British Slang - Lower Class and Underworld

19th Century

This is vocabulary that only lower (mostly much lower) class characters would conprehend, let alone use.  Not to be employed in New Europa's better salons or when trying to pass one's self off as a flash toff.

Please see at the bottom for sources and copyright information.



  Notes:
        c  = Cant
        cb = (Cockney) Back-slang
        cr = (Cockney) Rhyming slang
        sh = Shelta, or Tinker
        r  = Romany (n.b., not true Rom, but linguistically descended from it)
        b  = Boxing

'Les MisÚrables'Abbess:  Female brothel keeper. A Madame.
  Abbot: The husband, or preferred man of an Abbess.
  Alderman: Half-Crown
  Area: The below-ground servant's entrance in the front of many London town-houses. (Not underworld slang)
  Area Diving: A method of theft that necessitates sneaking down area steps, and stealing from the lower rooms of houses.

  Bacca-pipes: Whiskers curled in small, close ringlets.
  Barkers (Barking Irons): Guns. Pistols, esp. Revolvers.
  Beak: Magistrate
  Beak-hunting: Poultry stealing
  Bearer up: Person that robs men who have been decoyed by a woman accomplice.
  Beef: (1) (v) Raise hue-and-cry.  (2) (n) Thief. (cr) = Hot Beef! = Stop Thief!
  Bend: Waistcoat, vest
  Betty: A type of lockpick
  Billy: Handkerchief (often silk)
  Bit Faker: A coiner.  A counterfeiter of coins.
  Blackleg: A person who will work, contrary to a strike.  In the Colonies they are called Scabs.
  Blag: To steal or snatch, usually a theft, often by smash-and-grab
  Blob, on the (Blab): Begging by telling hardluck stories.
  Blooming, Bloody (Blasted, etc.):  are forms of profanity not heard in polite company (Today they've been replaced in prestige with "Fucking",
                      which is really too bad.)
  Blow: Inform.
  Blower: Informer.  Also a disrepectful term for a girl.
  Bludger:  A violent criminal; one who is apt to use a bludgeon.
  Blue Bottle: A policeman
  Boat, get the (Boated): To be sentanced to transportation (obs.). To receive a particularly harsh sentence.
  Bone, Bene: (Pronounced Bone and Benneh?)  Good or profitable.
  Bonnet: A covert assistant to a Sharp
  Broad Arrow: The arrow-like markings on a prison convict's uniform.  "Wearing the broad arrow" = In prison.
  Broads: Playing cards. Ex. "Spreading the broads" = playing a game of cards)
  Broading: Cheating at cards
  Broadsman: A card Sharper
  Bruiser: A Boxer (b)
  Buck Cabbie: A dishonest cab driver
  Bug hunting: Robbing, or cheating drunks.  Esp. at night.
  Bull: Five shillings
  Buor: A woman
  Buttoner: A sharper's assistant who entices dupes.
  Buzzing: Stealing, esp. Picking Pockets.

  Candle to the devil, To hold a: To be evil
  Cant: A present; a free meal or quantity of some article.  Also the creole and jargon spoken by thieves and the  "surplus population."
  Cant of togs:  A gift of clothing.
  Caper: A criminal act, dodge or device.
  Cash Carrier: A pimp, ponce or whore's minder.
  Chapel, the: Whitechapel.
  Chat:  a Louse (a singular of Lice).
  Chaunting: Singing; also informing
  Chaunting lay: Street singing (hopefully for money)
  Chavy:  Child
  Chink:  Money
  Chiv, shiv: Knife, razor or sharpened stick (r)
  Choker: Clergyman.  "Gull a choker"
  Christen: To remove identifying marks from, to make like new  again.  "Christen a watch."
  Church: To remove identifying marks from, to make like new again.  "Church a watch."
  Cly faking: To pick a pocket, especially of its handkerchief (for which there was a ready market)
  Cockchafer: An especially build treadmill in the 'Steel
  Coiner:  A coin counterfeiter
  Cokum (n & adj): Opportunity, advantage, shrewd, cunning.
  Cool: Look, look at this/it. (cb)
  Coopered: Wornout, useless
  Coopered Ken: A bad place for a stick up.
  Cop, Copper:  A policeman
  Couter:  Pound (money)
  Cove:  A man
  Crabshells: Shoes
  Cracksman: A Burgler, a safecracker.  One who clracks of breaks locks.  A whole genre of thief.
  Crapped:  hung, hanged.
  Crib: A building, house or lodging.  The location of a gaol.
  Crimping shop: A waterfron lodging house, esp. one associated with the forcable impressment of seamen.
  Crooked cross, to play the:  To betray, swindle or cheat.
  Crow:  A lookout.  A doctor.
  Crusher:  A policeman

