Slang dictionary of 17th-century London revealed
Thursday 12 August 2010
In 1699 the word "slang" had not even been coined. Nevertheless, a newly uncovered book proves that whether you were an "arsworm" ("a little diminutive Fellow") or a "bundletail" ("a short Fat or squat Lass"), colloquial language was thriving in 17th-century England.
Those are just two of the 4,000 entries included in A New Dictionary of Terms, Ancient and Modern, of the Canting Crew, which has recently been rediscovered in Oxford University's Bodleian Library.
Given the number of references to the nether regions, it seems bum jokes were just as popular then as now. Breeches were known as "farting-crackers" and "Bumfodder" is sensitively described as "what serves to wipe the Tail".
One term is particularly apt in today's political climate: "Malecontents, out of Humour with the Government, for want of a Place, or having lost one" are defined as "Grumbletonians."
The dictionary was originally compiled to amuse the polite London classes with a knowledge of "canting", the vocabulary of thieves and ruffians.
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