Dark Lantern Tales
Glossary of Slang and Period Terminology:
These terms are mentioned often in the Dark Lantern Tales novels. Hopefully this glossary will help the reader understand more about the slang used in these exciting stories!
A course of sprouts means, grueling punishment, harsh treatment
About my size, about my inches, an indirect way to refer to one’s self.
Alarm raps were a method of night time signaling between police officers by rapping their batons on the pavement.
All in my eye and Betty Martin means, complete nonsense
All the fat would be in the fire, initiating bad consequences, similar to all hell breaking loose.
Alta California, the Daily Alta California was a newspaper that was published in San Francisco from 1850 to 1891.
Apartments, a term for rooms in a building. A home in an apartment building might be referred to as a “set of apartments,” or several rooms.
‘Pon my soul, Apon my soul, an expression of surprise
the Argument of the opera, this comes from the French usage of the word argument: it’s a short summary/synopsis of the plot of the opera. For example, in a periodical it would be the opening “blurb,” to be followed by a full, act-by-act summary. (thanks to Alina MacNichol, Director of Community Engagement & Customer Service, Opera Carolina)
As square as a die, similar to true blue, or honest as the day is long.
At such an early hour refers to a time of night we would now call late. The hours after midnight were then considered to be very early morning.
Aught can mean zero, or it can mean, “anything at all”
the Bar Sinister, the mark of bastardy, a heraldic charge of illegitimate birth.
“Barkis is willin’” is a line from a Dickens’ work, David Copperfield, and expresses that the party is willing, if opportunity exists.
Bawler, someone who speaks in a loud voice, a bellower
Beak, magistrate or justice
Bedrock, the lowest, in mining parlance, the bottom where no possible ore is to be found.
Being no better than he ought to be, means, the party has questionable morals or honesty
Bellows, may mean bellow, loudly and belligerently speaking.
Bijou, a jewel, a treasure
B’iling, the whole b’iling (boiling), means, the whole thing
Billy-cock hat – a bowler hat, like a derby
Blacklegs, a strikebreaker
Bloods: In thieves’ argot, “A fast or high-mettled man.” Also a “sport” or “man of sporting blood.” i.e.: a gambler or “plunger.” Thanks to E. M. Sanchez-Saavedra.
I’ll be Blowed, I’m blowed, blow me tight! Expresses surprise or frustration, probably from sailor’s jargon, along with “blow me down.” Milder expression but similar to, “I’ll be damned!”
Blow: To expose or inform; to “Peach” (impeach.) Thanks to E. M. Sanchez-Saavedra.
Boodle refers to ill-gotten goods or money
Brewster’s Best, Brewster was a maker of luxurious carriages.
Bruited about, means spreading the information
Bucket shop, a low saloon that sells beer in buckets, or Growlers.
Bulge, got the bulge on someone, means, to have the advantage on them
Bull’s eye lantern, also called a police lantern, or dark lantern. These were about the size of a modern small thermos bottle and had a large, “bull’s eye” lens in front. Such oil lanterns had an internal shutter that allowed the light out at will or blocked it. Lanterns of this design were commonly used from the mid 1800s to the 1910s, and later. The reliability of the oil lanterns made for a slow conversion to battery-powered electric flashlights for police, watchmen, and some military.
Bunco men, con artists who work various swindles on innocent victims
Bung-starter, a mallet made of wood, used to loosen the “bung,” or plug in the bunghole of a cask.
Bu’sted, from “bursted,” like the modern “busted.”
Cakes, The Land of Cakes, refers to Scotland because of some well known oatmeal cakes
Car, refers usually to a street car (horse or electric), or sometimes a train car
Carman, a street car or horse car driver
Caught a Tartar, discovered that an opponent was unexpectedly dangerous
was a Caution, meaning, was astonishing, was amazing
‘Change, means exchange, as in the stock exchange
Chapter of accidents, a succession of unfortunate events
Charming confusion, apparently an attribute of female demeanor found attractive at that time.
Checks may be used to mean gambling chips, or sometimes to mean dollars.