  Dab: bed (cb).  "To dab it up with_____" = to engage in carnal acts with ___.
  Dabeno: Bad (cb)
  Daffy:  A small measure, esp. of spiritous liquers.
  Deadlurk: Empty premises.
  Deaner: A shilling. (Etymologially descended from the Dinarious, or ancient silver penny of Britain...)
  Deb: Bed (cb)
  Demander:  One who gains monies through menace.
  Derbies: (Pronounced Darbies).  Handcuffed
  Device:  Tuppence
  Deuce Hog (Duce Hog): 2 shillings
  Devil's claws: The broad arrows on a convict's prison uniform.
  Dewskitch:  A beating
  Didikko:  Gypsies; half breed gypsies (r). (From Didikai, a  Rom contraction of Dik akai, or "look here")
  Dillo: Old (cb)
  Dimmick:  A base coin, counterfeit
  Ding: (v & n) Throw away, pass on.  Any object that has been so treated. Ex. "Knap the ding" or to take something that has been thrown out.
  Dipper:  Pickpocket
  Dispatches:  Loaded dice
  Dobbin: Ribbon
  Dollymop: A prostitute, often an amateur or a part-time street girl; a midinette.
  Dollyshop:  A low, unlicenced loan shop or pawn shop.
  Don: A distinguished/expert/clever person; a leader
  Dookin: Palmistry
  Down:  Suspicion.  "To put down on someone" means to inform on that  person's plans.  While "To take the down of a ticker"  means to
                 Christen a watch.
  Do Down: To beat someone badly, punishing them with your fists. (b)
  Downer:  Sixpence.
  Downy:  Cunning, false.
  Drag: (1) A three month gaol sentence.  (2)  A street
  Dragsman:  A thief who steals from carriages.
  Drum:  A building, house or lodging; the location of a gaol.
  Dub: (1) Bad (cb); (2) Key, lockpick
  Duce:  Tuppence
  Duckett: A street hawker or vendor's licence.
  Duffer:  A seller of supposedly stolen goods.  Also a Cheating Vendor or hawker.
  Dumplin:  A swindling game played with skittles
  Dumps:  Buttons and other Hawkers small wares.
  Dunnage:  Clothes

  E.O.:  A fairground gambling game
  Escop (Esclop, Eslop): Policeman (cb)

  Fadge: Farthing
  Fakement:  a Device or pretence (especially a notice or certificate to facilitate begging).
  Family, the: The criminal Underworld, also Family People.
  Fan:  To delicately feel someone's clothing, while it is still being worn, to search for valuables.
  Fancy, the:  The brethren of the boxing ring.
  Fawney: Ring
  Fawney-dropping: A ruse whereby the villain pretends to find a ring (which is actually worthless) and sells it as a Possibly valuable article at  a
                                     low price.
  Fine wirer:  A highly skilled pickpocket
  Finny: Five pound note
  Flag: An apron
  Flam:  A lie
  Flash (v & adj):  Show, Showy (as in "Show-off," or "Flashy"); smart; something special.
  Flash house:  A public house patronized by criminals.
  Flash notes:  Paper that looks, at a glance, like bank-notes
  Flat:  A person who is flat is easily deceived.
  Flatch:  Ha'penny
  Flats:  Playing cards, syn. Broads.
  Flimp:  A snatch pickpocket.  Snatch stealing in a crowd.
  Flue Faker: Chimney sweep
  Flummut: Dangerous
  Fly, on the:  Something done quickly.
  Flying the Blue Pidgeon: Stealing roof lead.
  Flying the Mags: The game of "Pitch and Toss"
  Fogle: A silk handkerchief
  Fushme: Five shillings

  Gaff: Show, exhibition, fair "Penny Gaff" - Low, or vulgar theatre.
  Gallies: Boots
  Gammon: Deceive
  Gammy: False, undependable, hostile
  Garret:  Fob pocket in a waistcoat
  Garrote: (v & n) A misplaced piano wire, and how it was misplaced.
  Gatter:  Beer
  Gattering: A public house
  Gegor: Begger
  Gen:  Shilling
  Glim:  (1) Light or fire.  (2) Begging by depicting oneself  as having been burnt out of one's home.  (3) Venereal Disease.
  Glock: Half-wit
  Glocky: Half-witted
  Gonoph:  A minor thief, or small time criminal
  Granny:  Understand or recognize
  Gravney:  A Ring
  Grey, Gray:  A coin with two identical faces
  Griddling: Begging, peddling, or scrounging
  Growler:  A four wheeled cab
  Gulpy: Gullible, easily duped.

