The things you find on the internet…

…how about a fascinating article by Rebecca Onion for Slate magazine which offers examples and a link to a book of criminal slang from the 19th century?

If this has you interested, check out the link to the full book on 19th century (more specifically circa 1850’s) slang:

Some random words I came across in the book:

“Easy” = Killed

“Fork” = A pickpocket

“Frog” = A policeman (interestingly, “Pig” was also used as slang to describe a policeman, and this very insulting term remains used today.  You can find plenty of references to animals and many of them, like “Pig”, remain familiar even today.  “Pigeon”, for example, retains its meaning from the 1850’s, ie a criminal who may engage in a crime and then inform on his partners to the law.  A “Rat” remains a cheat).

“Jilt” = A prostitute who “hugs and kisses a country-man” while her accomplice(s) rob him.

“Pin-Money” = Money received by a married woman for prostituting herself.

“Roper-In” = A man who visits hotels and other places for the purpose of ingratiating himself with persons who have plenty of cash and little prudence…and then luring them to gaming houses, presumably to cheat them out of said cash.

“Shadow” = First class police officer.  Wonder if that was one of the original reasons why the name was chosen for the famous pulp character of the same name?

“Vampire” = A man who lives by extorting money from men and women whom he has seen coming or going out of houses of “assignation”.

This one is really fascinating: “Whip-Jacks” = Men who pretend to be shipwrecked sailors!  I imagine enough people pulled off this trick for this term to merit inclusion in the 1850 book, but I can’t help but wonder why people would pull that particular con in the old days.  In other words, what were they hoping to get for creating this story?  Sympathy?  Ill-gained charity?  Or perhaps lying their way onto cargo ships and a “real” job?

Fascinating, fascinating stuff.