“Cheer up, Sam! Never let your spirits go down” is a quote from a 19th century song by Sarah Bell. <https://www.loc.gov/resource/amss.as102040.0/?st=text>
Being a Chicken, being a youngster
Chin piece, refers to the portion of a man’s beard on his chin
Chloral, Chloral Hydrate, a widely used nineteenth century hypnotic and sedative drug that was addictive. Chloral Hydrate was one of the drugs used as “knockout drops” in liquor, and later known as a “Mickey Finn.”
Chucks, means dollars, pounds, money
Cipher, a zero, naught, and in later years it could mean a numerical code
Clew, an old spelling for “clue.”
Close carriage, a conveyance with the windows closed by curtains or other means
Coal Oil, originally a lighting oil refined from oil shale and bituminous coal. It was patented as, “Kerosene,” but the public called it coal oil. The term kerosene was later applied to a refined oil derived from petroleum.
Come down, means pay up
Commune, the Commune, refers to the Paris Commune that briefly held power in 1871, before being ousted with much bloodshed. Many members abandoned France and emigrated to England and the United States.
Cospetto! An Italian word that means presence, as in the company of, although it is used oddly in the Joe Phenix’s Shadow story as an exclamation of frustration.
Cornish wrestling, ancient Celtic martial arts that include methods to toss the opponent onto the flat of his back.
Coupe, a light weight enclosed coach, seating two passengers
Cove, means a guy, a bloke
Cracksmen – robbers, burglars, safe crackers
Cracked the crib, means broke into the home, or building.
the Crib, means the place, the home, the business
Cut my lucky, means run for it, escape
Cut up rusty, means act up, be rowdy
Cute, in these stories it is short for acute
Dark lantern, also called a police lantern, or bull’s eye lantern. These were about the size of a modern small thermos bottle and had a large, “bull’s eye” lens in front. Such oil lanterns had an internal shutter that allowed the light out at will or blocked it. Lanterns of this design were commonly used from the mid 1800s to the 1910s, and later. The reliability of the oil lanterns made for a slow conversion to battery-powered electric flashlights for police, watchmen, and some military.
‘Davy, a legal affidavit, an oath, a statement
Deal table, a table made of sawn boards from coniferous trees.
Deuced, the equivalent of, “darned”
Discover himself, is an old way of saying, reveal himself.
Dished, meaning screwed, or out of luck
District messenger boy, an agent of a messenger service in which uniformed messengers, typically boys in their mid ‘teens, carried documents and small packages for a fee and tips.
Down, means incapacitate, or kill
Downey cove, means someone who is informed, knows what’s going on
Dross, worthless, trash
Dude, a fop, and for the very best description, I can only refer the reader to this excellent bit of etymology: https://esnpc.blogspot.com/2015/02/dudes-dodos-and-fopdoodles-history-and.html
Ducats, money, originally a gold currency from old Europe
Ducks and drakes means to squander money in idle play
Durance vile, a long prison sentence
Ejaculation, in these stories the term refers to a verbal outburst, but use whatever meaning you find most entertaining.
Exeunt, a stage direction for the exit from the stage of an actor.
Fabian policy, refers to Fabius Maximus, who foiled Hannibal by avoiding decisive battles, but marching erratically and ambushing to harass him. In other words, a policy or plan of delays.
Faix, an exclamation of surprise ascribed to rural Irish people
Fence, means a dealer in stolen goods
the First water, means the highest quality. Phrase is apparently from the diamond industry where the color and transparency of stones was once compared to water.
Flustrate, a combination of fluster and frustrate
Fly, in this time period meant astute, aware
Fly cop, plainclothes officer
For money, or for dollars – means you can bet on it.
forçat, a French word that means, convict.
Fosse, a walled ditch, such as a moat
Get at the hoss and give him a ball means, dope the horse with drugs in a ball of sugar
Gillies, meaning young men with subservient jobs, possibly from “Ghillie,” a name for an attendant to a Scottish Highlands Chief.
Give a dog a bad name and hang him refers to being convicted by only an accusation, or that once you have a bad reputation it is very hard to remove it.
Give me something easier, means, “give me an easier question to answer”
Glim, light, from a lamp or lantern
Go through, means to make a body search of the person.
Green Goods: Counterfeit paper money. See Queer.
Guessing is the detective’s best ‘bolt,’ in that “bolt” refers to the arrow in a crossbow, so the ability to make a good guess is the detective’s best weapon
Gum-game – a trick meant to deceive.