  Half inch: Steal (From pinch) (cr)
  Hammered for life: Married
  Hard up: Tobacco
  Haybag: Woman
  Haymarket Hector: Pimp, ponce or whore's minder; especially around the areas of Haymarket and Leicester Squares.
  Hoisting:  Shoplifting
  Holywater sprinkler: A cudgel spiked with nails.
  Huey, Hughey: A town or village.
  Huntley,  to take the: Syn. To take the Cake or to take the Biscuit.  Also to be most excellent, as in Huntley and Palmer's biscuits.
  Hykey:  Pride.

  Irons: Guns esp. Pistols or revolvers.

  Jack:  Detective
  Jemmy: (1) Smart.  (2) of Superior class.  (3) an housebreaker's tool.
  Jerry:  A Watch
  Jerryshop:  Pawnbrokers
  Joey: A fourpence piece
  Jolly: Disturbance or Fracas
  Judy: A woman, specifically a prostitute
  Jug loops: Locks of hair brought over the temples and curled (a hairstyle that thankfully died out later in the period).
  Julking: Singing (as of caged songbirds)
  Jump: A ground floor window, or a burglary committed through  such a window.

  Kanurd: Drunk (cb)
  Kecks: Trousers
  Ken:  House or other place, esp. a lodging or public house.
  Kennetseeno:  Bad, stinking, putrid -- Malodorous. (r)
  Kennuck:  Penny
  Kidsman:  An organizer of child thieves
  Kife: Bed
  Kinchen-lay (Kynchen-lay):  Stealing from children
  Kingsman:  A coloured or black handkerchief.
  Knap: To steal, take or receive
  Knapped: Pregnant
  Knob:  "Over and under" a fairground game used for swindling.
  Know life, to: To be knowledgable in criminal ways

  Lackin, Lakin: Wife
  Ladybird: A Prostitute
  Lag: A convict or Ticket-of-leave man; To be sentenced to transportation or penal servitude.
  Lamps:  Eyes
  Laycock, Miss (or Lady): Female sexual organs
  Lavender, in:  (1) To be hidden from the police, (2) to be pawned, (3) to be put away, (4) to be dead.
  Lay:  A method, system or plan
  Leg :  A dishonest person, a sporting cheat or tout.
  Lill: Pocketbook
  London Particular: Thick London "Pea Soup" fog
  Long-Tailed:  A banknote worth more than 5 pounds is said to be "long tailed"
  Luggers: Ear rings
  Lumber: (1) Unused, or second-hand furniture.  (2) To pawn.  (3) To go into seclusion.  (4) To be in lumber is to be in gaol.
  Lump Hotel:  Work House
  Lurk: (1) A place of resorting to or concealment in.  (2) A scheme or method
  Lurker:  A criminal of all work, esp. a begger, or someone who uses a beggar's disguise.
  Lush:  An alcoholic drink.
  Lushery:  A place where a lush may be had.  A low public house or drinking den.
  Lushing Ken:  See Lushery
  Lushington:  A drunkard

  Macer:  A cheat
  Mag: Ha'pence
  Magflying: Pitch and toss
  Magsman:  An inferior cheat
  Maltooler: A pickpocket who steals while riding an omnibus, esp. from women.
  Mandrake:  a Homosexual
  Mark: The victim
  Mary Blaine: Railway Train (cr); to meet a train or to travel via railway.
  Mauley:  Handwriting, signature
  Mecks:  Wine or spirits
  Milltag: Shirt
  Miltonian: Policeman
  Min:  Steal
  Mitting:  Shirt
  Mizzle: Quit, Steal, or Vanish
  Mobsman:  A swindler or pickpocket, usually well-dressed.  Originally one of the "Swell Mob"
  Mollisher: A woman, often a villain's mistress
  Monkery:  the Country
  Monniker: Signature
  Mot:   Woman, esp. the proprietress of a lodging or public  house
  Moucher, Moocher:  A rural vagrant.  A gentleman of the road.
  Mouth: (1) Blabber.  (2) A Fool
  Mug-hunter: A street robber or footpad.   Hence the modern "Mugger"
  Mumper:  Begger or scrounger
  Mutcher:  A thief who steals from drunks
  Muck Snipe:  A person who is "down and out"

