Victorian Criminal Slang January 8, 2017Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback
Beach has been enjoying Pickpockets, Beggars and Ratcatchers by Kellow Chesney on London’s underworld in the teeming, dirty and unmatchable nineteenth century: the illustrations are great too. One of the joys about entering this world is the lively slang used by the underclass. The following come from Pickpockets but also from one of the most important sources books for Victorian crime The Seven Curses of London.
Area Diving: opportunistic burglaries, quickly trying to see if a basement door was open, running in and out.
Beak hunting: poultry stealing. (Lots of livestock in 19C London)
Bearing up: a woman tempts a man to a lonely place where he can be robbed.
Boated: transported to Australia.
Bouncer: stealing from a shop while pretending to buy something.
Break a drum: rob a house.
Bug-Hunting: robbing drunks.
Buttoner: the man who puts on cheat games in the street for betting
Christening Jack: scratching names off watches so they can be resold.
Claws for breakfast: whipped in prison.
Dead lurk: robbing a house while the family are at church.
Dipping: pickpocketting typically for handkerchiefs and the like.
Dragsman: stealing luggage from a moving cab.
Flying the blue pigeon: stealing lead from roofs.
Gospel-grinder: inner city missionary, one of those over enthusiastic supercilious Victorian types.
Jolly: a fake fight in the street to distract those being robbed.
Kinchins: children or young servants who can be easily mugged.
Pinch a Bob: rob a till.
Plant: the victim.
Queer screens: forged bank notes.
Shin scraper: the treadmill.
Skinning: stealing clothes from children.
Smatter hauling: handkerchief stealing, again from pockets….
Snakesman: sending a child into a house, through a small opening, to let thieves in.
Snowing: stealing linen drying on the line.
Starring the glaze: breaking a pane of glass.
Swinging the stick: full out mugging.
Thimble-twister: expert pickpocket of watches
Tooling: proper grown up pickpocketing, perhaps so named because a device was used to open out the pocket. Note that a maltooler was an omnibus pickpocket.
Wire: long fingered pickpocket.
One thing that Beach found was particularly interesting were the words that are today part of mainstream English (at least in the UK) with the same or related meanings: busking (‘selling obscene songs’), frisked (‘searched by policemen’), swag (anything stolen), black maria (police van)…. There must be others. What about ‘stretch’? A few years in prison.
Other underworld slang: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com