Hack, a horse-drawn carriage for hire, like a taxi
Hackman, a hack driver
Hair-pin, whimsical slang when the speaker refers to himself
Halidame, by my halidame, halidom, an expression of emphasis, (possibly a corruption of halidome, meaning a place of worship or a religious relic)
Halter, a horse collar or harness, and slang for a hangman’s noose.
“Hated all Germans with the patriotic fervor of a true son of Gaul”, an attitude due most likely to the 1870-1871 war between France and Prussia with the other German States. The loss of the war by France led to a brief period when the French government was controlled by the Paris Commune.
Hathorne Water, a mineral water
so that he who runs may read, means clearly understand.
Herring-pond, slang term for the Atlantic Ocean.
Hied, go quickly, hurriedly
Highfalutin, means, preposterous
High Toby men – the most skilled and accomplished criminals, possibly British slang
Hilloa! or Halloa! is an archaic exclamation of surprise or greeting, an old version of Hello!
Hirpling, limping, a limping gait
Hobbies, riding hobbies, pursuing pet theories
Hop: Opium. “Hitting the Hop.” “Hophead.” From pidgin Chinese “Hop Toy” or “Black Smoke.
Horns of whiskey, basically drinks of whiskey
Horny-handed means calloused hands.
Horse car, a small, horse-drawn street car that held about a dozen people on benches
I’ll go bail, means, I’ll trust this.
“I’m a dandy cop of the Broadway squad:” From the chorus of a very popular Harrigan & Hart song. The “Metropolitan” Police of NYC were created by the Albany legislature to replace the corrupt “Municipal Police.” (In Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York” the police raid an illegal prize fight. One character complains “I thought you paid off the cops?” The other says, “We paid off the Municipal Police – these are the Metropolitans!” Their large copper badges led to the term “Copper,” or just “Cop.” M.P. stood for “Member of Police.”)
ARE YOU THERE MORIARITY!
Words, Ed. Harrigan; music, Dave Braham. ©1876.
1. I’m located at headquarters, a “Special Officer!”
Cornelius ‘Riarity, here, at your service, Sir!
I know the thieves and blackguards too, wherever they may be,
And if you want a “fly Copper,” call Moriarity!
CHORUS: I’m a dandy Copper in the Broadway Squad,
A “Metropolitan M. P.”
And the young girls cry when I’m passing by,
“Are you there, Moriarity?”
2. The shop-girls going to labor in the morn at eight o’clock,
They wink and blink their loving eyes at me on ev’ry side!
They say I am their darling; with me they’d tra, la, la, le!
Is a smiling way, you’d hear them say,* “Sweet Moriarity!”
* Spoken: “You Duckey!”
3. My uniform is Navy blue, and it fits me like a duck.
I escort the ladies in the street, all thro’ the mud and muck!
For Coach and horse stop when I cross; I’m the ladies’ own baby!
As on they go, they whisper low, “Are you there, Moriarity?”
[The sheet music cover is marked: “Songs of the Great Sketch and Character Artists Harrigan & Hart.” The publisher is Wm. A. Pond & Co., New York. You can see the sheet music at the website of The Library of Congress.] Much thanks to E. M. Sanchez-Saavedra.
In its wards, refers to a ward lock on a door, the ward being a plate that is cut out with the same cross section as the key.
In the toils, means in the power of, captured, trapped
Irish vernacular, it was expected of dime novel writers to provide characters with accents related to their ethnicity, country of origin, or the region of the US where they were raised. “Phwat” (what), “B’ye” (boy), and other examples are approximations of an Irish accent, at least as popularized at the time.
Is a caution, is slang meaning that something is remarkable or amazing
Ishmaelites, may be used to mean an outcast.
the Jade, the woman, possibly a disreputable woman
a Jay, a bumpkin, a derogatory name for a man from the country
Jehu, wagon or coach driver, originally a biblical reference
Jimmy, folding jimmy, a flat pry bar, burglar tool
Jove-like, originally meaning majestic, later expressed as jovial, and meaning jolly
Jumped with the humor means suited the mood
Just for greens, presumably equivalent to “just for grins,” although there are quite a few historical uses and explanations.
