John Camden Hotten (1832-1873) was one of the liveliest characters in British letters during the mid-nineteenth century. A bibliophile and publisher, he lived in the United States for a number of years and played an important role in introducing American authors like Artemus Ward and Mark Twain to English readers. In his spare time, Hotten clandestinely published erotica (including the bawdy comic opera Lady Bumtickler’s Revels), and perhaps most famously, compiled a slang dictionary. First released in 1859, A Dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant, and Vulgar Words was a runaway success and quickly went through numerous printings. The 1865 London edition we hold here at the ANS bears the revised title of The Slang Dictionary; or, the Vulgar Words, Street Phrases, and “Fast” Expressions of High and Low Society.
This edition featured “nearly 10,000 words and phrases commonly deemed ‘vulgar,’ but which are used by the highest and lowest, the best, the wisest, as well as the worst and most ignorant of society.” Even a casual turn through its pages will reward the reader with clever turns of phrase and entertainingly expressive terms for a host of common things. Still, it is the richness of the language about money that gave Hotten pause. In the course of his introduction he observes:
But before I proceed further in a sketch of the different kinds of Slang, I cannot do better than speak here of the extraordinary number of Cant and Slang terms in use to represent money—from farthings to bank-notes the value of fortunes. Her Majesty’s coin, collectively or in the piece, is insulted by no less than one hundred and thirty distinct Slang words, from the humble brown (a halfpenny) to flimsies, or long-tailed ones, (bank-notes.) “Money,” it has been well remarked, “the bare, simple word itself, has a sonorous, significant ring in its sound,” and might have sufficed, one would have imagined, for all ordinary purposes. But a vulgar or ” fast” society has thought differently, and so we have the Slang synonymes — BEANS. BLUNT (i. e., specie,— not stiff or rags, bank-notes,) BRADS, BRASS, BUSTLE, COPPERS, (copper money, or mixed pence,) CHINK, CHINKERS, CHIPS, CORKS, DIBBS, DINARLY, DIMMOCK, DUST, FEATHERS, GENT, (silver,— from argent,) HADDOCK, (a purse of money,) HORSE NAILS, LOAVER, LOUR, (the oldest Cant term for money,) MOPUSSES, NEEDFUL, NOBBINGS, (money collected in a hat by street-performers,) OCHRE, (gold,) PEWTER, PALM OIL, POSH, QUEEN’S PICTURES, QUIDS, RAGS, (bank-notes,) READY, or READY GILT, REDGE, (gold,) RHINO, ROWDY, SHINERs, (sovereigns,) SKIN, (a purse of money,) STIFF, (paper, or bill of acceptance,) STUFF, STUMPY, TIN (silver,) WEDGE, (silver,) and YELLOW-BOYS, (sovereigns 😉 — just forty-three vulgar equivalents for the simple word money. So attentive is Slang speech to financial matters, that there are seven terms for bad, or ” bogus” coin, (as our friends, the Americans, call it a CASE is a counterfeit five-shilling piece; HALF A CASE represents half that sum; GRAYS are halfpence made double for gambling purposes; QUEER-SOFT is counterfeit or lead coin; SCHOFEL refers to coated or spurious coin; SHEEN is bad money of any description; and SINKERS bears the same and not inappropriate meaning. FLYING THE KITE, or obtaining money on bills and promissory-notes, is closely connected with the allegorical expression of RAISING THE WIND, which is a well-known phrase for procuring money by immediate sale, pledging, or by a forced loan. In winter or in summer any elderly gentleman who may have prospered in life is pronounced WARM; whilst an equivalent is immediately at hand in the phrase “his pockets are well LINED.” Each separate piece of money has its own Slang term, and often half a score of synonymes…
Hotten proceeds with a long list of slang terms for English currency, concluding with the thought that it was “not equaled by any other vulgar or unauthorized language in Europe.” To see those and the many other numismatic terms listed, you can page through the digital copy below or download it here.
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