entitled 
Americanisms: The English of the New World, wherein "he 
devoted himself largely to words borrowed from the Indian 
dialects, and from the French, Spanish and Dutch ". His work, 
though it contains many errors, is valuable in a general way, but 
it offers little to the student of slang. 

Some years earlier, Whitman (1819-1892) in An American 
Primer, written in the period 1855-1865, though not published 
until 1904, proposed an American dictionary containing all 
Americanisms and said : " Many of the slang words are our best ; 
slang words among fighting men, gamblers, thieves, are powerful 

1 So Mathews thinks ; cf. Mencken, p. 52. 

2 See Mathews, who reproduces the full text of Witherspoon, Humphreys, 
Pickering, Cooper, Bartlett, and others. * Ibid. 


words . . . Much of America is shown in these and in news- 
paper names, and in names of characteristic amusements and 
games/' l As Louis Untermeyer has said, Whitman was " the 
father of the American language. . . . When the rest of literary 
America was still indulging in the polite language of the pulpit 
and the lifeless rhetoric of its libraries, Whitman not only sensed 
the richness and vigor of the casual word, the colloquial phrase 
he championed the vitality of slang, the freshness of our quickly 
assimilated jargons, the indigenous beauty of vulgarisms " or 
solecisms. " He even predicted that no future native literature 
could exist that neglected this racy speech/' In 1885 Whitman 
contributed to The North American Review a short but extremely 
pithy and valuable article on " Slang in America ", one of the 
great documents not only in the history of American slang but 
in the general discussion of slang. 

At this point it is wise to interpolate Mencken's rightly famous 
aperqu on those American philologists and critics who have dealt 
with the slang of the United States. " Fowler 2 and all the 
other native students 3 of language dismissed it with lofty 
gestures ; down to the time of Whitney 4 it was scarcely regarded 
as a seemly subject for the notice of a man of learning. Louns- 
bury, 5 less pedantic, viewed its phenomena more hospitably, 
and even defined it as ' the source from which the decaying 
energies of speech are constantly refreshed ', and Brander 
Matthews, following him, has described its function as that of 
providing ' substitutes for the good words and true which are 
worn out by hard service '. But that is about as far as the 
investigation has got. Krapp has some judicious paragraphs . . . 
in his * Modern English ', there are a few scattered essays upon 
the underlying psychology, and various superficial magazine 
articles, but that is all." To these must be added Mencken's 
own book, McKnight's, and the later work by Professor Krapp. 

In 1889 came John Farmer's Dictionary of Americanisms, 
which he ushers in with an excellent introduction containing a 
notable definition and a careful classification. It is the fullest 
dictionary until Clapin's was published fourteen years later, 
and it includes Americanisms old and new, colloquialisms, slang, 
cant, and solecisms : much more methodical and scholarly than 
any such work before Thornton's American Glossary, 1912, for 

1 I owe this and the Untermeyer quotation to Mencken. 

2 The English Language, 1850 ; revised ed., 1855. This is William C. Fowler, 
of Amherst College. 

* E.g., Edward Gould, Good English, 1867, and Richard Grant White (1822- 
1888) : Words and Their Uses, 1872, and Everyday English, 1880. 

4 William Whitney, 1827-1894, was the chief editor of the remarkable Century 
Dictionary and author of Darwinism and Language and the valuable Life and 
Growth of Language (revised ed., 1907). 

6 Best remembered for his Standard of Usage in English and his History of 
the English Language. 


its etymologies and illustrative quotations are vastly superior 
to, and more plentiful than, Schele de Vere's, Maitland's, and 
Clapin's ; and the most readable of them all. True, it contains 
many errors, but what dictionary of slang does not ? And 
Maitland taunts him with being an Englishman and therefore 
at a disadvantage. 

In 1891 was published the one specific dictionary * of American 
slang ; there has been none since, although certain general 
dictionaries of Americanisms have included a certain amount 
of American slang. In the preface James Maitland ambitiously 
claims much that he performs indifferently. He gives many 
terms that are pure English unknown in the United States, 
nor does he always characterize his Anglicisms as such ; he 
ascribes no dates and his etymologies (he gives very few) are 
frequently defective. In short, his compilation deserves the 
contempt expressed by Mr. Mencken. 

But two years later, Brander Matthews (then Professor, 
later Dean), contributed to Harper's Monthly Magazine that 
essay on " The Function of Slang " from which we have already 
quoted very freely, for this 5,000 words study is of primary 
importance, dealing with the principles in a refreshingly suggestive 
manner and with what, at that time, was considerable courage. 
" One of the hardest lessons for the amateurs in linguistics to 
learn and most of them never attain to this wisdom/' says this 
pleasant critic and historian of literature, t( is that affectations 
are fleeting, that vulgarisms " solecisms " die of their own 
weakness, and that corruptions do little harm to the language. 
. . . Slang and all other variations from the high standard of 
the literary language are either temporary or permanent. If 
they are temporary, the damage they can do is inconsiderable. 
If they are permanent, their survival is due solely to the fact 
that they were convenient or necessary. When a word or a 
phrase has come to stay ... it is idle to denounce a decision 
rendered by the court of last resort/" The year 1893 witnessed 
also the unremarkable Current Americanisms by T. Russell 
Baron, not to be compared with Brander Matthews. 

It was Brander Matthews who, in that article of 1893, alluded 
to the influence of New York. " The catchwords of New York 
may be as inept and as cheap as the catchwords of London and 
Paris, but New York is not so important to the United States 
as London is to Great Britain and as Paris is to France. The 
feebler catchwords of the city give way to the virile phrases of 
the West/' But during the last forty years the influence of 
New York, by way of the newspapers, the wireless, and the 
silent and talking films, has greatly increased, and however 
feeble its catchwords may be is not almost every catchword 

1 The American Slang Dictionary, pub. at Chicago. 


feeble ? its slang in general has vigour, concision, picturesque- 
ness, as have those of London and Paris, for I strongly disagree 
with Brander Matthews's summary verdict that "the slang 
of a metropolis ... in the United States or in Great Britain, 
in France or in Germany, is nearly always stupid". But his 
outspoken defence of slang must have delighted one Pitts Dutfteld, 
who in The Dial; that same year, wrote : " Every true philologist, 
in these latter days, must have wished for someone bold enough 
to dispute the old pedagogic theory that slang is invariably a 
linguistic crime/' . 

In the following decade, no work of first-rate importance dealt, 
at any length, with the subject of American slang ; but in 1903 
came Sylva Clapin's New Dictionary of Americanisms, which, 
published in New York, was " a glossary of words supposed to be 
peculiar to the United States and Canada ". The preface is 
short and of no great interest ; the glossary contains some 5,260 
entries, which are clear and efficient, though with very few 
dates and etymologies ; and there are three valuable appendices, 
the first containing lists of " foreign words " (including Indian 
and Mexican) " either used in their original integrity, or derived 
from foreign languages, which maybe classed as Americanisms ", 
the second consisting of " substantives classed^ according to 
analogy ", e.g., outdoor life, money, amusements, journalism and 
printing, bar-rooms, and the third consists of four reprints from 
periodicals : Dr. Aubrey's " Americanisms ", Edward Eggleston's 
" Wild Flowers of English Speech in America ", E. B. Tylor's 
"The Philology of Slang", and Brander Matthews's "The 
Function of Slang ". The first two are of little use for the student 
of slang, though of much for general colloquialisms ; and the 
last has already been mentioned. Tylor's essay deals with the 
etymology and semantics of selected groups of slang words* but 
has little general importance and is written }Dy, and from the 
viewpoint of, an Englishman. 

In the next eight or nine years, excepting for occasional 
though notable references by Brander Matthews and for the 
prominence given to American slang by Redding Ware in Passing 
English, 1909, there was nothing remarkable written or compiled 
on American slang. In 1912, however, appeared two important 
contributions, A. H. Melville's already cited article, The Function 
and Use of Slang, wherein he concludes that " slang is often 
permissible when it is more effective and goes to the mark better 
than conventional language. When it is better adapted to 
express feeling and emotion. When it makes thought clearer ", 
and R. H. Thornton's An American Glossary, which contains 
a very brief but thoughtful introduction and classification. 
Thornton excludes all slang that is not, as it were, ingrained in 
the language, and so his excellent glossary is of little help (save 


as a means to check old-established slang terms) : a treatment 
of slang rather similar to that of Gilbert M. Tucker in American 
English, 1921. Thornton gives few etymologies, but his well- 
arranged quotations show a most laudable range of sources ; 
Ms two volumes are a mine. His planned third volume, for which 
benefactors were lacking, has (Menckene meque impetrantibus) at 
last been published. 1 

In 1913 appeared Richard Giles's Slang and Vulgar Phrases 
and, far more notably, Frank Sechrist's lengthy article on the 
Psychology of Unconventional Language, which, displaying 
great insight and an enviable knowledge, is the best of all accounts 
whatsoever of the psychology of slang : I have already quoted 
it so freely and mentioned it so often that I need say .no more 
about it except to place on record my own debt to its author's 

The works of 1912-13 perhaps influenced Edward A. Allen 
to write in the Forum (i.e., the American periodical of that name) 
of June; 1914 : " Many of the objections to slang urged now 
and then by purists seem to the student of language, for the 
most part, groundless. Much of the better sort of slang is an 
unconscious endeavour to turn into vigorous Saxon English 
readily understood, the highly Latinized English of the learned." 
Yet he adds : " As to daily use, every man of taste rightly resents 
the wanton slinging of slang/' 

Of the remaining American books that deal, though none of 
them deals by any means exclusively, with American slang, we 
may mention George J. Hagar's Dictionary of Americanisms in 
the New Universities Dictionary, 1915 ; R. P. Utter's Every-day 
Words and their Uses ; Mencken's American Language, 2 1919, 
3rd edition (the edition), 1923 ; C. Alplionso Smith's New Words 
Self-Defined, 1919 ; McKnight's English Words and their 
Background 2 ; Krapp's publications. To which we might, by 
way of English comment, add Weekley's " Americanisms " in 
Adjectives and Other Words, 1930. 

Greater than the influence of the theorists has been that of 
the War, not upon the general attitude to slang but upon its 
vocabulary. It may, indeed, be questioned if Americanisms 
needed either the theorists or the War to make them, except 
perhaps among the cultured, use slang any more than they ever 
did : they did not require a sanction, for they had always been 
their own sanction, just as they had never felt the need of 
encouragement in their wholesale use of slang. 

" During the war," says a (New York) Tribune writer quoted 
by Mencken; " our army was slow in manufacturing words , . . 
The English army invented not only more war slang than the 
American, but much more expressive slang. In fact, we took 

1 In dialect Notes, 1934. * These two especially. 


over a number of their words, such as dud, cootie and bus (for 
aeroplane). ... In the last year of the war the American army 
began to find names for various things/' Any term not borrowed 
from the Tommy was " taken over from the vocabulary of the 
[United States] Regular Army or adapted from everyday 
American slang ". Mencken cites hard-boiled, cootie, gob (a man 
in the navy), leatherneck 1 (a marine), Doughboy, frog, and buck- 
private as being likely to endure in the language. " The only 
work which pretends to cover the subject of American war-slang 
is ' New Words Self-Defined ', by Professor C. Alphonso Smith, of 
the Naval Academy. It is pieced out with much English slang, 
and not a little French slang." But American soldiers in London 
after the Armistice introduced some vivid phrases : Hurry up and 


weaken', though 'They say the first hundred years are the 
hardest ', offered it active rivalry/' Both these sayings come 
from the British troops, who in the second generally said worst 
for hardest. 

Those who wish, as numbers may, to supplement Mencken 
on American War-slang 2 cannot do better than turn to McKnight, 3 
who, in a most interesting passage, notes that "the heavy 
artillery of the battlefield is brought into use in the description 
of a baseball game : a player makes for first base ' like a big 
tank run wild ' ; Ruth * ' wields his shock bat ' or ' conducts a 
mopping up party ' ; and the ' pitcher loses all liaison with the 
plate ' ". McKnight implies a greater debt to the War than 
Mencken is prepared to allow, and I have noticed in post- War 
American slang, both spoken and written, a. fair amount of direct 
survivals and also certain references that would be meaningless 
if they were not as undoubtedly they are attributable to 
soldier and civilian experience in 1914-18. If one reads carefully 
in such authors as Ford Madox Ford, John Dos Passos, and 
William Faulkner, my contention will, I think, be substantiated. 

1 * The old U.S. Marine uniform had a large triangle of leather just below the 
collar inside the coat. Hence name. And this uniform was outlawed in 1839 or 
so/ Jean Bordeaux, in a private letter to the author, September, 1934. 

2 The Canadian soldiers borrowed much from the American soldiers, as a 
glance at the glossary in Brophy and Partridge's Songs and Slang of the British 
Soldier, 3rd ed,, 1931, will show, 

* Op. cit, 53-8. 

4 Babe Ruth, the most famous of all baseball players, signed in March, 1 933, 
a contract for $52,000 for the season despite " the depresh " ! 


For the practitioners of American slang, we certainly need 
not go further back than the beginning of the nineteenth century, 
nor need we, before 1850, glance at more than three prominent 

Modem American literature may be said to begin with 
Washington Irving (1783-1859), whose writings cover a period 
of fifty years : we shall confine ourselves to three works of his 
first period, ending at 1820. Salmagundi, otherwise The Whim- 
warns and Opinions of Launcelot Longstaff, Esq., and Others, 
appeared in 1807 ; Knickerbocker's History of New York in 
1809 ; and The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., in 
1819-20, the last contributing towards the position in which, 
on returning to the United States hi 1832 after seventeen years' 
absence, Irving found himself " universally honoured as the 
first American who had won for his country recognition on equal 
terms in the literary world " (Richard Garnett). 

In Salmagundi there is much familiar, free-and-easy writing, 
but little slang. Here is an example of Irving's colloquial 
manner : 

I can grind down an ode, or an epic that's long, 
Into sonnet, acrostic, conundrum, or song : 
As to dull Hudibrastic, so boasted of late, 
The doggerel discharge of some muddle-brain 'd pate, 
I can grind it by wholesale, and give it its point, 
With Billingsgate dish'd up in rhymes out of joint. 
I have read all the poets and got them by heart, 
Can slit them, and twist them, and take them apart, 
Can cook up an ode out of patches and shreds, 
To muddle my readers and bother their heads. 

The History of New York is satirical, genial, urbane, witty, 
and gracefully written, but it is almost useless to the student of 
slang not that it's any the worse for that ! And in The Sketch 
Book, as in the later Columbus, Granada, and Alhambra volumes, 
we find that Irving's humour has become more English than 
American, his writing almost wholly English in character, a 
remark that applies also to that greater American, Nathaniel 

It is not, however, until the 1830*5 that, with the beginning 
of a notable line of American humorists, we come to any slang 
that is worthy of linguistic as distinct from purely literary record. 



In 1833 appeared The Life and Writings of Major Jack Downing 
of Downingvffle, the author being Seba Smith, 1 who twenty-six 
years later brought out a kind of sequel : My Thirty Years out 
of the Senate. 2 Seba Smith (1792-1868) genuinely began the 
" American humour " vein in his country's literature, and his 
first book was widely imitated, especially by Charles Augustus 
Davis, " an iron merchant of New York/' a society man and 
a cultured wit, who in 1834 published in book form 3 the letters 
that he had begun to write to the newspapers on 25th June, 1833. 
For our purposes the imitator is more satisfactory than the pioneer, 
who nevertheless deserves to be much the longer remembered. 

