The Lexicon of Thieves Cant

(1st Edition)

Compiled by Shaun Hately

 

This dictionary is based on the "Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue. A Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit and Pickpocket Eloquence." Printed for C. Chappel of Pall-Mall, London in 1811, and based on the dictionary compiled by Captain Grose in 1785. Despite its date of publication, it can be used in FRP campaigns by those who desire a detailed use of thieves cant. A reproduction of this dictionary was published in 1981 by Papermac, a division of MacMillan Publishers Limited, London and Basingstoke and is (C) 1971 Digest Books Inc. Illinois. "The Lexicon of Thieves Cant (1st Edition): Compiled by Shaun Hately." is (C) 1996 Shaun Hately, except where copyright is owned by other people. No challenge is made by Shaun Hately to any copyright status held by other people. Permission to copy this dictionary in unedited form including this section is granted by Shaun Hately, provided no profit is made.

This guide is not recommended for use by children in their games as some of the material is of an adult nature.

I apologise for the possibility that some of the material in this dictionary may be construed as racist, sexist or homophobic. This material is included for the sake of completeness. I do not subscribe to prejudice in any way shape or form. I would also like to say that the use of the term `gipsy' does not refer to groups of people who wander from place to place, but only to those people who engage in criminal activity while maintaining such a lifestyle.

I welcome contributions to further editions of this dictionary. Any contributions will be acknowledged.

My e-mail address is: drednort@bud.swin.edu.au

My snail mail address is:

Mr Shaun Hately
45 Moreton St
Frankston North
Victoria 3200
AUSTRALIA



CANT TO ENGLISH

-A-

Abbess:

the mistress of a brothel

Abram:

naked

Abram cove:

a word used among thieves which signifies a naked or poor man It can also mean a lusty strong rogue

Abram men:

a beggar who pretends to be mad

To sham abram:

to pretend to be sick

Academy:

brothel

Ace of spades:

a widow

Acorn:

to ride a horse foaled by an acorn, is to be hanged on the gallows

Adam Tiler:

a pickpockets associate, who receives the stolen goods, and runs off with them

Affidavit Men:

a witness for hire Someone who will swear to anything in court if paid to do so

Air and exercise:

He has had air and exercise, ie he has been whipped at the carts tail

Ambidexter:

a lawyer who garners fees from both plaintiff and defender

To amuse:

to fling dust into the eyes of the person intended to be robbed; also to invent some plausible tale to delude a shopkeeper in order to put them off their guard

Amusers:

a rogue who uses the above tactic

Anabaptist:

a pickpocket caught in the act, and punished by being thrown into a pond

Anglers:

pilferers or petty thieves who with a stick having a hook at the end, steal goods out of shop windows, grates etc Also someone who `draws in' victims in order to rob them

Angling for coppers:

begging out of a prison window with a cap or box let down on the end of a long string

Arch Rogue:

The chief of a gang of thieves or gipsies

Ard:

hot, stolen

Ark:

a boat

Ark ruffians:

rogues who in conjunction with watermen, robbed and sometimes murdered on the water by picking aquarrel with passengers in a boat, boarding it, plundering, stripping, and throwing them overboard

Artichoke:

hanged (see hearty choke)

Aunt:

a prostitute or someone who procures prostitutes

Avoir Du Pois Lay:

stealing brass weights off the counters of shops

Autem Bawler:

a priest

Autem Divers:

pickpockets who operate in churches and temples

Autem Mort:

a female beggar who hires children in order to inspire charity


-B-

Babes in the wood:

criminals in the stocks or pillory

Badge:

a term for one who has had his hand burned as punishment for theft

Bandog:

a bailiff or sheriff

Barrow man:

a man under sentence of transport

Bat:

a very common prostitute

Bawd:

a prostitute

Bawdy basket:

criminal who sells items from door to door, but makes most of their living by stealing

Beak:

a justice of the peace or magistrate

Beef:

to "cry beef" is to give an alarm To "be in a mans beef" is to wound him with a sword

