Imatges de pÓgina


and proficiency in this is the greatest desideratum of an aspirant to the pleasures of Society, or the honours of literature and art. The formation of these secret tongues varies, of course, with the circumstances surrounding the speakers. A writer in Notes and Queries has well remarked that "the investigation of the origin and principles of cant and slang language opens a curious field of inquiry, replete with considerable interest to the philologist and the philosopher. It affords a remarkable instance of lingual contrivance, which, without the introduction of much arbitrary matter, has developed a system of communicating ideas, having all the advantages of a foreign language."

The terms Cant and Canting were probably derived from chaunt and chaunting, -the whining tone, or modulation of voice adopted by beggars, with intent to coax, wheedle, or cajole by pretensions of wretchedness."* For the origin of the other application of the word Cant, pulpit hypocrisy, we are indebted to the Spectator—"Cant is by some people derived from one Andrew Cant, who, they say, was a Presbyterian minister in some illiterate part of Scotland, who, by exercise and use, had obtained the faculty, alias gift, of talking in the pulpit in such a dialect that 'tis said he was understood by none but his own congregation,—and not by all of them. Since Master Cant's time it has been understood in a larger sense, and signifies all exclamations, whinings, unusual tones, and, in fine, all praying and preaching like the unlearned of the Presbyterians." This anecdote is curious, though it is but fair to assume that the preacher's name was taken from his practice, rather than that the practice was called after the preacher. As far as we are concerned, however, in the present inquiry, Cant was derived from chaunt, a beggar's whine ; "chaunting” being the recognised term amongst beggars to this day for begging orations and street whinings; and “chaunter,” a street talker and tramp, is still the term used by strollers and patterers. This

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race is, however, nearly obsolete. The use of the word Cant, amongst beggars, must certainly have commenced at a very early date, for we find “To cante, to speake,” in Harman's list of Rogues' Words in the year 1566; and Harrison about the same time,* in speaking of beggars and Gipsies, says, “ they have devised a language among themselves which they name Canting, but others Pedlars' Frenche.”'

Now, the word Cant in its old sense, and Slangt in its modern application, although used by good writers and persons of education as synonyms, are in reality quite distinct and separate terms. Cant, apart from religious hypocrisy, refers to the old secret language of Gipsies, thieves, tramps, and beggars. Slang represents that evanescent language, ever changing with fashion and taste, which has principally come into vogue during the last seventy or eighty years, spoken by persons in every grade of life, rich and poor, honest and dishonest. I Cant is old ; Slang is always modern and ever changing. To illustrate the difference: a thief in Cant language would term a horse a “prancer" or a "prad;" while in Slang, a man of fashion would speak of it as a “ bit of blood,” a “spanker,” or a "neat tit." A handkerchief, too, would be a "billy,” a “fogle," or a “Kent rag," in the secret language of low characters; whilst amongst the modern folk who affect Slang, it would be called a “stook,” a “wipe,” a “fogle,” or a “clout.” Cant was formed for purposes of secrecy. Slang, though it has a tendency the same way, is still often indulged in from a mild desire to appear familiar with life, gaiety, town-humour, and the transient nick

* Description of England, prefixed to Holinshed's Chronicle.

+ The word Slang, as will be seen in the chapter upon that subject, is purely a Gipsy term, although nowadays it refers to low or vulgar language of any kind, other than cant. Slang and Gibberish in the Gipsy language are synonymous; but, as English adoptions, have meanings very different from that given to them in their original.

# “The vulgar tongue consists of two parts; the first is the Cant language; the second, those burlesque phrases, quaint allusions, and nicknames for persons, things, and places, which, from long uninterrupted usage, are made classical by prescription."- Grose's Dictionary of the Vuigar Tongue, ist edition, 1785.

names and street jokes of the day. Both Cant and Slang, we have before said, are often huddled together as synonyms; but they are most certainly distinct, and as such should be used.

To the Gipsies, beggars and thieves are in great measure indebted for their Cant language. It is supposed that the Gipsies originally landed in this country early in the reign of Henry VIII. They were at first treated as conjurors and magicians,-indeed, they were hailed by the populace with as much applause as a company of English performers usually receives on arriving in a distant colony. They came here with all their old Eastern arts of palmistry and second-sight, with their factitious power of doubling money by incantation and burial,-shreds of pagan idolatry; and they brought with them, also, the dishonesty of the lower-caste Orientals, and the nomadic tastes they had acquired through centuries of wandering over nearly the whole of the then known globe. They possessed also a language quite distinct from anything that had been heard in England up till their advent; they claimed the title of Egyptians, and as such, when their thievish propensities became a public nuisance, were cautioned and proscribed in a royal proclamation by Henry VIII.* The Gipsies were not long in the country before they found native imitators; and indeed the imitation is much more frequently found nowadays, in the ranks of the so-called Gipsies, than is the genuine article. Vagabondism is peculiarly catching, and the idle, the vagrant, and the criminal soon caught the idea from the Gipsies, and learned from them to tramp, sleep under hedges and trees, tell fortunes, and find lost property for a consideration-frequently, as the saying runs, having found it themselves before it was lost. They also learned the value and application of a secret tongue ; indeed, with the Gipsies came in all the accompaniments of maunding and imposture, except thieving and begging,


