Gentle readers: The exhibition, Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices is showing at the British Library in London from November 12, 20101 through April 4, 2011. Featured is this flash dictionary, one of many exhibits:
This cheap pamphlet was aimed at young working men interested in sport, gambling and drinking. It amied to cover criminal cant, sporting slan and ‘flash phrased now in vogue’. In the19th century, the word flash had several meanings. A fashionable man-about-town was commonly referred to as a flash cove and the meaning survives today in the phrase ‘flash Harry’. The dictuionary includes figures we would recognise, including fencers and shoplifters and unfamiliar terms, such as ‘priggers’ (pickpockets and ‘spicers’ (highwaymen). – George Kent, Modern Flash Dictionary. London, 1835.
Listen to David Crystal, language expert, explore aspects of the evolution of the English language in this podcast.
Look up 19th century cant in this interactive online Lexicon of Thieves’ Cant Dictionary. When I looked up ‘Hangman’, for example, these terms came up: “Derrick, Jack Ketch, Ketch, nubbing cove, sheriff’s journeyman, topping cove, turned off.”