The tone of the whole of Davis's book can adequately be 
judged from Letter i, which (" Boston, 25th June, 1833 ") is 
not, however, the best : its author does not immediately get 
into his stride. " Mr. Editor," it runs, " I have seen in your 
paper a ' Crowner's Inquest ', saying I was drowned at the bridge 
at Castle Garden, and picked up down in York Bay. This is 
a tarnal lie, and I wish you to say so ; I did not so much as get 
my feet wet when the bridge fell, though it was a close shave, 
I tell you. I was riding right alongside the Gineral, if anything 
a little ahead on him. But this ain't the only thumper I've heard 
about that scrape. I have heard it said that Mr. Van Buren had 
sewed the string pieces under the bridge (anybody may guess 
for what) ; but that can't be so, for he was right behind the 
Gineral when the bridge fell, and all the folks were floundering 
in the mud and water. I thought he was gone too, for he was 
right in the thickest on 'em. I and the Gineral clapt in the spurs, 
and we went quick enough through the crowd on the Battery ; 
and the .first thing I saw was Mr. Van Buren hanging on the tail 
of the GineraFs horse, and streaming out behind as straight as 
old Deacon Willoby's cue, 4 when he is a little late to meetin. 
Some of the folks said it looked like the ' Flying Dutchman ', 
and some said something about ' Tarn o' Shanter ' ; but never 
mind, we snaked him out of that scrape as slick as a whistle. 
I don't believe any one was drowned, but some did get a mortal 
ducking. I never see such a mess : they went in there like 
frogs and such an eternal mixing colonels, and captains, and 
niggers, and governors, and sailors, and all : it made no odds 
which went first, or what end went uppermost. . . Mr. Van 
Buren gets along pretty well here among the Yankees, considering 
... I never see such a curious cretur as he is every body likes 

1 TMs interesting character has been fittingly commemorated by Dr. Mary 
Wyman's Two American Pioneers, Seba Smith and Elizabeth Oakes Smith 
(his wife), 1927. 

s But, after The Life and Writings of Major Jack Downing, his best work was 
Way down East or Portraitures of Yankee Life, 1854, 7th edition in 1884. 

8 Letters of J. Downing, Major, Downingville Militia. The British Museum 
does not distinguish between Davis and Smith : it attributes to the latter 
the former's book. * Queue, pigtail. 


him and he likes every body ; and he is just like every body ; 
and yet, in all the droves of folks I've seen since I left Washington, 
I never saw any body like Mr. Van Buren. 1 Enos Lyman got a 
planter to try and get a likeness of Mr. Van Buren, for his sign- 
board to the tavern, on the road to Tanton. ' Well, now/ says I, 
' just put up your brushes ; you may just as well try to paint a 
flash of heat-lightning in dog-days/ But he tried it, and the 
sign-board looks about as much like Mr. Van Buren as a salt 
cod-fish looks like a pocket handkercher, . , . The Gineral is 
amazingly tickled with the Yankees ; and the more he sees on 
'em, the better he likes them. ' No nullification here, Major/ 
says he. ' No/ says I, 'Gineral: Mr. Calhoun 2 would stand no 
more chance down east here, than a stump'd-tail bull in fly time/ " 

Seba Smith's work greatly influenced " Sam Slick ", the 
pseudonym for Judge Thomas Chandler Haliburton (1796-1865), 
and James Russell Lowell (1819-1891) : the former in the kind 
of humour, the latter in the literary convention. The last series 
of the Downing letters, 1847-1856, offers many parallels with the 
first series of The Biglow Papers, which began in June, 1846, in 
The Boston Daily Courier ; " but the sharp satire of The Biglow 
Papers is conspicuously absent from the Downing letters, which 
proceed evenly in the mood of comic enjoyment." s 

Haliburton, though English-born and though residing mostly 
in Nova Scotia, deserves a place here for his " Sam Slick " 
volumes, which were more humorous than his other, and notable, 
works. The Clockmaker, otherwise The Sayings and Doings of 
Sam Slick of Slickville, appeared in three series, 1837, J 838, 1840, 
and Sam Slick's Wise Saws and Modern Instances came out in 
1853. If we proceed with the caution that " his Yankeeisms are 
interspersed with a good many Westernisms and much general 
slang ", 4 we shall be safe dialectally, and even without that 
caution we shall be fairly safe slangily. Passing by the Wise 
Saws (although this is a valuable book to students of American), 
we pick up The Clockmaker at random and light on the following 
passage : " People talk an everlastin' sight of nonsense about 
wine, women, and horses. I've bought and sold 'em all, I've 
traded in all of them, and I tell you, there ain't one in a thousand 
that knows a grain about either on 'em. You hear folks say, Oh, 
such a man is an ugly grained critter, he'll break his wife's 
heart ; just as if a woman's heart was as brittle as a pipe stalk. 
The female heart, as far as my experience goes, is just like a 

1 Martin Van Buren, 1782-1862, became in 1835 the eighth, and a very able 
and courageous President of the United States. 

2 John Caldwell Calhoun, 1782-1850. A secretary of state for war and 
holder of other high offices, also a political philosopher. 

8 Wyman, op. cit. 

* C. A. Bristed : " The English Language in America," in Cambridge Studies, 
1855. Yankeeisms are Americanisms of the Eastern States, especially New York 
and Massachusetts. 


new India Rubber shoe ; you may pull and pull at it, till it 
stretches out a yard long, and then let go, and it will fly right 
back to its old shape. Their hearts are made of stout leather, 
I tell you ; there's a plaguy sight of wear in 'em. I never knowed 
but one case of a broken heart, and that was in tother sex. He 
was a sneezer. He was tall enough to spit down on the heads 
of your grenadiers, and nigh about high enough to wade across 
Charlestown River, and as strong as a tow boat ... He was 
a perfect pictur of a man ; you couldn't fait him in no particular ; 
. . . folks used to run to the winder when he passed, and say, 
* There goes Washington Banks, beant he lovely ? ' The girls all 
liked him, he them : ' I vow, young ladies, I wish I had five 
hundred arms to reciprocate one with each of you ; but I reckon 
I have a heart big enough for you all ; it's a whapper, you may 
depend, and every mite and morsel of it at your service/ . . . 
Well, when I last see'd him, he was all skin and bone, like a horse 
turned out to die. He was teetotally defleshed, a mere walkin' 
skeleton. I am dreadful sorry, says I, to see you, Banks, 
lookin* so pucked ; why, you look like a sick turkey hen, all 
legs/' The poor fellow had lifted an anchor, and he died shortly 
afterwards of a broken heart. 

In 1848 appeared the first series of Lowell's The Biglow 
Papers, which confirmed that fame which began to form during 
the two preceding years with their publication in periodicals. 
The chief characters in The Papers are their supposed writers, 
the pedantically learned and simple Homer Wilbur, Hosea Biglow 
of honest and shrewd common-sense and a liking for proverbial 
philosophy, and Birdofredom Sawin the trimmer : and they 
are now part of the American national life. The language is 
less remarkable for slang than for the liveliness of the Yankee 
dialect, for in the 1840'$, as indeed throughout the nineteenth 
century, there was a genuine Yankee dialect. This is a fair 
specimen of Lowell's manner in comic verse, of which there is 
much in The Biglow Papers : 

Two fellers, Isrel named and Joe, 
One Sundy mornin 1 'greed to go 
Agunnin' soon'z the beUs wuz done 
And meetin' finally begun, 
So'st no one wouldn't be about 
Their Sabbath-breakin' to spy out. 

Joe didn't want to go a mite ; 

He felt ez though 'twarn't skeercely right, 

But, when his doubts he went to speak on, 

Isrel he up and called him Deacon, 

An' kep' apokin* fun like sin 

An' then arubbin' on it in, 

Till Joe, less skeered o* doin' wrong 

Then bein' laughed at, went along. 


Past noontime they went trampin* round 

An* nary thing to pop at found, 

Till, fairly tired o' their spree, 

They leaned their guns agin a tree, 

An* jest ez they wuz settin* down 

To take their noonin', 1 Joe looked roun' 

And see (acrost lots in a pond 

That warn't more twenty rod beyond) 

A goose that on the water sot 

Ez ef awaitin* to be shot. 

While Lowell was at the crest of his reputation, a reputation 
that he retained until his death, Charles Farrar Browne (1834-1867) 
became famous as a humorous writer, better known as Artemus 
Ward, and as a lecturer ; he went to England in 1866, gave a 
few extremely successful lectures, and wrote for Punch on an 
equal footing with the best of Punch's famous contributors ; 
but early the next year he died of consumption. His greatest, 
indeed almost his only work in volume-form, 2 Artemus Ward : 
His Book, was published in. 1862 ; it consisted of short contribu- 
tions to the press of 1858-1860. From 1860 until his death he 
was, except for his frequent journeyings and from 1864 onwards 
for periods of illness, engaged in lecturing, at which he was 
" a huge success ". 

In his Book, which is superior to his Travels, Artemus Ward 
adopts the convention of a travelling showman and thus ensures 
himself a special licence to speak with complete linguistic freedom : 
this he does, but the comic effect derives little from slang, much 
from the general colloquialism, something from the " phonetic " 
spelling, and most from the author's comic 3 genius. An 
example : 

" I thawt I'd ride up to the next town on a little Jaunt, to rest my 
Branes which had bin severely rackt by my mental efforts, (This is 
sorter Ironical.) So I went over to the Rale Road offiss and axed the 
Sooprintendent for a pars. 

' You a editor ? * he axed, evijently on the point of snickerin'. 

' Yes Sir/ sez I, ' don't I look poor enuff ? " 

' Just about/ sed he, ' but our Road can't pars you.' 

' Can't, hay ? ' 

' No Sir it can't/ 

' Becauz', sez I, looking him full in the face with a eagle eye, ' it goes 
so darned slow it can't pars anybody ! ' Methinks I had him thar. It's 
the slowest Rale Road in the West, With a mortified air, he told me 
to get out of his offiss. I pittid him and went." 

1 Noonin', properly nooning, has for a hundred years been English dialect 
and U.S. usage ; but as meal it arose in the seventeenth century, as rest in the 

2 The other is Artemus Ward : His Travels, 1865. See esp. D. C. Seitz : 
Artemus Ward, 1919 ; or, for a short notice, the Dictionary of American 
Biography, vol. iii, or the English edition published by Messrs. John Long in 
1906 with an introduction by Hannaford Bennett. 

3 He was also a wit : " I think it improves a komick paper to publish a goak 
{joke] once in a while." (Bierce copied this goak.) 


Josh Billings, properly Henry Wheeler Shaw, was one of the 
numerous professional humorists of 1860-1880 : a group that 
owed its initial impulse to Seba Smith, that received distinction 
and authority from the solid fame that Lowell met with after 
publishing his Biglow Papers, and that began with Artemus Ward. 
Max Adeler was of precisely the same kidney as Ward and 
Billings, and to Artemus and Josh, Mark Twain owed much, 
Bret Harte something less, and Ambrose Bierce, to their most 
sardonic and scathing parts a little ; Bierce, however, was much 
more indebted to Mark Twain and Bret Harte than to those 
others. Twain, Harte, and Bierce, who in the late 'yo's broke 
away from the earlier tradition, form a trio that dominated 
American humour from about 1870 to about 1905, just as Ward, 
Billings, and Adeler had the noisier, more farcical province of 
humour to themselves from 1858 to 1875 or so. Two new notes 
are heard with Edward Westcott and George Ade in the years 
1898-1900, that of tender whimsicality and that of slang joyously 
adapted to literary uses ; and they are followed by O. Henry, 
who combined slang and whimsicality with a wit less polished 
and keen but a humour less mechanical than Mark Twain's, with 
a narrative more " slick " than, though not superior to, Bret 
Harte's, and with a dialogue superior to that of any of his pre- 
decessors. Post-War American humour has rather changed direc- 
tion and method : as we are still of the period we are too close to 
characterize it aptly, though it may be remarked that Ade was 
" going strong " in the first decade after the Armistice, that 
Sinclair Lewis owes much to Lardner, 1 who is both a War and 
a post-War humorist, that Robert Benchley, the more significant 
of whose work began to appear in book form in 1922, obviously 
is not sui generis, and that Walter Winchell * relies more on 
wit and satire than on humour, just as Harry Witwer (very 
successfully too) depends more on first-class humour than on 
any other quality. 

"Josh Billings" Shaw (1818-1885), like Seba Smith and 
"Artemis Ward" Browne and " Max Adeler" Clark, is 
remembered almost wholly for one book. The very title, Josh 
Billings, His Sayings, indicates the lineage of Artemus Ward ; 
the book itself proves it. Nevertheless Josh Billings 2 had a very 
shrewd philosophy and he excelled in the humorous aphorism, 
which his public liked him to spell eccentrically. This eccentric 
spelling, so noticeable in Ward and Billings, is nearly always 
tedious, and, at the best, it has little to recommend it : but it 
is always cropping up in English and American literature. Much, 

1 These two men are among the six most important users of American 
slang after 1900, but as they have already been adequately mentioned they 
will not figure again in this chapter. Lardner died, aged 46, in late September, 
1933. 2 See F. S. Smith: Life and Adventures of Josh Billings, 1883. 


however, can be forgiven " Josh " for that penetrating knowledge 
of human nature which he so humorously displays. A few 
aphorisms (" remarks ", he calls them) will show the kind of 
thing and the droll manner of it. 

" Tha tell me that them who hav the harte diseaze are liable tu di 
at enny time, but i hav known thousands tew reach a mean old age with it." 

" Fust appearances are ced tu be everything. I don't put all mi fathe 
into this saying ; i think oysters and klarns, for instanze, will bear looking 

" Wimmin are like flowers, a little dust ov squeezing makes them the 
more fragrant." 

" We don't question a person's rite tew be a fule, but if he klaims 
wisdom, we kompare it with our own." 

" Men are very often ashamed tu tell the truth, bekause tha don't kno 

" I argy in this way, if a man is right he can't be too radikal, if he 
is rong he kant be too conservatiff." 

" Their is one advantage in a plurality ov wifes ; tha fite each other, 
insted ov their husbands." 

" As a gineral thing, when a woman wares the britches, she has a 
good rite tew them." 

" Woman's inflooense is powerful espeshila when she wants enny 

" It aint often that a man's reputashun outlasts his munny." 

" Thare is onla one advantage, that i kan see, in going tew the Devil, 
and that is, the road is easy, and you are sure tew git thare." 

Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910), ever so much better 
known as Mark Twain, was the most read of all American authors 
from 1869, when he gained an immediate success with his first 
book, The Innocents Abroad, until his death, and in the last 
ten years of his life he was a " world-celebrity ", just as he is 
still a " world-figure ". His other two famous works, Tom 
Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn (the latter published in 1884), 
will remain American classics, though two of his less known 
books may be more highly regarded at the end of the twentieth 
century, for Roughing It and Life on the Mississippi depend less 
on humour than on truth and treatment. 

Partly from the nature of the subject, The Innocents Abroad 
offers very little slang. For that purpose, a better though a 
much more difficult book is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 
which bears the following 


" Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be 
prosecuted ; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished ; 
persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot. 

" By Order of The Author 

" per G.G., Chief of Ordnance." 

But, like most of Mark Twain's humorous work, Huckleberry 
Finn is considerably more interesting for dialect than for slang 
and it is prefaced with an explanatory note : < In this book 


a number of dialects are used, to wit : the Missouri negro dialect ; 
the extremest form of the backwoods South- Western Dialect ; 
the ordinary ' Pike County ' dialect ; and four modified varieties 
of this last. The shadings have . . . been done . . . pains- 
takingly. ... I make this Explanation for the reason that 
without it many readers would suppose that all these characters 
were trying to talk alike and not succeeding/' 

A fair specimen of his manner is afforded by the passage in 
which "the duke" and "the king" stage a play and, after 
two nights, they decide to depart with the takings of the third 
night before the performance begins. The " duke " to Huck : 

" ' Walk fast, now, till you get away from the houses, and then skin 
for the raft like the dickens was after you ! * 

" I done it, and he done the same. We struck the raft at the same 
time ... I reckoned the poor king was in for a gaudy time of it with 
the audience ; but, nothing of the sort ; pretty soon he crawls out . . . 
and says : ' Well, how'd the old thing pan out this time, Duke ? ' 

" He hadn't been up town at all. 

" We never showed a light till we was about ten mile below that 
village. Then we lit up and had a supper, and the king and the duke 
fairly laughed their bones loose over the way they'd served them people. 
The duke says : 

' * Greenhorns, flatheads ! I knew the first house would keep mum 
and let the rest of the town get roped in ; and I knew they'd lay for us 
the third night, and consider it was their turn now. Well, it is "their 
turn, and I'd give something to know how much they take for it. I would 
just like to know how they're putting in their opportunity. They can 
turn it into a picnic if they want to they brought plenty provisions.' 

" Them rapscallions took in four hundred and sixty-five dollars in 
that three nights. I never see money hauled in by the waggon-load like 
that, before." 

