The Language of Eighteenth Century Criminals and Villains

The Language of Eighteenth Century Criminals and Villains

Eighteenth century criminals used a colorful language called “Cant” which was basically the language of rogues. Since there is a little bit of rogue in everyone, adding some Cant here and there to your eighteenth century language can give you more than a bit of intrigue.

My favorite expert on this language of eighteenth century criminals is author Stephen Hart who wrote “Cant – a Gentleman’s Guide.” His “Website of Pascal Bonenfant” has an excellent searchable database where you can type a modern definition or word and get back the colonial equivalent as well as a sentence or two to show its use.

My Favorite Cant Phrases

SWAG– Stuff for free, often by theft. This modern meaning is about the same thing
RUM QUIDDS – A very large score or amount of booty.
OFF THE HOOKS – Crazy
STAMPERS – Shoes
SWELL – A rich man, usually one you would like to rob.
RANK – Absolute or total as in RANK SWELL.
FLOOR – Knock down.
BUGGER – Rascal.
LYING ROUGH – Unconscious or collapsed from drinking or fighting.
CHURCH WORK – A slow or boring task
TURN UP –To quit.
BADGER – Desperate villain.
CUFF – Old man.
This list does not include the over ninety phrases that have to do with being drunk.