The Vulgar Tongue - thieves' slang

I buzzed a bloak and a shakester of a reader and a skin. My jomer stalled. A cross-cove, who had his regulars, called out 'cop bung', so as a pig was marking, I speeled to the crib, where I found Jim had been pulling down sawney for grub. He cracked a case last night and fenced the swag. He told me as Bill had flimped a yack and pinched a swell of a fawney, he sent the yack to church and got three finnuffs and a cooter for the sawney.


I picked the pocket of a gentleman and lady of a pocket-book and a purse. My fancy girl stood near me and screened me from observation. A fellow-thief, who shared with me my plunder, called out to me to hand over the stolen property, so, as somebody was observing my manoeuvres, I ran away to the house, where I found James had provided something to eat, by stealing some bacon from a shop door. He committed a burglary last night and had disposed of the property plundered. He told me that Bill had hustled a person and obtained a watch; he had also robbed a well-dressed gentleman of a ring. The watch he sent to have the works taken out and put into another case (to prevent detection), and the ring realized him three five-pound notes and a sovereign.


The Vulgar Tongue was published in 1859. This excerpt translates thieves' slang from the mid 19th century.

Fence is now a widely accepted term meaning a receiver of stolen goods, and swag is often used to describe a thief's plunder or booty.

Taken from: The Vulgar Tongue
Author / Creator: Ducange Anglicus
Publisher: Bernard Quaritch
Date: 1859
Copyright: By permission of the British Library Board
Shelfmark: 12983.b.15