Better short-story writer 1 and poet than Clemens, was Bret 
Harte (1839-1902). Harte, like Clemens, wrote more in dialect 
(supposedly Californian) than in slang, but a good deal of each 
appears in one of the very early poems, " Dow's Flat/' the story 
of a luckless man : 

He mined on the bar 

Till he couldn't pay rates ; 
He was smashed by a car 

When he tunnelled with Bates, 

and his wife and five children arrive from the East : 

It was rough mighty rough ; 

But the boys they stood by, 
And they brought him the stuff 

For a house on the sly, 

but still his luck failed, 

And the chills got about 
And his wife fell away. 

1 In this respect, as in that of his general character, less than justice has been 
done to Bret Harte in Trent and Erskine's Great Writers of America. 


Then one day on his claim he struck desperately at the slope : 

A blow of his pick 

Sorter caved in the side 
And he looked and turned sick, 

Then he trembled and cried, 

for the very good reason that his ill-luck had broken : 

It was gold, in the quartz 

And it ran all alike ; 
And I reckon five oughts 

Was the worth of that strike. 

One of his poems, " The Ballad of the Emeu " (the Australian 
emu, " a singular bird, with a manner absurd "), with its droll 
second stanza, 

It trots all around with its head on the ground, 

Or erects it quite out of your view ; 
And the ladies all cry, when its figure they spy, 

O, what a sweet pretty Emeu ! 
Oh ! do 

Just look at that lovely Emeu !, 

was imitated with variations by Ambrose Bierce in " The Gnu ". 
Bierce (1842-? 1914) was influenced, in a vague and general 
way, by the prose style and stories of Bret Harte as he was, 
slightly, by the themes of Edgar Allan Poe. As we have 
mentioned, Bierce contemned slang in his later years, but he 
was not above using it in Cobwebs from an Empty Skull, which, 
published x in England in 1874, was illustrated by the brothers 
Dalziel and composed of tales and fables contributed to Fun, 
the rival of Punch, and tending, says their author, wholesomely 
to " diminish the levity of the jocund sheet ". The peculiar 
brand of humour that Bierce made his own appears in such a 
fable as this : 

An old man carrying, for no obvious reason, a sheaf of sticks, met 
another donkey whose cargo consisted merely of a bundle of stones. 

*' Suppose we swop," said the donkey. 

" Very good, sir/ 1 assented the old man ; " lay your load upon my 
shoulders, and take off my parcel, putting it upon your own back/' 

The donkey complied, so far as it concerned his own encumbrance, 
but neglected to remove that of the other. 

" How clever ! " said the merry old gentleman, " I knew you would 
do that. If you had done any differently there would have been no point 
to the fable." 

And laying down both burdens by the roadside, he trudged away as 
merry as anything. 

The strange fancifulness of many of his masterly stories in 
Can Such Things Be ? and In the Midst of Life is adumbrated in : 

A river seeing a zephyr carrying off an anchor, asked him, " What are 
you doing to do with it ? " 

1 By George Routledge & Sons ; Bierce, when in England this was in 
the '70 's used the pen-name Dod Grile. 


" I give it up," replied the zephyr, after mature reflection. 

" Blow me if I would ! " continued the river ; " you might just as 
well not have taken it at all." 

" Between you and me/' returned the zephyr, " I only picked it up 
because it is customary for zephyrs to do such things. But if you don't 
mind I will carry it up to your head and drop it in your mouth." 

(The language in those two fables Is very English, but in 
such a story as " Stringing a Bear " the American note is clear 
enough, although it contains little slang.) 

Born in 1847 and dying a year after Bierce, Charles Heber 
Clark, 1 who took the pen-name of Max Adeler, published his last 
book a few months before his death and exactly forty years after 
the one work that made his reputation : Out of the Hurly-Burly, 
which, in 1874, brought him a fame that, both at home and in 
England, endured for thirty years or a little more. He came 
to detest his fame as a humorist and, in a preternaturally solemn 
way, tried to live it down. Out of the Hurly-Burly is not only 
amusing ; it is often witty ; and it satirizes with power and 
pertinence some of the worst abuses (e.g., flogging) of the life 
of the '60 ; s and '70*3. There is a good deal more " to it " than 
to the work of Artemus Ward and Josh Billings, though in the 
purely comic it is slightly inferior : Out of the Hurly-Burly, 
however, is easier to read, for it has much more variety. But it 
is difficult material to quote for slang, and even the chapter on 
obituary poetry, funny as it is, offers very little of that uncon- 
ventionalism of language which we associate with the humorists 
and which, in hard fact, instead of in theory, seldom except 
for an occasional term becomes outright slang in the American 
writers before George Ade : colloquialism, yes, in plenty ; dialect, 
in plenty, too ; but of genuine slang, little. 

Here are two examples : 

We have lost our little Hanner in a very painful manner, 
And we often asked, How can her harsh sufferings be borne ? 

When her death was first reported, her aunt got up and snorted 
With the grief that she supported, for it made her feel forlorn. 

She was such a little seraph that her father, who is sheriff, 
Really doesn't seem to care if he ne'er smiles in life again. 

She has gone, we hope, to heaven, at the early age of seven 

(Funeral starts off at eleven), where she'll never more have pain. 

Four doctors tackled Jimmy Smith 

They blistered and they bled him ; 
With squills and anti-bilious pills 

And ipecac, they fed him. 
They stirred him up with calomel, 

And tried to move his liver ; 
But all in vain his little soul 

Was waited o'er The River, 

1 The notice in the Dictionary of American Biography forms the best account 
of his life and work. 


Or, from a later chapter, the " Memory on the Death of Thomas 
Cooky " : 

When Cooley got his glycerine all properly adjusted, 

He knocked it unexpectedly, and suddenly it busted ; 

And when it reached old Thomas C., he got up quick and dusted, 

And left his wife and family disheartened and disgusted. 

From the sometimes slightly vulgar humour of Out of the 
Hurly-Burly to the quiet, though at times farcical humour and 
occasional, subdued pathos of David Harum is a rather brusque 
transition. In this book, published in 1898 and finished while 
its author actually lay on his death-bed (he died in the March of 
that year at the age of forty-one) there is no trace of the sufferings 
that Westcott bore so manfully and stoically. It falls in the 
group of writers implied by Forbes Heermans in his introduction 
to this novel : " One of the most conspicuous characteristics of 
our contemporary native fiction is an increasing tendency to 
subordinate plot or story to the bold and realistic portrayal of 
some of the types of American life and manners/' The chief 
character, though not the only important one, is ' * the old country 
banker, David Harum : dry, quaint, somewhat illiterate, no 
doubt, but possessing an amazing amount of knowledge not 
found in printed books ... an accurate portrayal of a type 
that [existed] in the rural districts of central New York " State : 
a portrait that Westcott, himself a banker at Syracuse, was 
well fitted to make. 

Here, again, there is little slang but a great deal of 
colloquialism, as is evident from the following, wholly typical 
example of David Harum's speech : 

" ' The fact is, I was sayin',' he resumed, sitting with hand and fore- 
arm resting on a round table . . ., ' that my notion was, fust off, to have 
him come here, but when I came to think on't I changed my mind. In 
the first place, except that he's well recommended, I don't know nothin' 
about him ; an* in the second, you *n I are pretty well set in our ways, 
an* git along all right just as we are. I may want the young feller to 
stay, an* then agin I may not we'll see. It's a good sight easier to git 
a fishhook in 'n 'tis to git it out. I expect he'll find it pretty tough at 
first, but if he's a feller that c'n be drove out of bus'nis by a spell of the 
Eagle Tavern, he ain't the feller I'm lookin' fer though I will allow/ 
he added with a grimace, ' that it'll be a putty hard test. But if I want to 
say to him, after tryin' him a spell, that I guess me an* him don't seem 
likely to hit, we'll both take it easier if we ain't livin' in the same house.' " 

Such easy dialogue prepares us for the point of some of the 
old banker's aphorisms, such as " The's as much human nature 
in some folks as this in others, if not more " ; "A reasonable 
amount of fleas is good for a dog they keep him f m broodin' 
on bein' a dog " ; and " Evry hoss c'n do a thing better 'n 
spryer if he's ben broke to it as a colt ". 

David Harum himself, and so too his plucky creator, would 


have appealed to William Sydney Porter, who likewise died in 
his forties : in igro at forty-eight. O. Henry, as he called himself, 
met tragedy in 1898 when, for an embezzlement that * he may 
not have committed (I, for one, feel sure that he didn't), he was 
sent to the Ohio State penitentiary for five years, commuted 
for good behaviour to three and a quarter. He had begun 
to write stories before the crash came, in prison he studied and 
practised that art of which he is one of the world's five greatest 
masters, in 1903 he obtained an excellent contract, and in 1904 
he published his first book, Cabbages and Kings, which established 
him in a position that, despite an occasional excess of journalistic 
method, he has earned by the swift deftness of his style, the 
conviction and lively truth of his dialogue, and the clear-cut 
brilliance of his narrative. His country stories may outlive the 
better-reputed New York tales, for in the former there is no 
straining after effect and the humour is more natural ; in all his 
work there is a dry, aseptic yet basically genial wit. He is not 
particularly slangy, though the following passage taken from 
" The Enchanted Profile " in Roads of Destiny, is considerably 
less slangy than some : 
(The author and a typist.) 
" * Well, Man, how are the stories coming ? ' 
" c Pretty regularly/ said I. 'About equal to their going/ 
" ' I'm sorry/ said she. ' Good typewriting is the main thing 
in a story. You've missed me, haven't you ? ' 

" ' No one/ said I, ' whom I have ever known knows as well 
as you do how to place properly belt buckles, semi-colons, hotel 
guests, and hairpins. But you've been away, too. I saw a 
package of peppermint-pepsin in your place the other day/ . 
"'I was going to tell you about it ... if you hadn't 
interrupted me. Of course, you know about Maggie Brown, who 
stops here. Well, she's worth $40,000,000. She lives in Jersey 
in a ten-dollar flat. She's always got more cash on hand than 
half a dozen business candidates for vice-president . . . Well, 
about two weeks ago, Mrs. Brown stops at the door and rubbers 
at me for ten minutes. ..." Child," says she, " you're the most 
beautiful creature I ever saw in my life. I want you to quit your 
work and come and live with me ..." Of course I fell to it ... 
I certainly seemed to have a mash on her. . . . Aunt Maggie/ " 
after a lot of expense that caused her, literally, to faint, " ' had a 
sudden attack of the hedges. I guess everybody has got to go 
on the spree once in their life. A man spends his on highballs, 
and a woman gets woozy on clothes . . . Well, Mr. Man, three 
days of that light housekeeping was plenty for me. Aunt Maggie 

1 See esp. A. J. Jennings : Through the Shadows with O. Henry, 1921. For 
general comment see the numerous essays appended to Waifs and Strays, a 
selection of twelve stories issued in 1919. 


was affectionate as ever . . . But let me tell you. She was a 
hedger from Hedgersville, Hedger County . . . We cooked our 
own meals in the room. There I was, with a thousand dollars' 
worth of the latest things in clothes, doing stunts over a one- 
burner gas-stove. As I say, on the third day I flew the coop. 
I couldn't stand for throwing together a fifteen-cent kidney stew 
while wearing, at the same time, a $150 house dress/ " The 
reason for miser Maggie Brown's affection for the fair typist 
is explained in the bridegroom's comment as he looks at the 
bride's " shining chestnut hair ", chapleted with " leaves from 
one of the decorated wreaths " : 

"'By jingo ! ' said he. ' Isn't Ida's a dead ringer for the 
lady's head on the silver dollar ? ' " 

Although born four years later than 0. Henry, George Ade 
published his first book nearly ten years earlier ; but then Ade, 
after graduating at Purdue University, began as a journalist. 
Before going to New York he was, in 1887-1900, at La Fayette 
and Chicago, and it was The Chicago Record that published 
his Fables in Slang before they appeared in book-form in 1899. 
This, which remained his best-known work, was as sophisticated 
as it was clever : the same applies to More Fables in Slang in 
1902. As in all his other books fables, parodies, short stories, 
plays, essays, George Ade (who died in, I believe, 1933) showed 
himself one of the many American humorists of the vernacular, 
but he was, first and last, " an urban product " as the 
Encyclopaedia Britannica so elegantly phrases it. 

Richard Sunne, the pseudonym of perhaps the finest of all 
literary critics among professional journalists, has spoken l of 
" the elaborate, inventive slang, once so popular under the 
impulse of Mr. George Ade's ingenuity. I do not suppose many of 
the smart young people of to-day in Chicago or New York would 
understand a quarter of George Ade's Fables in Slang." This 
needs two slight modifications : Ade invented comparatively 
little of the slang in his Fables, nor are those Fables nearly so 
slangy as their titles might lead one to suppose. They are 
perhaps equally slangy with Walter WinchelTs On Broadway 
and considerably less slangy than Lardner's You Know Me, AJ 
or Henry Charles Witwer's stories. Much of the value of the 
two series of Fables in Slang resides in the fact that here the 
colloquialisms in general and the slang in particular are those 
absorbed by "perhaps the most acute observer of average, 
undistinguished American types, urban and rustic, that American 
literature has yet produced ", as America's most trenchant 
literary critic has remarked. Ade so satirizes and scourges many 
social follies and prejudices, many national foibles and failings, 

i The New Statesman and Nation, 18th April, 1931. 


and a few international injustices and contradictions that even 
the victims must smile at the sureness of touch, the apparent 
gentleness of that fierce irony, and the impartiality with which 
he distributes those barbed shafts which have introduced a deep 
respect as well as a trace of fear into the public's attitude towards 
this milder Bierce. Some day his Fables will, I think, rank as 
literature. A fair example of his manner may be had from the 
following abridgment l of a complete Fable in Slang, that of 
" The Copper and the Jovial Undergrads " : 

One Night three Well-Bred Young Men, who were entertained at the 
Best Houses . . ., set out to Wreck a College town. 

They licked two Hackmen, set fire to an Awning, pulled down many 
Signs . . . Terror brooded over the Community. 

A Copper heard the Racket . . ., so he gripped his Club and ran 
Ponderously . . . He could not see them distinctly, and he made the 
Mistake of assuming that they were Drunken Ruffians from the Iron 
Foundry. So he spoke harshly . ,. . His Tone and Manner irritated the 
University Men, who were not accustomed to Rudeness from Menials. 

One Student, . . , whose people butt into the Society Column with 
Sickening Regularity, started to Tackle Low ; ... his strong Speciality 
was to swing on Policemen and Cabbies. 

At this, Ms Companion whose Great Grandmother had been one of 
the eight thousand Close Relatives of John Randolph, asked him not to 
Mil the Policeman . . . They were not Muckers ; they were Nice Boys, 
intent on preserving the Traditions . . . 

The Copper could hardly Believe it until they . . . showed him their 
Engraved Cards . , . ; then he Realized they were All Right. The third 
Well-Bred Young Man whose Male Parent got his Coin by wrecking a 
Building Association in Chicago, then announced that they were Gentle- 
men and could Pay for everything they broke. Thus it will be seen that 
they were Rollicking College Boys and not Common Rowdies. 

The Copper, perceiving that he had come very near getting Gay with 
our First Families, Apologised for Cutting In. The Well-Bred Young- 
Men forgave Mm ... On the way back to the Seat of Learning they 
captured a Night Watchman, and put him down a Man-Hole. 

MORAL : Always select the Right Sort of Parents before you start 
in to be Rough. 

