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The Criminal Element, circa 1859

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This selection from New York Police Chief George Matsell’s Vocabulum, or the Rogue’s Lexicon, a collection of criminal slang, is amazing. It’s available here in its entirety. Here are some words for you. See if you can work them into conversation tomorrow.

Altitudes: A state of drunkenness; being high.

Ambidexter: One who befriends both sides; a lawyer who takes fees from both parties in a suit.

Bag of nails: Everything in confusion.

Balsam: Money.

Barking-irons: Pistols.

Billy Noodle: A soft fellow that believes the girls are all in love with him.

Blue-plum: A bullet; “Surfeit the bloke with blue-plum,” shoot him.

Bread-bag: The stomach. [Also: Middle-piece; Victualling Office.]

Bun: A fellow that can not be shaken off.

Chatty feeder: A spoon. [Also, Feeders: Silver spoons or forks. “Nap the feeders,” steal the spoons. Smash-feeder: A silver spoon.]

Cutty-eyed: To look out of the corner of the eyes; to look suspicious; to leer; to look askance. “The copper cutty-eyed us,” the officer looked suspicious at us.

Daisyville: The country.

Dry up: Be silent; stop that.

And that’s just A through D of the excerpt.

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