Possible Antedating of "Slang"

Wed Apr 16 22:59:35 UTC 2014

I think this 1733 "Toby Slang" is intriguing, but it tells us very little.  What it may tell us is that the term "slang" was already around in 1733, and thus was not a new term in 1756, when we see its first confirmed use (and Jon warns that even that may not refer to language).  Unfortunately, we can't be certain even of this, since we can't be sure that the name is a reference to our "slang."

We would likely know more, perhaps quite a bit more, if we had the text of The Livery-Rake Trapp'd.  Presumably we would be able to tell if Toby Slang used slang and, if so, what "slang" was understood to be.  Perhaps Toby Slang's back-story would tell us something about who slang users were supposed to be, and conceivably there might even be a discussion of the term.  Unfortunately, The Livery-Rake Trapp'd is unpublished.  I don't know what the chances are that a manuscript survives, but I am not optimistic.

I don't think the possibility that this was the origin or popularization of the term is worth pursuing.  As far as we know, this ballad opera was produced only once, to no great acclaim, and as already noted it was never published.  It is remembered today, to the very limited extent it is remembered at all, principally because one of the actresses, Hannah Pritchard, rates an article in the Dictionary of National Biography.  Nor are there any references to Toby Slang, other than the few that are found in listings of the work's characters.  It just seems too obscure to support a plausible belief that Toby Slang's name became a by-word.

John Baker

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Jonathan Lighter
Sent: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 8:55 AM
Subject: Re: Possible Antedating of "Slang"

Somehow cut off was the opening line:

"Cf. the character Slango in Henry Carey's 'The Honest Yorkshireman'

I don't know anything about "Toby Slang" except - interestingly enough - that English crooks at one time called the highway "the high toby."


On Wed, Apr 16, 2014 at 8:50 AM, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at gmail.com>wrote:

> He doesn't use slang.
> Moreover, John's beguiling 1733 discovery is less impressive now that
> it might have been thirty years ago. Before digitized databases, one
> could ponder the notion that many, many undiscovered examples of
> "slang," some in the modern sense, were lying around undiscovered in the early 18th century.
> That likelihood is now reduced practically to zero.
> If "Toby Slang" had somehow popularized the use or notion of slang,
> very likely we'd have some hint of it in ECCO. Last time I looked
> (maybe they've expanded it again), we didn't.
> Nor is it entirely clear that the OED's 1756 ex.refers to language
> rather than, say, to town low-life in general. Liberman (2008)
> suggests plausibly, though not conclusively. that slang "must" [sic]
> at one time have meant "territory over which hawkers, strolling
> showmen, and other itinerants traveled," and that, applied to
> language, it originally designated the "banter" of such characters.
> JL
> On Tue, Apr 15, 2014 at 3:05 PM, Baker, John <JBAKER at stradley.com> wrote:
>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>> -----------------------
>> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>> Poster:       "Baker, John" <JBAKER at STRADLEY.COM>
>> Subject:      Possible Antedating of "Slang"
>> ---------------------------------------------------------------------
>> ----------
>> The OED has "slang" from 1756.  However, an earlier play, The
>> Livery-Rake
>> Trapp'd: or, The Disappointed Country Lass, which premiered at the
>> New Theatre in the Haymarket on October 15, 1733, included a
>> character named "Toby Slang," played in the original production
>> (which was probably the only one ever mounted) by a Mr. Harper.  The (London) Daily Journal (Oct.
>> 15, 1733) (Access Newspaper Archive) indicated that it was a "Ballad Opera"
>> in four acts and says that "The Words of the English Songs are
>> printed, and will be deliver'd gratis at the Theatre."  William J.
>> Burling, A Checklist of New Plays and Entertainments on the London
>> Stage, 1700 - 1737, at 157
>> (1993) (Google Books), indicates that it was unpublished and may be a
>> parody of The Livery Rake and Country Lass (5 May 1733).
>> There does not seem to be any more information concerning this Toby
>> Slang character on the Web, but if he was so named because he liked
>> to use slang then this may be an antedating of the term.  I don't
>> know if any copies of the play survive.  Toby Slang was the first
>> character mentioned in the Daily Journal.
>> John Baker
>> ------------------------------------------------------------
>> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
> --
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> truth."

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