The Cant Language

The Cant Language

PLENTY OF INTEREST FROM READERS since our last issue on the subject of Bamfylde-Moore Carew, Devon’s so-called King of the Gypsies and more particularly about the CANT LANGUAGE, spoken amongst ‘Egyptian’ Gypsies and other ne’er-do-wells in Georgian England.

Some of these odd code words and phrases survive in Devon to this day. If you find yourself watching the carving of the roast next Sunday to make sure you are getting your fair whack, you are talking CANT.

Getting all togged up for a night out? You’re talking CANT again.

And if that panto you took the kids to see happened to be Babes in the Wood, you just used the CANT code for any of their number held fast in the stocks!

Here are a few more, below:

Abram    naked, without clothes
Adam tiler   
a pickpocket’s accomplice
Amen curler   
a parish clerk
Autumn jet   
a parson
Autumn bawler   
a preacher
Babes in the wood   
criminals in the stocks
Back’d   
dead
Balsam –
money
Bandog   
a bailiff
Baptised   
any spirit cut with water
Barking irons   
pistols
Bawbee   
a halfpenny
Beater cases   
boots
Belly cheat   
an apron
Bing   
to go
Blackfly   
the parson
Blackbox   
a lawyer
Black Indies   
Newcastle
Bob   
a shoplifter’s assistant (‘Bob’s your uncle!’)
Booby hatch 
a one-horse chaise
Bum brusher   
a school master
Cank   
dumb
Cap   
to swear
Case   
a shop, house or warehouse, or a target for thievery – ‘case’ the joint
Calfskin fiddle   
a drum
Charm   
a picklock
Chates   
the gallows
Chafe   
a knife
Chosen tells   
highwaymen working in pairs
Chuck farthing   
parish clerk
Clickman toad   
a West Country man
Closes   
rogues
Cloy   
a rogue, a robber
Coach wheel   
half a crown
Collar day   
execution
Cooler 
a woman
Crew   
knot or gang
Crook   
sixpence
Cucumbers   
tailors
Cussin   
a man
Darby ready   
money
Dag   
a gun
Dancers   
stairs
Dash   
a tavern drawer
Diddle   
gin
Timber dater   
the top rogue
Dobing rig   
stealing ribbons
Doctors   
loaded dice
Dunker   
a stealer of cows
Riffs newly   
initiated rogues
Eternity box   
coffin
Families   
rings
Fammes   
hands
Fastener   
a warrant
Fawnet   
a ring
Feeder   
a spoon
Ferret   
a pawnbroker
Flick   
sly
Flyers   
shoes or boots
Froglanders   
the Dutch
Frummagemmed   
choked, strangled, hanged
Gaberlunsie   
a beggar
Gem   
a fire
Gibberish   
the Cant language
Bigger   
a door
Gaoler’s coach   
a hurdle
Green bag   
a  lawyer
Gropers   
a blind man
Gutter-lane   
the throat
Hammer   
a great lie
Hams   
breeches
Henfright  
hen-pecked husbands
Hums   
church goers
King’s pictures   
money of any kind
Lantern 
a bribable court official
Lifter   
a crutch
Little Barbary   
Wapping
Lushy cover   
drunk
Mill clapper   
a scolding tongue
Moon-curser   
a link-boy
Muck   
money
Ne’er a face but his own – 
Not a penny in his pocket
Nub   
a head
Nubbing   
cheat the gallows
Nut-crackers   
a pillory
Ogles   
eyes
Pad-the-hoof   
journeying on foot
Pantler   
a butler
Peeper   
a mirror
Penance boards   
a pillory
Porker 
a sword
Royster 
a rude, roaring fellow
Ruffin   
the devil
Rumba   
a prison
Sharper   
a cheat
Shove the tumbler 
whipped at the cart’s tail
Spanish money   
forwards
Spoil pudding   
long-winded parson
Swag 
a shop
Tip   
to give or lend
Toggery   
clothes
Twig    to
break off
Wattles 
ears
Whack   
share
Whitewall   
silver money
Wooden ruff   
the stocks
Yam 
to eat heartily
Yarum   
milk
Yellow George   
a guinea
Yelper   
town crier
Znees   
frost or frozen
Zneesy   
frosty weather

Re-searched (and Spellchecked)
– by John Fisher

Featured image “Hark, hark, the dogs do bark, the beggars are coming to town!”.  Courtesy Russell-Coates Museum & Art gallery

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This article was written by
Nigel Jones

Nigel's has been publishing magazines since 1995 (some 20+ years now). Passionate about our countryside and heritage, the magazines reflect this interest. Nigel's the Editor of the DEVONSHIRE magazine which he established in 2009 and founder of the innovative HUBCAST event promotion platform which launched in 2011