Cantering Through Cant (27)

If you wereattending a wake or fair in Derbyshire in the 18th century, you might have been tempted to engage in a spot of Tup running. This, Francis Grose informs us in his A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785), involved “a ram, whose tail is well soaped and greased, [being] turned out to the multitude; anyone, who can take him by the tail and hold him fast, is to have him for his own”. I imagine that not many rams were claimed that way.

Tyburn was notorious for being the place where rapscallions were hung in London. A Tyburn blossom was a “young thief or pickpocket, who in time will ripen into fruit borne by the deadly never green”. It gave them something to aim for, I suppose.  

Wigs came in all shapes and sizes and in a bewildering range of styles. A Tyburn top or foretop was one where the foretop was “combed over the eyes in a knowing style; such being much worn by the gentleman pads, scamps, divers and other knowing hands”. It was presumably a type of wig favoured by those Tyburn blossoms who were close to ripening.

We have all probably met a vainglorious or ostentatious man but for those whose argot was cant it meant, metaphorically, someone who pisses more than he drinks. Someone best avoided was a Vice admiral of the narrow seas whom Grose defines as “a drunken man that pisses under the table into his companion’s shoes”. It was worth wearing a pair of waders when out drinking, it would seem.

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