A few slang terms are very short-lived; but some slang endures for centuries

In 1819 James Hardy Vaux published ‘A New and Comprehensive Vocabulary of the Flash Language’, a compilation of the underworld slang used in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century New South Wales that was brought from Britain and Ireland.

The “vocabulary” appeared in Volume 2 pages 147-227 of Memoirs of James Hardy Vaux, Written by himself printed in London by W. Clowes (https://‌babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/‌pt?id=nyp.33433082394838,  see also Simon Barnard’s 2019 book James Hardy Vaux’s 1819 Dictionary of Criminal Slang and Other Impolite Terms as Used by the Convicts of the British Colonies of Australia – with Additional True Stories, Remarkable Facts and Illustrations, Melbourne: Text Publishing.)

Vaux was born in 1782. He was a professional thief and swindler who was transported three times in 1800, 1809, and 1830. His last recorded conviction was two years for indecent assault of an 8-year-old girl in 1839. He probably died in the 1840s.

As you see from the following list, lots of the slang Vaux records (about 20%) was still used in twentieth century Australia and most of it is extant today (even if you don’t move in the wrong circles).

bang up to the mark ‘smart’; bash ‘beat up’; beak ‘magistrate’; haven’t got a bean ‘no money’; beef ‘hue and cry’; blow the gaff ‘tell on, reveal’; bob ‘shilling’; body snatcher; bolt ‘run’; bounce ‘what a bouncer does’; bowled out ‘found out, removed from a position’; bunce ‘money’; cadge; chiv ‘knife’; chum; cleaned out/up ‘money/wealth gone’; clout ‘cloth’; conk ‘nose’; cove ‘person’; crabbed ‘imperfect’; crack a safe; cracksman; crack ‘interchange’; croak ‘die’; dancers ‘stairs’; dicky ‘inferior’; do someone in; do the trick ‘bring off’; dollop; drop ‘give [drop me a quid]; duds ‘apparel’ [originally limited to women]; dues ‘what’s owing’; dummy ‘fool’; earwig ‘listen in’; fancy woman ‘mistress’; fancy man ‘extra marital lover’; fence ‘receiver of stolen goods’; flash ‘smart’, ‘show, reveal’; flash language ‘slang, thieves’ jargon’; floor ‘knock someone down’; fly ‘vigilant, sharp’; frisk ‘search’; game [n.] ‘pursuit’; gammon ‘flattery, bullshit’; be good for something; grab; grub ‘food’; his nabs  ‘his nibs’; hoist ‘robbery’; jemmy ‘crowbar’; job ‘undertaking’; kid ‘child’; kirk ‘church’; knap ‘steal, get’; lag ‘convict’; lamps ‘eyes’; lark ‘game, something done for fun, gain’; leary ‘suspicious’; bring to light ‘reveal’; lumbered ‘incommoded’; lush ‘drunk’; mitts ‘gloves, hands’; mug ‘face’; nail a person; nancy ‘arse’; nancy boy; needle a person; nix; nose ‘snout, grass’; out and out ‘completely’; pal ‘friend’; palm ‘bribe’, ‘palm’; patter ‘talk’; pick up someone; pigs ‘police’; pinch ‘steal’; pins ‘legs’; jug, clink ‘prison’; plummy ‘good’; post a bet ‘put up a bet’; prime ‘good, plummy’; pull ‘influence’; pull up ‘stop’; put up an idea ‘float an idea’; queer ‘counterfeit’; queer it ‘spoil it’; quid ‘pound, guinea’; racket ‘scheme’; rattler ‘coach’; rum ‘good’; school [of gamblers, etc.]; scout ‘watchman’; seedy ‘poor, shabby’; sell ‘betray’; shake ‘steal from’; sharp ‘cheat’; on the sly ‘secretively’; snitch ‘betray’; snooze; sound a person ‘try to get info from’; spin a yarn; square ‘upright, honest’; stake ‘sum of money’; stash ‘end, put way’; sticks ‘furniture’; sting ‘defraud, rob’; stink ‘uproar, outrage’; stow ‘finish, stash’; swag ‘bundle, booty’; swell ‘gentleman’; tanner ‘sixpence’; toddle ‘walk slowly, be doddery’; toddler ‘child’; togs ‘clothes’; togged out to the nines ‘well-dressed’; tools [for housebreaking, etc.]’; tooled up; topped ‘hanged’; traps ‘police’; do the trick ‘accomplish’; try it on; turn up a trump ‘turn out well’; wack [n.] ‘share’; wanted [for a crime]; weed ‘tobacco’; yarn ‘narrate’.

OK, currency is now decimal, there are more trendy slang terms for friends, and weed is more frequently used for dope than tobacco, but a surprising quantity of eighteenth-nineteenth century flash language is still in common use today. Vaux’s “vocabulary” is testament to the longevity of slang.

Keith Allan

Amanda Laugesen on Boganism

Amanda Laugesen, Editor-in-Chief of The Australian National Dictionary asks what the word ‘bogan’ says about Australian culture and society. See the November 2022 issue of ‘Australian Book Review’. The podcast can be heard via this link.

Digging deep on Aussie nongs and drongos

Kate Burridge writes on the exuberance of expressions people gave us for stupidity. Favourites ranged from mild drongo (the clear winner in our survey with 886 mentions) to the more potent dickhead (third in the list, but a long way behind drongo with 120 mentions). Quite high on this list was also nong (and its relative ning-nong). Nong has been a favourite in this country for some time – since at least the turn of the 20th century, in fact, Australians have been referring to each other as colossal nongs. Nong has always been an effective insult to question someone’s intelligence or competence, but like other insults, it continues to be an important signal of mateship – and true affection. There is more to read at https://lens.monash.edu/2022/11/09/1385251.

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