Beggar maker:

a man who owns a tavern

Beilby's Ball:

to "dance with Beilby's ball" is to be hung

Bene:

good

Bene Bowse:

good beer

Bene Cove:

good fellow

Bene Darkmans:

good night

Bene feaker:

counterfeiter

Bene feakers of gybes:

counterfeiter of false passes

Ben:

a fool

Bess or Betty:

a crow bar

Bilboes:

the stocks or prison

Bilk:

to cheat or con

Bing:

to go or escape

Bingo:

brandy or other spirit

Bingo boy:

a drinker of brandy

Bingo mort:

a female drinker of brandy

Birds of a feather:

rogues of the same gang

Bite:

to steal

Black art:

the art of picking a lot

Black box:

a lawyer

Blasted fellow:

an abandoned rogue or prostitute

Blater:

a stolen calf

Bleaters:

those cheated by a Jack in the Box (See Jack in the box)

Bleating rig:

sheep stealing

Blow:

to "bite the blow"is to steal the goods

Blue pigeons:

thieves who steal lead off houses and other buildings

Bluffer:

an inn keeper

Blunt:

money

Boarding school:

a prison

Bob:

shoplifter's assistant One who receives stolen goods

Boned:

seized, arrested

Boung:

a purse

Boung nipper:

a cut purse

Brimstone:

an abandoned woman or thief

Bubber:

a thief who steals from taverns

Bufe:

a dog

Bufe nabber:

a dog thief

Bug:

to exchange a material for one of less value

Bung nipper:

a pickpocket

Burning the ken:

to flee a tavern without paying your bill

Bus napper:

a constable

Bus nappers kenchin:

a watchman

Buttock and file:

a prostitute who steals from their clients

Button:

a fake coin

Buzman:

a pickpocket


-C-

Cackle:

to inform on a thief

Calle:

a cloak or gown worn as a disguise

Canters:

thieves or beggars

Canting Crew:

thieves or beggars

Cap

take an oath

Captain Sharp:

a person in a fixed game of chance whose job is to bully those who refuse to pay their debts

Caravan:

a large sum of money, or one who is cheated of a large sum of money

Cattle:

prostitutes or gipsies

Charactered:

to have your hand burnt as a punishment for theft

Charm:

a lockpick

Chatts:

the gallows

Clank:

a silver tankard

Clank napper:

a silver tankard stealer

Clear:

very drunk

Click:

to hit

Clicker:

the person who divides the booty between a group of thieves

Climb up a ladder to bed:

be hanged

Cloy:

steal

Cloyes:

thieves

Cly:

a pocket

Cly the jerk:

to be whipped

Cockles, to cry:

to be hanged

Colt:

one who lends a horse to a highway man, or an apprentice thief

Confect:

counterfeited

Content:

a person murdered for resisting a robbery

Cove:

a man

Cracksman:

a house breaker

Cramp word:

the sentence of death

Crash:

kill

Crop:

hang

Cull:

an honest man

Cullability:

easily cheated

Curbing law:

the act off hooking items out of a window (see angling)

Cursitors:

a bad lawyer


-D-

Dangle:

hang

Darbies:

chains (handcuffs)

Darby:

easy money

Darkee:

a dark or hooded lantern

Darkmans:

night time

Dawb:

bribe

Deadly nevergreen:

gallows

Derrick:

a hangman

Dimber Damber:

a chief thief

Ding Boy:

a mugger

Dive:

to pick a pocket

Dive:

a thieves hideout

Dommerer:

a beggar who pretends to be mute

Drag:

to follow a cart or wagon in order to rob it

Draw-latches:

robbers of houses

Drawing the King's picture:

to counterfeit coins

Dromedary:

a bungling thief

Dub:

a lockpick

Dub Lay:

to rob a house by picking its lock

Dummee:

a pocket book or purse

Dumps:

coins made of lead

Die hard:

show no fear or remorse at the gallows


-E-

Earnest:

a promise to pay

Equipt:

well dressed, rich


-F-

Fagger:

a small boy passed through a window in order to open the door to a house

Family man:

a receiver of stolen goods

Fam lay:

palming an item in order to steal it

Fams:

gloves

Fen:

a prostitute

Fence:

to sell stolen goods One who buys stolen goods

Fencing ken:

a place where stolen goods are hidden

Fidlam ben:

thieves

Figging law:

the art of picking pockets

Figure dancer:

one who alters the numbers on notes of credit or other paper money

Filcher:

