"fork *up*" (July 1837), and other slang

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Mon Mar 1 21:06:01 UTC 2010

Sorry about that.

Cf.: "A rag-happy skivvy-waver and a rock-happy bellhop were chipping the
ivories with a zoomie and a doughfoot.

"'Hey, Mac,' said the fly-fly boy to the sea-going bellhop, 'what's the

"'No hot dope today,' replied the gyrene.

"'You're off the beam because you got a sugar report [sic] from a flugie,'
rejoined the swabbie. 'Today a can took a fish, a yippie heaved some
ashcans, and a super conked out and went into the drink.'

[Five similar paragraphs omitted]. . .

"'O.K., haba-haba, let's crap out and gaze at our cheecakes.'

"'You ain't just a-woofin'.'"

This comes from John Lancaster Riordan's "American Naval 'Slanguage' in the
Pacific, 1945" (California Folklore Quarterly, V, Oct. 1946, pp. 375-390).
Riordan's work has the advantage of being based on first-hand observation.
His vocabulary is authentic, even if its deployment isn't very.


On Mon, Mar 1, 2010 at 3:56 PM, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at gmail.com>wrote:

> I wouldn't call it a send-up, just a diverting exercise.
> On Mon, Mar 1, 2010 at 3:24 PM, Robin Hamilton <
> robin.hamilton2 at btinternet.com> wrote:
>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>> -----------------------
>> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>> Poster:       Robin Hamilton <robin.hamilton2 at BTINTERNET.COM>
>> Subject:      Re: "fork *up*" (July 1837), and other slang
>> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> > No. Because the dictionaries and thesauruses you use (I assume) are the
>> > carefully edited kind that don't include ghost words, irresponsible
>> > definitions, and all sorts of other errors.
>> Hm ...  You have a little more faith in dictionaries than I do, Jon.  I'm
>> tempted to say, when it comes to the above list of errors, "Name one!"
>> (other than the HDAS, of course <g>.)  Beale/Partridge, for instance ...
>> Yikes!!
>> > The phony use that Robin refers to is that of picking bizarre words from
>> > crummily edited cant dictionaries (which are in no small part
>> plagiarized
>> > from earlier ones) and repeating them, sometimes with distortions, and
>> > often
>> > with the imputation that they're current and used by everybody, or at
>> > least
>> > everybody in the red-light district.
>> I don't think dictionaries necessarily solve the problem here.  Bernard
>> Cornwall, in _The Gallows Thief_, relied on Vaux (which might be a mistake
>> to start with, and Vaux might fall within Jon's "crummily edited cant
>> dictionaries" list), but nevertheless ...
>> *Gallows thief?  Does Cornwall actually mean what was once called a boman
>> prig, or is he simply cocking up a confusion of "gallows" (later, and in
>> America and Scotland) "gallus", used as an intensifier and often found in
>> the combination "gallows whore", with the triple tree?  Does he mean what
>> he
>> seems to mean, a thief associated with the gallows?
>> In contrast, and admittedly it's finally a short tour de force, there's
>> Neil
>> Stephenson in _The System of the World_ (2004).  This is the only example
>> I've ever encountered of a passage of historical slang in a work of
>> fiction
>> that gets it absolutely right, in the sense that while there's no attempt
>> to
>> pretend, finally, that the work is anything *other than fiction, every
>> single word Stephenson uses locates precisely around circa. 1710.  Because
>> Stephenson finally uses a single text -- actually, it's possible to
>> specify
>> which of *two texts, published in the same year, Stephenson uses as his
>> source.  (I'll include the entire passage at the end, and allow the list
>> to
>> make their own judgement.)
>> > James Carabatsos, had apparently gotten his hands on a copy of
>> > Matsell or perhaps the _Slang Dictionary of New York, London, and Paris_
>> > and, in an access of misinspiration,  has one of his "Bowery boy"
>> > characters
>> > (in the Leo Gorcey sense)  spouting terms like "Daisyville' in the U.S.
>> > army
>> > in 1918.  My flesh crawled more than most.
>> Well, Matsell ...  I think the prose passage he prints at the end of his
>> _Vocabulum_ (and which is mildly sanitised when it's plagarised in _The
>> Slang Dictionary_) is intended as a send-up of this very thing,
>> anachronistic cant which skids across the centuries with a blithe
>> disregard
>> for the local habitation of the words.  Matsell, I think, is one of the
