1736 thieves' cant dictionary


20 Responses to “1736 thieves' cant dictionary”

  1. querent says:

    Alright Tak…that not on the site and I don’t know what it means. Don’t be cryptic. Translate. I’m guessing it’s something that happens to an irishman when he drinks too much. (those fucks can really drink.)

  2. Little John says:

    Well, I, for one, had never even heard the word cant, much less know what it is or what some examples might be. The linked-to page only provides examples with definitions. I had to go to Wikipedia for an explanantion of thieves’ cant.

  3. Anonymous says:

    *raises hand to acknowledge also remembering Thieves’ Cant from AD&D days* ^_^

  4. bananachair says:

    Another good example of this kind of thing is Francis Grose’s “Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue”. It reads like something Grose worked on over a dram of spirits and a good pork dinner.

    Here’s one to nonchalantly slip into conversation:

    CIRCUMBENDIBUS. A roundabout way, or story. He
    took such a circumbendibus; he took such a circuit.

  5. Maussist says:

    I briefly considered doing my dissertation about these dictionaries, and have a small pdf collection of them somewhere on my hard drive. The oldest ones go back to the late 17th Century, and were usually published at the ends of accounts of criminals lives (more often than not culminating in their hangings). In the 1720s they started to emerge as a genre in their own right.

    However, what they actually say about the language of the underclass is decidedly unclear — a number of them feature words like ‘freshman’(surprising in itself as that word has long since dropped out of English vocabulary), and seem to be a dictionary of argot designed to titillate the middle class.

    Still good fun though.

  6. barefootliam says:

    Bananachair, yes, Grose’s Dictionary is also on my Web site. There’s also a Project Gutenberg edition of it you can find fairly easily.

  7. Takuan says:

    well, surely ye know how to fleague a jade?

  8. Takuan says:

    all tegther nae:

    The Ruffin cly the nab of the Harmanbeck,
    If we mawnd Pannam, lap, or Ruff-peck,
    Or poplars of yarum: he cuts, bing to the Ruffmans,
    Or els he sweares by the light-mans,
    To put our stamps in the Harmans,
    The ruffian cly the ghost of the Harmanbeck
    If we heaue a booth we cly the lerk.

    [The devil take the Constable’s head!
    If we beg bread, drink, bacon,
    Or milk porridge, he says: “be off to the hedges”
    Or swears, in the morning
    To clap our feet in the stocks.
    The devil take the Constable’s ghost
    If we rob a house we are flogged.]


    If we niggle, or mill a bowzing Ken,
    Or nip a boung that has but a win,
    Or dup the giger of a Gentry cores ken,
    To the quier cuffing we bing;
    And then to the quier Ken, to scowre the Cramp-ring,
    And then to the Trin’de on the chates, in the light-mans,
    The Bube &. Ruffian cly the Harmanbeck & harmans.

    [If we fornicate, or thieve in an alehouse,
    Rob a purse with only a penny in it.
    Or break into a gentleman’s house,
    To the magistrate we go;
    Then to gaol to be shackled,
    Whence to be hanged on the gallows in the morning,
    The pox and the devil take the constable and his stocks

  9. squirrelgirl says:

    wy t mk ttlly nnsnscl pst Cry… thanks for the explanation Little Jon

  10. Godzilla says:

    This is EXCELLENT. I thought Thieves Cant was fairly well known, i guess maybe I was wrong?

    Anyways i find stuff like this fascinating to read.

    Go useless information!
    More please!

  11. Central Squared says:

    Although I might be outed as a nerd, I remember ‘cant’ from my D&D days. This is great though. My first-glance favorite is wapper-eyed: http://www.fromoldbooks.org/NathanBailey-CantingDictionary/W/WAPPER-Eyed.html

  12. Randwulf says:

    Add another one to the list of people remembering Thieves Cant from D&D.

  13. querent says:

    Thanks Takuan. I feel like fornicating now, or maybe thieving in an alehouse (I SLEEP in the mother fucking alehouse). K. So I’m gonna go listen to Haggard now. http://www.haggard.de/ I once had a dream about the archbishop of cantebury. he was a nice dude. kinda creepy as a 50 year old virgin, but thoughtful.

  14. Takuan says:

    in that case, In The Tavern (Carmina Burana), sounds better in the Latin – much earlier too;
    The mistress drinks, the master drinks,
    the soldier drinks, the priest drinks,
    the man drinks, the woman drinks,
    the servant drinks with the maid,
    the swift man drinks, the lazy man drinks,
    the white man drinks, the black man drinks the settled man drinks, the wanderer drinks,
    the stupid man drinks, the wise man drinks,
    The poor man drinks, the sick man drinks,
    the exile drinks, and the stranger,
    the boy drinks, the old man drinks,
    the bishop drinks, and the deacon,
    the sister drinks, the brother drinks,
    the old lady drinks, the mother drinks,
    this man drinks, that man drinks,
    a hundred drink, a thousand drink.

  15. barefootliam says:

    Thanks for blogging about this, it took me weeks to do the transcription and I’m sure there are still lots of errors :D

    I have a few more things on canting on my Web site… and yes, I’ll try to add an explanation of what Canting is, good point, Little John.


  16. Takuan says:

    tottering neevils?

  17. Doug Nelson says:

    I’m glad I wasn’t the only one that had no idea what cant was. (Doug can’t cant)

  18. Little John says:

    Don’t feel bad, Doug. Immanuel Kant can’t cant, either.

    Eddie Cantor can’t cant (he’s as dead as Kant), and Cantor’s horse couldn’t cant, although he could canter.

    I shan’t go on with this sham. I want to get along with folks here, and it’d be annoying to go on, so I won’t, as is my wont.

    For Liam (if he hasn’t shot himself by now): Interesting site in any case. Although I think I’ll have to become an English thief to make much use of the info there.

  19. querent says:

    “There is no honor among thieves.” Right?! from the first edition dungeon master’s guide?! \n interesting story…i was in a game shop when the fourth edition had just come out. I hadn’t been in such a place for a while, so i was kinda excited. i told the old dude behind the counter that i owned a first edition players handbook…it was a gift from my friend the monk when i left for my undergrad program…and the dude was like, “What, you mean the manila envelope full of pages?” and i’m like, “What?” and he’s like, “Oh, you mean the first BOUND edition. Oh. Okay. That’s cool.” damn. I was flabbergasted. muther****er was o.g.

  20. buddy66 says:


    Been listening to it out of D.C. for fifty years.

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