Green’s Dictionary of Slang

prig n.1

also prigg
[either Lat. pregare, to pray, or SE prig = prick = sting = rob or cheat. SE prig, meaning a carping know-all, may have similar roots, but may be based on the divine Richard Baxter (1615–91), who in 1684 associated it with the initial letters of proud ignorance]
(UK Und.)

1. a ne’er-do-well who, accompanied by his woman, wanders the country, mixing villainy and legitimate work, pursuing neither, it appears, with particular enthusiasm (sometimes known as the drunken tinker n.).

[UK]Harman Caveat for Common Cursetours in Viles & Furnivall (1907) 59: These dronken Tynckers, called also Prygges, be beastly people.
[UK]Groundworke of Conny-catching [as cit. c.1566].
[UK]‘An Amateur’ Real Life in London 610: They are all prigs, their company spoils all genteel society.
[UK] ‘Wandering Prigs’ in Swell!!! or, Slap-Up Chaunter 18: And wand’ring prigs enjoy the hours, / With blear-eyed Sal and dirty Bet.
[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor I 181/1: I’m knocked about in public-houses by the Billingsgate roughs, and I’ve been bilked by the prigs.

2. (also prigman) a thief, orig. use a mendicant villain who specializes in stealing clothes from hedgerows where they are left to dry, or poultry from the farmyard.

[UK]Awdeley Fraternitye of Vacabondes in Viles & Furnivall (1907) 3: A Prygman goeth with a stycke in hys hand like an idle person. His propertye is to steale cloathes of the hedge, which they call storing of the Rogeman: or els filch Poultry, carying them to the Alehouse, whych they call the Bowsyng In, & ther syt playing at cardes and dice, tyl that is spent which they haue so fylched.
[UK]T. Drant (trans.) ‘To Iulius Florus’ in Horace his Satyres n.p.: A prigeman from him priuily his mony did purloyne.
[UK]Rowlands Martin Mark-all 42: That did the prigg good that bingd in the kisome, / To towre the Coue budge alar’me.
[UK]Shakespeare Winter’s Tale IV ii: Out upon him! Prig, for my life, prig; he haunts wakes, fairs, and bear-baitings.
[UK]J. Taylor ‘A Brood of Cormorants’ in Works (1869) III 8: Liues like a Gentleman by slight of hand, / Can play the Foist, the Nip, the Stale, the Stand, / The Snap, the Curb, the Crossbite, Warpe and Lift, / Decoy, Prig, Cheat (all for a hanging shift).
[UK]R. Herrick ‘Upon Prigg’ Hesperides 165: Prigg, when he comes to houses, oft doth [...] steal from thence old shoes.
[UK]Nicker Nicked in Harleian Misc. II (1809) 108: There come in shoals of hectors, trepanners, gilts, pads, biters, prigs, divers.
[UK]Head Canting Academy (2nd edn) 177: Priggs All sorts of Thieves.
[UK]T. Shadwell Squire of Alsatia V i: Away with ’em! Rogues! Rascals! damned prigs!
[UK]B.E. Dict. Canting Crew n.p.: Prig c. a Thief, a Cheat.
[UK]True Characters of A Deceitful Petty-Fogger et al. 3: Writing Bills, Bonds, and Acquittances [...] has made him Impudent enough, tho’ but a Pen-feathered Prig, to call himself an Attorney.
[UK]A. Smith Lives of Most Noted Highway-men, etc. I 243: The sly Rascals, who call themselves Prigs, which, in their canting language, denotes a Thief.
[UK]C. Hitchin Conduct of Receivers and Thief-Takers 6: Otherwise I shall bring my own neck into the Noose, and put it in the Power of every little Prigg [...] to pull the Cord.
[UK] ‘Frisky Moll’s Song’ J. Thurmond Harlequin Sheppard 22: From Priggs that snaffle the Prancers strong, / To you of the Peter Lay, / I pray now listen a while to my song, / How my Boman he [k?]ick’d away.
[UK]Bailey Universal Etym. Eng. Dict.
[UK]Fielding Life of Jonathan Wild (1784) II 168: The Prig employs his hands in another’s pocket.
[UK]F. Coventry Hist of Pompey Little I 114: That old Prig there, in the great Coat.
[UK]Bridges Homer Travestie (1764) I 223: A staring, gaping, hair-brain’d prig, / Attempts to steal his hat and wig.
[UK]Gentleman’s Bottle-Companion 53: Ye priggs, who are troubled with conscience’s qualms.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[UK]Bridges Burlesque Homer (4th edn) I 212: A staring, gaping, hair-brain’d prig / Attempts to steal his hat and wig.
[UK] ‘Jenny’s Bawbee’ in Jovial Songster 106: She bad [...] The lawyer not to be a prig.
[UK]Vaux Memoirs in McLachlan (1964) 82: By degrees we detached ourselves from the society of these veteran prigs.
[UK] ‘Sprees of Tom, Jerry and Logick’ in C. Hindley James Catnach 1878 124: The prigs and sporting ladies all joined in the row.
[UK] ‘Remarkable Occurrences’ in Fun Alive O! 31: Neddy Nimble turned a prig, / And got transported for his pains.
[UK]G.W.M. Reynolds Mysteries of London II (2nd series) 259: You see in me, then, a cracksman and a prig: but I am staunch to the back-bone amongst pals.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 14 Oct. 3/2: The most ill favoured black a-vised prig imaginable [...] was in the act of rifling Captain More’s specie.
[UK]C. Reade It Is Never Too Late to Mend 1 211: ‘That was not a bad move, hanging myself a little – a very little,’ said the young prig.
[UK]J. Greenwood Seven Curses of London 128: It’s better to walk in honest ways [...] than to prowel about in ragged corduroys, and dodge the pleeseman, and be a prig.
[Aus]S. James Vagabond Papers (3rd series) 135: Sullivan was a London ‘prig,’ who began life in a reformatory.
[UK]C. Rook Hooligan Nights 30: There’s lots of women prigs that works that line.
[UK]D. Stewart Vultures of the City in Illus. Police News 12 Jan. 12/4: ‘I ain’t no common prig, and I ain’t going to blow the gaff or turn nose’.
[Aus]Nat. Leader (Brisbane) 1 Nov. 8/3: German officers [...] appealed to the general commanding, who said, ‘I will have no dealings with, officers who are thieves.’ The Prussian autocrat is only a low-down prig, a deflected pickpocket after all.