see angler

Flash ken:

a thieves hideout

Flash lingo:

thieves cant

Floating hell:

a prison ship

Flog:

to whip

Fob:

cheat

Footpad:

a common thief

Fork:

to pick a pocket

Fortune teller:

a judge

Foyst:

a pickpocket

Frummagemmed:

strangled or hanged

Fun:

a cheat or a trick

Fuzz:

to pretend to shuffle a deck of cards


-G-

Gallows bird:

a thief or pickpocket or someone that associates with them

Game:

any mode of robbery

Gamon:

to deceive

Gaoler's coach:

a cart used to take felons to execution

Gentleman's master:

a highwayman

Gibberish:

thieves cant

Gilt:

a thief who picks locks

Ginny:

a crowbar

Glazier:

a thief who breaks windows in order to steal

Glim:

a lantern used in housebreaking

Grease:

bribe

Gregorian tree:

gallows

Gudgeon:

a gullible person

Gull:

a gullible person, to cheat someone


-H-

Hamlet:

a senior constable

Hang gallows look:

a villainous appearance

Hang in chains:

a vile, desperate person

Harman:

a constable

Harmans:

the stocks

Hearty choke:

to be hanged

Heave:

to rob

Hempen fever:

a person who has been hanged is said to have died of "hempen fever"

Hempen widow:

one whose husband was hanged

High pad:

a highwayman

Hike:

to run away

Hoist:

to rob by entering through windows that have been left open

Hoodwink:

blindfold or fool someone

Hooked:

captured

Hookers:

see angler

Hubbub:

a riot

Hue:

to whip

Hush:

murder

Hush money:

a bribe


-I-

Iron:

money

Ironmongers shop:

to "keep an ironmongers shop" is to be hung in chains


-J-

Jack in a box:

a card sharper

Jack Ketch:

hangman

Jail bird:

prisoner

Jammed:

hanged

Jem:

a gold ring

Jemmy:

a crow bar

Jigger:

whipping post

Jordain:

a stick or staff used by muggers

Juggler's box:

the device used to burn the hands of criminals

Jukrum:

the permission of the head of a thieves guild to operate within his territory


-K-

Kate:

a lockpick

Ken:

a house

Ken Miller or Ken Cracker:

housebreaker

Ketch:

hangman

Kiddeys:

young thieves

King's plate:

chains, shackles

King's pictures:

money

Knight of the blade:

a bully

Knight of the post:

a man willing to give fake evidence for money

Knight of the road:

a highwayman


-L-

Laced mutton:

a prostitute

Lag:

a man transported for a crime

Land pirate:

a highwayman

Lay:

danger

Leaf:

to "go with the fall of the leaf" is to be hanged

Lift:

steal

Lightmans:

daytime

Little snakesman:

a small boy passed through a window in order to open a door

Long tongued:

unable to keep a secret

Lowre:

money

Lully priggers:

thieves who steal wet clothes off clothes lines

Lurch:

to be "left in the lurch" is to be betrayed by ones companions


-M-

Mad Tom:

a beggar who feigns madness

Made:

stolen

Made man:

a member of the thieves guild

Maunding:

begging

Milch cow:

one who is easily tricked out of his money

Moabites:

bailiffs

Mobility:

the commoners Intended as a pun on `nobility'

Moon curser:

a thief who uses the darkness as cover for his crime

Moon men:

gipsies

Morning drop:

the gallows

Mort:

a woman

Moss:

lead stolen off the top of buildings

Mot:

see Mort

Myrmidons:

constables


-N-

Nab:

to seize

Nab the stoop:

to be put in the stocks

Napper:

a cheat or thief

Napper of naps:

a sheep stealer

Natty lads:

young thieves or pickpockets

Neck weed:

hemp to be made into rope

Needle point:

a card sharper

New drop:

the gallows

Newman's lift:

the gallows

Nig:

the metal clipped of a coin by a criminal

Night magistrate:

a constable

Nim:

to steal or pilfer

Nip:

a cheat

Noisy dog racket:

the crime of stealing brass door knockers from doors

Noozed:

hanged (or married)

Nose:

a criminal who gives evidence against his colleagues in order to gain a lighter sentence

