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The belated books of 2010: The First English Dictionary of Slang, 1699

January 4, 2011 | 11:28 am

Firstenglishdictionaryslang Some books landed on my desk in 2010 and sat patiently, waiting their turn, without getting the attention they deserved. Something else always shouldered ahead, loud with immediacy, and these patient yet worthy books grew older and older. This week, each gets a quick treatment on Jacket Copy. And then, each must get off my desk.

Up first: the appropriately old-school First English Dictionary of Slang, 1699.

"It was the first dictionary to concern itself solely with slang vocabulary, or more specifically with 'cant,' " writes John Simpson, chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, in his introduction. "Cant was the secret language of the rogues, beggars and vagabonds who peopled the underworld of early England."

A few of its definitions:


Crap, Money. Nim the crap, to Steal the Money. Wheedle for Crap, to coakse Money out of any Body

Fork, a Pick-pocket. Let's fork him, let us Pick that man's Pocket in the newest and most dextrous way: It is, to thrust the Fingers, straight, stiff, open and very quick into the pocket, and so closing them, hook what can be held between them

Funk, Tobacco Smoak; also a strong Smell or Stink.

Layd-up-in Lavender, when any Cloaths or other Moveables are pawn'd or dipt for present Money

Nazie, Drunken

Tears of the Tankard, drops of the good Liquor that fall beside

The First English Dictionary of Slang, 1699 is now $25 from the University of Chicago Press. Originally published anonymously, the 2010 version is edited by the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford in England.

-- Carolyn Kellogg