Green’s Dictionary of Slang

slang n.1

[ety. debatable; the long-term assumption of links to SE sling, to throw (thus fig. ‘thrown’ language), with its roots in Norw. has now been rejected; Liberman (2008 189ff; OUP Blog 28/9/2016) sees a progression from slang, a narrow strip of land, to that of the area travelled by hawkers to the jargon used by those hawkers to the association of its modern meaning, abusive language, with the image of hawkers as being outside respectable society, as are the wider users of slang.]

1. illiterate, ‘low’ language.

Fielding Don Qixote in Eng. 47: My lord Slang is one of the merriest men you ever knew in your life; he has been telling me a parcel of such stories!
Squire Badger 12: This is Lord Slang of Slango-Hall, in Slangshire.
[UK]J. Messink Choice of Harlequin I viii: I think my flashy coachman, that you’ll take better care, / Nor for a little bub come the slang upon your fare.
W. Taylor Monthly Rev. xx 543–4: The personages have mostly the manners and language of elegant middle life, removed alike from the rant of tragedy or the slang of farce [F&H].
[US]Irving & Paulding Salmagundi (1860) 247: They complain of that empty sarcastical slang.
[UK]M. Edgeworth Patronage III 70: The total want of proper pride and dignity in his deportment – a certain slang and familiarity of tone, gave superficial observers the notion that he was good-natured.
[UK]Egan Life in London (1869) 41: Above all, steer clear from the slang, except, indeed, where the instances decidedly call it forth.
[UK]T. Hood ‘Tale of a Trumpet’ Poetical Works (1906) 608/2: The smallest urchin whose tongue could tang, / Shock’d the dame with a volley of slang.
[UK]J.E. Ritchie Night Side of London 212: The young hopefuls come in [...] do their pale ale, and adopt the slang and the vices of their betters.
[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor III 396/2: When the cadgers saw a stranger, they used their slang.
[UK]Story of a Lancashire Thief 12: I never even heard him talk workmen’s slang.
W.D. Whitney Life and Growth of Lang. vii n.p.: There are grades and uses of slang whose charm no one need be ashamed to feel and confess; it is like reading a narrative in a series of rude and telling pictures instead of in words [F&H].
‘A Plain Woman’ Poor Nellie I 110: ‘George,’ said Charles, testily, ‘you do talk slang! Shocking bad form!’.

2. nonsense, rubbish.

[UK]Life and Character of Moll King 12: I heard she made a Fam To-night, a Rum one, with Dainty Dasies, of a Flat from T’other Side; she flash’d half a Slat, a Bull’s-Eye, and some other rum Slangs.
[UK]Foote Orators in Works (1799) I 192: Foote.: Have you not seen the bills? Scamper.: What, about the lectures? ay, but that’s all slang, I suppose.
[UK]Whole Art of Thieving 26: Nap my kelp, whilst I stall at the jegger to nap the slangs from the cull or moll; that is, Take my hat whilst I stop at the door to take the things from the man or woman.

3. (also slango) a line of work, an occupation; thus on/upon the slang, involved in one’s own profession or job.

[UK]Canting Academy, or the Pedlar’s-French Dict. 117: You, Fellow-traveller, what do you do for your living? You, Cole, What Slango do you go upon?
[UK]G. Parker Life’s Painter 140: moll.: How do you work now? tolobon nan.: O, upon the old slang, and sometimes a little lully-priging.
[UK]‘The Christening of Little Joey’ in Corinthian in Spedding & Watt (eds) Bawdy Songbooks (2011) IV 45: [as 1789].

4. cant, i.e. the jargon of criminals.