Kinchen, The Kinchen, in old German or Gypsy dialect, the Child
Knocker-out, refers to drugged whiskey, like what was later called “knock out drops,” or a “Mickey Finn.”
L road, the elevated railway
Laid by the heels, lay by the heels means captured, arrested, refers to leg irons, shackles, imprisonment
Lay, a scheme, a course of action, criminal or otherwise
Leg bail, gave leg bail, ran for it, escaped
Levant, period slang for run away, and possibly skip out on responsibilities, such as debts. (from the Spanish verb “Levantar”: “to lift up.” Other synonymous slang words were Skip, Vamoose, Mizzle, Scarper, Cheese It and Absquatulate. All suggest getting one’s rear end in gear and clearing out in a hurry.) Thanks to E. M. Sanchez-Saavedra
Life preserver, a short, spring-loaded club with a weighted end. Referred to as a British weapon of defense
Lime light, a spotlight, called “Lime” light because for a source of illumination it originally used a piece of lime heated in an atmosphere of burning oxygen and hydrogen
Locust refers to a club favored by policeman that was made from very hard wood from the Black Locust tree.
Losing my time, means, wasting my time
Lunch, a small meal, more than a snack, less than a full meal. During the late 19th century, a “lunch” could be eaten at any time of day.
Make a raise, means generate some funds
Make mouths at me, means mock or make fun
Man of parts, a man of parts, archaic phrase meaning a man talented in many different skills
Masher, mashing, to pay unwelcome romantic or sexual attention
Mes enfants, means “my children”
Milord, an English nobleman
Mimic stage, a stage production in which actors portray other people, as opposed to the musical stage, or variety stage
Miry, dirty, muddy
Modiste, a maker of fine women’s wear, such as hats and dresses.
Mon brave, means “my good man,” or “my man”
Mopuses, means dollars, pounds, money
Mother-wit, common sense
“Mrs. Harris,” the imaginary friend of Sairy Gamp in Charles Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit. “Mrs. Harris” became a byword for a nonexistent being. (per E. M. Sanches-Saavedra, thank you!)
“the Arms of Murphy.” Great pun on “the arms of Morpheus,” i.e.: the Greek god of dreams, son of Hypnos the god of sleep, with a Celtic twist. (per E. M. Sanches-Saavadra, thanks)
“murther,” (Murder) “afther,” (after) “phwat,” (what) “Bedad!” (be darned?) are approximations of an Irish accent as portrayed in the original text of many dime novels.
Mutton – the point or object of discussion
N.G. means No Good
Nippers, 1. pliers that can be used to turn the small end of a key protruding through the outside of a locked door. Inside the room, the key was commonly left in the door lock. 2. a hand held pincer to grasp the wrist or thumb of a prisoner, painful enough to gain cooperation.
Nippers, a type of restraint that grasped the wrist or thumb of a prisoner and helped an officer compel them to go where directed.
No better than he ought to be, sometimes followed by “for his class,” and meaning that someone has poor morals or character
Noddle, means noodle, brain
Non-plussed means confused, uncertain how to proceed
O.P. side of the stage, stands for “Opposite Prompt,” or typically stage right
Of his kidney, means, of his type
Old clothes men refers to sellers of used clothing
Old soaker, means, a long-time hard drinker
Old stager refers to an experienced person, at an advanced stage in life or career
Omnibus, a horse-drawn passenger vehicle for a dozen passengers, popular in the late 1800s. Some were double decker and carried passengers on both levels.
On the cross means engaged in crime, actively pursuing a life of crime
Ormolu Clock, a clock with ornate sculptured gilt brass figures, probably a mantle clock. Gilding created with a mercury process, sometimes called “fire gilt,” and also used on military buttons and hat badges.
Our cake would have been all dough, means that our plans would be ruined.
Ower, a Scots word for over, or finished.
Palings, pointed wooden stakes, used as fence posts
Panned out, a prospector’s term, meaning proven
Pantaloons, men’s close-fitting breeches
Papers, pasteboards, can refer to sets of playing cards
Seated in the “parquette,” the main floor of the theater, now spelled “parquet.”
Peach, means to expose your accomplices, to expose or inform; to “Peach” (impeach.) Thanks to E. M. Sanchez-Saavedra.