Nubbing:

hanging

Nubbing cheat:

the gallows

Nubbing cove:

the hangman

Nubbing ken:

the courthouse

Nypper:

a cutpurse


-O-

Oak:

a rich man

Oaken towel:

a cudgel

Office:

to "give office" is to tell constables of a thieves activities

Old hand:

an experienced thief

Onion:

a seal or signet ring

Overseer:

a man in the pillory or stocks


-P-

Pad:

the highway

Pad borrowers:

horse thieves

Palaver:

a tale told in order avoid blame for a crime

Panny:

house

Parenthesis:

the stocks

Parings:

the metal clipped of a coin by a criminal

Patter flash:

to use thieves cant

Paum:

conceal in the hand

Peach:

turn informer

Peeper:

a spying glass (Telescope?)

Penance board:

the pillory

Petty fogger:

a lawyer willing to undertake any case

Pig:

an officer of the law

Pigeon:

a person easy to cheat

Plate:

money, silver, gold etc

Poney:

money

Pop:

pawn

Pop shop:

pawnbrokers

Porridge:

prison

Posse mobilitatis:

a mob chasing a criminal

Poulterer:

a man who opens mail and steals the money enclosed within

Pound:

prison

Prad lay:

the act of cutting the saddlebags of horses in order to steal their contents

Prad:

a horse

Prig:

a thief

Prig napper:

one who catches thieves A bounty hunter

Priggers:

thieves

Priggers of prancers:

horse thieves

Priggers of cacklers:

robbers of henhouses

Prince Prig:

head of a group of thieves or gipsies

Provendor:

the victim of a thief

Public ledger:

a prostitute

Pull:

arrest

Puzzle-cause:

a lawyer who does not understand the case


-Q-

Quarromes:

a body

Queer:

"To queer" means to confuse someone

Queer bail:

someone who pretends to have money in order to act as surety for an arrested person When the person is released they disappear

Queer birds:

a person who when released from prison returns to a life of crime

Queer bit makers:

counterfeiters of coins

Queer bung:

an empty purse

Queer cove:

a thief

Queer cuffin:

a justice of the peace

Queer ken:

a prison

Queer mort:

a diseased prostitute

Quod:

prison

Quota:

a thieves share of the booty


-R-

Rag:

paper money

Rank rider:

a highwayman

Rap:

taking a false oath

Rascal:

rogue or villain

Rat:

an informer To turn informer

Rattling cove:

a coachman

Rattling mumpers:

beggars who beg from coaches

Reader:

a pocket book or purse

Reader merchants:

pickpockets

Ready:

money

Recruiting service:

highway robbery

Repository:

a gaol

Resurrection men:

those employed by scientists to steal bodies from churchyards

Rhino:

money

Ribbin:

money

Ringing the changes:

exchanging silver coins for those made of less valuable metal

Roast:

arrest

Robert's men:

successful thieves

Rot gut:

cheap spiritous liquor

Rovers:

pirates, wandering thieves

Rub:

run away

Ruffles:

chains or shackles

Rufflers:

beggars who pretend to be wounded soldiers or sailors

Rug:

safe and secure

Rum:

fine, good, valuable

Rum beck:

a justice of the peace

Rum bite:

a clever trick

Rum bob:

a skilled apprentice thief

Rum bung:

a full purse

Rum cod:

a purse filled with gold

Rum diver:

a skilled pickpocket

Rum dubber:

a skilled lock picker

Rum file:

a skilled pickpocket

Rum fun:

a clever trick

Rum pad:

the highway

Rum padders:

skilled and successful highwaymen

Rum prancer:

a good horse

Rushers:

home invaders


-S-

Salmon:

an oath taken by a beggar

Scapegallows:

one who deserves and has escaped the gallows

Scragged:

hanged

Scragg'em fair:

a public execution

Screw:

a lock pick or skeleton key

Sham:

a trick

Sharper:

a con man

Sheriff's journeyman:

hangman

Sheriff's ball:

an execution

Sheriff's hotel:

prison

Sheriff's picture frame:

gallows

Shop:

prison

Shoplifter:

one who steals from a shop

Sing:

call out, inform

Slang:

chains or shackles

Slang:

thieves cant

Slipgibbet:

