Underworld Slang

Victorian era criminals, especially those from the East End of London (one of the worst and most crime infested regions of the City) had a distinctive slang,  that allowed them to recognize each other and help conceal their intentions from the authorities and their intended victims…

A few examples:

The Family= The Victorian criminal fraternity.

On the Game= Thieving.

All Gay= Used by lookouts to indicate that the coast is clear

Ramp= A violent crime or mugging

Rampsman = A mugger

Angler= A thief who uses a hook tied to a stick to steal from open windows

Smasher= Someone who passes counterfeit money

Arab= A street urchin. Also, “street arab.”

Hunter= A street robber

Dragsman= A robber of vehicles or carriages.

Badger=  A riverside thief who throws his victims into the Thames after overpowering or killing and robbing them.

Macer= A conman or cheat

Duffer=  Someone who sells stolen goods, also someone who sells fake jewelry.

Bit Faker=  A crafter of counterfeit coins

Palmer=  A shoplifter

Blower=  An informer

Nobblers= Violent robber

Punisher= Hired muscle

Bludger= Hired muscle known for using a club or bludgeon

Esclops (or slops), crushers, rozzers, pigs, and peelers= Various names for the police

Mob=  A Gang

Flash-House= Headquarters for a mob or a Duffer

Lurkers= Lookouts for a flash-house

Cracksmen= Burglar

Screwsman= A Burglar who specializes in opening safes

Mutchers= Pickpocket who robs drunks

Drunkenroller= Pickpocket

Dippers= Pickpocket

Tooler= A particularly skilled pickpocket

Broadsman=  A cardsharp; anyone who cheats at cards for profit.

Mobsmen= Someone who work with a mob

Life-Preserver= A sap or blackjack

Barker= A pistol or revolver

Betties=  Lockpicks

Cutter=  Tool to cut holes in woodwork

Jemmy=  A small crowbar

Chiv=  A knife. Used as a verb, it means “to slash.”

Lists=  Strips of cloth that the tools are wrapped in to facilitate easy disposal if a search by police seems likely.

Jack-in-the-box=  A special tool designed to pry open all but the toughest safe.

Crow= A lookout for a cracksman

Canary= A female lookout for a cracksmen

Cop= To arrest, capture, or ensnare.

Copper:  A penny or, by extension, a police constable (whose buttons resembled pennies).

Buer= Professional (full time) prostitute or streetwalker

Ladybird= Professional (full time) prostitute or streetwalker

Troopers= Professional (full time) prostitute or streetwalker

Dollymop=  Part time prostitute

Toffer= High end prostitute

Toff=  A well to do gentleman

Cab=  A brothel.

Snoozers=  Criminals who steal the luggage of hotel guests while they are out or sleeping.

Skinner= Usually a woman, who lures children into an alley and strips them of their clothes to sell.

Caddee=  An especially lowly underling or assistant to a thief

Chokey=  Police custody or prison

Dry Room= A cell, or a prison as a whole.

Scurf=  Leader of a gang.

Darbies= Handcuffs

John Darbie= Handcuffs

Ruffles= Handcuffs

Esclop (pronounced “slop”)= A policeman

The Factory= Scotland Yard.

The Eye=  A place where a fence hides stolen goods

Flash Notes=  Crudely fashioned paper designed to resemble bank notes; counterfeit bank  notes.

Gagger=  Con man specializing in hard-luck stories

Gift= Stolen property sold cheaply.

Hempen Fever=  Hanged

Kicking the Clouds= Hanged

Leaping at a Daisy=  Hanged

Hustling: Robbing In pairs, one man holding the victim while the other robs him.

Jack=  A detective

A Peach= A detective

Fitter=  A locksmith specializing in making burglar tools.

Jug= Prison.

Kate= A skeleton key.

Kidsman= A recruiter of gangs of child thieves

Leaving Shop= Pawnbroking without a license.

Cosh= A blackjack

Macer= A cheat.

Mil Tonian=  A policeman.

Mud Lark=  A scavenger along the Thames.

Mug-Hunter=  A street robber.

Neddy=  A life-preserver.

Nibbed=  Arrested.

Old Bird=  An experienced thief.

Out of Twig=  In disguise; undercover.

Peter= A safe.

Pipe= A private detective. A reference to Sherlock Holmes?

Rook=  A small crowbar or “Jemmy”

Readers= The marked cards used by card cheats

Smashers= Passers of counterfeit bills

Snide Pitching= Th act of passing counterfeit money.

Spike= A workhouse. Where the Destitute often wind up.

Spring the Rattle= To call the police or otherwise raise an alarm. Referencing the Rattles formerly carried by the Police.

Stand the Racket=  To take the rap for a fellow thief.

Stephen=  Money

Tiddlywinker=  A cheat.

Timber Merchant=  A match-seller on the street.

Tom Sawyer= Rhyming slang for a lawyer.

Tombstone= A pawn ticket.

Twirls= Skeleton keys.

Under and Over= a swindle.

Vampsman= A robber

Vamp= A robbery.

Virtue Rewarded:= Taken away in a police van