counterfeiter's slang again

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sat May 29 18:54:57 UTC 2004

>As far as "cogniac" vs "coniack" goes: when I wrote a note on
>Counterfeiter's Slang for American Speech a few years ago, my only
>citation for "cogniac/coniack" was from a book by a gentleman felon who
>had done time in the NY State penitentiary.  I said then that his probable
>familiarity with cognac brandy influenced his spelling of a word he would
>have learned by word of mouth in the joint, not by reading.  But since
>then I have seen "cogniac" in several newspapers of the time.  But my
>"cognac" argument may still apply to the gentleman non-felon editors.
>As for the etymology of the word, I have no idea.

It was not unusual for "cognac" (brandy) to be spelled "coniac" and
occasionally other ways. The spelling variation doesn't bother me.

Possible etymologies which come to my mind (naive speculation only):

1. From a surname. [Perhaps that of a counterfeiter long ago.]

2. From "cognac" = "good brandy". [To pass a bogus bill, one might like to
buy a drink in a dark tavern, using a large bill. To pass a relatively
large bill without arousing suspicion, as well as to optimize one's
drinking pleasure, one might want to order the highest-priced liquor.]

3. From the place name. [Was counterfeit British currency once smuggled
into England from Cognac?]


Here is an account of a raid on some counterfeiters in Illinois, ca. 1822:

Here is an account of the same event, using the word "coniack":

-- Doug Wilson

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