see Scapegallows

Snap the glaze:

break a window

Snapt:

captured

Sneak:

a pilferer

Snoozing ken:

brothel

Sop:

a bribe

Spring-ankle

warehouse:

prison

Squeak:

escape "To squeak" means to confess

Squeakers:

organ pipes

Stalling ken:

place where stolen goods can be sold

Star the glaze:

break a jewellers window

Stoop:

the pillory

Stop hole abbey:

the central hideout or guild hall for a thieves guild

Stretching:

hanging

Stuling ken:

see Stalling ken

Swaddler:

a thief who beats and murders his victims

Swag:

booty

Sweating:

removing metal from a coin, by using chemicals

Swing:

hang


-T-

Tail:

a prostitute

Tayle drawers:

a thief who steals swords from a mans belt

Teize:

a flogging

Thatch-gallows:

a man of poor character

Thief takers:

someone who associates with thieves in order to arrest them and obtain rewards

Three-legged mare:

the gallows

Three legged stool:

the gallows

Tom of Bedlam:

see Mad Tom

Topping cheat:

the gallows

Topping cove:

hangman

Touch:

arrest

Trounce:

punish

Tucked up:

hanged

Turncoat:

one who has betrayed his friends

Turn off:

hang

Twig:

realise that something is up

Two to one shop:

pawnbrokers


-U-

Underdubber:

a prison guard

Upright Man:

chief thief of a guild

Used up:

killed


-V-

Vamp:

pawn

Varlets:

criminals

Vincent's law:

the art of cheating at cards

Vowel:

to write an IOU


-W-

Waterpad:

river pirate

Wedge:

silver plate

Whack:

a share of booty obtained by fraud

Whip jacks:

thieves who pretend to be sailors in order to gain free passage on boats and ships

Wiper:

handkerchief

Wiper drawer:

a pickpocket who steals handkerchiefs

Wooden ruff:

pillory

Wry neck day:

day of execution


-Y-

Yelp:

cry out for the police


-Z-

Zad:

a very crooked person



ENGLISH TO CANT

-A-

Abandoned person:

blasted fellow, brimstone, lurch

Arrested:

boned, hooked, nabbed, pulled, roasted, snapt, touched


-B-

Beer:

bowse

Beggars:

abram men, autem mort, dommerer, mad Tom, rattling mumpers, rufflers, Tom of Bedlam

Begging:

angling for coppers, maunding

Boat:

ark

Body:

quarromes

Body thieves:

ressurection men

Booty:

quota, swag, whack

Brandy:

bingo

Bribe:

dawb, grease, hush money, sop

Brothel:

academy, snoozing ken


-C-

Calf, stolen:

blater

Call for police:

cry beef

Cart:

gaoler's coach

Cloak:

calle

Club:

jordain, oaken towel

Coach man:

rattling cove

Coin, fake:

button, dump

Coin shavings:

nig, parings

Con:

amuse, bilk, fob, fun, fuzz, hoodwink, sham

Con man:

amuser, jack in a box, needle point, nip, sharper

Counterfeiter:

bene feaker, figure dancer, queer bit maker

Counterfeited:

confect

Counterfeiting:

drawing the King's picture, sweating

Courthouse:

nubbing ken

Criminals being punished:

Being transported:

barrow man, lag

In stocks:

babes in the wood, nappered, overseer With hands burned:badge, charactered

Crow bar:

Bess, Betty, ginny, jemmy


-D-

Danger:

lay

Day:

lightmans

Death sentence:

cramp word

Dog:

bufe

Drunk:

clear


-E-

Escape:

bing, burning the ken, hike, rub


-F-

Feign illness:

sham abram

Follow:

drag

Fool:

Ben, cullability, gudgeon, gull, milch cow, pigeon, queer


-G-

Gallows:

chatts, deadly nevergreen, Gregorian Tree, morning drop, new drop, Newman's lift, nubbing cheat,sheriff's picture frame, three legged mare, three legged stool, topping cheat

Gang:

birds of a feather

Gipsies:

cattle, moon men

Gloves:

fams

Good:

bene, rum


-H-

Hanged:

acorn, artichoked, beilby's ball, cry cockles, cropped, dangled, frummagemmed, hearty choked, hempen fever, ironmongers shop, jammed, leaf, noozed, nubbing, scragged, stretched, swing

