British Prison Slang

7 terms

Back Jump

a back window.—Prison term.


a skeleton key, or picklock.—Old Prison Cant.


to steal.—Prison Cant.
v. to snap, break with a noise imp. s., strike (the bell)Etymology: G. knappen, to crack.
to receive, to take. Generally applied to the receipt of punishments; “oh, my! wont he just knap  it when he gets home!”
i.q.nap , to break.—Old English, but nearly obsolete. See Ps. xlvi. 9 (Prayer-book version), “He breaketh the bow, and knappeth  the spear in sunder;” probably sibilated into “snap.”


to lock, or fasten.—Prison Cant.


a letter.—Prison Cant.
to hide, to pass to a confederate.
an insinuation, a discreditable innuendo.
to saunter about, with a suspicion, perhaps, of immoral pursuits.—Cambridge University Slang.
a chest, or package. See slops.
or back slum , a dark retreat, a low neighbourhood; as Westminster and East-end slums , favourite haunts for thieves.

gammon, “up to slum ,” wide awake, knowing.

“And this, without more slum  began,Over a flowing pot-house can,To settle, without botheration,The rigs of this here tip-top nation.”
Jack Randall's Diary, 1820.


A watch. The swell flashes a rum thimble; the gentleman sports a fine watch.
or yack , a watch.—Prison Cant.


A fetter fixed to one leg.

wife . Compare LADY.

a fetter fixed to one leg.—Prison.

Academy Wives.

Sect. 1. The properest person is a daughter or widow of the trade, such a one is commonly best instructed in the mystery of the business, best able to conciliate the affection of the boys, and make most of the children's linen.

Sect. 2. If such a one cannot be had, some old maiden must be sought for; she probably may have learnt the art of frugality, and if peevish and proud, the more desirable; you will be liked the better, it will preserve her also from being too familiar with the ushers, and she will be more respected by people of quality.

Sect. 3. Never, I beseech you, attempt to marry a young woman of fortune or family.

Sect. 4. Never allow your wife to contradict you before the boys or parents.

Sect. 5. The older your wife the better; she will look more motherly, and take more patiently such names as the children may wantonly give her.

Sect. 6. Never let her be humble enough to inspect the children's heads; it will put her too much on a condition with the servants: and yet she should not be too proud to sell them ribbon, garters, studds, gingerbread, &c. It is a necessary part of her duty.

Sect. 7. When you are absent she must watch the ushers, and see that they watch the boys, and cheat them not out of their money or play-things: there is no trusting any of them.

General Character of Siamese Wives

1.—Some wives are to their husbands as a younger sister. They look to their husbands for approving smiles as the reward of their kind and affectionate forethought. They confide in him and feel tenderly towards him. And when they have once discovered the wish, the taste, and the ideas of him whose approval they respect, they devote themselves thoughtfully and assiduously to the realisation of his desires. Their own impulsive passions and temper are kept under strict control lest some hasty word should mar the harmony of their union.

2.—Some wives are to their husbands as an elder sister. They watch sedulously their husband's outgoings and incomings so as to prevent all occasion for scandal. They are careful as to the condition of his wardrobe and keep it always in order for every occasion. They are diligent in preserving from the public gaze anything that might impair the dignity of their family. When their lord and master is found wanting in any particular they neither fret nor scold, but wait patiently for the time when they can best effect a reformation in his morals and lead him towards the goal of upright manly conduct.

3.—Some wives are to their husbands like a mother. They are ever seeking for some good thing that may bring gladness to the heart of the man for whom they live. They desire him to be excellent in every particular, and will themselves make any sacrifice to secure their object. When sorrow or trouble overtakes them, they hide it away from the eyes of him they love. All their thoughts centre round him, and they so order their conversation and actions that in themselves he may find a worthy model for imitation. Should he fall sick, they tend him with unfailing care and patience.

4.—Some wives are to their husbands as a common friend. They desire to stand on an exactly equal footing with him. If ill-nature is a feature in the character of their husbands, they cultivate the same fault in themselves. They will quarrel with him on the slightest provocation. They meet all his suggestions with an excess of carping criticism. They are always on the look-out for any infringement of what they deem their rights, and should the husband desire them to perform any little service for him, he must approach the subject with becoming deference or their refusal is instant and absolute.

5.—Some wives wish to rule their husbands. Their language and manners are of a domineering nature. They treat the man as if he were a slave, scolding, commanding, and forbidding with unbecoming asperity. The husbands of such women are a miserable cringing set of men.

6.—Some wives are of the robber kind. Their only idea in getting married is the possession of a slave and the command of a purse. If there is money in the purse they are never satisfied until they have it in their own grasp. Such wives generally take to gambling and staking money in the lottery, or purchasing useless articles. They have no care as to where the money comes from or by whose labours it is earned, so long as they can gratify their own extravagant and ruinous fancies.

7.—Some wives are of the murderess kind and possess revengeful tempers. Being malicious and fault-finding, they never appreciate their own homes and families, and are always seeking for sympathisers from outside. They share their secrets with other men, using their pretended domestic discomfort as a cloak for their own vice and an excuse for their greatest misdeeds.