3. a dandy, a fop.

[UK]Etherege Man of Mode III iii: What spruce prig is that?
[UK]T. Shadwell Squire of Alsatia I i: Thou shalt shine, and be as gay as any spruce prig that ever walked the street.
[UK]Congreve Love for Love V i: What does the old prig mean?
[UK]T. Baker Tunbridge Walks II i: Ev’ry pert Prig with a Patch, and a Cropt-Head o’ Hair, pretends to be a Red-Coat forsooth.
[UK]R. Steele Tatler No. 77 n.p.: A Cane is Part of the Dress of a Prig.
[UK]Adventurer No. 12 n.p.: He placed more confidence in them, than he would in a formal prig, of whom he knew nothing but that he went every morning and evening to.
[UK]Foote The Bankrupt I i: I never remark’d the boy to be presumptuous and forward, like some of our pert prigs of the city.
[UK] ‘Dog & Duck Rig’ in Holloway & Black (1975) I 79: She will meet you with gallows good joaking / And boast of her bilking the prig.
[UK]‘Peter Pindar’ ‘Tales of Hoy’ Works (1801) V 232: Here too the most important Dicky Dab With puppy-pertness, pretty, pleasant Prig [...] drives in Jehu-stile his whirling Gigg!
[UK]G.S. Carey ‘Every Man His Mode’ One Thousand Eight Hundred 29: Sure every man in his way is a prig, / From the cut of his coat, or the tie of his wig.
[UK]B.H. Malkin (trans.) Adventures of Gil Blas (1822) III 129: He is a young barrister, with more of the prig than the lawyer about him.

4. a cheat.

[UK]T. Brown Amusements Serious and Comical in Works (1744) III 71: Not a penny was to be screw’d out of the prig.
[UK] in D’Urfey Pills to Purge Melancholy I 183: The sham Pretender Prince of W— / The Prig, they sent o’er to be our K—.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[UK]‘Peter Pindar’ ‘Ode To the Livery of London’ Works (1801) V 48: Master Pipemaker, don’t be a prig, And let that clay of yours be quite so stiff; Nor in your prowess try to smoke a Queen.
[UK]Sporting Mag. Dec. XIX 172/1: O d—n his impudence, send off the prig; / He, he the Author! d—n his lying wig!
[UK]J. Poole Hamlet Travestie I vii: Old Polonius too—that sneaking prig.
[UK] ‘Soho Bazaar’ in C. Hindley James Catnach (1878) 194: Here’s a white wig, for a Chancery prig.
[UK]Egan Bk of Sports 35: I’m a very knowing prig, / With my laced coat and wig / [...] / Because I am the Beadle of the Parish.
[UK]A.C. Mowatt Fashion II i: The old prig has got the tin.

