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The First English Dictionary of Slang, 1699 1St Edition Edition

6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1851243488
ISBN-10: 1851243488
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Editorial Reviews


“Gent began the literate taste for slang that continues today.”

(Jeremy Noel-Tod Telegraph)

“A brilliant Christmas stocking-filler for any lover of language or social history.”

(Jen Newby Family History Monthly)

“Opening it at random, one is plunged back into late 17th-century London, specifically the criminal underworld of narrow streets, ale-houses, and brothels, of sheds crammed with stolen goods, stinking debtor’s prisons, and public hangings.”

(Jenny Lunnon Oxford Times)

“The continuing value of this compilation is not just its historical interest, but the insight that it gives into the urban life of the period.”

(Michael Quinion World Wide Words)

Thanks to the unearthing of a 17th-century text—originally printed as ‘A New Dictionary of the Terms Ancient and Modern of the Canting Crew’ and newly titled The First English Dictionary of Slang, 1699—we can now learn the sorts of wordsounds heard on the streets of London by the likes of John Milton, Andrew Marvell and probably even Shakespeare himself. . . . Written anonymously by a mysterious ‘B.E. Gent,’ the book is not a dictionary in the modern sense but an amalgam of words centered on ‘cant’—the prurient, rude and witty. But it includes many non-canting words. Above all, "The First English Dictionary of Slang" gives us a sense of how rich a mine the English language is and how ingenious its users. Slang is eternal.”

(Wall Street Journal)

"A fantastically browseable book. Almost every page turns up quaint curiosities that didn't become standard (Dimber-cove, "a pretty fellow"; Mulligrubs, "a Counterfeit Fit of the Sullens"); phrase-bookish constructions such as Fib the Cove's quarrons in the Rum-pad, for the Lour in his Bung ("Beat the Man in the High-way lustily for the Money in his Purse"); humorous entries (e.g., Ambidexter, "a Lawyer that takes Fees of a Plaintiff and Defendant at once"); entries that highlight differences in worldview and knowledge (Otter, "an Amphibious Creature, betwixt a Beast and a Fish, a great destroyer of Fish, affording much sport in Hunting") all alongside words we now consider everyday: defunct, ("dead and gone"), elbow-gease ("a derisory Term for Sweat"), Hick ("a silly Country Fellow").--Boston Globe
(Erin McKean)

 “Everyone needs a good dictionary in the loo, and this could be it.”

(Marcus Berkmann Spectator)

“English gentility was fascinated by the crude, mysterious vocabulary of the ‘canting crew.” The interest was voyeuristic, to be sure, but also practical: knowing what the ruffians were talking about might help you avoid getting your pocket picked if you ventured into the wrong neighborhood. Along with a slew of terms for loose women and strong drink, B. E.’s dictionary also provides a rich array of epithets for fools and simpletons (presumably referring to the folks who were easy marks for pickpocketing).”
(New York Times Paper Cuts 2011-04-01)

About the Author

John Simpson is Chief Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. He edited (with Edmund Weiner) the Second Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, published to great acclaim in 1989. Together with John Ayno, he is also co-editor of the Oxford Dictionary of Slang. He is a world expert on proverbs and slang, has edited dictionaries and regularly lectures and broadcasts on the English language

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 196 pages
  • Publisher: Bodleian Library, University of Oxford; 1St Edition edition (October 15, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1851243488
  • ISBN-13: 978-1851243488
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,075,898 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on March 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover
On the local news a few nights ago, the anchorman commented on a criminal caught shoplifting, referring to the culprit as being "light-fingered." This is a lovely term, almost poetic and even containing a bit of sarcastic compliment. I bet, though, that the anchorman had no idea that he was using a term recorded as slang over three hundred years ago. "Light Finger'd," defined as "Thievish" can be found in _A New Dictionary of the Terms Ancient and Modern of the Canting Crew, In its several Tribes of Gypsies, Beggers, Thieves, Cheats, &c. with An Addition of some Proverbs, Phrases, Figurative Speeches, &c. Useful for all sorts of People, (especially Foreigners) to secure their Money and preserve their Lives; besides very Diverting and Entertaining, being wholly New_, which was published in London in 1699. This has now been reissued by the Bodleian Library, Oxford, as _The First English Dictionary of Slang 1699_, even though there was nothing known as slang in 1699; that term was first recorded in 1756. What the compiler of the dictionary would have said was that he was collecting not slang, but "cant terms," the jargon of thieves and beggars. To this he added naval terms, hunting terms, words for sexual activity, and plenty of insults. It is no longer "wholly New," but it is decidedly "Diverting and Entertaining."

The introduction to the volume is by John Simpson, who is the chief editor of _The Oxford English Dictionary_. He explains that we know almost nothing about the compiler of this dictionary, who is identified only on the title page as B. E. Gent, with that "Gent" not being his name but his claim to be a gentleman. B. E. included plenty of terms besides "light-fingered" that we still use today.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Shaun K. Thornhill on October 29, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an informative and handy book, for those who like words and their usage. Every page, I see words I use every day meaning different things. It is history and etymology all in one. I can't put it down. Now, I have to go back and study this tome.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By OLT TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This dictionary was first published in 1699 with the name A NEW DICTIONARY OF THE TERMS ANCIENT AND MODERN OF THE CANTING CREW by B.E. Gent. It was written to help "all sorts of people (especially foreigners)" understand the words of "gypsies, beggars, thieves, cheats, etc." in order to "secure their money and preserve their lives".

Well, it may not be helping me secure my money or my life but it is serving its stated secondary purpose of being "diverting and entertaining". It's decidedly fun to read, just to see what words from then have stuck with us, even becoming mainstream vocabulary, and what has faded into disuse. For example, I can't know for sure if anyone still calls a dog a "bufe" but I rather doubt it. Is a homely woman an "antidote" nowadays? To "fleece" as in to "rob" is still around today but using the term "coliander-seed" for money must have lost its usefulness. And if someone called me a "dim-mort" today, I'd probably take offense, but that was a "pretty wench" back in the day.

So this is fun. It's not a book to settle down with and finish in one sitting, but it's quite "diverting and entertaining" in bits and pieces.
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The First English Dictionary of Slang, 1699
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