[UK]W. Toldervy Hist. of the Two Orphans I 68: Thomas Throw had been upon the town, knew the slang well; [...] and understood every word in the scoundrel’s dictionary.
I. Bickerstaff Absent Man n.p.: Person [...] Captain Slang, Mr. J. Palmer.
[UK]H. Kelly School for Wives (1775) 58: We don’t understand Latin, Sir [...] there is a language we sometimes talk in, call’d Slang.
[UK] ‘The Flash Man of St. Giles’ in Farmer Musa Pedestris (1896) 74: We threw off our slang at high and low.
[UK]Gent.’s Mag. lxxxvi 418: Unwilling to be a disciple of the stable, the kennel, and the sty, as of the other precious slang, the dialect of Newgate.
[US]N.-Y. Statesman 21 June 2/4: The mayor asked witness if Ann took out with her when walking the bootle (slang word for a bundle of forged notes.) Here A. C. [Ann Carter, defendant] laughed and said to the mayor, ‘I see your honor is up to the slang.’.
[UK]Marryat King’s Own II 113: His greatest pride and his constant study was ‘slang’.
[UK]Swell’s Night Guide 68: I fancy I can come that slang rumbo and patter gospel slap.
[UK]Yokel’s Preceptor 31: The slang or flash patter differs much according to the parties by whom it is used.
[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 155/1: Why, if I’d let you keep on talking with that old woman you’d have put her ‘fly’ to all the ‘slang’ in use among us.
[UK]Eng. Lakes Vistor 4 Oct. 6/3: He knew the Code Crimina [...] and was well up in slang, and he ventured blandly to correct the judge whenever he erred.

5. attrib. use of sense 3.

[UK]J. Wild ‘Plan for Hospital for Decayed Thief-Takers’ in Fielding Hist. of Life of J. Wild (1840) lxxix: The master who teaches them should be a man well versed in the cant language, commonly called the Slang Patter, in which they should by all means excel.
[UK]G. Parker Life’s Painter 152: The slang language, which is the same as flash and cant.

6. a form of contrivance, e.g. within a puppet-show, designed to trick onlookers.

History of the Fortune-teller 85: While mankind feel themselves pleased at the representation of a puppet-shew, or a juggler’s sleight of hand, they are not at all anxious to discover the wires of the slang that moves them, or the artifices made use of.

7. banter, teasing; abuse, thus throw off slang, to tease, to abuse.

[UK]‘The St Giles’s Flash Man’ in Busy Bee II 122: We threw off our slang at high and low / And we were resolved to breed a row.
[Ire] ‘Kilmainham Minit’ in A. Carpenter Verse in Eng. in 18C Ireland (1998) 436: Wid a tip a de slang we replied.
[UK]Bacchanalian Mag. 43: When Poll and I walk thro’ the streets, / We throw off slang on all we meet.
[UK]P. Hawker Diary (1893) I 22 Feb. 68: We had some prime slang on the road, and [...] blew up every spoony fellow we could meet.
[UK]‘The St Giles’s Flash Man’ in Facetious Songster in Spedding & Watt (eds) Bawdy Songbooks (2011) III 250: [as c.1790].
[UK]R.S. Surtees Mr Sponge’s Sporting Tour 25: Leather, though as impudent a dog as any of them, and far more than a match for the best of them at a tournament of slang [...] thought it best to be civil.
[Aus]Truth (Brisbane) 11 Jan. 6/7: He burst into the plaintiffs room, and after slanging, him some he gave him a punch or two to rub in the slang.

8. the criminal fraternity.

[UK]H. Lemoine ‘Education’ in Attic Misc. 116: A very knowing rig in ev’ry gang, / Dick Hellfinch was the pink of all the slang.
[UK] ‘Sonnets for the Fancy’ Egan Boxiana III 621: A very knowing rig in ev’ry gang, / Dick Hellfinch was the pick of all the slang.
[UK]‘Dick Hellfinch’ in Rummy Cove’s Delight in Spedding & Watt (eds) Bawdy Songbooks (2011) III 105: [as 1791].

9. a travelling show; a single performance or ‘house’ in a travelling show.

[Scot]D. Haggart Autobiog. 62: On the Thursday evening of the races we went into the slangs, [...] seeing a conish cove ogling the yelpers. [Ibid.] 121: slangs shows.
[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc. 94: slang a travelling show.
[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor III 93/2: I’m not talking of a big pitch, when we go through all our ‘slang,’ as we say.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict. 23 4: SLANG, a travelling show.
[UK]Sl. Dict.
[UK]W.E. Henley ‘Villon’s Straight Tip’ in Farmer Musa Pedestris (1896) 176: Dead–lurk a crib, or do a crack; / Pad with a slang, or chuck a mag.

10. a performance (e.g. in a public house) .

[UK]New Sprees of London 20: Morton Box takes the chair in the back lumber here, supported by some first rate talented chanters. We can recommend this crib [...] There is a bona slang in this slum, and manty [sic] queerums.