Peeler, the name for the first police force in London, named for Sir Robert Peel, the founder. Later, “Peeler” was used as a slang term for a policeman.
Penny-a-liner, a writer hired to create copy that was used for secondary or filler content in a newspaper, and paid by the line rather than by the article.
Piano, an orchestral term meaning a low volume level
Picayune: A small-value coin. Originally a tiny Spanish silver half-real. See Two Bits. Thanks to E. M. Sanchez-Saavedra.
Pidgeon-holed, means categorized, filed away
Plant refers to a person or object placed for subterfuge, to deceive or spy
a Plaster, sticking plaster, a bandage using adhesive strips
Police lantern, also called a dark lantern, or bull’s eye lantern. These were about the size of a modern small thermos bottle and had a large, “bull’s eye” lens in front. Such oil lanterns had an internal shutter that allowed the light out at will or blocked it. Lanterns of this design were commonly used from the mid 1800s to the 1910s, and later. The reliability of the oil lanterns made for a slow conversion to battery-powered electric flashlights for police, watchmen, and some military.
Pop, as in “reaching for a pop,” means a pistol, as in, “reaching for a pistol.”
Potage, is a thick soup
Professionals, professional performers, actors, musicians
The “prompt side” of the stage, typically stage left
Proteus, a mythological Greek God who could change himself to appear as different animals or even water. His name is invoked to describe someone who is unusually skilled in disguising themselves in Aiken’s detective fiction.
Pug, pugilist, professional boxer
Purse-proud, taking pride in wealth, especially in an arrogant way
Put about, meaning “put out,” or annoyed. May also mean spreading news, or nautically it may mean turning around (putting about, coming about).
Put through a course of sprouts, means to be subjected to intense, even harsh, treatment, grueling punishment
Put to his trumps, put to her trumps, to make the last desperate move, to get the advantage, to play the best card
Queer, pushing the queer, counterfeit money, passing and exchanging counterfeit money for good money.
Quod, captivity, jail, prison
to Raise the wind, means to generate the funds
Raised a purse, gathered a fund
Raree-show, a peep show, street show, or carnival.
Red Republican, during the revolution of 1848 in France, a political faction that believed in equal distribution of property to all.
Removed, removal, used as we would use “moved” today, as in moving to a different address
Representative men of New York, meaning representing the best traits of success
Rhino, means money.
Rialto, “we’ll meet on the Rialto” like, “we’ll meet on the Boulevard,” Rialto can refer to a major financial or commercial street, such as Broadway or 5th Avenue in New York City.
Rich lead, mining term for high value vein of ore.
Riffle – might mean task, or plan, and is derived from a mining term for a long “riffle” box that takes a flow of water with “pay dirt,” and let’s the gold settle into the space between slats on the bottom. These slats may be called riffles, and imitate a shallow, slow moving part of a stream that allows sediment to settle.
Right up to the handle, means fully, completely, as in stabbing with the entire length of the blade
Rogues Gallery, In the mid 1850s, Alan Pinkerton and Isaiah Lees (San Francisco) established files about individual criminals. By the 1880s, Inspector Thomas Byrnes of the New York Police Department had developed an extensive collection of criminal information, including individual photographs, and called it “The Rogues Gallery.”
a Romance, the early meaning refers to stories of chivalry and adventure, such as were told in the Romance languages
Roundsman, a police officer in charge of several patrolmen in a certain area.
Salivate – as used in various popular stories from the 1870s to 1890s, “salivate” means to kill, perhaps by perforating with a weapon. “You’ll get salivated in the worst kind of a way.”
Sand-club – weapon, a sand-filled soft club, made from a stitched tube of cloth or leather, described as looking like a sausage.
Scion, usually the descendant or heir of an aristocratic family
Scouted the thought, essentially, scoffed at the thought
Scran, old slang for food, possibly of Scottish origin and used in the British Navy in the 1800s.
Sealskin sacque, a full length sealskin coat, high fashion and expensive
Shoving the queer, means, passing counterfeit money
Shut Pan, may refer to the panel in a door, or it may be used to say, “be quiet!” In the second instance, it is from an old military flintlock rifle drill. (per E. M. Sanches-Saavedra, thank you!)
