[Ads-l] OED Adam Tiler -- an "interesting" entry.

Robin Hamilton robin.hamilton3 at VIRGINMEDIA.COM
Wed Nov 16 10:21:43 UTC 2016

The OED has a fascinating commentary on the term ADAM TILER, "A pickpocket's
accomplice, spec. one who receives or deals with stolen money or goods."

This definition is correct.  [Well, almost -- "or deals with" is misleadingly
redundant.]  What follows is not.

Origin: From a proper name, combined with an English element. Etymons: proper
name Adam, English Tiler.
Etymology: < the male forename Adam (see Adam n.1) + the surname Tiler,
apparently punningly after tiler n. 3.

It could be observed that the appearance of "Adam" here is perhaps more
connected with the Original Man [Adam n.1, *Sense 1*] than any old Adam, but
leaving that aside, let's turn to "tiler, n. [Sense] 3":

†3. (See quot. 1659) slang. Obs.
1659 _Catterpillers of this Nation Anatomized_ Tilers, or Cloyers, equivalent to

There are two reasons why it is difficult to find this "quot." in the 1659 text,
the first being that it is not, in fact, a quotation, but a paraphrase or
summary.  More pertinently, the term "Tiler" doesn't occur there.  What is
present instead is:

The _Ken-Miller_ or House-breaker, the _Filer_ [sic] or _Cloyer (alias)_ a
common Theif   [p. 2]

No Tiler he, but the more plausible "Filer", and no assistant but rather the
actor himself, so in no way the source of "Tiler" in "Adam Tyler".

Not to be outdone, the entry concludes triumphantly:

Compare later occurrence of Adam in slang dictionaries denoting a thief or
pickpocket's accomplice, perhaps simply shortened from Adam Tiler.

Really?  I have yet to encounter *any* slang dictionary which contains this
interesting shortened "occurrence", nor is it to be found in the exhaustive list
of Adam-related entries in _Green's Dictionary of Slang_ -- other than, of
course, in entries which contain the figure of Adam Tyler himself.

This is not so much the case of the OED creating a Ghost Term, as a veritable
Zombie Army which shambles unstoppably across an entire series of derived
entries explaining "Adam Tiler" in Lesser Dictionaries and associated sites
widespread on the Web.

As one last small point, the entry should refer not to "Adam Tiler" but to "Adam
Tyler" [sic], since each and every miserable one of the occurrences of the
protagonist of this term derives from its initial appearance in the work of
Richard Head.  The OED manages to get this, at least, correct:

1665 R. Head _Eng. Rogue_ I. v. 52 _Tip the Cole to Adam Tyler_, Give what money
you pocket pickt to the next party, presently.

But "v. 52"?  The term occurs on page [sic] 52 of the first printing of the

I'm tempted to see what the OED elsewhere makes of the terms "Tip" and "Cole" in
the above citation, but as we are already so deep into Angel's Weep territory, I
shall forbear.

       Robin Hamilton

An aside on OED file, v.4:  "DERIVATIVES:  filer n. a pick-pocket.  1674 C.
Cotton _Compl. Gamester_ (1680) i. 5 Filers, Budgies, Droppers..&c...may all
pass under the general..appellation of Rooks.

If my memory doesn't deceive me, Cotton actually derives this passage in _The
Compleat Gamester_ from the slightly earlier _Nicker Nick'd, or Leatherhead's
Advice to Gamesters_, but I can't be bothered to confirm that.  GDoS correctly
indicates _Catterpillers_ in 1659 as containing the earliest recorded appearance
of the term as a noun, with "file" as a verb, in the pertinent sense, from 1622.


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