“A rumm nab” and other cant

AlsatiaWhilst cataloguing Thomas Shadwell’s “The Squire of Alsatia” I was amused to read the “Explanation of the cant” that prefaced the play.  Here the author has kindly provided us with a useful glossary of some of the colloquial terminology that has been used.  Rogue or thieves ‘cant’ was a sort of secret language of the ‘street’; one in which villains and vagabonds could communicate in without the authorities knowing what they were talking about.  Shadwell’s glossary includes terms that mainly encompass gambling, drinking and whoring, and while some of them might sound vaguely familiar (“Rigging” for clothes, and “To equip” to furnish one) others are much more obscure.  I think my favourite is “Rhinocerical” meaning to be full of money; but here are a few other examples:

“Bowsy” = drunk
“Clear” = very drunk
“Smoaky” = jealous
“Porker, Tilter” = a sword
“Megs” = guineas
“Smelts” = half-guineas
“Hog” = a shilling
“Prig, prigster” = pert coxcombs
“Bubble, Caravan” = the cheated
“A rumm nab” = a good beaver


“A rumm nab” or Beaver –
from New Voyages to North-America (1703).

For a complete list, and further information about the area of London known as Alsatia in the 17th century, see the Alsatia blog.


3 responses to ““A rumm nab” and other cant

  1. Some Googling suggests to me that “A good Beaver” is metonymy and what it actually refers to is a good beaver hat, rather than the mammal itself.

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