There is considerable point to all of Ade's fables, but for sheer 
high spirits read Bang ! Bang !, published in 1928 though written 
thirty years earlier : "a collection of stories/' the title-page 
informs us, " intended to recall memories of the Nickel Library 
days when boys were supermen and murder a fine art," stories 
that, their author adds in the preface, " will mean nothing to 
juveniles who have been pampered with roadsters and fed up 
on movies ... To some of the older people they may come as 
a happy reminder of the days when all of us were ruined by 
reading books which could not be obtained at the Public Library/ 1 
Still, there is equal narrative ability in a Fable that begins : 

" A well-fixed Mortgage Shark, residing at a Way Station, 
had a Daughter whose Experience was not as large as her 

1 The abridging is by omission not by precis, and the dots are mine. 


prospective Bank Roll. She had all the component Parts of a 
Peach, but she didn't know how to make a Showing, and there 
was nobody in Town qualified to give her a quiet Hunch. . . . 
Now, it happened that there came to this Town every Thirty 
Days a brash Drummer, who represented a Tobacco House. 
He was a Gabby Young Man and he could Articulate at all 
Times, whether he had anything to Say or not." They became 
acquainted, but, when all seemed well, she went to a finishing 
school ; "a Place at which Young Ladies are taught how to give 
the Quick Finish to all Persons who won't do." There she " began 
to see the other Kind ; the Kind that Wears a Cutaway . . . 
in the Morning . . . and a jimmy little Tuxedo at Night . . . 
And every time she thought of Gabby Will, the Crackerjack 
Salesman, she reached for the Peau d'Espagne and sprayed 
herself/* One day, when she was on holiday, he heard about 
her and " got a Shave, changed ends on his Cuffs, pared his 
Nails, bought a box of Marshmallows, and went out to the 
House ", where he received so cold a welcome that, as he departed, 
" he kept his Hand on his Solar Plexus. At five o'clock he rode 
out of Town on a Local." The moral being : " Anybody can 
win unless there happens to be a Second Entry." 

Another smart user of slang although far from being so well 
known as George Ade, by whom and Lardner he has obviously 
been influenced, is Harry C. Witwer, whose From Baseball to 
Bodies, published in September, 1918, and The Classics in Slang, 
published in book-form in 1927 and collected from The Popular 
Magazine of 1920-2 and Collier's Weekly of 1926-7, we shall 
glance at for the smiles and slang they contain, they contain 
many of the former, much of the latter. He has a fluent manner 
and a fine command of slang, as we see in his first book ; in the 
" First Inning " (anglice, innings), the hero writes from on board 
a transport ship :- 

" No doubt you're crazy to know how I came to get into this free-for- 
all in the old country, when I was seven-to-five shot to pitch the first 
brawl of our own world series, the last you heard. Well, Joe, it happened 
all of a sudden like heart failure or one strike know what I mean ? 
Mac conies to me one day after the Cubs has went crazy and grabbed eight 
runs off my world-famous slow drop in the sixth innin'. They was none 
out yet but me. Mac took me out. 

" * D ? ye know where you can get a good trunk cheap ? ' he says, 

" ' Well, I can't say right off tie reel/ I tells him. ' But no doubt 
I could find out for you/ 

" ' Never mind about me I ' he says. * Find out for yourself, because 
to-morrow I'm gonna ship you so far back into the sticks that if they 
was a letter sent to you, Robert E. Peary would be the only guy on earth 
that would have a chance of deliverin' it ! ' 

" ' D'ye mean to say I'm through ? * I says when I got my breath. 

" ' If I was as good a guesser as you/ he says, ' I wouldn't do nothin* 
but play the races. . . / 

" ' When do I leave ? * I asks him. 


" ' As soon as I can get hold of a piano crate, so's I can ship you/ he 
says . . . 

" ' Then I ain't goin' nowheres/ I hollers; ' I'll never pitch no more 
baseball ! ' 

" * You never have ! ' he yells. ' Get outa my ball park ! ' 
" Of course there was nothin' a man could do after that but leave 
the team, hey, Joe ? . . . 

" Yours truly, 

" (Formerly the famous southpaw.) " 

Ed. in France is a delight. He falls in love with one Jeanne, 
whose brother takes the matter amiss at first : they all try to 
make friends in " broken English and crushed French ". Ed. 
finds French very difficult : " There ain't no guy on earth but a 
Frenchman ever gets where he can talk it right . . . You can't 
study French it's a gift ! " But he weds Jeanne. 

The Classics in Slang, a novel, exhibits the same high spirits, 
and its only Classics are those of the titles, a very general 
similarity, a terse synopsis, or a perfunctory allusion as in " Ali 
Baba and the Forty Thieves ", where the hero, speaking to his 
girl (though she has not yet decided to be that) : 

" * Look here ! ' I says. ' J may be a millionaire and not know it . . . ' 

" ' Just a moment 1 ' interrupts Ethel. ' Money is not the open 
sesame to my heart/ 

" ' The open which ? * I says, with a blank, viz., natural, look. ' What 
d'ye mean open sesame ? ' 

" ' Don't you know the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves ? ' 
asks Ethel with a smile. 

" ' No/ I says. ' I give up the underworld since I met you and ' 

" * Good heavens, what did you read when you were a child ? * she 

" ' The help wanted advertisements, Ethel/ I says, leanin' over the 
counter and speakin 1 soft and low. ' When I was a child, I was too busy 
bustlin' for food and drink to read any books ! . . . I been workin' for 
a livin' since I been ten years old. If I ain't no bachelor from the arts 
like this Hootmon bozo, I'm sorry, but it ain't my fault. I guess I'm just 
a big roughneck and I always will be though I did think for a time 
after I met you that I might stick my head out of the ash heap for a few 
minutes anyways. How the so ever, you can't get a silk purse into a sow's 
ear. The chances is you'll wed this Hootmon, so I might as well blow 
and be done with it. This guy may be able to give you more this and 
that than I can, Ethel, but if he tells you he loves you any more than 
I do he's a liar. Good luck ! ' " 

Well, he's a boxer, and Ethel says that he must make good. 
He fights Mayhem MacWhinney. The first round is even, and 
our hero loses the second and the fight because, his ears stuffed, 
he misunderstands his handlers, anglicb seconds', excited arm- 
waving. Another fight is arranged thus, Red Higgins coming 
to see the hero and : 

Well, chump, we fight again tomorrow night ! * he greets me. 
* Our prey is Knocked-Out Vermicelli, champion dry-tank diver of the 


universe. Fifteen rounds or less at the Massacre A.C., Chicago. You 
been to Chi, ain't you ? ' 

" ' I hope to tell you 1 ' I says, with a shudder. ' And I don't crave 
to make the voyage to that slab again, what I mean ! I got fed up with 
the -rat-tat-tat of machine guns in France. Anyways, I can't box nobody 
for a couple or three days I got to ready myself first.' 

" ' You don't need to train for this palooka ! ' laughs Red jovially. 
' What it takes to flatten him, you got ! Just clean your teeth and you'll 
be in condition/ 

" ' If he goes to work and knocks me off/ I says, ' I'll ' 

" ' He can't knock you off ! ' interrupts Red. ' The referee owes me 
ninety bucks, and no matter where Knocked-Out Vermicelli hits you, it's 
a foul. Every time he smacks you, grab your belt and yell murder. Just 
so's you'll feel more at ease, the timekeeper's my brother in law, and one 
of Vermicelli's seconds parks himself in the dump with me ! ' 

" ' You're leavin' too much to chance/ I complains. ' Suppose the 
muss goes the limit and the judges gives Vermicelli the nod ? ' 

" * Don't be silly ! ' grunts Red. ' The judges has both bet their 
shirts on you ! ' " 

Yes, Witwer deserves to be much better known in England : 
and in America more famous than he has yet become. 

Two years after Witwer's first book, appeared Sinclair Lewis's 
first notable work, one that in 1920 and after stirred America 
considerably. In the very foreword to Main Street, he says of 
the complacent self-satisfaction current in the United States at 
that time : " Such is our comfortable tradition and sure faith. 
Would he not betray himself an alien cynic who should otherwise 
portray Main Street/' any Main Street (corresponding to the 
English High Street) in almost any American town, " or distress 
the citizens by speculating whether there may not be other 
faiths ? " The remarkable thing is that Sinclair Lewis has not 
been forced to leave. America for having proved so tragically 
right. The powerful and the more deeply satirical parts naturally 
do not contain much slang, so we will quote that scene in which 
young Mrs. Kennicott returns home from visiting friends in the 
evening and finds her husband waiting for her : 

" Hello ! what time did you get back ? " she cried. 

" About nine. You been gadding. Here it is past eleven ! " Good- 
natured yet not quite approving. 

" Did it feel neglected ? " 

" Well, you didn't remember to close the lower draft in the furnace/ 1 

" Oh, I'm so sorry. But I don't of ten forget things like that, do I ? "... 

" Nope. I must say you're fairly goo<l about things like that. I wasn't 
kicking. I just meant I wouldn't want the fire to go out on us ... And 
the nights are beginning to get pretty cold again . . ." 

" Yes. It is chilly. But I feel fine after my walk.' 1 

" Go walking ? " 

" I went up to see the Perrys." By a definite act of will she added 
the truth : " They weren't in. And I saw Guy Pollock. Dropped into 
his office." 

" Why, you haven't been sitting and chinning with him till eleven 
o'clock ? " 


" Of course there were some other people there and Will ! What 
do you think of Dr. Westiake ? " 

" Westiake ? Why ? " 

" I noticed Mm on the street today/' 

" Was he limping ? If the poor fish would have Ms teeth X-rayed, 
I'll bet nine and a half cents he'd find an abscess there . . /' 

". . . Is he really a good doctor ? " 

" Oh yes, he's a wise old coot/' 

"... Dr. Westiake is so gentle and scholarly/' 

" Well, I don't know as I'd say he's such a whale of a scholar. I've 
always had a suspicion he did a good deal of four-flushing about that. 
... I don't know where he'd ever learn so dog-gone many languages 
anyway! ... He graduated from a Mck college . . . 'way back in 
1861 ! " 

". . . Would you call Ww. in ? Would you let me call him in ? " 

" Not if I were well enough to cuss and bite, I wouldn't ! No, sir I 
I wouldn't have the old fake in the house. Makes me tired, Ms everlasting 
palavering and soft-soaping. ..." 

The same easy, unforced slanginess (comfortably settled in 
the cushions of colloquialism) is noticeable in all Sinclair Lewis's 
later work, Babbitt, Martin Arrowsmith, Elmer Gantry, and the 
rest. Here is a passage from Dodsworth ; Sam Dodsworth returns 
his friend Tub to Tub's wife, Matey, at their Palace Hotel : 

Matey looked them over and sighed, " Well, you aren't much drunker 
than I thought you'd be, and now you'd better go in and wash your little 
faces . . . and have a coupla Bromo Seltzers . . . and then if you 
can both still walk, we'll go out and have the handsomest dinner in 

He took them to Voisin's, but when they were seated Tub 
looked disappointed. 

" Not such a lively place," he said. 

" No . . but it's a famous old restaurant . . . What kind of place 
would you like ? Find it for you to-morrow." 

"... Oh, I thought there'd be a lot of gilt and marble pillars, and 
a good orchestra, and lots of dancing, and a million pretty girls, regular 
knock-outs, and not so slow either. I better watch meself, or I'll be 
getting Matey jealous." 

" Hm," said Matey, " Tub has a good, conscientious, hard-working 
ambition to be a devil with the ladies our fat little Don Juan ! but the 
trouble is they don't fall for him/' 

" That's all right now I I'm not so bad ! Say, can you dig us up a 
place like that, to-morrow ? " 

'* I'll show you a good noisy dance place to-night," said Sam. " You'll 
see all the pretty chickens you want they'll come and tell you, in nine 
languages, that you're a regular Adonis." 

'* They don't need to tell me that in more than one language 
the extrabatorious language of clinging lips, yo ho ! " yearned the 

" You're wrong, Sam," said Matey. " He doesn't make me sick not 
very sick not worse'n a Channel crossing. And you're wrong about 
thinking that I secretly wish he would go out with one of these wenches 
and get it out of his system. Not at all. I can get much more shopping 
money out of the brute while he's in this moon- June-spoon-loon mood. 


And when his foot does slip, how hell come running back to his old 
Matey ! " 

" I don't know whether I will or not ! Say, what do we eat ? " 

The slang In Sinclair Lewis, like his humour, follows naturally 
from the character of the speakers, from the situation in which 
they find themselves, and from their speech-habits unconscious 
or otherwise. In this .he differs from the American professional 
humorists and wits, 1 a class to which the latest recruit at all 
well known in England is Robert Benchley. Mr. Benchley writes 
for such American periodicals as Life, The New York Tribune 
and The Chicago Tribune, The Bookman, and the wittiest and 
frankest and most audacious of all The New Yorker, but much 
of his work has been published in England in book-form. The 
first volume that was widely read in England is Love Conquers 
All, illustrated (as are his later works) by the sympathetic Gluyas 
Williams the H. M. Bateman of America and published in 
1923. But this, like the rest of Robert Benchley 's books, contains 
extremely little slang. He resembles Leacock in the whimsicality 
of his outlook, in the culture and even the scholarship that, as 
in the best Punch humorists, underlie his searching humour and 
his pointed yet polished wit, in the urbanity of his satire, and 
in the power of displaying the ludicrousness inherent in ponderous 
erudition, otiose solemnity, platitudinarianism however dignified, 
meretricious pomposity, and authoritative pretentiousness. 

Love Conquers All, whether in its general or in its literary 
section, was good, very good, but the Treasurer's Report and 
Other Aspects of Community Singing, 1930, is better ; the nearest 
approach to community singing is in the essay entitled " Bringing 
Back the Morris Dance ", which concludes : 

" The Egyptians also danced sideways a lot, which made it difficult 
for them to get anywhere much. The English rustics did know enough 
to dance forward and back, but that isn't much of a development for 
over six thousand years, is it ? 

" A lot of people try to read a sex meaning into dancing, but that 
seems to me to be pretty far-fetched. By the time you have been panting 
and blowing around in a circle for five or ten minutes, keeping your mind 
steadily on maintaining your balance and not tripping, sex is about the 
last thing that would enter your head. Havelock Ellis even goes so far 
as to say that all life is essentially a dance, that we live in a rhythm which 
is nothing but a more cosmic form of dancing. This may be true of some 
people, but there are others, among whom I am proud to count myself, 
to whom life is static, even lethargic, and who are disciples of the Morris 
who designed the Morris chair rather than the Morris of the dance. 

" Havelock Ellis can dance through life if he wants to, but I think I'll 
sit this one out, if you don't mind.'* 

1 Lest anyone should exclaim, " Why doesn't he mention Stephen Leacock ? " 
I must explain that Professor Leacock is more properly treated as a Canadian, 
that while he uses many Americanisms he cannot therefor be listed with 
Americans, and that he falls rarely into slang proper. 


But Mr. Benchiey may turn into a master of slang and occupy 
the place left blank by George Ade, for America needs another 
George Ade. Not that I think he is any more likely than Professor 
Leacock to become slangy ; not that I wish every satirist, 
humorist, and wit to develop a passion for slang ! But one really 
first-class slangster-a/w-satirist (or -humorist or -wit), in every 
decade (preferably), does the world of good, for he helps to keep 
the language fresh, alert, bright, and supple : a need more felt 
perhaps in England than in the States when, for instance, America 
lost Ring Lardner, she lost a great satirist, a great humorist, 
and a great slangster, who, in the decade ending in his untimely 
death, in 1933, did much for the national sanity, for mordant 
good sense, and for vivid language : though it is doubtful if 
Americans began to realise their debt until he died. 

Postscript to the Second Edition. Rather than from the two 
works by Mr. Sinclair Lewis here utilised (pp. 345-47), I should 
have quoted from "The Man who knew Coolidge." Moreover, I 
might well have found space for excerpts from Jack Conway, 
Tad Dorgan, Milt Gross, Jack Lait, George Milburn, and Jim 

Postscript to the Third Edition. Only one important event has 
occurred since 1935 (the date of the second edition of this book), but 
that event is rather important the War of 1939-1945. Its effects have 
been the same as were the effects of the War of 1914-1918: a refresh- 
ment and an enrichment of language, no less in its standard than in its 
unconventional aspects; a humanizing; a simplifying; an enlivening. 
The most important slang words and phrases that have become 
prominant since 1935 are, perhaps, phoney, blitz, browned off, you've had 
it, G.I., jeep. 

The outstanding American slangster of the 1930 '3-1940*3 has been 
Damon Runyan, who died in 1947. In England, P. G. Wodehouse has 
continued to delight his public; one of the most notable newcomers is 
James Curtis. 

In the attitude towards slang, a remarkable change has*taken place. 
Scholars tend to think now that, after all, slang has its importance, 
both intrinsic and extrinsic; that, indeed, it can be no longer neglected. 
Probably The American Thesaurus of Slang (1942) and perhaps my own 
A Dictionary of Slang (1937) have had a share in this salutary recogni- 
tion of the obvious. 


