Green’s Dictionary of Slang

ken n.1

[poss. abbr. SE kennel (in a non-canine mode) or f. Hind. khan(n)a, a house or room, which is also found in combs., e.g. buggy-khanna (coach house) or bottle-khanna (drinking house); Hotten (1867) attributes it to ‘Gypsey and Oriental’ and notes that ‘all slang and cant words which end in -ken are partly of Gypsey origin’ on which basis Partridge (1984) opts for a root in Rom. tan, a place; the term vanished from sl. c.1860, but has survived in costermonger jargon]

1. (UK Und., also kenner, ker) a house; a home, a room.

[UK]Harman Caveat for Common Cursetours in Viles & Furnivall (1907) 83: a ken a house.
[UK]Nashe Unfortunate Traveller in Works V (1883–4) 172: Out of ken we were ere the Countesse came from the feast.
[UK]Dekker Lanthorne and Candle-Light Ch. 1: Ken, signifying a House, they call a Prison, a Quier ken, thats to say, an ill house.
[UK]Rowlands Martin Mark-all 39: Ken an house.
[UK]Beaumont & Fletcher Beggar’s Bush V i: Or surprising a boor’s ken, for grunting-cheats?
[UK]Dekker Canting Song in Eng. Villainies O: If we niggle or mill a Bowsing Ken [...] And then to the quier Ken to scowre the cramp-ring.
[UK]Dekker Canters Dict. Eng. Villainies (9th edn).
[UK]Head Eng. Rogue.
[UK]Head Canting Academy (2nd edn).
[UK]B.E. Dict. Canting Crew n.p.: Ken c. a House. A bob Ken, or a Bowman-ken, c. a good or well Furnished House, full of Booty, worth Robbing, also a House that Harbours Rogues and Thievs. Biting the Ken, c. Robbing the House. Ken miller c. a House-breaker.
[UK]J. Shirley Triumph of Wit 196: To mill each Ken, let Cove bring then, / through Ruffmans Jauge or Laund.
[UK]A. Smith Lives of Most Notorious Highway-men, etc. (1926) 207: Ken, a house.
[UK]Hist. of the remarkable Life of John Sheppard 17: The Prisoner told him [...] that he knew a Ken where they might get something of Worth.
[UK] Dyche & Pardon New General Eng. Dict. n.p.: Ken. a Cant Name for a Dwelling House of any Sort.
[UK]Life and Character of Moll King 12: But who had you in your Ken last Darkee?
[UK]J. Poulter Discoveries (1774) 18: Elger jump’d the Glasses of a Gentlman’s Ken; that is, lifted up the Window of a House at the lower End of the Square, and jump’d into the Parlour.
[UK]Scoundrel’s Dict. 16: Broker’s Shop – Stolen-ken.
[UK]Bloody Register II 293: He knew a Ken where they might get something of worth.
[UK]G. Parker Life’s Painter 136: I only napt a couple of bird’s eye wipes, which I have just fenc’d to the Cove at that there Ken.
[UK] ‘Flash Lang.’ in Confessions of Thomas Mount 18: A house, a ken.
[UK] ‘The Rolling Kiddy’ in Holloway & Black (1975) I 233: And goes with the Garden lads to every night bawdy ken.
[UK]B. Bradshaw Hist. of Billy Bradshaw 10: In Black-boy alley I’d a ken.
[UK]‘One of the Fancy’ Tom Crib’s Memorial to Congress 37: And loud and long we cheer’d his prattle / With shouts, that thunder’d through the ken.
[UK]Vidocq Memoirs (trans. W. McGinn) III 64: The fence’s ken (receiver’s house) is only a stone’s throw off.
[UK]Dickens Oliver Twist (1966) 142: Is he to be kidnapped to the other ken, Nancy says?
[UK]Swell’s Night Guide 65: Padding Kens. Among the numerous dossing casseys with which this flash locality is crowded, is [...] No. 160, Mint, Borough, Southwark.
[UK]G.W.M. Reynolds Mysteries of London II (2nd series) 276: I made you stay close with me at the flash lodging-ken.
[UK]C. Reade It Is Never Too Late to Mend II 254: You two meet me at Jonathan’s ken in an hour.
[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor I 425/1: This bill specifies the best prices for rage, left-off clothes &c. One fellow goes and drops these bills at the kens (houses).
[UK](con. 1600s) M. Lemon Leyton Hall I 236: A barnacle—a foist, I think you call him—hath eased me of my purse.’ ‘Oh!’ said Honest Joe [...] ‘So clapperclawed already? I trust by a ben cull of my ken.’.
[US]G.A. Atkins Brine letter Apr. 19 in Ribton-Turner (1887) n.p.: A quack who was lodging at the same ‘ken’ with me asked me if i was willing to earn a couple of shillings easily.
[UK]Newcastle Courant 2 Sept. 6/5: The Raven steered directly to the ken Sam had just left.
[UK]Answers 27 July 136/1: My associations in the fourpenny lodging ken were such as would have degenerated a stronger character than mine [F&H].
[UK]P.H. Emerson Signor Lippo 105: I can’t return any more to the ken.
[UK]E. Pugh Spoilers 6: Won’t you come to the ken first?
[UK]‘Doss Chiderdoss’ ‘Young Actresses’ Sporting Times 8 Oct. 1/3: She always, when they’ve vanished from her ken, / Brings the house down with her capers.
[US]S.J. Perelman letter in Crowther Don’t Tread on Me (1987) 31 Oct. 6: An old acquaintance swam into our steaming ken a couple of days ago.
[UK]Western Gaz. 18 Mar. 12/4: What sort of ‘kenners’ did it work at? The best, my boy; only the best [...] Never any use trying it with poor folks. They’d ‘squeal’.
[UK]J. Curtis Gilt Kid 231: Who the hell had ever heard of a screwsman rolling up to his mort’s ken with a bunch of violets. Sounded silly, nancy.
[UK]D. Reeve Smoke in the Lanes 256: I likes it in the kenner, ’tis warm. [Ibid.] (Gloss. of Romani terms) 301: Kenner, Ker ... House.
[UK]K. Sampson Outlaws (ms.) 13: To be fair, Marie’s always doing something new to their ken.