11. a set of counterfeit scales, as used by cheating costermongers, counterfeit measures; thus the slang quart, a measure with a false bottom that actually holds only 1½ pints (855ml); the slang pint, ¾ pint (428ml) etc; work slang, to use such weights and measures.

[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc. 94: slang counterfeit or short weights and measures. A slang quart is a pint and a half. slang measures are lent out at 2d. per day. The term is used principally by costermongers.
[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor I 32/2: One candid costermonger expressed his perfect contempt of slangs, as fit only for bunglers, as he could always ‘work slang’ with a true measure. [...] The slang quart is let out at 2d. a day [...] The slang pint holds in some cases three-fourths of the just quantity, having a very thick bottom; others hold only half a pint, having a false bottom.
[UK]Sl. Dict.

12. a legal warrant.

[UK]Vaux Vocab. of the Flash Lang. in McLachlan (1964) 265: slang [...] a warrant, license to travel, or other official instrument.
[UK]Morn. Advertiser (London) 2 Oct. 4/2: These ladies had quarrelled about a ‘swell buz-man’ and [...] the lady who had received the worst of the battle appealed to the Office for ‘a slang’ (the flash term for an assault warrant) against the more successful combatant.
[UK]Egan Bk of Sports 188: A slang had been issued against Brown, and to make his lucky was the best advice he could take.

13. a hawker’s licence; thus out on the slang, working as an itinerant hawker.

[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict. 234: ‘Out on the slang,’ i.e. to travel with a hawker’s licence.
[UK]C. Hindley Life and Adventures of a Cheap Jack 264: Unless you produce your hawker’s licence – your ‘slang’ as you chaps call it – I’ll ike you off to the Beak.
[UK]F.W. Carew Autobiog. of a Gipsey 28: We were stopped by some constables who wanted to see our slangs.
[Scot]A. McCormick Tinkler-Gypsies of Galloway 184: ‘That’s the wee slangs’ (pedlar’s license) [...] ‘That’s the big slangs’ (waggon licence).
[UK]‘George Orwell’ Down and Out in Complete Works I (1986) 176: These (omitting the ones that everyone knows) are some of the cant words now used in London: [...] A slang — a hawker’s licence.

14. a salesman’s or showman’s speech to attract customers; also as bad slang, an exaggerated but successful speech and performance to attract the public.

[UK]C. Hindley Life and Adventures of a Cheap Jack 201: They could do no business, because they did not understand a bit the working of the ‘slang’ or getting the people in. [Ibid.] 205: Roderick Palsgrave was considered by all who knew him to be the best showman of a ‘bad slang’ that ever travelled.

In compounds

slang-boy (n.)

one who can speak underworld cant.

[UK]G. Parker Life’s Painter 134: Ye slang-boys all, since wedlock’s nooze, / Together fast has tied.
[UK]‘Rowling Joey & Moll Blabbermums’ in Corinthian in Spedding & Watt (eds) Bawdy Songbooks (2011) IV 42: [as 1789].
slang cove (n.) (also slang cull, slanging cove) [cove n. (1)/cull n.1 (4)]

1. a showman.

[UK]G. Parker Life’s Painter 152: To exhibit anything in a fair or market, such as a tall man, or a cow with two heads, that’s called slanging, and the exhibiter is called the slang cull.
[UK]Morn. Advertiser (London) 27 Dec. 3/3: [H]e is well known in the country as a ‘slanging cove,’ and delights the rustics with his feats of ground and lofty tumbling and tight-rope dancing, as manager of a fashionable booth that yearly graces Bartholomew Fair with its spangled elegance.
[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor I 353/2: I don’t suppose it would be any go, seeing as how the ‘slang coves’ (the showmen), have done so, and been refused.

2. (UK Und.) a cheat.

[UK]Chester Courant 16 May 4/4: Even the slang coves have Downie and Fellowes.
slang-madge (n.) [madge n. (3)]

(UK Und.) the robbery of homosexuals.

[UK]Ordinary of Newgate Account 31 July 🌐 she asked me to go along with her upon the *Slang-Madge [...] *Biting the Mollies.

In phrases

stand slang (v.)

to stand by ready to remove stolen articles after a robbery.

[UK] Ordinary of Newgate Account 18 Mar. 🌐 She was appointed [...] to stand Miss Slang all upon the Safe, (that is, to stand safe at a Distance as if not one of the Gang, in order to receive the Things stollen.).