>> few
>> people (William Maginn might have been another) who could get away with
>> this, and maybe you have to be obsessed with historical nature of cant to
>> get the joke, but ...
>> ___________________________
>> "Ho! there, my rum-bluffer; send me a nipperkin of white velvet."
>> "Make it two," said a woman, seating herself on a skinner's knee; "and if
>> Jim don't post the cole, I will."
>> "Why, Bell, is it yourself? Tip us your daddle, my bene mort. May I dance
>> at
>> my death, and grin in a glass-case, if I didn't think you had been put to
>> bed with a shovel - you've been so long away from the cock and hen club."
>> "No, Jim, I only piked into Deuceaville with a dimber-damber, who couldn't
>> pad the hoof for a single darkman's without his bloss to keep him from
>> getting pogy."
>> "Oh! I'm fly. You mean Jumping Jack, who was done last week, for heaving a
>> peter from a drag. But you talked of padding the hoof. Why, sure, Jack had
>> a
>> rattler and a prad?"
>> "Yes, but they were spotted by the harmans, and so we walked Spanish."
>> "Was he nabbed on the scent?"
>> "No, his pal grew leaky and cackled."
>> "Well, Bell, here's the bingo - sluice your gob! But who was the cull that
>> peached?"
>> "A slubber de gullion named Harry Long, who wanted to pass for an
>> out-and-out cracksman, though he was merely a diver."
>> ___________________________________
>> Robin
>> *************
>> Neal Stephenson, The System of the World (2004) - Arrow Books, 2005, page
>> 125:  "Meeting of the Clubb at Clerkenwell":
>> " ... I grew weary of transitory knowledge, and decided to seek knowledge
>> of
>> a more eternal nature."
>> "Do you claim to have found it?"
>> "No."
>> "Good. I was afraid this was going to turn into a homily."
>> Daniel now felt safe in advancing two more steps. Then a question occurred
>> to him, and he stopped. "How did you know my name?"
>> "It's inscribed on the back of the watch."
>> "No, it's not."
>> "Very clever," said Saturn.  Daniel could not tell which of them was the
>> target of the sarcasm.  Saturn continued, "Very well, sir. A certain flash
>> cull of my acquaintance, a file-cly with a specialization in tatlers, who
>> had run afoul of a Harmon in Fleet Street, and been condemned to shove the
>> tumbler from Newgate to Leadenhall, came by my ken of an afternoon,
>> desiring
>> employment of a sedentary nature while his stripes healed. And after
>> taking
>> sensible precautions, which is to say, making sure that he was not running
>> a
>> type of service-lay to slum my ken, I said to this buz, my business here
>> has
>> fallen on hard times because I cannot run it without transitory knowledge.
>> And yet my brain has had its fill of the same, and all I wish to do is to
>> sit in my shop reading books, to acquire knowledge eternal, which benefits
>> me in ways intangible, but in no way helps me to receive and sell stolen
>> property of a horologickal nature, which is the raison d'etre of the shop.
>> Therefore, go ye out into the Rumbo, the Spinning-Ken, to Old Nass, go to
>> the Boozing-kens of Hockley-in-the-Hole and the Cases at the low end of
>> the
>> Mount, go to the Goat in Long-lane, the Dogg in Fleet Street, and the
>> Black-boy in Newtenhouse-Lane, and drink-but not too much- and buy
>> drinks-but never too many-for any flash culls you spy there, and acquire
>> transitory knowledge, and return to my ken and relate to me what you have
>> learnt. And back he comes, a week later, and informs me that a certain old
>> Gager has lately been making the rounds, trying to recover some lost
>> property. 'What has he lost?' I inquired. `Not a thing,' came the answer,
>> 'he is after another cull's lost property-some gager who was Phinneyed ten
>> years since.' `Go and learn that dead cove's name,' says I, 'and the quick
>> one's, too.' Come the answers: Robert Hooke, and Daniel Waterhouse,
>> respectively. Why, he even pointed you out to me once, when you walked
>> past
>> my shop on your way to visit your swine-yard. That's how I knew you."
>> Peter Hoxton now extended his arms. His left hand held the chain of the
>> Hooke-watch, swinging it like a pendulum, and his right offered a
>> handshake.
>> Daniel accepted the watch greedily, and the handshake with reluctance.
>> ------------------------------------------------------------
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> truth."

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