Cantering Through Cant (21)

When we use the word rum these days, other than in the context of an alcoholic drink, it implies that something is odd, strange, or unusual. According to Francis Grose in his A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785) it meant “fine, good, valuable”. Those who peppered their language with cant and slang were enamoured with it as an adjective and his lexicon is full of examples of its usage.

A rum beck was a justice of the peace while a rum bite was a clever cheat who, presumably, rarely stood before him. A rum blower was a handsome wench and a rum bluffer was a jolly host who could be relied upon to supply rum booze, “wine, or any form of good liquor”, often made from rum boozing welts, bunches of grapes. A rum hopper would be a particularly welcome sight as they were the ones who drew the drinks. A command of “rum hopper, tip us presently a a boozing cheat of rum guttlers” would result in the guests receiving a bottle of the best canary wine. The rum buffer and hopper would hope that amongst their clientele there wasn’t a rum bubber, “a dexterous fellow at stealing silver tankards from inns and taverns”.

Butchers were on the look out for a rum chub, “a customer easily imposed upon, as to the quality and price of meat”, and thieves and shopkeepers would keep a weather eye open for a rum bung, “a full purse”, and, even better, a rum cod, “a full purse of gold”.

Rum padders, “highwaymen”, roamed the rum pad, “highway”, on rum prancers, “fine horses”, on the look-out for rum quids, “great booty”. A successful one might even have ridden to Rumford. This phrase, Grose tells us, is to “have a new pair of leather breeches”, as Rumford was renowned for the quality of its garments. Denizens of Norfolk and Suffolk, though, would substitute Rumford with Bungay, equally famed for the quality of its trousers in East Anglia.

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