OED -- Problems with CRACKMANS and RUFFMANS

Robin Hamilton robin.hamilton3 at VIRGINMEDIA.COM
Thu Aug 7 11:51:26 UTC 2014

RUFFMANS as a cant term for a hedge is first recorded in Thomas Harman, _A 
Caveat for Common Cursitors_ (1567), while CRACKMANS is noted with the same 
meaning in S.R., _Martin Mark-all_ (1610).  While the OED correctly begins 
the respective entries with these citations, the remainder of both entries 
contain problems.

The OED cites one of three occurrences of CRACKMANS in _Martin Mark-all_, 
but omits one which is significant:

                Ruffmans, not the hedge or bushes as heretofore : but now 
the eauesing of houses or roofes: Cragmans is now vsed for the hedge.  [E3v]

Here, we have a variant spelling CRAGMANS (noted in GDoS but not the OED), 
and a meaning of RUFFMANS not included in the OED definition of RUFFMANS.

The second citation in the OED, from Jonson's _Masque of the Gypsies_, is 
given with a publication date of 1640, and dated as "a1637" (since Jonson 
died in 1637).  The masque was performed in 1621, and that date should be 

The third citation is from the _New Canting Dictionary_ of 1725.  This is an 
extension of the definition in B.E., _New Dictionary of the Canting Crew_ 
(1699), where the definition of CRACKMANS is taken from Richard Head's 
_Canting Academy_ (1673), repeating Head's earlier instance of this in _The 
English Rogue_ (1665).  Head in turn has as his source Thomas Dekker, 
_Lanthorne and Candlelight_ (originally published in 1608, but with 
CRACKMANS first appearing there in the expanded second _O per se O_ edition 
of 1612, and repeated in later editions of L&C).

No overt notice of Dekker or Head then in the OED entry, but the final 
citation is:

              1737 _Bacchus and Venus_ Canting Songs ix. Thou the Crackmans 
down did beat.

The _Bacchus and Venus_ of 1737 is simply a reprint, with a new title page 
and date but identical font and pagination, of the _New Canting Dictionary_ 
of 1725, given in the previous OED citation.

Further, the Canting Songs in the _New Canting Dictionary_ itself are taken 
from Richard Head, _The Courtier's Academy_ (1673), which in turn derives 
its texts from Thomas Dekker's _Lanthorne and Candlelight_.  The poem in 
question is first printed in the 1616 edition of L&C:

            6.     When the Dark-mans haue been wet,
                         thou the Crack-mans downe didst beate,
                    For Glymmar, whilst a Quacking chete,
                         or Tib ath’ Buttry was our meate. 

At the least, the 1737 citation should be replaced by Thomas Dekker in 1616.

When we turn to the OED entry on RUFFMANS, similar problems arise.

Leaving aside the OED suggestion that there is a variant spelling, RUFFMAN 
(no final -s) for which the OED gives no evidence, and the omission of the 
1610 meaning noted above, the first three citations are relatively 
uncontentious.  The problems begin with the third citation:

                    1665 HEAD, _English Rogue_ -- Then did we creep, And 
plant in Ruffe-mans low.

See Thomas Dekker, _O per se O_ (1612), O1v:   When they did seeke, then did 
we creepe, / and plant in ruffe-mans low.

                   1725 _New Canting Dictionary_ -- While some are sent to 
break the _Ruffmans_, or Woods ...

See Richard Head, _The Canting Academy_ (1673), p. 4, which the NCD 
reproduces word-for-word in the citation given by the OED.

                    1785  F. GROSE _Classical Dict. Vulgar Tongue_ -  I will 
not conceal ought I win ...

Again, this is word-for-word from _The Canting Academy_ (p. 4 again), 
possibly via the _New Canting Dictionary_ which again reproduces Head in 
this instance.  Thus the OED 1725 and 1785 citations both derive from a 
single locus in Head in 1673 which is not itself noted by the OED.

The documentation of cant terms may be difficult, and there is a question of 
how much material is appropriate for a general dictionary such as the OED 
(GDoS obviously gives fuller documentation in this area, but exhibits 
similar problems when it comes to the reproduction of material taken by the 
cited source from an earlier text), but it helps to keep in mind the central 
line of cant documentation:

            Harman (1567) => Dekker (1608, and later) => Head (1665 and 
1673) => B.E. (1699) => New Canting Dictionary (1725) => Grose (1785 and 

Robin Hamilton

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

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