5. a pickpocket; a petty thief.

H. Lemoine ‘The Clever Fellow’ in Wit’s Mag. 155/1: And always ready, prigs can tell, / To gig a Smithfield bank.
[UK]‘Paul Pry’ Oddities of London Life II 224: ‘prigs’ are a small class of thieves whose operations are principally confined to the illegal appropriation of pocket-books, pocket-handkerchiefs [...] together with any other small matter which may fall in their way [...] and they may therefore be correctly classed under the autolycus genus as ‘snappers up of unconsidered trifles’.
[UK]Edinburgh Rev. July 486: Prigs (or pickpockets) [...] frequent races, fairs and prize fights.
[UK]Motherwell Times 31 Mar. 4/1: If the London prigs, especially pickpockets, were as harmless [...] they would soon be cleared out.

In derivatives

priggicism (n.)

the characteristics of thieving.

[UK]Life of Thomas Neaves 13: He became a Proficient in the Art and Mystery of Priggysism, and was aiding and abetting to the most perpetrated Acts of Villainy that human thoughts could suggest.
priggish (adj.)

1. (UK Und.) having the characteristics of a thief.

[UK]B.E. Dict. Canting Crew n.p.: priggish c. Thievish.
[UK]New Canting Dict. [as cit. c.1698].
[UK]Bailey Universal Etym. Eng. Dict. [as cit. c.1698].
[UK]Foote Taste in Works (1799) I 21: How I adore the simplicity of the antients! How unlike the present priggish, prick-eared puppets!
[UK]R. Nicholson Cockney Adventures 17 Mar. 156: At this juncture the priggish-looking lad made a filthy noise with his mouth.
[UK]J. Lindridge Sixteen-String Jack 303: Why he actually patters flash—how very vulgar, low and priggish.
[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor III 151/2: Their was a priggish look about the latter lad.
[UK]Newcastle Courant 2 Dec. 6/6: ‘Stall your mug and let a poor traveller be.’ ‘Poor traveller! priggish spinikindosser’.

2. having the characteristics of a conceited young dandy.

D. Booth Analytical Dict. Eng. Lang. 59: In common language a Prig is a young Coxcomb, and has the adjective and adverb Priggish and Priggishly.
prigster (n.)

see separate entry.

In compounds

prig-napper (n.) (also prigger-napper) [nap v.1 (3)]

(UK Und.) a thief-taker, thus a policeman.

[UK]B.E. Dict. Canting Crew n.p.: Prig-napper [...] a Thief-taker.
[UK]A. Smith Lives of Most Notorious Highway-men, etc. (1926) II [as cit. c.1698].
[UK]New Canting Dict. [as cit. c.1698].
[UK]Pope Mother Gin 25: And when, the rascal prig-nappers to shun, In rags disguis’d o’er rural fields we run.
[UK]Bailey Universal Etym. Eng. Dict. [as cit. c.1698] .
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]Egan Grose’s Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[US]Matsell Vocabulum 70: prigger-napper A police officer.

In phrases

prince prig (n.) (UK Und.)

1. a leading thief, esp. one who acts as a receiver for the robberies of colleagues.

[UK]Beaumont & Fletcher Beggar’s Bush V ii: Troth, I am partly of your mind, Prince Prig.
[UK]C. Cotton Scoffer Scoff’d (1765) 249: But for her Brother, that Prince Prig.
[UK]B.E. Dict. Canting Crew n.p.: Prince Prig [...] a Top-Thief or Receiver General.
[UK]New Canting Dict. [as cit. c.1698].
[UK]Bailey Universal Etym. Eng. Dict. [as cit. c.1698].
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue n.p.: Prince prig [...] the head thief or receiver general.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]Egan Grose’s Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[UK]Lytton Pelham III 291: Ruffling Job, my prince of prigs, is that you?

2. the King of the Gypsies.

[UK]Head Eng. Rogue I 54: Deriving his pedegree in a direct line from Prince Prigg.
[UK]B.E. Dict. Canting Crew n.p.: Prince Prig c. a King of the Gypsies.
[UK]New Canting Dict. [as cit. c.1698].
[UK]Bailey Universal Etym. Eng. Dict. [as cit. c.1698].
[UK]Saunders’s News-Letter 26 Dec. 1/4: New Theatre, Capel-street [...] a comedy [...] the Coronation of King Clause [...] the King of the Beggars. The whole to conclude [...] by way of Dialogue, between Prince Prig and Orator Higgins.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue n.p.: Prince prig a king of the gypsies.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]Egan Grose’s Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.