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March 08, 2006

Judge Pines For The Criminal Slang Of Yesteryear

Sean posted this in a comment. Mild language warning.


From a footnote to a decision:

It is a sad commentary on contemporary culture to compare "Don't say a word, don't say a mother-fucking word" with "Stand and deliver," the famous salutation of Dick Turpin and other early English highwaymen. It is true that both salutations lead to robbery. However, there is a certain rich style to "Stand and deliver." On the other hand, "Don't say a word, don't say a mother-fucking word" conveys only dismal vulgarity.

The speech of the contemporary criminal culture has always
been a rich source of color and vitality to any language. Yet,
when one compares the "bawds," "strumpets, " "trulls," "cut-
purses," "knaves," and "rascals" of Fielding and Smollett to the
"hookers," "pimps," "Narcs," "junkies," and "snitches" of
today's criminal argot, one wonders just which direction we are
traveling civilization's ladder. "Hooker," at least, has traceable
historical antecedents -- although the descendants of General
"Fighting Joe" Hooker would probably prefer that their famous
ancestor be remembered for something other than his army's
camp followers -- such as the slaughter at Chancellorsville."

-- People v. Benton (1978) 77 Cal. App. 3d 322, 324 n.1.

One doesn't have to go back that far to find a more elevated criminal patois. Half the fun of reading Chandler or Hammett is all the talk of "gats," "gunsels," "molls," etc. And "pill" for bullet. "Give 'em another pill." I like that.

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posted by Ace at 02:46 PM

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