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All ridiculous words make their first entry into a language by familiar phrases; I dare not answer for these that they will not in time be looked upon as a part of our tongue."-SPECTATOR.
“Rabble-charming words, which carry so much wild fire wrapt up in them." SOUTH.
“Slang derivations are generally indirect, turning upon metaphor and fancifui allusions, and other than direct etymological connexion. Such allusions and fancies are essentially temporary or local; they rapidly pass out of the public mind: the word remains, while the key to its origin is lost.”
“Many of these (slang] words and phrases are but serving their apprenticeshis, and will eventually become the active strength of our language."-H. T. BUCKLE.
THE HISTORY OF CANT,
SECRET LANGUAGE OF VAGABONDS.
ANT and SLANG are universal and world-wide. By their
wise take an hour to express.
Nearly every nation on the face of the globe, polite and barbarous, has its divisions and subdivisions of various ranks of society. These are necessarily of many kinds, stationary and wandering, civilized and uncivilized, respectable and disreputable, those who have fixed abodes and avail themselves of the refinements of civilization, and those who go from place to place picking up a precarious livelihood by petty sales, begging, or theft. This peculiarity is to be observed amongst the heathen tribes of the southern hemisphere, as well as in the oldest and most refined countries of Europe. In South Africa, the naked and miserable Hottentots are pestered by the still more abject Sonquas; and it may be some satisfaction for us to know that our old enemies at the Cape, the Kaffirs, are troubled with a tribe of rascals called Fingoes,the former term, we are informed by travellers, signifying beggars, and the latter wanderers and outcasts. In South America, and among the islands of the Pacific, matters are pretty much the same. Sleek rascals, without much inclination towards honesty, fatten, or rather fasten, like the insects in the famous epigram, upon other rascals, who would be equally sleek and fat but for their vagabond dependents. Luckily for respectable persons, however, vagabonds, both at home
and abroad, generally show certain outward peculiarities which distinguish them from the great mass of law-abiding people on whom they subsist. Observation shows that the wandering races are remarkable for an abnormal development of the bones of the face, as the jaws, cheek-bones, &c., for highcrowned, stubborn-shaped heads, quick, restless eyes,* and hands nervously itching to be doing ; for their love of gambling ; for sensuality of all kinds, and for their use of a CANT language with which to conceal their designs and plunderings.
The secret jargon, or rude speech, of the vagabonds who hang upon the Hottentots is termed Cuze-cat. In Finland, the fellows who steal seal-skins, pick the pockets of bear-skin overcoats, and talk cant, are termed Lappes. In France, the secret language of highwaymen, housebreakers, and pickpockets, is named Argot. The brigands and more romantic rascals of Spain term their private tongue Germania, t or Robbers' Language. Rothwälsch, for foreign-beggar-talk, is synonymous with cant and thieves' talk in Germany. The vulgar dialect of Malta, and the Scala towns of the Levant-imported into this country and incorporated with English cant-is known as the Lingua Franca, or bastard Italian. And the crowds of lazy beggars that infest the streets of Naples and Rome, as well as the brigands of Pompeii, use a secret language termed Gergo. In England, as we all know, it is called Cant-often improperly Slang.
Most nations, then, possess each a tongue, or series of tongues maybe, each based on the national language, by which not only thieves, beggars, and other outcasts communicate, but which is used more or less by all classes. There is hardly any community in this country, hardly any profession, but has its slang,
* “Swarms of vagabonds, whose eyes were so sharp as Lynx."Bullein's Simples and Surgery, 1562.
+ Probably from the Gipsies, who were supposed to come from Germany into Spain.
From Roter, beggar, vagabond, and wälsch, foreign. See Dictionary of Gipsy language in Pott's Zigeuner in Europa und Asien, vol. ii., Halle, 1844. The Italian cant is called Fourbesque, and the Portuguese Calao. See Francisque-Michel, Dictionnaire d'Argot, Paris, 1856.