feat111009There are few more cheerful sights, when the evenings are long, and the weather dull, than a handsome, well-lighted billiard room, with the smooth, green surface of the billiard table; the ivory balls flying noiselessly here and there, or clicking musically together.

– Charles Dickens, (1889)


The Thieves' or Rogues' cant was a secret language (a cant or cryptolect) used by thieves, beggars and hustlers in Great Britain and in other English-speaking countries. It is now mostly obsolete although individual terms, such as "crib", meaning abode, are sometimes found in modern criminal subcultures. Here is a selection from A Collection of the Canting Words and Terms, both ancient and modern, used by Beggars, Gypsies, Cheats, House-Breakers, Shop-Lifters, Foot-Pads, Highway-Men, &c;

Taken from The Universal Etymological English Dictionary, by N. Bailey, London, 1737, Vol. II,  (and transcrib'd into XML Most Diligently by Liam Quin of fromoldbooks.org).

ADAM TILER, the Comerade of a Pick pocket, who receives stollen Goods or Money, and scours off with them, Tip the coal to Adam Tiler; i.e. give the Money, Watch, &c. to a running Companion, that the Pick Pocket may have nothing found upon him, when he is apprehended.

ARK-RUFFIANS, Rogues, who in Conjunction with Watermen, &c. rob and sometimes murder on the Water; by picking a Quarrel with the Passenger and then plundering, stripping and throwing him or her over board, &c.

It is all BOB, i.e. All is Safe.


COSTARD, the Head. I'll give ye a Knock on the Costard; I'll hit ye a Blow on the Pate.

DIMBER DAMBER, a Top Man or Prince amongst the Canting Crew; also the chief Rogue of the Gang, or the compleatest Cheat.

GROUND-Sweat, a Grave.

MOVEABLES, Rings, Watches, Swords, and such Toys of Value.

SNUDGE, one that lurks under a Bed, to watch an Opportunity to rob the House.

SWIG-Men, carrying small Haberdashery-Wares about, pretending to sell them, to colour their Roguery. Fellows crying Old Shoes, Boots, or brooms; and thos pretending to buy Old Suits, Hats or Cloaks, are also called Swig-Men, and oftentimes, if an Opportunity offers, make all Fish that comes to Net.

THUMMIKINS, a Punishment (in Scotland) by hard squeezing or pressing of the Thumbs, to extort Confession, which stretches them prodigiously, and is very painful. In Camps, and on Board of Ships, lighted Matches are clapt between the Fingers to the same Intent.

WHIRLEGIGS, Testicles.

To YAM, to eat heartily, to stuff lustily.

ZNEES, Frost, or Frozen; Zneesy weather; Frosty Weather.