Sing Sing – New York State Prison, Ossining, NY, on the Hudson River, hence “Up the River”
Sky Border, a curtain at the top of a stage representing the sky that hides lighting and other equipment
Sleuth hound, essentially a blood hound, and a nickname for a detective
Sloped, skipped, run off
Slungshot, is a type of club, with a weight on the end of a loop of rope or leather. Possibly of nautical origin as a means of throwing a line, but used commonly as a weapon during the 1800s.
Snare, means trap
Snoozer, in some popular press stories means an unwitting victim. Otherwise, a snoozer may be a reference to a burglar who specializes in robbing hotel guests while they sleep.
Spalpeen is an Irish term for a scoundrel, or rascal.
Speaking-tube, an acoustic communications system in larger homes and also large ships, where metal tubes were connected from one space to another. Typically the tubes were blocked at each end with a plug to avoid surreptitious listening, and the plug included a whistle. To attract attention at the other end of a speaking tube, a person could remove the plug and blow into their end to sound the whistle at the other end. Then the other party would remove the plug at their end, and the parties could speak to each other through the tube.
Spencer “magazine rifle” must have been a reference to the Spencer Repeating Rifle developed during the American Civil War. It held seven cartridges in a tube form of magazine that was bored through the stock.
Spiles are wooden pilings driven into the bottom to support a dock or pier
Spondulix, spondulicks means dollars, money
a Sport, refers to a sort of vintage playboy, who likes to gamble, hang out in bars, etc.
Spring, as in touched a spring, the old name for what might now be called a button, one which activates a latch or other mechanism.
Stake, an amount of money, a payment, stolen money, or a loan
Stanislaus, the Flats of the Stanislaus, a river and area East of San Francisco where some of the richest gold discoveries of the California Gold Rush were found.
Station house lodgers, homeless people were allowed to sleep in otherwise unoccupied jail cells overnight
Strike, ask for money
Stringpiece, a wooden border at the very edge of a dock or pier
Swell, a loudly dressed man about town, might also be a “sport,”
Taffy, shallow flattery
Taking off, death
Ticket for soup, his ticket for soup, means, his demise
The “Street” refers to Wall Street and stock investors
Thief-takers, means, thief-catchers
Time of day, the state of things, the situation
The Tombs, nickname for the NYC jail
Timothy, meadow of timothy, timothy is a type of hay.
To take the rag off the bush, means to be the best, excellent and triumphant
Too old a bird to be caught by chaff, chaff being the outer covering of a grain seed that is separated after harvest. Considered waste at the time, a wise bird would go for the grain, not the chaff.
Tophet, a Jewish term for Hell as used in some stories
To see the elephant, there are many interpretations of this 1800s expression, including some from wartime, but in this context it must just mean to see the sights and experience life.
Truck, farmer going to Brooklyn with his truck, refers to produce
Tumbler-juggler, bartender, drink mixer
Turne Halle, a German-style athletic club, especially for gymnastics
Turnip, slang for a large pocket watch.
Two bits, four bits, are terms that date back in the US to before the revolution. Spanish or Mexican eight Real coins were sometimes cut up into eighths, and these “bits” were roughly equivalent in value to a shilling in early nineteenth century America. Since two bits equaled a quarter dollar, a shilling would have been the equivalent of 12.5 cents. The Real was legal tender in the U.S. into the 1850’s, along with denominations of money used today.
Under the rose, means privately, sub rosa
Upper ten, meaning the top ten per cent of society
Uppertendom, a humorous way to refer to high society, the upper ten percent of the social scale.
Virago, refers to a strong woman of violent temper
Wagonette, a small passenger wagon with one or two cross seats in front and opposing seats to the back.
‘Ware hawk means, beware the police
Whack, whack up, a share, to divide up the goods or money
Wherry, a rowboat for transporting small numbers of people
Whist, Hold your Whist, means, silence, hold your tongue
Wing it, from The Actress Detective: “By this peculiar expression the actress meant that the scenes in which the character took part were so far apart, and her share in them so small, that the lady who played it would have ample time to study the speeches between the scenes while waiting in the ‘wings.’”
your leather, your wallet
Zingari, a name for Romani people, “Gypsies.”