More on The Rogue -- the terminology of thieves

Robin Hamilton robin.hamilton3 at VIRGINMEDIA.COM
Fri Jun 13 21:15:53 UTC 2014

_The Sonne of the Rogue_ provides a list of 13 varieties of thieves, once in Chapter 7, and again in the final chapter, Chapter 13, where there is a shorter list of 10 types. Chapters 7 and 8 also provide descriptions of the thieves. 

The OED cites _The Sonne of the Rogue_ seven times, two of which are relevant to this issue.

LIBERAL, adj. and n.:

B. n.  †2. Criminals' slang. A prominent member of a criminal gang. Obs. rare.

1638   W. Melvin tr. C. Garcia Sonne of Rogue 246   Over all these a kinde of Theeves bearesway [sic], called among us Liberalls,..and these are the wittyest of all the company, and those who as it were indued with the best wit and invention.

This entry was updated in 2010.  As the word in this sense only ever appears in The Rogue, the description, ‘Criminals' slang’, might better read, ‘A nonce-translation of the sixteenth century Spanish argot term, liberales.'

The second term which the OED cites from the list of criminals in The Rogue is Stafador.

The entry for STAFADOR (originally from 1915) should be revised.

† ˈstafador, n.

Etymology:  < Spanish estafador, agent-noun < estafar to swindle.  ...   An impostor.

1638   W. Melvin tr. C. Garcia Sonne of Rogue 246   For the first are the Robbers, next the Stafadours, then the Grumets, after these the Hobgoblins.
1638   W. Melvin tr. C. Garcia Sonne of Rogue 249   A Robber, Staffador or Grumet

These citations (neither of which contains the spelling “stafador” used as the OED headword) are both from Chapter 13 of The Rogue.  Chapter 7 provides a definition of Staffadour which is contrary to the sense given in the OED:

        Your Staffadours are a second sort of robbers, little differing from the former, though more courteous, and not so bloudy; those goe calmely into the house of some Marchant, and not finding him there, seeke for him at great leasure, at the Exchange, in the fields, at Church, and in the middle of a thousand people, drawes neere to him softly talking in his eare, making as though hee would communicate to him some busines of great importance, and shewing him a Dagger, saith, this Dagger demandeth a hundreth crownes, brought to such a place, such a day, and if you doe it not, you shall die for it. The poore Marchant sore affrighted by such words dareth not to misse, for feare to be killed.

Thus, in Garcia and subsequently in _The Sonne of the Rogue_, a Staffadour is a robber who demands money with menaces.  This differs both from the standard Spanish meaning of an imposter, which the OED draws on for its sense of the word, and from the Spanish argot sense of a thief who steals from other thieves.

The overall question is why these two particular terms are chosen for inclusion but the remainder of the names in the lists in The Rogue are omitted.

The list in Chapter 13, page 247, reads in full:

        For the first are the Robbers, next the Stafadours, then the Grumets, after these the Hobgoblins, then follow the wooll-drawers, the Mallets follow them, and last the Apostles, Cigarets, Cutpurses, and Caterers.

Selections of terms from the full lists appear in two non-translated texts, obviously indebted to _The Sonne of the Rogue_:


_The devils cabinet broke open_ (1657), page 39:

        … every novice is first tried before he is imployed, and then according to his inclination and ability, he is put in office of a stafadours, grumet, hobgobling, or mullets, that are such as are conveyed into mens houses in packs or hogsheads, or the like …


_The Catterpillers of This Nation Anatomized_ (1659), p. 3:

        … if that fail, they often convey an Hobgoblin ( as they call him ) in some Cask or Trunk, who (when there's a fit occasion) lets them all in to perpetrate their work …

Hobgoblins would seem to merit inclusion under any criterion.  As “Liberal” is included in the most recent OED revision, the same criterion which allowed it entry would seem to apply to the entire lists. 

It might also be noted that none of the terms (as far as I know) are included in the sequence of cant and slang dictionaries reaching from Farmer and Henley through Partridge to the recent GDoS, so the OED isn’t unusual in excluding them.

        --  Robin Hamilton

The American Dialect Society -

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