A History of Cant and Slang Dictionaries, Volume II: by Julie Coleman

By Julie Coleman

The booklet of Francis Grose's Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue revolutionized the lexicography of non-standard English. His impression is felt in many of the dictionaries lined during this quantity which replica, variously, his conscientiously documented reliance on written resources, his extremely joyful revelation of first-hand event of the seedier part of London existence, and his word-list. in this interval, glossaries of cant are thrown into the colour via dictionaries of slang, which come with the language of thieves, yet disguise a much wider spectrum of non-standard English. whereas cant represented a pragmatic hazard to estate and existence, slang was once an ethical risk to the very constitution of society. within the 1820s, Pierce Egan's existence in London proven how well known and winning slang literature can be one of the plenty. This quantity additionally contains the earliest Australian and American slang glossaries, via members like James Hardy Vaux (a convict transported thrice) and George Matsell (New York's first leader of police).

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108, 112–13. Francis Grose 31 MIX-METTLE, a silver smith. SMEAR, a plaisterer. SPOIL IRON, the nick name for a smith. 31 This modern descriptive approach is not carried over into Grose’s treatment of obscenity, however: To prevent any charge of immorality being brought against this work, the Editor begs leave to observe, that when an indelicate or immodest word has obtruded itself for explanation, he has endeavoured to get rid of it in the most decent manner possible; and none have been admitted but such, as either could not be left out, without rendering the work incomplete, or, in some measure, compensate by their wit, for the trespass committed on decorum.

28 The ‘ludicrous games and customs’ that Grose includes are largely elaborate practical jokes, which tend to result in the butt of the joke being ducked or drenched: AMBASSADOR, a trick to duck some ignorant fellow or landsman, frequently plaied 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 tarpawlin 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.

Definitions within quotation marks are my own (see puffing); those contained within single inverted commas are Grose’s or the OED’s, as indicated (see pickle, rattle-trap). Grose’s headwords are enclosed within square brackets where necessary (see King Arthur). ’) cauliflower “the female genitals” (1803: ‘A thing which resembles a cauliflower in shape’)38 click “a blow” (1847–78) to come over “to cheat” (1822) crab-shell “a shoe” (1807)39 damper “a snack” (1804) devil’s taptoo “drumming the foot on the ground” (1803: tattoo “drumming the fingers”) dew-beater “a foot” (1811) dilly “a public stagecoach” (1786) dumbfounded “silenced” (1815) German duck “half a sheep’s head boiled with onions” (1796) gig “a one-horse carriage” (1791: n2) ginger-hackled “red haired” (1839) to gouge “to squeeze out someone’s eye” (1800) 36 Now that OED3 is being updated quarterly online, it is a moving target.

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