Hangman:

Derrick, Jack Ketch, Ketch, nubbing cove, sheriff's journeyman, topping cove, turned off

Hideout:

dive, fencing ken, flash ken, stalling ken, stop hole abbey, stuling ken

Highway:

pad

Highwayman:

colt, gentleman's master, high pad, knight of the road, land pirate, rank rider

Highway robberry:

recruiting service

Hit:

click

Honest man:

cull

House:

ken, panny

Housebreaker:

cracksman, draw latch, Ken Miller, Ken Cracker, rushers


-I-

Inform:

cackle, long tongued, nose, office, peach, rat, sing


-J-

Judge etc:

beak, fortune teller, queer cuffin


-K-

Kill:

crash, use up


-L-

Lantern:

darkee, glim

Lawyer:

black box, cursitor, petty fogger, puzzle-case

Lead:

moss

License:

jukrum

Lie:

amuse, gamon, palaver

Lock pick:

charm, dub, kate, screw

Lock picker:

gilt

Lock picking:

black art, dub lay


-M-

Man:

cove

Mistress of brothel:

abbess, aunt

Money:

caravan, iron, King's pictures, lowre, plate, poney, rag, ready, rhino, ribbin, wedge

Mugger:

ding boy

Murder:

hush


-N-

Naked:

abram

Night:

darkmans


-O-

Oath:

cap, earnest, rap (false), salmon


-P-

Palming:

fam lay, pauming

Pawn:

pop, vamp

Pawnbrokers:

pop shop, two to one shop

Pickpocket:

Adam Tiler, anabaptist, autem divers, bung nipper, buzman, foyst, natty lad, nypper, reader merchants

Picking pockets:

dive, figging law, forking

Pocket:

cly

Police officer:

bandog, bus napper, bus napper kenchin, hamlet, harman, moabites, myrmidons, night magistrate, pig

Priest:

autem bawler

Prison:

Bilboes, boarding school, porridge, pound, queer ken, quod, repository, sheriff's hotel, shop, spring-ankle warehouse

Prison ship:

floating hell

Prisoner:

jail bird, queer birds

Prostitute:

aunt, bat, bawd, buttock and file, cattle, fen, laced mutton, public ledger, queer mort, tail

Purse:

boung, dummee, reader

Purse, cut:

boung nipper


-R-

Receiver of stolen goods:

family man, fence

Rich:

equipt, oak

Ring:

jem, onion

Riot:

hubbub


-S-

Secure:

rug

Shackles:

darbies, King's plate, ruffles, slang

Sheep stealing:

bleating rig

Shoplifter:

Bob

Staff:

jordain

Steal:

bite, bite the blow, cloy, curbing law, heave, hoist, lift, nim, prad lay

Stocks:

Bilboes, parenthesis, penance board, wooden ruff

Stolen:

ard, made

Swap:

bug, ring the changes


-T-

Tavern owner:

beggar maker

Theft:

game

Thief:

Adam Tiler, anabaptist, anglers, ark ruffians, autem divers, bawdy basket, blue pigeons, Bob, bubber, bufe napper, bung nipper, buzman, canters, canting crew, Captain Sharp, clank napper, cloyes,cracksman, draw latches, dromedary, fagger, fidlam ben, filcher, footpad, foyst, gallows bird, gilt,glazier, hooker, kiddeys, little snakesman, lully priggers, made man, moon curser, napper of naps,natty lads, nypper, old hand, pad borrowers, poulterer, priggers, priggers of prancers, priggers of cacklers, queer cove, reader merchant, ressurection men, Robert's men, rovers, shoplifter, sneak, swaddler, tayle drawer, waterpad, whip jack

Thief, head:

Arch Rogue, Dimber Damber, Prince Prig, Upright Man

Thieves cant:

flash lingo, gibberish, patter flash, slang


-V-

Victim:

content, provendor


-W-

Whipping:

air and exercise, cly the jerk, flogging, hue, teize

Whipping post:

jigger

Widow:

ace of spades, hempen widow (if husband was hanged)

Witness, fake:

affidavit man, knight of the post

Woman:

mort, mot

Wound:

beef