J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

From a 1737 Canting Dictionary

tipplerThe From Old Books website offers a transcription of Nathaniel Bailey’s Canting Dictionary, a lexicon of British underworld slang published in 1737. Here’s an image of one page spread, and some samples:

BAWDY-HOUSE-BOTTLE, a very small one.

EQUIPT, rich; also having new Cloaths. Well equipt, plump in the Pocket, or very full of Money; also very well drest. The Cull equipt me with a Brace of Meggs, The Gentleman furnish'd me with a Couple of Guineas.

HUM-Cap, old, mellow, and very strong Beer.

, an emty Fellow, a meer Gods-head.

SHRED, a Taylor.

THUMMIKINS, a Punishment (in Scotland) by hard squeezing or pressing of the Thumbs, to extort Confession, which stretches them prodigiously, and is very painful. In [military] Camps, and on Board of Ships, lighted Matches are clapt between the Fingers to the same Intent.
I wouldn’t assume that all these terms were current in North America forty years later. Slang is peculiar and quickly changing, after all. But the dictionary does offer a heady whiff of eighteenth-century culture.

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