[Ads-l] Antedating of OED FIB, n and v.

Robin Hamilton robin.hamilton3 at VIRGINMEDIA.COM
Sat Oct 25 21:20:20 UTC 2014

As this is a somewhat long post, I’ll begin with a summary.

FIB starts life as a verb in 1610, as part of then-current criminal cant.
In 1612, Thomas Dekker employs it in an extended passage, and this
formulation makes its way through various dictionaries, achieving a final
incarnation in George Matsell’s _Vocabulum_ of 1858.

In the early nineteenth century, it appears as a term for the delivery of a
specific type of blow in bare-knuckle boxing, and it is this latter sense
which is virtually universal, either literally or figuratively, after about

Details follow.

OED fib, v.2  slang.  To strike or beat, to deliver blows in quick
succession upon, as in pugilism. to fib about : to knock about.  …[OED
citations from 1665]

        1610     Samuel Rowlands, _Martin Mark-All_, O1r:

    O Ben Coue that may not be,
    For thou hast an Autem mort who euer that is she,
    If that she were dead & bingd to his long Libb,
    Then would I pad and maund with thee,
    And wap and for thee fibb.

As it appears here in Rowlands, the term isn’t defined, nor is it included
among the cant terms Rowlands includes in his glossary immediately preceding
the poem.

     1612    Thomas Dekker, _Lanthorne and Candlelight (O per se O)_, N4v – 

        Why the Staffe is called a Filch …

    "... this Filching-staffe being artificially handled, is able now and
then to mill a Grunter, a bleating Cheate, a Redshanke, a Tib of the Buttry,
and such like, or to Fib a Coues Quarrons in the Rome-pad, for his Loure in
his bung, that is to say, to kill a Pigge, a Sheepe, a Ducke, a Goose, and
such like, or to beate a man by the high-way for the money in his purse."

Dekker included the additions to what is effectively a second edition of
_Lanthorne and Candlelight_ (first edition 1608) in response to Rowlands’
criticisms of him in 1610.  This does raise the question of what authority
Dekker had for imposing this interpretation on Rowlands’ use of “fib”.

        1665   (OED – cite 1)   R. Head Eng. Rogue I. sig. C8v,   Fib, to

Head used a late (1638 or 1648) edition of _Lanthorne and Candlelight_ as
his main source for the glossary in _The English Rogue_.  The citation above
is directly derived from Dekker.

        1672 Richard Head, _The Canting Academy_, entry under FIB:

    Fib, To beat, As Fib the Coves quarrons in the rum pad for the lour in
his bung. Beat the Man on the high-way for the money in his purse.

Head returned to Dekker here, and included the more extended passage from

        1692   (OED – cite 2)   Coles's Eng. Dict. (new ed.) ,   Fib, to

Coles drew the cant entries in his _English Dictionary_, including the
citation above, from the second (1673) edition of Head’s _The Canting
Academy_. [Coleman, _History of Cant and Slang Dictionaries_, Vol. 1 (2004),
p. 177.]

B.E., _New Dictionary of the Canting Crew _(1699) and the _New Canting
Dictionary_ (1725) both repeat the entry in Head (1672), and are the
immediate source of the next OED cite:

        1785   (OED – cite 3)   F. Grose Classical Dict. Vulgar Tongue at
Fib,   Fib the cove's quarron in the rumpad for the lour in his bung, beat
the fellow in the highway for the money in his purse.

This citation makes its way virtually unchanged through the five editions of
Grose (1785, 1788, 1796, 1811, and 1823), until we reach the estimable
George Matsell, who incorporates a significant revision:

        1859 Matsell, George W., _Vocabulum, or, The Rogue's Lexicon_.

    FIB. To beat. "Fib the bloke's quarron in the rumpad, and draw the honey
in his poke," beat the fellow's carcase in the street, and steal the money
in his pocket.

To summarise, all the above citations, both those in the OED and the ones I
have added, derive ultimately from a single use of the term “fib” by Samuel
Rowlands in 1610.

The remainder of the citations in the OED, from 1808 onwards, reflect a
distinct sense of the verb, one emerging from the realm of Pugilism or
bare-knuckle boxing.  The first two citations for this sense are from the
_Sporting Magazine_, where the term is increasingly frequent from the early
part of the nineteenth century.  As it appears there (and in the various
editions of Piers Egan’s _Boxiana_, and similar texts from this period), it
seems to be used on the assumption that the readers – downy coves who will
be fly to the flash language of the Fancy – will be aware of what the term
means.  This is something more specific than simply “a blow”.  Thus Piers
Egan (1823), after repeating, in his entry for FIB, the formulation stemming
from Dekker, follows with a separate entry on FIBBING, beginning with a
succinct definition:

        FIBBING.   In bruising, signifies the getting an adversary's head 
the arm and punching it.

... ‘Jon Bee’ (John Badcock) (1823)

       Fib (v.)—to batter the head of an antagonist, (ring.)

... Matsell (1858), in the body of _Vocabulum_:

        FIBBING. Striking with the fist.

Further, in his Pugilism Appendix, Matsell has:

        FIBBING. Short, quick blows when the parties are close to each 

In the difference between these two entries, Matsell may be suggesting a
general sense of the verb, “to fib”, contrasted with a more specific sense
in boxing terminology.

“Fib” as a noun is much less common, with the OED providing only one

    OED fib, n.2 … Etymology:  < fib v.2 … A blow.
    1814   Sporting Mag. 44 111   A fib..which he gave the Black under the
left ribs.

There is at least one earlier instance of the word used as a noun, possibly
reflecting the earlier cant use of the term rather than its later currency
in sporting circles:

        c. 1735  _A New Flash Songbook, Or the Bowman Priggs Delight_, p. 8:
“A New Prig Song” (beginning, ‘To the Hundreds of Drury I write …’)

    Here's a Health to all Bowman Priggs,
        From the rum Pad down to the Prancer,
    We’ll Mill all the Culls with our Fibs,
        And teach them a new Morris Dancer.

“Fib” here occurs in a passage of eight lines introduced into the text of
what was originally “John Sheppard’s last Epistle” some time after this was
first published in 1724.

My own sense is that the lines in question were composed by someone who had
recourse to a canting dictionary, rather than their being based on direct
experience of the terminology used.

Robin Hamilton 

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

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