In this Part, the following abbreviations are used : 
Adj. : adjective ; adv. : adverb. 
C : century, as C 18 : the i8th century. 
c. : cant ; the slang of the underworld. 
ca. : about ; ca. 1900 is about the year 1900. 
cf. : compare, 
coll. : colloquial, i.e., between slang and standard. 

esp. : especially. 

ex : from ; derived from. 

F. & H. : Farmer and Henley's Slang and its Analogues. 

gen. : general(ly). 

G.W. : the War of 1914-1918. 

Irwin : American Tramp and Underworld Slang. 

j. : jargon, i.e., technical (ity). 

lit. : literally. Opposite to fig. : figuratively. 

n. : noun. 

ob. : obsolescent, whereas f is obsolete. 

occ. : occasionally. 

O.E.D. : The Oxford English Dictionary. 

opp. : opposite. 

orig. : originally. 

pi. : plural. 

.v. : which see ! 
.E. : Standard English. 

S.O. : The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 
s.v. : under, at the word . . . 
Thornton : An American Glossary. 
U.S. : United States of America. 
v. : verb ; yd., intransitive ; v.t., transitive. 
W : Weekley's Etymological Dictionary of Modern English. 
WW2: The War of 1939-45 

before a date : recorded then, but presumably in use some years earlier. 
+ after a date : in use after that date. 
= equal (s), equal to, equivalent to. 
> : become (s) ; became. 

N.B. The figures at the end of an entry refer to the text. 


Ai. First-class. Ex registration of ships at Lloyd's ; first used fig., ca. 

1834. 141. 

Abbess. A brothel-keeper ; also, a procuress. C 17-19. 106-7. 
Abdul. A Turk ; Turks collectively. From ca. 1890. 

1 Brief, but typical. These three vocabularies- English, Australian, 
American aim merely to be representative. The indication of the period of 
use is something of an innovation for slang. My debt, here, is mainly to Farmer 
and Henley, Professor Weekley, and the Shorter Oxford Dictionary ; it consists 
almost wholly of dates and etymologies. 



Abel-Wacket. A nautical jocular punishment : C 18-19. 76, 
Aberdeen Cutlet A dried haddock ( 1890) ; cf. Billingsgate pheasant, 

a red herring ( 1874). 

Abigail. A lady's maid ( 1666). In C 20, S.E. but not literary. - 
Above-Board. Frank, open, undisguised : ex early C 17 gambling. In 

C 19-20, coll. 

Abraham Man or Cove. A beggar, esp. feigning madness : C 16-19. 45. 
Abraham Newland. A Bank of England note : ca. 1790-1850. Ex chief 

cashier in office 1778-1807. 

Abroad, esp. All Abroad. Uncertain ; at a loss. ( 1821.) 
Absentee. A convict : ca. 1810-1860. 

Absent-Minded Beggar. A soldier : 1899-1902. Ex Kipling's poem. 
Academy. A brothel ( 1690) ; a thieves' school or gang (C 18-19). 
Academy Headache. One due to visiting exhibitions : ca. 1 880-1 914. 115. 
According to Cocker. Quite correct ( 1850). Ex Edward Cocker, C 17 

arithmetician. Now coll. 
Ace. An air-pilot of exceptional ability : 1914 -h ; coll. by 1916. Ex 

French as. 259. 

Ace of Spades. A widow : C 19, t by 1890. 
Acid, Come the. To put on " side " : C 20. 
Acid On, Put the. Ask for money or some favour : C 20. 
Ack Emma, Pip Emma. A.m., p.m. : G.W. ; still common among ex- 

Acrobat. A drinking glass ( 1912, ob.). 
Active Citizen. A louse ( 1912, -f ). 
Actual, the. Money, esp. cash : C 19 ; ob, 
Adam and Eve. To believe : C 20. 
Adam's Ale. Water ( 1643) ; coll. since ca. 1880. 
Adam's and Eve's Togs. Nudity : C 19-20. 
Adam-Tiler. A pickpocket's ally : C 17-18 c. 
Adjective-Jerker. A journalist ; from ca. 1890. Perhaps ex U.S. 
Admiral of the Narrow Seas. A man spewing into another's lap : C 18-19. 
Adonis. A dandy : ca. 1860-1900 ; a very handsome man : 1900 -f-. 
Affidavit Man. Hired perjurer : 17 18. 187. 
Affigraphy, to an. Exactly, precisely ( 1874). Ex autograph. 152. 
Afternoon Farmer. A procrastinating one, hence a lazy person ( 1874). 
Aggravation. A station : 20. 
Aggravates often Aggerawator. A lock of hair twisted spirally over 

forehead : costers ( 1836). 

Agony-Column. Personal advertisements in a newspaper ( 1870). Ex U.S. 
Air and Exercise, to Have. C 17-18, be whipped at the cart's tail ; C 19, 

ob., a term of imprisonment. 

Akerman's Hotel. Newgate prison : ca. 1788-1820. Ex 1787 governor. 
Alderman. A long (gen. clay) pipe : ca. 1800-1860. 

Aldgate, Draught on the Pump at. A wortliless bill of exchange ( 1790); -f . 
Alexandra Limp. A society walking-affectation : ca. 1865-1872. 
Alive and Kicking. Dec. preceded by all. Alert ; vigorous ( 1859). 
All In. Exhausted ( 1912). 
All My Eye and Betty Martin, often preceded by That's. Untrue (- 1 785) . 


All Out. Entirely, to one's full powers ( 1880). 233. 
All Overish. Nervous ; vaguely indisposed. From ca. 1850. 
All Serene. All's well ! A catch-phrase : from ca. 1851. 88, 137. 
Alleviator. A drink ( 1846). 

Alley (Tootsweet) ! Clear out (immediately) : G.W,, ex allez tout de suite. 
Alls. Inferior beer : late C 19-20 ; ob. 159. 
Almond for a Parrot. A trifle for a small mind ; C 18-19. Ex a C 16-17 



Almond Rocks. Socks : C 20. In G.W., almond > Army. 275. 

Alsatia. A sanctuary (C 18) ; in C 17, the criminal part of London. 56. 

Altogether, the. Nudity (1894 +). 222. 

Altogethery. Drunk ( 1909, ob..) 

Ambassador of Commerce. A commercial traveller ( iSgo^f). 

AmbroL An admiral : C 19-20 naval. 

Amen-Bawler. A parish clerk, C 19 ; C 18, amen-curler. 31. 

Aminidab. A Quaker : C 18. 

Ammo. Ammunition : G.W. ; + in Army. 

Amputate One's Mahogany. To decamp ( 1890). 

Ananias. A liar ( 1900). 

Anchor, or Come to an Anchor. To sit down : C i& 20 ; now coll. 

Angel Face. An officer either young or boyish-looking : G.W. 24. 

Angel-Maker. A baby-farmer. ( 1889). 16. 

AngePs-Whisper. (Army) the call to defaulters ( 1890). 

Annie Laurie. A lorry : C 20. 

Anno Domini. Old ( 1890) : society slang. 

Anoint. To thrash : from ca. 1500 ; f, except in " literary " slang. 

Anthony, to Knock. Walk knock-kneed : C 1819. 

Anvil, on the. In preparation : late C 19. Now gen. on the stocks, coll. 

Anzac. An Australian or a New Zealand soldier, esp. with Gallipoli 

service : G.W. +. 258. 

Apartments to Let. Weak-minded ; idiotic ( 1874). 
Apes, to Lead, in Hell. To die an old maid : C 16-19. 
Apple-Cart. The human body ( 1 790) ; C 20, thing, affair. 
Apples and Pears. Stairs (- 1859). 94, 153, 274. 

Apres la Guerre. After the War ; hence, sometime, or never. G.W. 259. 
Apron and Gaiters. A bishop ( 1912). 
Archie. An anti-aircraft gun : 1916 -f. 
Ardelio. A busybody : C 17 only. Perhaps rather, coll. 
'Arf-an'-'Arf. Drunk ( 1900) ; ale and porter equally mixed ( 1890). 
Argle. To argue quarrelsomely; after argle-bargle ( 1830). 
Argue the Toss. To dispute noisily and long : C 20. 
Armour, In. Fighting-drunk: C 17-18. 
Arm, Chance One's. To take a risk ( 1914). 
Arms-and-Legs, Small beer ( 1890 ; no body in it). 
'Arry and 'Arriet. London rough(s), gen. costers ( 1880). 32. 
As You Were ! Sorry ! I mean . . . ( 1900). 258. 
Ashes, the. Mythical prize in English-Australian cricket test-matches. 

From 1882. In C 20, coll. ; in 1932, standard. 237. 
Asquith. A French lucifer match : G.W. : one had to " wait and see ". 


Assinego. A fool : Shakespeare. 49. 
Assassin. An ornamental bow worn on female breast : ca. 1900, f. Very 

" killing ". 

Astronomer. A horse carrying its head high : C 19, t- 
Atlantic Ranger. A herring ( 1883). 

Atomy. A " walking skeleton " ; from C 16. Ex anatomy. 
Attic. The head ( 1870). 
Attieborough. Sham jewellery ( 1890). Orig. American (AfUeboro) ; 

cf . Brummagem. Ex a town so named. 

Attorney-General's Devil. Junior Counsel to the Treasury ( 1883). *86. 
Auctioneer. A pugilist's fist ( 1863) : it knocks down. 
Aunt's Sisters. Ancestors : from ca. 1900. 
Aussie. Australia ; an Australian. ( 1914)- 291. See Australian 


Autem. C 16-19 c. for a church. Cf. 30. 
Avering. Obtaining money by hard-luck stories ( 1912). 


Away. In prison ( 1912). Orig. c., now general. 
AwfuL As a mere intensive : from ca. 1830. 28, 128. 
Awkward Squad. (Army) recruits drilling ( 1890). In G.W., j. 
Axe. To lessen expenditure : from 1923. Also n. 202. 

Babe. The latest member of the House of Commons ( 1890). 

Babbling Brook. A cook : from ca. 1912. 

Babe, Kiss the. To take a drink ( 1912, ob.). 

Babbler. A chatterbox : C 16-20. Coll. in C 19-20. 

Baby's Head. Meat pudding : C 20 low. 

Baccare, Bakkare ! Go away I Low slang : 1550-1660. Ex back. 

Back. To support (- 1870, but occ. much earlier). Since ca. 1890, coll. 

Back and Fill. To move hesitantly ; hesitate ; be irresolute ( 1840) ; 

orig. nautical. 89. 

Back- Answer. A rude reply : from i>efore 1900. 
Back-Breaker. A difficult task or task-master ( 1800). Now coll. 
Back-Friend. A false friend ( 1830, f)- 
Back-Hander. An unfair blow or act ( 1856). Now coll. 
Back-Scratcher. A flatterer : from ca. 1900. 

Back-Seam, to Be On One's, To be out of luck, penniless ( 1890 tailors), 
Back-Teeth, to Have One's, Underground. To have eaten plenty ( 1912). 
Back Up. Angry : C 18-20. 
Backing and Filling. Hesitant. From ca. 1840. 
Ba(c)ksheesh. A tip. From ca. 1750, but common only in C 20. Often 

buckshee. 258. 

Backstaircase. (Woman's dress) a bustle ( 1890). f. 
Bacon, Save One's. To have a narrow escape ( - 1691). 
Bad, Go to The. Go to ruin ( 1860). 
Bad, to The. With a deficit ( 1816). 
Bad Bargain, King's or Queen's. An unsatisfactory soldier : C 18-20. 

Coll. from 1800. 253. 

Badger, Overdraw The, To overdraw one's account : from ca. 1840. 
Bag. The result of a sporting expedition : C 19-20. Now coll. 
Bag, to. Steal ( 1820 ). Cf. 236. 

Bag and Bottle. Food and drink : C 17-18. Perhaps rather, coll. 
Bag of Bones. A very thin person ( 1838). 
Bag of Mystery. A cheap sausage ( 1874). 
Bagger. A stealer from the hand (1900). Ex Fr. bague ? 
Baggage. A worthless woman : late C 16-20. Coll. from 1700. 
Baggy. Hanging loosely ; stretched by wear. From ca. 1830 ; C 20, S.E. 
Bagman. A commercial traveller : S.E. in late C 18, in C 19 contemptuous. 
Bagpipe. A tedious chatterbox ( 1700). 
Bags, Trousers ( 1853). 216. 
Bags. Plenty, as in bags of room : 1914 + ; ob. 
Bait, Welsh or Scotch. A breather : C 19, f . 
Baked. Exhausted. From ca. 1800. 
Balaam. Fill-up paragraphs in standing type ; padding. ( 1826.) 

176, 180. 

Bald as a Coot. Perfectly bald (~ 1913). 

Bald-Headed. Impetuously, rashly ( 1890), ex earlier American. 
Balderdash. Rubbish, nonsense : C 1720. Now literary. 
Balductum. (Of words), rubbish, farrago ; adj., trashy. C 16-17. 
Balfour's Maiden. A battering ram figuring in Irish evictions in 1888-9 : 

A. J. Balfour was then Chief Secretary for Ireland. (1889 +.) 
Ball and Bat A hat : Cso. 
Ballast. Money ( 1874). 

Bally. An intensive, euphemistic for bloody. From ca. 1884. 231. 
Balsam. Money (C 17-19), orig. c. 231. 


Bamboozle. To hoax, to perplex, to outwit. From ca. 1700 ; orig. 

c. 31, 66. 

Bandbox, to Have Come Out of a. Look very neat ( 1900). 
Bandog. A bailiff : C 18. Ex earlier sense, a fierce watch-dog. 
B. and S. Brandy and soda ( - 1868). 
Bandy. Crooked : C 17-20. Coll. by 1800. 
Bang. A curled fringe of 'hair worn across the brow, ca. 1865-95 ; orig. 

(ca. 1860), U.S. 

Bang-Off. Immediately (~- 1870). 

Bang the Market. To force down the price ( 1895). 168. 
Bang-Up. Excellent, first-class, very fashionable ( 1820). 85. 
Bank, to. Put away safely ( 1874). 
Bantam. A very short British soldier : G.W. 24. 
Banter. Ridicule : C 17-18 ; fun ; C 18-20. By 1750, S.E. 31, 57, 66. 
Banting. Dieting against fatness (from 1864) ; also bant, so to diet 

( 1890). In c 20, coll. 

Barber's Block. An affected " swell " (in dress). ( 1880). 
Barber's Cat. A person both weak and sickly-looking. ( 1874.) 
Barber's Chair. A harlot ; a drab : C 17-18. 76. 
Barebones. A lean person : esp. 1649-1659. 

Bare-Faced. Shameless : from Restoration days. After ca. 1800, coll. 
Barge Into. To knock against ( 1890). Ex U.S. (18-30 's). 
Bark. An Irishman : C 19. 
Bark. The skin ( 1800}. 
Barker. A tradesman's tout, standing in front of shop. Common since 

1500 ; coll. since ca. 1850. 

Barker. A sausage : from ca. 1895 anc l e x a popular song about a Dutch- 
man's dog. 
Barleycorn, John. Malt liquor : C 16-20 ; coll. since ca. 1780. 

Barmy. Crazy ( 1851). 15. 

Barnacle. A persistent hanger-on : C 17. A good job easily got : C 17-18. 

Bamet Fair. Hair ( 1859). 274, 

Barney. Humbug, cheating ( 1865). 

Barn-Stormer. A strolling player ( 1874). Depreciatory. 224. 

Barrage. Any excessive number or quantity : 1917 + ; ob. 118. 

Barrel-Fever. Drunkenness ( 1790). 

Barrikin. Unintelligible talk. From ca. 1850. CL barracking (Australian). 

fearrow-Bunter. A female costermonger ( 1770, long f). 

Barrow-Man. A costermonger : C 17-19. Soon > coll. 

Barts. St. Bartholomew's Hospital, London ( 1890). 

Basket ! He or they can't pay ! A C 17-18 cock-fighting term. 

Baste. To flog. C 16-19. 

Bastile. A prison : from late C 18, chiefly c. 

Bat. A batman, an Army officer's servant : G.W. + ; ob. 

Bat, Off One's Own. Unaided ( 1845). 

Batch. To do one's own cooking ( i SBo). Ex bachelor ; orig. American. 

Batchy. Silly ; unnerved ; insane, C 20. Cf. batty, q.v. 