2. (UK Und.) a disreputable drinking place.

[UK]Dekker Belman of London (3rd) J4: Where is the ken that hath the bene bowse?
[UK]Rowlands Martin Mark-all 42: Out budgd the Coue of the Ken, / With a ben filtch in his quarr’me.
[UK]J. Taylor Crabtree Lectures 193: Mort. [...] Cove be sure thou tip me some Lower, when you budge backe from the Ken.
[UK]R. Brome Jovial Crew II i: For all this bene Cribbing and Peck let us then, / Bowse a health to the Gentry Cofe of the Ken.
[UK]G. Parker Life’s Painter 136: Then we’ll all roll in bub and grub / Till from this ken we go.
[UK]Sporting Mag. Apr. XVI 26/1: Called at a ken in the way home, drank four goes of brandy.
[UK]D. Carey Life in Paris 335: How long the gemmen kept it up, in this both low and lofty ken, the females of which were up to trap, is not in our record.
[UK]‘F.L.G.’ Swell’s Night Guide K2: Ken A Low Drinking Room.
[UK]G. Borrow Lavengro I 123: We found them in what was in my time called a ken, that is a house where only thieves and desperadoes are to be found.
[Aus]Melbourne Punch ‘The Lay of the Lags’ 14 Mar. 1/1: Ye who screeve, and ye who blob, / Close the ken and dub the jigger, / Great’s the news for all who rob.
[US]Ade Hand-made Fables 269: This very Ken in which you are now standing was a favoured Rendezvous for Collegians attending Athletic Contests in yonder field.

3. (UK tramp) a bed.

[UK]Disraeli Venetia I 153: Trim a ken for the gentry cove.

4. (US) in sense of house n.1 (1), a private house that doubles as a centre for commercial sex.

[US]Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 21 Sept. n.p.: After calling at a number of first-rate ‘bordelloes’ [...] a visit was proposed to the ‘ken’ of a notorious colored woman. [...] The beauty in question resides ina rickety old ‘ken,’ takes in washing [...] to cover her real business, that of a procuress.

5. see patten-ken n.

In compounds

ken-cracker (n.)

a house-breaker.

[UK]G. Parker View of Society II 39: Ken-Crackers. A term [...] people who get down chimneys, break open windows, get over walls, muffle spring-bells.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue ms. additions n.p.: Ken Crackers. House Breakers. Cant.
[UK] ‘How a Flat became a Prigg’ in Confessions of Thomas Mount 21: The ken-cracker’s roar’d ‘Jack’s just the thing.’.
[UK]G. Andrewes Dict. Sl. and Cant.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]Egan Grose’s Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[UK]G. Kent Modern Flash Dict.
[UK]Flash Dict. in Sinks of London Laid Open.
[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc.
[UK]Story of a Lancashire Thief 8: What a lot of them there was! And all sorts, too, but divers especially [...] and there was one noted ken-cracker present.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict.
[UK]Barrère & Leland Dict. of Sl., Jargon and Cant.
ken-miller (n.) [mill v.1 (1)]

a house-breaker.

[UK]Catterpillers of this Nation Anatomized 2: The Ken-Miller or House-breaker.
[UK]Head Canting Academy (2nd edn) 72: The Ken-Miller [...] is a fellow that waits any opportunity to commit Burglary, he never goes alone.
[UK]B.E. Dict. Canting Crew n.p.: Ken-miller, ’Tis a bob Ken, Brush upon the Sneak, ’tis a good House, go in if you will but Tread softly.
[UK]A. Smith Lives of Most Notorious Highway-men, etc. (1926) 207: Ken-miller, a house breaker.
[UK]New Canting Dict. n.p.: ken-miller a House-breaker, the 62d Rank of Villains, who usually, by getting into an empty House, find Means to enter into the Gutters of Houses inhabited, and so in at the Windows, &c. A Practice very frequent at the Rebuilding of the City, soon after the Fire of London.
[UK]Bailey Universal Etym. Eng. Dict. [as cit. 1725].
[UK]Scoundrel’s Dict. 29: The Ken-miller is one that robs Houses in the Night-time, by breaking them open, or getting in at the Window, and seldom goes alone.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[UK]H.T. Potter New Dict. Cant (1795).
[UK]G. Andrewes Dict. Sl. and Cant.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]Egan Grose’s Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[UK]G. Kent Modern Flash Dict.
[UK]Flash Dict. in Sinks of London Laid Open.
[UK]Duncombe New and Improved Flash Dict.

In phrases

burn the ken (v.)

to stay at an inn, then leave without paying one’s bill.

[UK]New Canting Dict. n.p.: burnt the Ken when Strollers leave the Ale-house, without paying their Quarters.
[UK]Bailey Universal Etym. Eng. Dict. [as cit. 1725].
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[UK]G. Andrewes Dict. Sl. and Cant n.p.: Burning the ken vagabonds residing in an alehouse and leaving it without paying the reckoning.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[US]Commercial Advertiser (N.Y.) 1 Feb. 2/3: The ken cove, [...] being a Queer buffer [...] a regular brush was kicked up, and the Charlies being called, before they could burn the ken, [...] they were nabbed and carried to the nask.
[UK]G. Kent Modern Flash Dict.
[UK]Flash Dict. in Sinks of London Laid Open.
[UK]Duncombe New and Improved Flash Dict.