"slang" (1746); favorable insults

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jul 24 19:04:20 UTC 2009

OED cites William Toldervy's _History of Two Orphans: In Four Volumes_
(London: William Owen, 1756) as its primary ex. of "slang" in a linguistic
sense.  A recent, welcome expansion of ECCO reveals the broader context:

Vol. I, p. 68: " _Charles Culverin_ had seen a few of the campaigns of the
great Duke of _Marlborough_; and, in return for the numerous lies which he
told, was called the cannon-traveller. _Thomas Throw_ had been upon the
town, knew the slang well; had often sate a flasher at _M-d-g-n's_, and
understood every word in the scoundrel's dictionary; had as much assurance
as any fashionable fellow in _London_; from which he had been kicked out of
all houses, from buttock of beef island to the _Brawn's Head_: But, at this
fortunate table, _Tom_ found himself consider'd as a man of damn'd good
humour, and hellish high wit."

Tom says things like this (p. 70): "I tell you what, gentleman,...I can
stick one barley-corn in my backside, and in swimming over the _Trent_,
engage to make the whole river better small beer than this is."

Be that as it may, Toldervy seems not to use the word "slang" again; when he
must, he says "cant," which would be customary in the mid 18th C. Vol. 3, p.
165: "'Why, damn your cock eye,' said another sailor, (whose cant name was
_Jack Cutlass_) I knew you aboard admiral [sic] _Lestock_.' "

Jack Cutlass also says, to a man of course,"Why, you blood of a b----h...how
dare you say such a thing?"  And if anyone should think that the use of "son
of a bitch" in a positive sense is recent, let him or her ponder this, as
another son of Ocean (Vol. 3, p. 166) remarks, "Please your honour, he
heaves the line, and hands a rope as well as I can; splices like a son of a
b----h; and...the best master in the fleet can't come up to him, knaw [sic]
my marrow bones if he can."


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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