Bath, Go To ! Be ofE ! ( 1840,) 

Batt. A battalion : C 20, esp. G.W. 

Battle Bowler. A steel helmet : officer's slang, 1916-19. ; ob. 

Batty. Mad, much or slightly : late C 19-20. Ex bats in the belfry. 

Bawbees. Money ( 1900) ; ex bawbee, an old Scotch coin. 25. 

Bayswater Captain. A sponger ( 1913, ob.). 

Bazaar Rumour. A baseless rumour : 1882 + ; > t ca - J 9i4- 2 54- 

Beachcomber. A (gen. Pacific) seashore loafer ( 1850). Now coll. 

Beak. A policeman : C 16 (as beck)-iS ; a magistrate : C 18-20. 270. 

Be-All and End-All. The whole (C 20) ; in Shakespeare as be-all. 


Beam-Ends, Be on One's. To be in a bad way. Orig. be thrown on 

(_ 1843). 

Bean, Not Worth a. Worthless ( 1300) ; now coll. Bean, the head :C 20. 
Bean-Feast A jollification. From ca. 1880. 
Beano. A bean-feast ( 1890, orig. printers'). 
Beans, Give one. To thrash ( 1890). 
Beany. Spirited : 1852, ob. 
Bear. A Stock Exchange speculator for a fall in price ( 1744)- *>7> 

168, 172. 
Bear-Garden. A scene of noise and disorder ( 1800). Bear-garden jaw, 

" rude, vulgar language " (Grose, 1785). 
Be-Argered. Quarrelsomely drunk ( 1874). 
Beauty Sleep. Sleep before midnight ( 1850). Now coll. 
Beaver. A beard or bearded-man : C 20. 
Beaver-Tail. A feminine mode of wearing the hair : ca. 1860. 
Bedpost, In the Twinkling of A. Very quickly : C 17-19. 
Bed-Sitter. A bed sitting-room : C 20. 124, 208, 271. 
Beef. Human flesh ( 1862). 
Beef-Witted. Stupid : C 16-19* Soon > coll. 
Beer, Think No Small, of Oneself. To be conceited ( 1840). 
Beer and Skittles, Not All. Not too easy or pleasant ( 1870). 
Beerocracy. Brewers and publicans ( 1881). 
Bees and Honey. Money : C 20. 

Beetle-Crnsher. A large foot ( 1869). An infantryman ( 1890). 
Be Good ! A parting expression of goodwill ( 19)- 
Belch. Poor beer. From ca. 1700. 
Belcher. A blue handkerchief white-spotted (1812). Ex a famous 

boxer. 236. 

Beldam(e). A virago : C 16-20. Soon coll. 
Bellows. The lungs : C 17-19. Likewise soon coll. 
Bell-Wether. Pejorative for a leader : from ca. 1400. 
Below the Belt. Unfair ( 1890). 12. 
Belt. To thrash : C 17-20. 
Ben. A theatrical benefit ( 1872). 224. 
Bencher. A haunter of taverns : C 19. (Perhaps much earlier). 
Bench-Winner. Anything first-class ( 1909). Ex dog-shows ( 1897). 
Bend, On the. Dishonestly ( 1863). 

Bender. Sixpence : late C 18-20 ; ob. 87. On a bender or drunk (1860). 
Bender, Over the. Untrue ( 1874). 
Bendigo. A rough fur cap (- 1874). Ex a famous boxer. 
Bengi. An onion ( 1890 Army). 
Benjy. A low, broad-brimmed straw hat ( 1883). 
Bermudas, the. A Covent Garden district (disreputable : C 17-18). 
Bespeak Night. A theatrical benefit : ca. 1830-60. 
Bester. (Racing) a welsher. From ca. 1850. 
Bethel, Little. A Nonconformist chapel. Orig. Bethel (1840). 
Better Half. A wife : in general use from ca. 1830 ; coll. since ca. 1900. 
Betty. A burglar's tool : C 17-19 low. 32. 
Betty About. To fuss about, esp. in the home ( 1890). 
Sever. Liquor ( 1913) ; ex bever, an afternoon meal (C 16-20). 
Bevvy. A drink, esp. of beer : C 19-20. 

Bible-Puncher. A clergyman ( 1913) ; bible-pounder ( 1890). 
Biff. A blow ( 1890) ; orig. U.S. 17, 205. 
Biffin. A companion ( 1850). 
Big Bird, the. (Theatrical) a hissing (1860). 226. 
Big Noise. An important person : from ca. 1902 ; orig. U.S. 
Big, Talk. To boast : C 18-20. 
Bike. A bicycle ( 1900) ; since G.W. ; coll. 


Bilbo(a). The sword of a mffler : C 17-18 ; f by 1810. 

Bilge. Nonsense ; rubbish : C 20. 125. 

Bilgewater. Inferior beer : C 19-20. 

Bilk. To cheat ; C 17-20. S.E. in C 19-20. 

Bilker. A swindler : C 19-20. 

Billet. A post, a job : 1870 +, ex the Army. Now coll. 

Billingsgate. Foul language. From Restoration times. 

Bill-of-Sale. Widow's weeds ( 1690). 

Billy-Fencer. A marine-store dealer ( 1874, chiefly c.). 

Billy-Roller. A long stout stick ( 1840, f)- 

Binder. An egg. Cockneys 1913. 

Binge. A drinking bout (Oxford University 1890) ; in G.W., an 

eating-and-drinking expedition : see Brophy and Partridge's Songs 

and Slang of the British Soldier, 1931. 258. 
Bingo. Brandy, or other spirituous liquor ( 1690). Probably 

b (= brandy) + stingo, q,v. 
Bint. A girl : G.W. + ; ob. Ex Arabic. 
Bird, harlot : C 20. 

Bird, Get the. To be hissed (theatrical 1890). 125, 225. 
Birdlime. Time : 1859. A recruiting sergeant : C 20. 24. 
Birthday Suit. Nudity ( 1771). 
Bishop, to. Burn marks into a horse's teeth, to make look younger 

( 1727). 

Bit of Bull. Beef: C 19. 
Bit of Stuff. A conceited, " dressy " young man ( 1874} ; an attractive 

girl (ditto). For the latter, Marryat has, in 1834, piece of stuff. 
Bitch, to. Spoil, ruin ; bungle : late C 18-20. 182 ; cf. 210. Now coll. 
Bite. A Yorkshireman ( 1883). 
Bivvy. Beer : Cockneys 1874 ; cf. bever, q.v. A bivouac : C 20 ; 

loosely of any makeshift shelter : G.W. 
Biz. Business ( 1874) ; orig. American. 26. 
Blab. To divulge secrets : C 17-20. In C 20, coil. 
Black Art. Burglary : c., C 16-18 ; an undertaker's work ( 1861). 
Black Books, Be in One's. To l?e out of favour : late C 16-20. Now coll. 
Black Box. A lawyer : C 17-19. 31, 185. 
Black Cattle. Clergyman ( 1890) .; lice { 1840). 
Black Coat. A clergyman : C 17-19. 
Black Diamonds. Coal ( 1849) ; a " rough diamond " ( 1874, f by 


Black Dog, Blush Like a. I.e., not ; to be shameless. C 17. 
Black Hole, the. Cheltenham ( 1878). Ex numerous India-residents, 

ultimately ex the Black Hole of Calcutta (1856). 
Black Ivory. Negro slaves ( 1900). Now coll. 
Blackleg. A man willing to work when others are on strike ( 1865) ; 

earlier (ca. 1770-1840), a turf swindler. 
Black Maria. A prison van ( 1874). 
Blacksmith's Daughter. A key ( 1859). 
Bladder of Lard. A bald-headed person ( 1864). 
Blade. A free-and-easy, good-natured fellow (1870), C 16-18, a 


Blanket Drill. An afternoon siesta : C 20 Army. 
Blanket Fair. Bed ( 1890) ; cf. Bedfordshire (C 18-20, ob.). 
Blarney. Soft-spoken flattery : C 18-20. Now coll. 
Blatherskite. A senseless boaster or boasting ; U.S. ex English dialect. 
Blazes. Hell : esp. in drunk as blazes ( 1830), go to blazes ! ( 1851). 
Blazing. An intensive adj., as in a blazing shame. ( 1900). 
Bleater. The victim of a shark or a sharp : C 17-18 low slang. 
Bleeder. A fellow ; cf. blighter. A person apt to bleed. C 20. 191. 


Bleed the Monkey. To steal rum from the mess (naval 1889). 
Blether, occ. Blather, Blither. Foolish or idle chatter : C 16-20. (Coll.) 
Blighter. A fellow, a man. From ca. 1895- *57> 2 9i- 
Blighty. England ; home, or a wound taking one there : 1915 +. Ex 

Hindustani. 118, 261. 
Blind. A pretence, an excuse : from ca. 1660 ; coll. since ca. 1850. 

Adj., helplessly drunk : C 20. Also, a drinking expedition : 1915 -f . 

258. (In C 17-18, c. for tipsy not necessarily very tipsy). 
Blind Man's Holiday* Twilight (1700) ; C 16-17, night, the dark. 
Blinder, To Take a. To die : c. 1890. 
Blink. A cigarette stump : C2O. 

Blinker. An, esp. black, eye ( 1816) ; a fellow, a man ( 1914). 
Blitz. N. and v. An air-raid, or series; to air-raid (WWz). 
Bloat. An offensive pejorative for a person : ca. 1800-1850. 
Blob. (Cricket) a nought scored by a batsman : from ca. 1898. 236. 
Block or Blackhead. A very stupid person, gen. male : C 16-20 ; coll. 

since ca. 1800. 56, 131, 290. 

Bloke. A fellow, a man. From ca. 1850. 97, 108 ; cf. 210 ; 290. 
Blood. A dandy : 1550-1660 ; an aristocratic roisterer : ca. 1660-1850 ; 

a setter of fashion : ca. 1850 + (university, public school). 83. 
Blood and Thunder. Port and brandy mixed ( 1870). Ob. 
Blood and Thunder Tales. Sensational fiction ; orig. U.S. ( 1876). 
Bloods. Wall flowers ( I99)- 
Bloody. A lurid intensive, adj. and adv. ; esp. from ca. 1840 ; before 

1750, respectable. {See whole essay in my Words, Words, Words !) 
Bloomer. A bad mistake ( 1889). Perhaps a collision of blooming error. 
Blooming. A mild and almost meaningless intensive. Euphemizing 

bloody (1726). 12. 

Blossom Nose. A hard drinker ( 1913). 
Blotto. Drunk : from ca. 1905. 258. 
Blow-Book. A book containing smutty pictures : C 18. 
Blow-Out. A feast ( 1825). 
Blowing-up. A scolding ; from ca. 1840. 

Blowsy. (Of a wench) very untidy : C 18-20 ; ob. Soon coll., then S.E. 
Blub, to. Weep ( 1890). Short for blubber (C 16 +). 
Blubber and Guts. Obesity : low ( 1890). 
Bludger. A violent thief ( 1856) : either low or c. 
Blue. A policeman ( 1851) ; gen. in plural. 50, 93. 
Blue, In the. Astray ; out of touch : from ca. 1912. Perhaps ex aviation. 
pltae, Make the Air. To curse and swear ( 1870). 
Blue Apron. A tradesman : C 18. 
Blue Devils. Acute mental depression : from ca. 1780. C 19*20, often 


Blue Funk. Abject fear ( 1856). Cf. 202, 203. 
Blue Gown. An immoral woman ( 1913, f)- 

Blue Moon, Once in a. Very rarely ( 1859 ; in other forms, C 16-18). 
Blue Murder (s). Cries of terror : a tremendous racket ( 1874). 
Blue Ruin, Gin ( 1820) ; in C 18 it was blue tape or sky blue. 
Blue Skin. A Presbyterian : C 17-18. 
Blunt. Money : C 18-19. Etymology obscure : see my Grose's Vulgar 

Blurb. A publisher's description of a work, on that work : from 1921. 

181, 303. 

Blur-Paper. A scribbler ( 1913, f)- 
Blurry. A slurring of bloody : C 20. 
Biushet. A modest girl : Ben Jonson ; f- 

Board. To accost : after ca. 1660, coll. ; in C 19-20, mostly nautical. 
Board of Green Cloth. A billiard table (C 18-19) ; card table (C 19). 


Bob. A shilling ( 1812, orig. c.). 

Bobbajee. A cook : a Regular Army term from ca. 1890. 

Bobbery. A noise : a disturbance ( 1803 : cf. O.E.D., F. & H. f and 


Bobbish. Lively. 1813 onwards. 
Bobby. A policeman (1828) ; ex Mr. (later Sir) Robert Peel ; cf. Peeler, 

Bobby-Dazzler. Anything brilliant, whether object, action, or person : 

C. 20. 25. 

Bobby's Job. An easy post or job : C 20, esp. G.W. 
Boche. N. and adj., German : 1914. Direct ex French ( 1874). 258, 261. 
Body-Snatcher. A bailiff : C 18 ; a policeman : C 19, t ; a stretcher- 
bearer : G.W. 24. 

Boglander or Bog-Trotter. An Irishman : C 17-18. Perhaps rather, coll. 
Bog-Oranges. Potatoes : late C 18-19, t- So many come from Ireland. 
Boil One's Lobster. To change one's profession from Church to Army : 

C 18-19, t- 

Boiling, the Whole. The whole lot : ca. 1835-1930. 
Boko. The nose ( 1830) ; occ. boco. 259. 
Boko. Much, many : G.W. + ; ob. Ex French beaucoup. 
Bolt, to. Run away : C 17-20. Now coll. verging on S.E. 
Bolus. An apothecary : C 18-19 ; a physician : C 19. t- J 95- 
Bombay Duck. Dried bummelo, an Indian fish ( 1800). 
Bombo, Bumbo. Cold punch ( 1771). 
Bon. Good : 1914 +- The French word. 
Bonce, Bonse. The head : late C 19-20. 203. 
Bone, to. Steal ( 1748 ; orig. c.). To arrest : C 18-20. 
Bone-Box. The mouth : C 18-19. 
Bone-Orchard. A cemetery : C 20. 
Bone-Polisher, The cat-o'-nine-tails : C 19. 
Bone-Shaker. In C 20 a noisy bicycle. The term arose ca. 1874 : the early 

bicycle, first ridden in Paris in 1864, was solid-tyred. 
Bone-Shop. A workhouse ( 1900). 

Bones, Feel It in One's. To have a presentiment ; orig., ca. 1880, U.S. 
Bones, Make No. Gen. with about it : Not to hesitate : C 16-20. Coll. 

since ca. 1700. 

Bonnet-Man. A Highlander ( 1900, f). 
Bono. Good : circus C 19-20. 
Booby, Beat the. To warm oneself by striking each hand against one's 

opposite side ( 1883). 

Book, Suit One's. To fit in with one's plans ( 1852). Ex the turf. 
Bookie. A bookmaker. From ca. 1880. 239, 241-7 passim, 290. 
Books, the Devil's. A pack of playing cards : C 17-19. -Rather, coll. 
Boost. A raid or attack ; heavy bombardment : G.W. 
Boot. To punish with a strap (Army 1890 ; orig. with a boot-jack). 
Booth-Burster. A loud, noisy actor ; a ranting barnstormer ( 1890). Ob. 
Boots. A hotel hand affected to boot-cleaning and odd jobs : C 19-20, 
Boots, to Have One's Heart in One's. Be very apprehensive ( 1900). 
Booze, Bouse. A drink ; liquor ; drinking-bout. C 17-20. Orig. c. 

45, 212. 
Booze, Bouse, to. Drink liquor ; drink to excess : C 16-20 ; orig. c. 

19, 268. 
Boozer. A public-house : C 19-20 ; a drunkard : late C 18-20. 160 ; 

cf. 226. 

Bo-Peep. N. and v., sleep ; C 20. 

Borachio. A drunkard : C 17-18. Earlier, a goatskin holding wine. 
Bosh. Nonsense ; introduced by Morier's Ayesha, 1834. Expletive from 

ca. 1850. 


Bosky. Drunk ( 1748). 

Boss. A master, chief ; a " swell " : C 19-20. Orig. U.S. 

Bossers. Spectacles ( 1890). Ob. Prob. ex boss-eyed. 

Botanical Excursion. Transportation to Botany Bay : ca. 1820-1865. 

