Cantering Through Cant (15)

When times are hard and money is in short supply, it is very tempting to be manoeuvering the Apostles, a term defined by Francis Grose in his A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, as “robbing Peter to pay Paul ie borrowing of one man to pay another”. At best, it is a short-term policy as eventually all the Apostles will require their due. In Grose’s day, infractions of the law could see the unfortunate felon marinated; transported to some foreign plantation”.

To stand Moses, though, was “to have another man’s bastard child fathered upon him” and to be “obliged by the parish to maintain it”.  

We tend to associate the word mettle with courage as in “showing your mettle” but in Grose’s day it also meant “semen”. To fetch mettle was the “act of self-pollution”. Is it too fanciful to think that its legacy lives on in the use of spunk to describe someone who is showing undue bravery?

The difficult I will do right now”, sang Billie Holliday in her 1951 song Crazy He Calls Me, “the impossible will take a little while”. The Georgians, though, when set an impossible task might declare that they had been asked to milk the pigeon.

And finally, to satisfy those who are maunding for more, the cant term for “asking” or “begging”, the mobility, the mob, the antithesis of the nobility, applied the names of some of the roles associated with the royal court to their world. The master of the mint is a gardener, while a master of the rolls is, inevitably, a baker and a master of the wardrobe “one who pawns his clothes to purchase liquor”.

More anon.

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