  Nail:  Steal
  Nancy: Buttocks
  Nebuchadnezzar: Male sexual organs; "to put Nebuchadnezzar out to grass" means to engage in sexual intercourse.
  Neddy: Cosh
  Nemmo: Woman (cb)
  Nethers:  Lodging charges, rent
  Newgate Knockers:  Heavily greased side whiskers curling back to, or over the ears
  Netherskens: Low lodging houses, flophouses
  Nibbed: Arrested
  Nickey: Simple in the head
  Nobble:  The inflicting of grievious bodily harm
  Nobbler: (1) One who inflicts grevious bodily harm.  (2) A sharper's confederate
  Nommus!:  Get away! Quick!  (cb)
  Nose:  Informer or Spy
  Nubbiken:  A sessions courthouse

  On the fly:  While in motion or quickly
  Onion:  A watch seal
  Out of twig: Unrecognized or in disquise
  Outsider:  An instrument, resembling needle nosed pliers, used for turning a key in a lock from the wrong side.

  Pack:  A night's lodging for the very poor
  Paddingken: A tramp's lodging house
  Pall:  Detect
  Palmer: Shoplifter
  Patterer: Someone who earns by recitation or hawker's sales talk, esp. by hawking newspapers
  Peter: A box, trunk or safe.
  Pidgeon: A victim
  Pig: A policeman, usually a detective
  Pit: Inside front coat pocket
  Plant:  A victim
  Pogue: A purse or prize
  Prad: Horse
  Prater:  A bogus itinerate preacher
  Prig: (1) A thief.  (2) To steal
  Puckering: Speaking in a manner that is incomprehensible to spectators
  Punishers:  Superior nobblers.  Men employed to give severe beatings
  Push:  Money

  Racket:  Illicit occupation or tricks
  Rampsman or Ramper: A tearaway or hoodlum
  Randy, on the:  On the Spree or otherwise looking for companionship
  Rasher-wagon: Frying pan
  Ray: 1/6 (one and six-pence)
  Reader: Pocketbook or wallet
  Ream: Superior, real, genuine, good.
  Ream Flash Pull: A significant heist
  Ream Swag: Highly valuable stolen articles
  Reeb:  Beer (cb)
  Roller:  A thief who robs drunks or a prostitute who steals from  her clientele.
  Rook: A type of jemmy
  Rookery: Slum or ghetto
  Rothschild, to come to the: To brag and pretend to be rich.
  Rozzers: Policemen
  Ruffles: Handcuffs

  Saddle: Loaf
  St. Peter's Needle: Severe discipline
  Salt Box: The Condemned Cell
  Sawney: Bacon
  Scaldrum dodge: Begging by means of feigned, or self-inflicted wounds
  Scran: Food
  Scratch an itch: (cr) Bitch
  Screever:  A writer of fake testimonials; a forger
  Srew: Skeleton Key
  Screwing:  A sub-genre of Cracking; burglary by means of skeleton  keys, waxing keys, or picking locks.
  Screwsman:  A burglar versed in screwing
  Scroby: Flogging in gaol
  Scurf:  An exploitive employer or gang-leader
  Servant's lurk: A lodging or public house used by shady or dismissed servants.
  Shake lurk: Begging under the pretence of being a shipwrecked seaman.
  Shallow, work the: Begging while half naked.
  Shant: A pot or tumbler
  Sharp:  A (card) swindler
  Shevis:  A shift, a type of garment.
  Shinscraper: The Treadmill
  Shirkster: A layabout
  Shiver and shake:  (cr) A cake
  Shivering Jemmy:  A half naked begger
  Shoful: (1) Bad or counterfeit.  (2) An hansom cab
  Shofulman:  A coiner or passer of bad money.
  Skipper: One who sleeps in hedges and outhouses
  Skyrocket: (cr) Pocket (rarely used)
  Slang cove: A showman
  Slap-Bang Job: A night cellar (pub) frequented by thieves, and where no credit is given.
  Slum: (1) False, sham, a faked document, etc.  (2) To cheat . (3) To pass bad money.
  Smasher:  Someone who passes bad money.
  Smatter Hauling: Stealing Handkerchiefs
  Snakesman: A slightly built (boy) criminal used in burglary and housebreaking.
  Snells: A hawker's wares
  Snide: Counterfeit; counterfeit coins or jewels.
  Snide pinching: Passing bad money
  Snoozer:  A thief that specializes in robbing hotel rooms with sleeping guests.
  Snowing: Stealing linen, clothes, etc, that have been hung out to dry.
  Soft: Paper money (i.e., "to do some soft" means to pass bad paper money.)
  Speeler: Cheat or a gambler
  Spike:  Workhouse
  Sprat:  Six pence
  Spreading the Broads: Three card monte.
  Square rigged: Soberly and respectfully dressed.
  Swell: An elegantly, or stylishly dressed gentleman.