Botch. A tailor : C 18-19. 

Bottie-Holder. A second at a prize fight ( 1753) ; hence, a supporter 

( 1851). Now coll. 

Bounce. Brag, swagger, boastful lie : C 18-20. 
Bounder. A fellow of objectionable manners, hovering on the verge of 

good society ( 1890). 255. 
Bow and Arrow. A sparrow : C 20 . 

Bow, Draw the Long. To exaggerate ( 1820) ; coll. since ca. 1880. 
Bow, Two Strings to One's. An alternative ; other resources : C 16-20 ; 

coll. since ca. 1700. 

Bowl Out. To defeat, get the better of : from ca. 1810. Ex cricket. 234, 
Bo(w)man, AH's. All's well ( 1830), f- Ex boman, a gallant fellow. 
Bow-Window. A corpulent stomach ( 1840). In U.S., bay window. 
Box Harry, to. Take lunch (occ. dinner) and tea together (commercial 

travellers 1874). 
Boy. Champagne {- 1882), f- 
Brace of Shakes, In a. In a moment ( 1868) ; with couple for brace 

(- 1837). 

Brads. Money; orig. c ; from ca. 1810. Cigarettes: C 20. 162. 
Brain-Pan. The head : C 16-20. In C 18-20, coll. Rather ob. 
Brains, Beat One's. To think hard ( 1800) ; in C 20, coll. 
Brains, Suck a Person's. To get information not quite honestly ( 1790). 
Brain-Worm. A shifty controversialist ( 1913). 
Brass. Impudence ( 1642) ; money (from late C 16). i, 25, 163. 
Brass Hats. Generals and Staff Officers : 1915 + 8 ; cf. 252 ; 258. 
Brass-Knocker. Broken victuals : tramps 1874, k- 
Brass off, to. Grumble : C 20, mainly Army. 

Bread and Butter. A letter thanking one's very recent hostess : C 20. 
Bread and Jam. A tram : C 20. 
Bread and Pullet. Just bread ( 1913). 
Bread-Basket. The stomach : from ca. 1750. 164. 
Break One's Back. To go bankrupt : C 17-19. 
Break the Ice. To make a beginning : C 17-20; by 1750, coll. ;by 

1820, S.E. 

Breakdown. A general physical collapse : from ca. 1870; mental 1900. 
Breaky Leg. Strong drink ( 1874). Ob. 
Breather. A respite ( 1900) ; ex a period allowed for breathing 

(- 1840). 

Breeze. A disturbance ( 1785). V., to boast : C 20. 
Breeze Up. " Funky/' afraid : 1916 + ; ob. Cf. wind up, q.v. 
Brekker. Breakfast ( 1890). 211. 
Brewer's Horse. A drunkard : C 19. 
Brick. A good fellow, loyal and manly ( 1840). 205. 
Bricklayer's Clerk. A lubberly sailor ( 1850). Ob. 
Bride and Groom. A broom : C 20. 
Brief. A ticket of any kind : orig. (- 1859) c. 
Briny, the. The sea ( 1856). 
Bristol Milk. Sherry : C 17-19. Mostly coll. 
Broad Brim. A Quaker : C 18-19. Rather, coll. 
Brolly. An umbrella ( 1874). 2O 3* 271. 
Broody. Absent-minded, dull : C 20. 
Broom, to. Run away : C 19. 

Broomstick, Jump the. To go through a mock marriage : C 18-19. 
Broughtonian. A boxer : C 18-19. 
Browbeat To bully : C 16-20. Coll. in C 17-18, S.E. in C 19-20. 


Brown. A copper coin : esp. a halfpenny ; from ca. 1812. 93, 102, 109. 

Brown, Do. To swindle utterly ( 1840). CL done brown. 

Browned Off. Disgusted, disgruntled, depressed ( 1930, > common in 1940). 

Bruiser. A boxer ( 1744) ; coll. since ca. 1800. 

Brum. Spurious ( 1883). Short for Brummagem, Birmingham. In 

C 17, a counterfeit coin. 

Brush One's Jacket To thrash ( 1890). Earlier, brush one's coat. 
"Bryant and Mays. Stays : C 20. 
Bub. Alcoholic drink : C 17-19. 89, 269. 
Bubble. To cheat : late C 17-19. A cheat : C 18-19. &>, 66. 
Bubble and Squeak. Potatoes and cabbage fried together ( 1890) ; 

earlier ( 1785), beef and cabbage thus fried. Now almost S.E. 
Bubbly. Champagne : late C 19-20. 
Bubbly Jock. A turkey cock ( 1785), ob. 274. 
Buck. A dashing fellow, a dandy : ca. 1720-1840. Soon coll. 
Buck. Sixpence ( 1874, f). 
Bucket, Kick the. To die ( 1785). 

Buckle. A Jew : C 20. Abbreviated rhyming slang : buckle my shoe. 
Buckle To, to. Begin hard work, to work vigorously ; C 18-20. 
Buckles. Fetters : C 17-18 ; soon coll. 
Bud. A debutante ( 1913, f). 
Buddoo. An Arab : C 20, esp. G.W. 
Budge, to. Move : from ca. 1590 ; coll, by 1700. 
Budgy. Drunk: 1819. 
Buff, In. Naked : C 17-19. In C 19, coll. 
Buff It, to. Swear firmly ; stand firm : C 19, low at first, 
Buff, Say Neither, Nor BafL To say nothing : C 15 17 ; in C 17, coll. 
Buffer. A fellow, a man : C 18-19 ; from ca. 1870, gen. old buffer. 
Buffle. A fool : C 16-18. Perhaps rather, coll. 
Bug. An Englishman : C 18-19 Irish slang. 
Bug the Writ. (Bailiffs) to delay service : C 18. 
Bug-Shooter. A volunteer ( 1899). 
Bug-Walk. A bed ( 1874). Ob, 
Bulk. A pickpocket's assistant : C 17-18 c. 
Bulky. A policeman ( 1871). North Country. 
Bull. A blunder ( 1642) ; coll. since ca. 1800, S.E. in C 20. 
Bull. A Stock Exchange speculator for a rise ( 1860). 167, 168, 172. 
Bull a Teapot. To get a second brew from leaves already used ( 1890, 


Bull-Dance. One with men only : nautical 1867 ; also a stag-ddnce. 
Bull-Dog. A pistol: 18-19. 

Bullfinch. A fence difficult to jump ( 1864) ; earlier as adj. 233. 
Bullock's Liver. A river : C 20. 
Bullock's Horn. To pawn ; in pawn ( 1874). 275. 
Bull's-Eye* A sweetmeat of peppermint ( 1825). 
Bully. A prostitute's protector ( 1706) ; coll. in C 19 ; S.E. in 20. 
Bully Beef. Tinned beef : from ca. 1880 ; in G.W., j. 
Bully-Trap. A mild-looking man well able to protect himself : C 18. 
Bum Card. A marked playing card : C 20 low. 
Bumbaste. To thrash : C 16-19. In C 19, coll. 
Bumble. A beadle : ex Dickens's Oliver Twist. Now coll. 
Bumbledom. Ptetty officialism : from ca. 1856. In C 20, S.E. 
Bum-Brusher. A schoolmaster : C 18-19. 

Bumf. Paper, esp. toilet paper : from ca. 1880. Ex bum-fodder : C 17-20. 
Bummer. A heavy loss ; orig. turf ( 1890, ob.). 
Bun, Take the. To gain first place ( 1890) ; C 20, to cap the lot. 
Bunce. Profit : from ca. 1850. 
Buncer. A seller on commission ( 1890). 


Bunch of Fives. The hand ( 1850). Cf. 87 ; 236. 

Bung. A brewer ( 1863). 

Bunged-Up. (Eyes) closed ( 1900). 

Bunk, to. Depart hurriedly : from ca. 1870. 203, 205. 

Bunter. A prostitute : 18-19. 

Burglars. Bulgarians : G.W. 

Burgoo or Burgue. Oatmeal porridge : 1750 +. Ex burghul, Turkish 

for wheat-porridge. 

Burick. A woman ( 1851) ; earlier, a prostitute. 
Burke, to. Smother, strangle : from ca. 1830, ex a famous murderer. 

Hush up (1840). Soon coll. 96. 
Bum, to. Cheat, swindle : C 17-18 : c. Cf. 253. 
Burn-Crust. A baker : C 18-20. 
Burr. A hanger-on or a sponger : C 17-19- In C 20, a too persistent 


Burst An access of energy ( 1890, orig. sporting). Now S.E. 
Bus. An omnibus : 1832 ; in C 20, coll. An aeroplane : 1914 +. 27, 

86, 96, 259, 3 28 - 

Bust. A drunken spree (1860) ; orig. U.S. 
Buster. A small new loaf, a large coarse bun. From ca. 1820. 
Busy Sack. A carpet bag ( 1874) ; ob. 170. 
Butcher. The king in a pack of cards ( 1874). 
Butchers. A look : C 20. Short for butcher's hook. Cf. butchers in 

Australian vocabulary. 

Butcher's Bill. The casualty list after a battle ( 1881). 
Butter. Gross flattery, fulsome adulation ( - 1820). Now coll. 
Butter-Fingers. A clumsy catcher (cricket 1837) or holder. 236. 
Buttle. To be, perform as a, butler : from ca. 1909. 
Button-Bu(r)ster. A low comedian ( 1890). 
Button-Catcher. A tailor ( 1890). 
Buttons. A page-boy ( 1850). Now coll. 
Buy. To receive (often foolishly) something undesired or unexpected : 

from ca. 1910. 
By-Blow. An illegitimate child : C 16-20. Coll. after ca. 1700. 51. 

C. 3. Inferior ; mean : 1916 +. From Army category of men wholly 

unfit. 259. 
Cab. A vehicle plying for hire ( 1830) ; coll. after 1860 ; in C 20, S.E. 

27, 124. 

Cabbage. A cigar, esp. if inferior ( 1848). 
Cabbage-Gelder. A market-gardener : a greengrocer ( 1896). 
Cabbage-Plant An umbrella ( 1891, t) 
Cabby. A cab-driver ( 1852) ; coll. in C 20. 
Cable, to. Send a cablegram (1871). Since G.W,, S.E. 
Cackle. Dialogue of a play ( 1887). V., tell a secret. C 17-18 low. 226. 
Cackler. An actor ( 1854). 
Cad. An underbred person ( 1840) ; an omnibus conductor ( 1836, f)- 

Probably ex cadet. 86, 206. 
Cady. A hat ( 1886). 265. 

Cage. A prison, esp. if small ( 1748). S.E. in C 17. 
Cagg Oneself, to. Swear off drink : C 18 military. 
Cain and Abel. A table ( 1859). 275. 
Cain, to Raise. To create a disturbance ; orig. U.S. ( 1850). 
Cake Walk. Something unexpectedly easy : from ca. 1914 ; ob. 
Cakes, like Hot Quickly ( 1888) ; orig. U.S. ( 1861). 
Calf. A weakling : C 16-20. Rather coll. ; the O.E.D. considers it S.E. 
Califomian. A red herring ( 1873) " cf. Atlantic ranger, q.v. 
Cambridge Oak. A willow : C 18-19. Soon > coll. 


Cambridgeshire (or fen) Nightingale. A frog ( 1875). 

Camel's Complaint. Mental depression (1891). Ex the hump. 

Camister. A clergyman : C 19 c. ex camisia on minister. 

Camouflage. Concealment ; " eye-wash, " q.v. : 1917 -f* Also adj. and 

v. 118. 

Canary. A mistress : C 18-19. 
Candle, Burn the, At Both Ends. To work early and late ( 1660). 

From ca. 1700, colL 
Cane, to. Shell, esp. heavily : G.W. 
Canister. The head ( 1811), ob. 
Cank. Dumb : C 17-18. 

Cannon-Balis. Irreconcilable opponents of free trade : 1850-1860. 
Cant. Thieves' slang : C 18-20 ; orig. slang. See Index at cant. 
Cant. Hypocrisy : C 18-20. S.E. from ca. 1840. 
Cant. (Boxing) a blow : C 18. 

Cantankerous. Ill-conditioned ; cross-grained : C 18-20. Coll. 1800 + 
Canteen Medals. Beer-stains on breast of a tunic : pre-G.W. Army. 
Canticle. A parish clerk : C i8-early 19. 
Canting Crew. The underworld : ca. 1660-1820. 
Canvas Town. A tent-encampment or town. From ca. 1850 ; coll. by 


Cap. Captain ( - 1900). Only in the vocative. 
Cap. To take of! one's cap or hat to : C 16-19. Soon coll. 
Cap, Set One's, at. To try to interest a man's affections ( 1773). Co11 - 

since ca. 1800. 

Cape of Good Hope. Soap : C 20. 
Caper-Merchant. A dancing-master : C 18. 
Capon. A eunuch : C 17-18. 
Capon, Yarmouth. A herring : C 17-19. 

Captain. A jocular term of address : prefigured in Shakespeare. Cf. cap. 
Captain Cook. A book : C 20. 

Captain Cork. A man slow to pass the bottle : C 19 Army. 
Card. A quaint character ( 1835). 

Card, to Play One's Best. Do one's best or shrewdest ( 1880). 
Cardinal. A shoeblack : ca. 1880-1910. 
Cardinal's Blessing. A worthless benediction : C 19. 
Care-Grinder, occ. preceded by the vertical. A treadmill ( 1883, ob.). 
Carney. Soft-spoken coaxing or flattery ( 1850) ; orig. dialect, whence 

the a., sly, artful (C 20). Perhaps ex L. caro, oarnis, flesh. 
Carpet, On the. Being reprimanded ; under discussion. ( 1874). 
Carrion-Hunter. An undertaker : ca. 1750-1850. Soon coll. 
Carrots. A red-headed person : C 17-20. 
Carry Me Out ! This indicates surprise or ironic displeasure : ca. 1850- 


Cart, In the. Defeated ; in a " fix " : C 19. 
Casabianc(a). The last one, esp. of cigarettes : C 20. 
Caser. Five shillings ( 1874). Ex Yiddish ; in C 19, c., and in C 20, 

racing. 242. 

Cask. A small brougham : ca. 1850-1890. 
Castor. A hat : C 17-19. Orig. S.E. 
Castor-Oil Artist or Merchant. A doctor : C 20. 
Cat. A spiteful woman ( 1900). Rather, coll. 

Catch 'Em All Alive, oh ! (or Alive-o). A catch-phrase, 1850-1900. 88. 
Cat, SJioot the. To vomit : C 19-20 ; C 17-18, jerk the cat. 
Cat? Tame. A too domesticated man : C 19. 
Cat-Lap. Tea, esp. if weak : C 18-19, 
Cat-Stabber. A bayonet : G.W. 
Catch. A wealthy, matrimonially desirable person : C 19-20. Now coll. 


Catch a Crab* To miss the water in rowing : C 18-20. 

Catch E f m Alive ! A fly-paper : from ca. 1850. 

Catch It. To receive a scolding ( 1835). 

Catgut-Scraper. A violinist : C 18-19. 

Cats and Dogs, to Rain. Rain heavily ( 1700), 

Cat's-Paw, Live under the. To be henpecked : C 19. 

Cat's-Water. Gin : 19, Suggested by old Tom, the same. 

Cauliflower. A clerical wig fashionable in Queen Anne's time. 

Caution. Any person or thing surprising or odd ( 1835). Orig. U.S. 

Cave ! Beware \ (School slang 1800. 

Cavort, to. Prance about, frisk. ' Orig. ( 1850), U.S. 

Caw-Handed or Pawed. Clumsy : 17-19. 

Celestial Poultry. Angels ( 1890). 

Cent-per-Cent. A usurer : C 17-19. Rather, coll. 

Cert. A certainty ( 1889). 

Chaffer. The mouth : C 19. 

Chalk Farm. The arm ( 1859), which, in C 20, often > fire alarm. 274, 


Chalk Up. To consider in a person's favour : from ca. 1890. 
Cham. Champagne ( 1871). Pronounced sham, whence many puns. 
Chamber of Horrors. Sausage(s) ( 1891). 
Chant, A song sung in the street : C 19 : c. > low slang. 
Chant(e)y or Shanty, A song sung at work : sailors 1869. In C 20, 


Char. Tea : C 20 Army. Ex Hindustani. 

