Cantering Through Cant (24)

No one likes being taken for a ride in a commercial transaction. According to Francis Grose in his A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785) a Smithfield bargain is one where the purchaser is taken in. It was a term also used to “express matches or marriages contracted solely on the score of interest, on one or both sides, where the fair sex are bought and sold like cattle in Smithfield”.

A sneak was a pilferer giving rise to a morning sneak, who pilfered in the morning before it was light and an evening sneak who pilfered in the evening, maybe because he was a slug-a-bed, unable to rise in the morning. An upright sneak pilfered pewter pots from boys employed by an alehouse to collect them up, while to go on the sneak was to steal into houses whose doors were left carelessly open.

Spanish was ready money, Spanish coin fair words or compliments, and Spanish faggot the sun. A Spanish padlock was a girdle which acted as a chastity belt while a Spanish worm was a nail encountered unexpectedly when a carpenter was sawing a plank of wood. Spanish gout was the pox and a Spanish trumpeter was a braying ass.

A specked wiper was a spotted handkerchief, something likely to be too flashy to be used by a apiritual flesh broker, a parson, but you could imagine used to mop the brow of a spoil iron, a blacksmith. Talking of clerics, best to avoid a spoil pudding, one “who preaches long sermons, keeping his congregation in church till the puddings are overdone“.

That’s my cue to sign off until next time.

Francis Grose, A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, Smithfield bargain, sneak, morning sneak, evening sneak, upright sneak, to go on the sneak, Spanish coin, Spanish faggot, Spanish padlock,

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