Twenty-one deceptive and vulgar words

Twenty-one deceptive and vulgar words
Detail of the watercolor "A London Street Scene"
by John Orlando Parry, 1835.

I found a colorful dictionary of old slang terms called the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. I extracted my favorite entries that are related to deception. These words are all cant words, a secret jargon or slang used by 19th Century criminals, hustlers, thieves, rogues and tricksters, or those wanting to be associated with them.

There are a lot of good words, so I’ve only included the entries from A to B. (ADAM-TILER to BARGAIN.) I’ll post some more in the future.



ADAM TILER. A pickpocket’s associate, who receives the stolen goods, and runs off with them.

AMBASSADOR. A trick to duck some ignorant fellow or landsman, frequently played on board ships in the warm latitudes. It is thus managed: A large tub is filled with water, and two stools placed on each side of it. Over the whole is thrown a tarpaulin, or old sail: this is kept tight by two persons, who are to represent the king and queen of a foreign country, and are seated on the stools. The person intended to be ducked plays the Ambassador, and after repeating a ridiculous speech dictated to him, is led in great form up to the throne, and seated between the king and queen, who rising suddenly as soon as he is seated, he falls backwards into the tub of water.

AMUSERS. Rogues who carried snuff or dust in their pockets, which they threw into the eyes of any person they intended to rob; and running away, their accomplices (pretending to assist and pity the half-blinded person) took that opportunity of plundering him.

ANGLERS. Pilferers, or petty thieves, who, with a stick having a hook at the end, steal goods out of shop-windows, grates, etc.; also those who draw in or entice unwary persons to prick at the belt, or such like devices.

APPLE-PIE BED. A bed made apple-pie fashion, like what is called a turnover apple-pie, where the sheets are so doubled as to prevent any one from getting at his length between them: a common trick played by frolicsome country lasses on their sweethearts, male relations, or visitors.

AUTEM MORT. A married woman; also a female beggar with several children hired or borrowed to excite charity.
AWAKE. Acquainted with, knowing the business. Stow the books, the culls are awake; hide the cards, the fellows know what we intended to do.

BARGAIN. To sell a bargain; a species of wit, much in vogue about the latter end of the reign of Queen Anne, and frequently alluded to by Dean Swift, who says the maids of honour often amused themselves with it. It consisted in the seller naming his or her hinder parts, in answer to the question, What? which the buyer was artfully led to ask. As a specimen, take the following instance: A lady would come into a room full of company, apparently in a fright, crying out, It is white, and follows me! On any of the company asking, What? she sold him the bargain, by saying, Mine arse.

BELLY PLEA. The plea of pregnancy, generally adduced by female felons capitally convicted, which they take care to provide for, previous to their trials; every gaol having, as the Beggar’s Opera informs us, one or more child getters, who qualify the ladies for that expedient to procure a respite.

BETTY MARTIN. That’s my eye, Betty Martin; an answer to any one that attempts to impose or humbug.

BISHOPED, or TO BISHOP. A term used among horse-dealers, for burning the mark into a horse’s tooth, after he has lost it by age; by bishoping, a horse is made to appear younger than he is. It is a common saying of milk that is burnt too, that the bishop has set his foot in it. Formerly, when a bishop passed through a village, all the inhabitants ran out of their houses to solicit his blessing, even leaving their milk, etc. on the fire, to take its chance: which, went burnt to, was said to be bishoped.

BLACK ART. The art of picking a lock.

BLACKLEGS. A gambler or sharper on the turf or in the cockpit: so called, perhaps, from their appearing generally in boots; or else from game-cocks whose legs are always black.

BLIND HARPERS. Beggars counterfeiting blindness, playing on fiddles, etc.

BOB. A shoplifter’s assistant, or one that receives and carries off stolen goods. All is bob; all is safe.

BOOKS. Cards to play with. To plant the books; to place the cards in the pack in an unfair manner.

BOOTY. To play booty; cheating play, where the player purposely avoids winning.

BOUNG NIPPER. A cut purse. (A thief.) Formerly purses were worn at the girdle, from whence they were cut.

BOWYER. One that draws a long bow, a dealer in the marvellous, a teller of improbable stories, a liar: perhaps from the wonderful shots frequently boasted of by archers.

BREECHED. Money in the pocket: the swell is well breeched, let’s draw him; the gentleman has plenty of money in his pocket, let us rob him.

TO BUG. A cant word among journeymen hatters, signifying the exchanging some of the dearest materials of which a hat is made for others of less value. Hats are composed of the furs and wool of divers animals among which is a small portion of beavers’ fur. Bugging, is stealing the beaver, and substituting in lieu thereof an equal weight of some cheaper ingredient.–Bailiffs who take money to postpone or refrain the serving of a writ, are said to bug the writ.
1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, at Gutenberg>>
The 1811 dictionary is based on A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1788) at Google>>

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