Cantering Through Cant (16)

There is always a degree of envy associated with those who get rich or become overnight sensations. The term that we use to describe these monied upstarts, the nouveau riche, has distinctly pejorative connotations. In Francis Grose’s time, at least according to his A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, his contemporaries did not need to a French phrase. A mushroom, he reports, is used to describe “a person or family suddenly raised to riches and eminence; an allusion to that fungus that starts up in the night”.  

Alas, beggars are still with us. They were known as mumpers, defined by Grose as “originally, beggars of the genteel kind, but since used for beggars in general”. By extension, a mumpers’ hall is “an alehouse where beggars are harboured”.

I was scratching my muzzle, beard”, wondering what a nab or nab cheat was. It’s a “hat” and a penthouse nab is “a large hat”. In its verb form to nab, on the other hand, means to seize or catch unawares. However, to nab the stoop is “to stand in the pillory” and to nab the rust is a term used by jockeys to describe a horse that becomes restive. To nab the snow is to steal some linen left out to bleach or dry while a nab’s girdle is a bridle.

For those of us who may blanche at the prospect of breaking forth into blasphemy, there is always nation. Grose records that it is “an abbreviation of damnation. Perhaps it was used by natty lads, a cant expression for “young thieves or pickpockets”. It was also used in an adverbial form, in Sussex, Kent and neighbouring counties, as a substitute for “very”. Thus, nation good means “very good” and nation long way “a very long way”.

Some more nation interesting gems from Grose’s dictionary anon.

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