Character. A person in some way odd or eccentric ( 1773). Now coll, 
Char(e). An odd job, esp. of housework : C 18-19 ; more coll. than 

Charley. A night watchman : 1640-1829. Ex reorganization by 

Charles L 
Charley Lancaster. A handkerchief : rhymes with handkercher. ( 1860). 


Charm. A picklock : mainly C 18. 
Charming Wife. A knife : C 20. 
Chats. Lice: C 17-20. Ex chattels. Also v., de-louse : G.W. +. 72, 

261-2, 292. 

Chatty. Lousy ( 1812). 
Chaw. A yokel ( - 1856) ; earlier chawbacon. 

Cheap, Feel. To feel indisposed ( 1891) ; after G.W., to feel small. 
Cheats. False cuffs : C 17-18 (rare in C 19). 

Cheero ! Cheerio ! An officers', a men's, salutation : G.W. +. J i8. 
Cheese, The. The real thing : first-class ( 1820). Ex Hindustani. 283. 
Cheese-Toaster. A sword : C 18-19. In G.W., a bayonet. 253. 
Cherry Ripe, A pipe ( 1859). 274. In c., a woman. 
Chew the Fat. To grumble ( 1891 Army). Also, to sulk : G.W. 259. 
Chew the Rag. To grumble (- 1891 Army). 289. 
Chickaleary. Artful : costers 1869. Gen. chickaleary cove. 152. 
Chicken, No. Elderly : Swift in 1720. Now coll. 
Chicken Perch. A church : C 20. 
Chimney. A constant smoker ( 1891). 
Chimney-Pot. A tell silk hat ( 1864). 

China. A companion. Short for china plate, mate : C 20. 276, 286. 
Chin-Chin ! Good health ! ( 1893.) Ex Chinese. 206, 258. 
Chink(s). Money : C 16-19. 25 \ 
Chinkers. Money ( 1834). 269. 

Chips. A carpenter: C 18-20. Also money : C 19-20, ob. 111,162. 
Chisel, to. Swindle, cheat ( 1844), Earlier in dialect. 
Chit. A child : C 17-20 ; ob. Perhaps pejorative rather than slangy. 


Chiv(v)y. To chase, harass ( 1840). 

Chokey. A prison ( 1836) ; a prison cell ( 1889). 

Chop, to. Change, barter : C 16-20 ; ob. Rather coll. than slang. 

Chow. Food : nautical in C 19, gen. in C 20. 

Chronic. Persistent ; vaguely or definitely unpleasant : 1896, says Ware. 

Chuck. Food ; orig. ( 1850) c. 

Chuck a Dummy. To faint ( 1900). 164. 

Chuckaway. A lucifer match. Rhyming Bryant and May ( 1009). 

Chucldng-Out Time. (Public-house) closing time ( 1909). Cf. 160. 

Chuffy. Surly : C 19. Ex dialectal chuff, churlish, morose. 

Chum". A companion : from ca. 1680. A friend : C 19-20. 56, 100, 206. 

Chump. A fool ( 1883). 239. 

Churched. Married ( 1900). 

Cinderella. A dance ceasing at midnight : from ca, 1880. Soon > coll. 

Circs. Circumstances : from ca. 1870. 

Civi, Civvy. A civilian : G.W. Civvies, civilian clothes ( 1891 Army). 

40, 264. 

Clack. A woman's tongue : late C 16-19. A rumour : C 20. 
Claret. Blood : C 17-20, ob. 
Clean. Entirely : C 19-20. Now coll. 
Clerked. Imposed upon : C 18-19 ; orig. c. 
Clerk's Blood. Red ink ( 1830), t- 

Click, to. To act as barker, q.v. : C 18-19. Ex C 17-18 clicker = barker. 
Click, to., Become acquainted, be " successful," with one of the opposite 

sex : G.W. -f. 118, 126, 257. 
Clincher. An irrefutable argument ( - 1754). 
Clink. A prison : C 16-20. In G.W., a guard-room. 25, 259. 
Clinkers. Fetters : C 17-18. 
Clinking. First-rate, excellent ( 1868). Ob. 
Clip. A smack, esp, on the ear ( 1830). Soon > coll. 
Clobber. Clothes ( 1879) ; orig. low, popularized by G.W. 266. 
Clock. The face: C20. Ex U.S. 

Clock Stopped! No credit given ( 1860). Ex no tick. 
Clodhopper. A ploughman, hence a boor : late C 17-20. Soon coll., 

now S.E. 

Cloth, the. Clergymen : C 18-20. In C 19-20, coll. 
Clothes-peg. A leg: C20. 
Clout A pocket-handkerchief : C 17-18 c. 
Clump, to. Strike heavily ( 1864). 

Clyster-Pipe. An apothecary ( 1785) ; ob. by 1850. 195. 
Coal-Box. The burst of a fg or heavier shell : G.W. 
Coals, Haul over the. To reprimand ( 1800). Earlier vritih fetch. Now coll. 
Cobweb Throat. A dry throat, esp. after drinking ( 1913)* 
Cock. A leader or head ; e.g., of the school ( 1729). Rather, coll. 
Cock-a-Doodle Broth. Beaten eggs with brandy and water (1856). 
Cock and Bull Story. An incredible yarn : C 17-20 ; coll. in C 19-20. 
Cock and Hen. Ten: C20. 243. 

Cock and Hen Club. A club with members of either sex ( 1819). 
Cock-Eyed. Squinting ( 1884) ; coll. in C 20. 

Cock-Shy. A mark at which to throw things ( 1835) ; coll. in C 20. 
Cockalorum. A slightly contemptuous mode of address ( 1815). 
Cocked Hat, Knock into a. To defeat utterly ( 1870). 
Cockney. A Londoner : C 17-20. Slang only at first. 46. 
Cocksure. Very sure in one's opinion : C 17-20 ; coll. in C 18 ; S.E. in 

C 19-20. 

Cocky. Saucy : very confident ( 1711). 
Cod, to. Deceive, hoax, fool : C 19-20. Cf. 183, 227. 
Codger, esp. Old Codger. A familiar term of address or reference ( 1 760) . 



Coffin-Nail. A cigarette ( 1891). 

Coggage. Paper ; a newspaper : C 20 Army ; ex Hindustani. 

Cold Feet. Cowardice ( 1909). 257. 

Cold, (out) in the. Neglected : from ca. 1860 ; probably orig. U.S. 

Cold Pig. A cold jugful as an awakener ( 1791) ; ob. 

Cold Shoulder, the. Deliberate neglect ( 1816). Now coll. 

Cold Storage. Detention cell(s) ; prison : C 20. 

Cold Tea. Brandy : C 17-18. Ex the colour. 

Collar, to. Seize, steal : from ca. 1840. 

College. A prison : C 18-19, In C 17, Newgate. 

Colly-Wobbles. Stomach-ache ( 1853). 

Colney Hatch. A match : C 20. 

Comb One's Hair. To rebuke ( 1830) ; in C 18, comb one's head. 

Come to Grief. (Hunting) have a spill ( 1855) ; in C 20, gen. and fig. 234. 

Come Unstuck. To fail : to be reduced in rank : G.W. +. Influenced by 

French degomme. 

Commandeer. To acquire by bluff : G.W. 4- ; ob. 118. 
Commercial. A commercial traveller ( 1855). 
Commo. A communicating trench : G.W. 
Comp. A compositor ( 1870) 181. 
Compo. (Nautical) a monthly advance of wages ( 1860). 
Compree ? Do you understand ? G.W. -f . The French compris ? 
Confab. A free-and-easy consultation or talk: C 18-20. Ex confabulation. 
Confidence Man. One who plays the confidence trick, game, dodge ( 1880). 
Conflabberated. Upset : bewildered ( 1891). 
Conger. A combine of publisher-booksellers : late C 17-18. 179. 
Conk. The nose ( 1820). Properly conch. 39, 93, 235. 
Conk (Out), to. Fail : 1915 +. Ex aviation. 259. 
Conshie. Properly Conchie. A conscientious objector.: G.W. +. 
Consolidate. To maintain an advantage : to curry favour : 1916 +. 
Constable, to Outrun the. Live beyond one's means ( 1663) ; coll. since 


Continuations. Trousers (1841). Long f. 
Convey. ". . . to steal . . . Convey, the wise it call/' Shakespeare. Now 

" literary " slang. Cf. 50, 53. 

Cookhouse Official. A baseless rumour : G.W. + '> ob. 
Cool. Calmly impudent ( 1830). Actual, e.g., a cool ^1,000 : C 18-20. 


Cooler. A prison ( 1900). Ex American c. ( 1884). 
Coop. A prison ( 1866) ; orig. c. 
Coopered. Spoiled ; ruined. ( 1851, low). 
Coot, Cooty. A louse : C 20 nautical and Cockney ; of Polynesian origin. 


Copper. A policeman ( 1860). 108, 270, 342. 
Corker. Any very large, strong, or emphatic, esp. a blow, a lie ( 1837). 


Corn in Egypt. Abundance ( 1840). Rather, coll >, in C 20, S.E. 
Corned. Drunk : late C 18-20 ; ob. 30, 313. 

Corner. To monopolize a commodity ( 1841) ; orig. U.S. 167, 168, 172. 
Corns and Bunions. Onions : C 20. 
Corporation. A protuberant belly ( 1785). 
Corpse-Provider. A doctor ( 1891). 
Cosh. A life-preserver (- 1864). 
Cosset, to. Spoil with affection : C 16-20. Coll. from ca. 1660, S.E. 

from 1720. 

Coster. A costermonger : from ca. 1850. Cf. 50 ; 151-2. 
Cotton, to Take a fancy to : C 16-17 : then C 19. Now coll. 
Cough-Drop. A marked " character " ( 1895), 


Counter-jumper. A shopman, esp. an assistant. From ca. 1840. 166. 

Cove. A man, a fellow : C 16-20 ; in C 16-18, c. 19, 45, 268, 290. 

Cow. ;i,ooo ( 1870 sporting). 

Cow with the Iron Tail. A pump : late C 18-20 ; oh. 

Coxcomb. A foolish fop, a showy fool : C 16-20. Very rapidly > S.E. 

Crabs. Body lice : C 19-20. Ex C 17-18 crab-lice. 

Crabshells. Boots, shoes. C 18-19 ; orig. Irish. 

Crack. Fashion, vogue, craze : C 18-19 ; ob. by 1830, f by 1880. 81. 

Crack. Adj., first-class, excellent, very stylish : late C 18-20. 86. 

Crack a bottle. To drink : C 18-19. Crack a quart : late C 16-17. 

Cracked. Mad : eccentric : C 19-20 ; S.E. in C 17. 38. 

Crack-jaw. Unpronounceable ( 1876). 

Crack-Pot. A pretentious, worthless person ( 1883). 170-1. 

Cracksman. A housebreaker : C 19-20 ; orig. low. 

Crarn, to. Study or instruct hard for an examination. From ca. 1800. 

Cranberry Eye. An eye bloodshot with heavy drinking ( 1891) ; orig. 


Crash. V. and n., fail(ure). 1914 -f ; ex aviation. 259. 

Crat(h)ur, the. Whisky esp. if Irish ( 1842) ; earlier, any liquor. 

Craw-Thumper. A Roman Catholic : C. 18-19, but long f. 

Create. To grumble ; make a fuss : 1915 +. Short for create a 


Creeps, the. Fear, cause unknown ( 1864). 

Crib. A translation, esp. if used surreptitiously : from ca. 1830. 203. 
Cribbage-Face. One whose face is pitted with small-pox ( 1785, f)- 
Croaker. A gloomy prophet : 18-19. A physician : C 19-20 ; in 

C 1 8, croakus or crocus. 194, 195. 

Crock. A broken-down person, animal, or thing ( 1887). Cf. 222. 
Crocodile. A girls', later any, school walking in pairs ( 1860). 
Crook. A sixpence : C 19 ; in C 18, crookback. 
Crop, County. A very short hair-cut, esp. in prison ( 1867). 
Cropper. A heavy fall, literally and fig. ( 1858). 
Cross-Patch. An ill-tempered person : C 18-20, ob. Latterly, coll. 
Crow. A clergyman ( 1900). 
Crummy. Plump and attractive, chiefly of women ( 1748), f. Lousy 

(- 1850). 

Crush. A large social gathering ( 1854) ; an infatuation, from ca. 1925. 
Crust. The head ( 1891). 
Cubby Hole. A snug place : from ca. 1880. In G.W., a small dug-out 

or shelter. 

differ. A lie : military 1891 ; ob. 

Cully. A dupe : C 17-18 ; a man, a mate : C 17-20. 248, 268. 
Cupboard-Love. Interested affection : C 18-20 ; coll. since 1800, if not 


Cups, in One's. Drunk : C 16-20 ; coll. since 1660. 
Curate. Anything small, esp. a poker, used to save a better one (the 

rector). 1891. 

Cure. A funny, an eccentric person : from ca. 1856. 156. 
Curse of Scotland. The nine of d iamonds : C 1 8-20, ob. Origin mysterious. 
Cursitors. Pettifogging attorneys : C 18. 187. 

Cushion-Smiter. A parson : C 19. C 18 : cushion-duster or -thumper. 30. 
Cushy. Soft, easy, comfortable, safe : 1915 +. Ex Hindustani. 118, 


Cuss. A fellow, a man ( 1883) ; orig. U.S., though from : 
Customer. Also a man, a fellow. Common from ca. 1800, but recorded 

in 1589. (S.O.) 

Cut, to. Snub, pointedly ignore : C 17-20. 207. 
Cut a Dash. To make a show, attract attention ( 1771). 


Cut out For. (Of persons) suited to : late C 19-20. 
Cut Up Rough. To become quarrelsome ( 1837), Now coll. 
Cuthbert. A shirker, esp. in a Government office : G.W. + ,' b. 259. 
Cutty. Short for cutty pipe, a short clay one. ( 1800 ; ex C 18 Scotch.) 
Cyprian. A harlot : late C 16-19 society. 81. 

D., a Big. A. swear-word, lit. a big damn. Ex Gilbert's H.M.S. Pinafore, 

Dab. An expert: 17-20. Dabster -, the same, C 18-20. Actual 

priority uncertain. 

Dace. Twopence: 17-190. A corruption of deuce. 
Daddle. The hand : C 18-20, ob. 84. 
Daddy. A stage-manager ( 1874). 224. 
Daffy-Down-Dilly. A fop ( 1841), f- 

Dag. A heavy pistol : C 16-18, but slang only in 18. A cigarette : C 20. 
Dago. A native of Southern Europe : from ca. 1890, ex. U.S., ex English 

1613. (W.). 32, 290. 
Daily Mail. A tail : C 20. 

Daisy-Cutter. (Cricket) what since G.W. is known as a shooter. ( 1889.) 
Daisy Roots. Boots : C 20 ; often just daisies. In C 19, German flutes. 


Dam, Not Worth a. Valueless : C 18-20. Ex Indian ^ rupee. 283. 
Damp. A drink ( 1836) ; as v., rather later. 
Damper. A wet-blanket ( 1891). 
Dandy. A fop ( 1820) ; coll. 1840-1870 ; then S.E. Earlier, the 

dandy, rectitude. 

Darbies. Handcuffs : C 16-20. Origin obscure. 268. 
Dark, the. Punishment cell in a prison : from ca. 1870. 
Darky. A bull's eye (lantern) : C 19. 

Dash. A tavern drawer or waiter : C 18. A liquor-flavouring ( 1870). 
David's Sow, as Drunk as. Very drunk. Proverbial : C 17-19. 
Davy Jones. The sea. From ca. 1750 ; in C. 19-20, coll. See esp. W. 252. 
Daylights. The eyes : C 18-20. Ob. 
Dead Beat. Meat : C 20. 

Dead Letter. A neglected law or practice : C 18-20 ; after ca. 1860, S.E. 
Dead Meat. A corpse ( 1880). 

Dead-Set. A persistent, unfriendly attempt : C 18-20. 
Dead Soldier or Man or Marine. AJI empty bottle : C 19, C 17-19, C 19-20 


Deader. A corpse : a funeral (Army). Both 1870. 
Deadly Nevergreen. The gallows : C 18. 
Deal Suit. A coffin, esp. parish-provided : from ca. 1850 ; ob. 
Deaner. A shilling ( 1857) ; orig. c., still low.