Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Secret Language of Crime Lexicon in the News

While browsing the opinion pages of the New York Times, I stumbled onto an article by the author Kate Manning, The Lost Slumgullions of English about how she (and other novelists) could use interesting English words emanating from the 19th century.  My eye fell almost right away on the following paragraphs about one of Cosimo's Classics:

".....My favorite of all dictionaries is “The Secret Language of Crime” a mother lode of forgotten words. This little volume was published in 1859 by the New York City police chief, George W. Matsell. Mr. Matsell was also the editor of a newspaper, The Police Gazette, which fed New Yorkers a steady diet of murder, rape, abduction and thievery.

He kept notes on the slang of thugs and criminals, and wrote up a guide, so his cops and reporters would know what the bad guys were talking about when they went on like this: “He told Jack as how Bill had flimped a yack, and pinched a swell of a sparks -fawney.” In other words, “He told Jack that Bill had hustled a person, and obtained a watch, and also robbed a well-dressed gentleman of a diamond ring..................."

Ms. Manning ends by saying:

"....All of these (words), Chief Matsell might be glad to know, are still there in his dictionary, waiting to enrich the language again, rediscovered, and deployed — sparingly — by all kinds of storytellers, more than 150 “stretches” after he wrote them down."

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