  Tail: Prostitute
  Tatts: Dice, False Dice
  Tea Leaf:  Thief (cr)
  Terrier Crop:  Short, bristly haircut (denoting a recent stay in a prison or a workhouse)
  Teviss:  Shilling
  Thicker:  A Sovereign or a Pound
  Thick 'Un:  A Sovereign
  Tightener:  A meal.  "To do a Tightener," to take a Meal.
  Titfer/Titfertat:  Hat (cr)
  Toff:  An elegantly, or stylishly dressed gentleman.
  Toffer:  A superior whore.
  Toffken:  A house containing well-to-do occupants.
  Toke: Bread
  Tol: Lot (cb), a Share.
  Toolers: Pickpockets
  Tooling:  Skilled Pickpocket
  Toper: Road
  Topped: Hung
  Topping: A hanging
  Translators: Secondhand apparel, especially Boots.
  Trasseno: An evil person
  Tuppeny  (Tuppeny Loaf): Head (cr. from Loaf of Bread)
  Twirls: Keys, esp skeleton keys.
  Twist (Twist  and Twirl): Girl (cr)

  Under and Over: A fairground game that's easy to swindle people with.

  Vamp: To Steal or Pawn.  "In for a vamp" to be jailed for stealing
  Voker:  Speak (r).    "Voker Romeny?"  (Pardon me, but do you speak Thieve's Cant?)

  Weeping Willow: Pillow (cr)
  Whistle and Flute: Suit (cr)
  Work Capitol: Commit a crime punishable by death.

  Yack:  A watch
  Yennap:  A Penny. (cb)


Sources and Copyright Information:

Oh, what a tangled web we weave!  One of my sources was http://www.cyberhighway.net/~cajur/victorian_slang.html, a Web page maintained by Steve Myers.  The document came accompanied with two different copyright notices, one at the top (Marc Carlson, who seems to be the principal source), and one at the bottom (David Crowhurst, citing The Unquiet Grave by Cyril Connolly). Those notices are both reprinted below.  It looks like the material incorporated the slang glossary included in For Faerie, Queen, & Country, by David Cook, Carl Sargent and Karen Boomgarden, the first Amazing Engine "universe book" from TSR, Inc. (1993).  Overall, I've stuck to formatting the material so it would be easier to browse.  Whatever the ultimate source(s), I want to make it clear that I'm not challenging any legal copyright - nor am I going to make a penny out of this material no matter which way you slice it.

As for the picture, it is actually a scene of Evan Jay Newman as Gavroche, Tom Zemon as Grantaire, and "the Company", from the Broadway production of "Les Misérables" (obtained from that site's photo database).  By the way, before it was a musical, this was an inspired play and novel by Victor Hugo, and a sobering comment on real-life France in the beautiful Victorian era.  Of course, in New Europa, life is so much gentler that there is no apparently Communes Revolt in 1871.  Still, let's keep in mind that aspect...



Copyright crap:  The author of this thingy retains full copyright of the material, while hereby granting full permission for it to be reprinted in any format whatsoever, with the provisos that his name be forever attached to it, the text of the document be forever unaltered, and if anyone manages to figure out how to make big bucks off of it, the above mentioned author wants a cut.  Oh, yes, and lest I forget, this notice  must remain attached to the main text.

  I. Marc Carlson
  IMC@VAX2.UTULSA.EDU
  26 January 1994



The Unquiet Grave, Cyril Connolly.
--------------------------------------------
http://www.tcp.co.uk:80/~gentloser/

All my own material is Copyright (c) by David Crowhurst 1995, 1996
All other material is Copyright (c) the original authors

Note on the latter: The above Web address has changed to http://homepages.tcp.co.uk/~gentloser/gentlose.html, but at the time of writing (May 1998), the links to the Gentleman Loser fanzine's Castle Falkentein pages were disconnected.


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