the alarm rap

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Thu Dec 20 14:35:17 UTC 2007

George, does the publication offer an explanation of its name?  It reminds me of "spifflicate" - which obviously proves all kinds of amazing things.


George Thompson <george.thompson at NYU.EDU> wrote:
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Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: George Thompson
Subject: the alarm rap

This is a term that's not in the OED. It refers to the practice of a policeman summoning help from the cops on nearby beats by striking his club against the pavement, making a sharp noise that carried for blocks.

1835: A gang of 10 or 15 disorderly boys, of from 15 to 20 years of age, chiefly apprentices, assembled in the Bowery, and were proceeding . . . up that street . . . crying "come on! come on! Bleecker Street House! Bleecker Street House! Hi Hi &c. &c. As they approached Prince street, the watch . . . gave the alarm rap. . . .
New York Daily Advertiser, June 26, 1835, p. 2, col. 4

1836: The deceased was standing at his post, at the corner of Pine and Front streets when he saw Holm with goods in his possession, which he supposed were stolen. Deceased hailed him; and, on his flight, gave the alarm rap, and pursued him; to see what he was carrying; when Holmes [sic] turned round and stabbed [him] in the right breast, between the nipple and breast bone. . . .
The Splifincator. Devoted to Mirth and Sarcasm. 1:8 (September 3, 1836), p. 2, col. 1

1837: I gave the alarm rap, procured assistance, and having placed a watchman to secure any one who might attempt to escape, I entered the cellar and found the white boy secreted therein. ***
The Herald, January 13, 1837, p. 2, col. 5

1842: [the watchman] gave the alarm rap, and followed him. . . .
New York Daily Express, October 10, 1842, p. 2, col. 4

(I take some quiet pride in the thought that not many others submit citations from The Splifincator to the OED.) (All right, noisy pride.)


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much lately.

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