Friday, August 24, 2012
Technical Topics -- Talking about Cons
The Spanish Prisoner, for instance, is said to date from the late Nineteenth Century. I imagine it was practiced, though, under another name in the Fifteenth. And Sixteenth. And in the regency. Human nature doesn't change much.
So, what do we know about Regency Con Games and how can we talk about playing them.
Picking up general background stuff:
Mayhew's Characters, which is a generation later, but delightfully detailed and in voice
And more on background criminal behavior
Thieves Kitchen: The Regency Underworld by Donald Low
Grose lists several sort of scamming beggars, largely folks faking injury or war service and so on. Those are some of the old traditions and accustomed cons.
The shell game is ancient. It was called Thimblerig, played with three thimbles and a pea or button, is attested from 1825 by this name, though references to thimble cheats, probably the same swindle, date back to 1716. The term 'Shell Game' is 1890, from a version of three-card monte played with a pea and walnut shells.
So is fast and loose. Don't know whether this counts as a con or not.
The wikis here and here list some latish Nineteenth Century examples that can't be applied exact and directly to the Regency.
My great sorrow as a writer is that we lack a rich, traditional vocabulary to talk about con men. I've gone looking for scamming language and almost all the terminology I fall in love with is mid C19 or later.
Here are some of the words we can use:
Swindler is 1774, "giddy person, extravagant speculator, cheat," Said to have been introduced in London by German Jews c.1762.
Chouse "swindler, swindle," 1650s, from Turk. chaush "sergeant, herald, messenger," (Good Regency usage for this.)
Double cross is much older than I thought, dating to 1834, from double + cross in the sense of "pre-arranged swindle or fix." Originally to win a race after promising to lose it. As a verb from 1903, Amer.Eng.
Dodge Common from early 18c. in figurative sense of "to swindle, to play shifting tricks." .
Diddle "to cheat, swindle," in 1806, from dial. duddle, diddle "to totter" (1630s). One has to be aware of later meanings -- "to have sex with" is from 1879; that of "to masturbate" (especially of women) is from 1950s.
Gouge 1560s meaning "to cut as with a gouge," Meaning "swindle" is Amer.Eng. colloquial from 1826.
Con in the meaning "swindling" Is 1889, Amer.Eng. Confidence man is 1849. Derives from the many scams in which the victim is induced to hand over money as a token of confidence..
Fleece The verb is 1530s in the literal sense of "to strip a sheep of fleece" and 1570s in the figurative meaning "to cheat, swindle." It holds that meaning to present day.
Grab 1580s, "to seize", often with a sense of "to get by unscrupulous methods". The 'grab game' is a kind of swindle, 1846.
Sting A slang meaning "to cheat, swindle" is from 1812.
The sense of "police undercover entrapment" is from 1975. (It would be lovely to use in 1812 if it weren't for the C20 meanings layered on top.)
Burn Meaning "cheat, swindle, victimize" is 1650s. (Again, modern C20 meanings may intrude here. c.f. 'Burn Notice')
Mark. slang sense "victim of a swindle" is 1883.
Hornswoggle to cheat," 1829. (To me it sounds Amer Eng but I haven't looked it up)
Sharp "a cheat at games," 1797, short for sharper (1681), probably a variant of sharker
Rook. 1570s noun, "a cheat," especially at cards or dice. Verb "to defraud by cheating", originally especially in a game, 1580s.
Cozen. To commit fraud, trickery" mid-15C In use in the Regency.
Trump. (v) "fabricate, devise," 1690s, from trump "deceive, cheat" (1510s), 'Trumped up' as "false, concocted" first recorded 1728.
Gull. cant term for "dupe, sucker, credulous person," with a sense of "someone who will swallow anything thrown at him." From 1590s Still in use today.
Thug 1810, "member of a gang of murderers and robbers in India who strangled their victims," In general sense of "ruffian, cutthroat" first recorded 1839. (I have used this in 1812 with characters who would have contact with army officers serving in India.)
Chisel Slang sense of "to cheat, defraud" is first recorded in 1808 as chizzel. Origin and connection to the older word are obscure. (Obscure, but in period and perhaps useful.)
Stall. Mid-15C as "pretense to avoid doing something." A variant of "stale" -- bird used as a decoy to lure other birds. In the meaning of "evasive trick or story, pretext, excuse" first recorded 1812. This sense entwined with that of "thief's assistant" (1590s).
"The stallers up are gratified with such part of the gains acquired as the liberality of the knuckling gentlemen may prompt them to bestow. [J.H. Vaux, "Flash Dictionary," 1812]
"Stall" is still used as a pickpocket's assistant.
humbug, 1751, student slang, "trick, jest, hoax, deception," also as a verb.
chicanery c.1600, from Fr. chicanerie "trickery,"
jape. early 14c., "trick, deceit," later "a joke, a jest" (late 14c.) It's been through several transitions, but currently means a joke or jest.
jig. "lively dance," 1560s, A "piece of sport, trick" 1590s. Phrase the jig is up (first attested 1777 as the jig is over).
sham 1670s, "a trick, a hoax, a fraud," Sense of "Something meant to be mistaken for something else" is from 1728.