Costermongers’ slang
Posted: 30 April 2007 03:15 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I think I’ve linked to this site before, but it’s worth a second look.

The slang language of the costermongers is not very remarkable for originality of construction; it possesses no humour: but they boast that it is known only to themselves; it is far beyond the Irish, they say, and puzzles the Jews. The root of the costermonger tongue, so to speak, is to give the words spelt backward, or rather pronounced rudely backward, -for in my present chapter the language has, I believe, been reduced to orthography for the first time. With this backward pronunciation, which is very arbitrary, are mixed words reducible to no rule and seldom referrable to any origin, thus complicating the mystery of this unwritten tongue; while any syllable is added to a proper slang word, at the discretion of the speaker.
Slang is acquired very rapidly, and some costermongers will converse in it by the hour. The women use it sparingly; the girls more than the women; the men more than the girls ; and the boys most of all. The most ignorant of all these classes deal most in slang and boast of their cleverness and proficiency in it.

link to slang terms

OED on costermonger:

[f. COSTARD an apple + MONGER dealer, trader.]

a. orig. An apple-seller, a fruiterer; esp. one that sold his fruit in the open street. Hence, b. Now, in London, a man who sells fruit, vegetables, fish, etc. in the street from a barrow.

1514 BARCLAY Cyt. & Uplondyshm. (Percy Soc.) 2 Than [was he] a costermonger.

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Posted: 01 May 2007 05:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Even Cicero owned a store and probably had slaves to run it. That’s a truly fascinating account of the entire field of street merchants from the vantage point of Victorian England. The opening remarks indicate to me that the author approached the topic with something of a jaundiced eye towards the accepted ‘state of things as we know it’ and instead did his own research with great particularity, as is borne out by the ensuing text.

The census of 1841 gives only 2,045 “hawkers, hucksters, and pedlars,” in the metropolis, and no costermongers or street-sellers, or street-performers at all. his number is absurdly small, and its absurdity is accounted for by the fact that not one in twenty of the costermongers, or of the people with whom they lodged, troubled themselves to fill up the census returns -the majority of them being unable to read and write, and others distrustful of the purpose for which the returns were wanted.

Interestingly, the author also expresses sympathy and outright concern for the lower rungs of vendors who hadn’t much chance of making it, rather were going to ruin slowly. Not that all street vendors were poor; I can tell you from personal experience that many a dealer who is shabby in appearance has quite an income. By extension this would have been the case a century and a half ago.

As to the argot of the costermongers themselves, I’m a little unclear on the distinctions between Cockney and its sub-categories. In my conception, Cockney is the dialect of the lower classes of greater London, but that may not be strictly correct. Would a costermonger have spoken Cockney and then applied a special jargon (AHD def. 3. The specialized or technical language of a trade, profession, or similar group.)? I’m reminded of a Swedish exchange student at my high school who came from a mid-sized port town. His dialect of Swedish caused him to have an accent in English that marked him to Londoners as a Cockney. He said he had been to a pub in London and the locals refused to believe he wasn’t one of them. Then also the Amsterdammers have a distinct Cockney twang in Dutch such that if you were overhearing a conversation but not listening closely, you might think they were speaking Cockney. Perhaps there was something to do with early shipping trades, sailors, and the ports they frequented.

[ Edited: 01 May 2007 06:00 PM by foolscap ]
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Posted: 01 May 2007 08:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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foolscap - 01 May 2007 05:34 PM

Perhaps there was something to do with early shipping trades, sailors, and the ports they frequented.

The argot of the Argo.

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

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Posted: 02 May 2007 04:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I’d love to know how this slang is acquired.  Someone must make up the word by this simple construction and then the boys begin to use it—I would guess without much thought as to how it came into being.  Like most etymology, in fact.

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Posted: 02 May 2007 06:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Why would anyone give thought to how words come into being? We hear it, we like it, we use it. No thought necessary. The number of people giving thought to how words come about is so small I should think it requires quantum mechanics to calculate.

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Posted: 02 May 2007 07:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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If that were so, I don’t think misinformation about word origins would be so popular.  I think the number of people who are interested in word origins is fairly large.  The number who are interested enough to think critically about them and check their facts rather than repeating any rubbish they hear--that is very small.

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Posted: 02 May 2007 10:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Let’s not forget the Pearly Kings and Queens, founded by one Henry Croft in 1875.

Because Henry was an orphan he had no one to help him with his suit so he had to learn how to sew. It was this that started the tradition, which is still carried on by descendants of original Pearly Families, that the Kings do all the designs and sewing. Designs on suits tend to run in families but here are a few that you may see and recognise:

Horseshoe = Luck
Doves = Peace
Heart = Charity
Anchor = Hope
Cross = Faith
Wheel = Circle of Life
Symbols of Playing Cards = Life is a gamble
Flower Pots = Costermongers
Donkey Carts = Costermongers

Henry Croft was in so much demand for his charity work, as many of London’s hospitals, workhouses and orphanages needed help, that he turned to his friends the Costermongers and they did not let him down. Many of the Costermongers became the first Pearly Families. There were 28 families, one for each of the London boroughs, one for the City of Westminster, and one for the City of London.

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Posted: 02 May 2007 12:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Dr. Techie - 02 May 2007 07:03 AM

If that were so, I don’t think misinformation about word origins would be so popular.  I think the number of people who are interested in word origins is fairly large.  The number who are interested enough to think critically about them and check their facts rather than repeating any rubbish they hear--that is very small.

Excellent distinction and point taken. I negelected to take into account that even a passing interest is an interest.

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