• "Outlandish people calling themselves Egyptians.”—1530.

which were well known in this country, and perhaps in every other, long before visitors had an opportunity of teaching them.

Harman, in 1566, wrote a singular, not to say droll, book, entitled, A Cavcat for commen Cursetors, vulgarly called Vagabones, newly augmented and inlarged, wherein the history and various descriptions of rogues and vagabonds are given, together with their canting tongue. This book, the earliest of the kind, gives the singular fact that within a dozen years after the landing of the Gipsies, companies of English vagrants were formed, places of meeting appointed, districts for plunder and begging operations marked out, and rules agreed to for their common management. In some cases Gipsies joined the English gangs; in others, English vagrants joined the Gipsies. The fellowship was found convenient and profitable, as both parties were aliens to the laws and customs of the country, living in a great measure in the open air, apart from the lawful public, and often meeting each other on the same by-path, or in the same retired valley; but seldom intermarrying or entirely adopting each other's habits. The common people, too, soon began to consider them as of one family, all rogues, and from Egypt. This superstition must have been very firmly imbedded, for it is still current. The secret language spoken by the Gipsies, principally Hindoo, and extremely barbarous to English ears, was found incomprehensible and very difficult to learn. The Gipsies naturally found a similar difficulty with the English language. A rude, rough, and singular, but under the circumstances not unnatural, compromise was made, and a mixture of Gipsy, old English, newly-coined words, and cribbings from any foreign, and therefore secret, language, mixed and jumbled together, formed what has ever since been known as the Canting Language, or Pedlar's French; or, during the past century, St. Giles's Greek.

Such was the origin of Cant; and in illustration of its blending with the Gipsy or Cingari tongue, we are enabled to

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-give the accompanying list of Gipsy, and often Hindoo, words, with, in many instances, their English representatives


English. Bamboozle, to perplex or mis. Bamboozlo, to delude, cheat, or lead by hiding. Modern Gipsy.

make a fool of any one.
Bosh, rubbish, nonsense, offal. Bosh, stupidity, foolishness.

Giosy and Persian.
Cheese, thing or article, That's Cheese, or Cheesy, a first-rate or

the CHEESE," or thing. Gipsy and very good article.

Chive, the tongue. Gipsy. Chive, or CHIVEY, a shout. To

CHIVEY, to hunt down with shouts.
Cuta, a gold coin. Danubian Couter, a sovereign, twenty shil-

Dade, or Dadi, a father. Gipsy. Daddy, nursery term for father. (*)
Distarabin, a prison. Gipsy. Sturabin, a prison.
Gad, or GADSI, a wife. Gipsy. Gad, a female scold; a woman who

tramps over the country with a

beggar or hawker.
Gibberish, the language of Gip- Gibberish, rapid and unmeaning
sies, synonymous with SLANG. speech.

Ischur, Schur, or Chur, a thief. Cur, a mean or dishonest man. (*)

Gipsy and Hindoo.
Lab, a word. Gipsy.

Lobs, words.
Lowe, or Lowr, money. Gipsy Lowre, money. Ancient Cant.

and Wallachian.
Mami, a grandmother. Gipsy. Mammy, or MAMMA, a mother,

formerly sometimes used for

Mang, or MAUNG, to beg. Gipsy Maund, to beg.

and Hindoo.
Mort, a free woman, one for Mot, a prostitute.

common use amongst the male
Gipsies, so appointed by Gipsy

custom. Gipsy.
Mu, the mouth. Gipsy and Hindoo. Moo, or Mun, the mouth.

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In those instances indicated by a (*), it is doubtful whether we are indebted to the Gipsies for the terms. Dad, in Welsh, also signifies a father. Cur is stated to be a mere term of reproach, like Dog, which in all European languages has been applied in an abusive sense. Objec. tions may also be raised against Gad, Maund, and many other of these parallels. We have, however, no wish to present them as infallible ; our idea is merely to call the reader's attention to the un loubted similarity between both the sound and the sense in most examples.


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