English Gipsies and Their Language, by Charles G. Leland, , at sacred-texts.com
Jockey.—Tool.—Cove or Covey.—Hook, Hookey, and Walker, Hocus, Hanky-Panky, and Hocus-Pocus.—Shindy.—Row.—Chivvy.—Bunged Eye.—Shavers.—Clichy.—Caliban.—A Rum ’un.—Pal.—Trash.—Cadger.—Cad.—Bosh.—Bats.—Chee-chee.—The Cheese.—Chiv Fencer.—Cooter.—Gorger.—Dick.—Dook.—Tanner.—Drum.—Gibberish.—Ken.—Lil.—Loure.—Loafer.—Maunder.—Moke.—Parny.—Posh.—Queer. Raclan.—Bivvy.—Rigs.—Moll.—Distarabin.—Tiny.—Toffer.—Tool.—Punch.—Wardo.—Voker (one of Mr Hotten’s Gipsy words).—Welcher.—Yack.—Lushy.—A Mull.—Pross.—Toshers.—Up to Trap.—Barney.—Beebee.—Cull, Culley.—Jomer.—Bloke.—Duffer.—Niggling.—Mug.—Bamboozle, Slang, and Bite.—Rules to be observed in determining the Etymology of Gipsy Words.
Though the language of the Gipsies has been kept a great secret for centuries, still a few words have in England oozed out here and there from some unguarded crevice, and become a portion of our tongue. There is, it must be admitted, a great difficulty in tracing, with anything like accuracy, the real origin or identity of such expressions. Some of them came into English centuries ago, and during that time great changes have taken place in Rommany. At least one-third of the words now used by Scottish Gipsies are unintelligible to their English brothers. To satisfy myself on this point, I have examined an intelligent English Gipsy on the Scottish Gipsy vocabularies in Mr Simpson’s work, and found it was as I anticipated; a statement which will not appear incredible when it is remembered, that even the Rommany of Yetholm have a dialect marked and distinct from that of other Scotch Gipsies. As for England, numbers of the words collected by William Marsden, and Jacob Bryant, in 1784-5, Dr Bright in 1817, and by Harriott in 1830, are not known at the present day to any Gipsies whom I have met. Again, it should be remembered that the pronunciation of Rommany differs widely with individuals; thus the word which is given as cumbo, a hill, by Bryant, I have heard very distinctly pronounced choomure.
I believe that to Mr Borrow is due the discovery that the word JOCKEY is of Gipsy origin, and derived from chuckni, which means a whip. For nothing is more clearly established than that the jockey-whip was the original term in which this word first made its appearance on the turf, and that the chuckni was a peculiar form of whip, very long and heavy, first used by the Gipsies. “Jockeyism,” says Mr Borrow, “properly means the management of a whip, and the word jockey is neither more nor less than the term, slightly modified, by which they designate the formidable whips which they usually carry, and which are at present in general use among horse-traffickers, under the title of jockey-whips.” In Hungary and Germany the word occurs as tschuckini or chookni, and tschupni.
Many of my readers are doubtless familiar with the word to TOOL as applied to dexterously managing the reins and driving horses. ‘To tool the horses down the road,’ is indeed rather a fine word of its class, being as much used in certain clubs as in stables, and often denotes stylish and gentlemanly driving. And the term is without the slightest modification, either of pronunciation or meaning, directly and simply Gipsy, and is used by Gipsies in the same way. It has, however, in Rommany, as a primitive meaning—to hold, or to take. Thus I have heard of a feeble old fellow that “he could not tool himself togetherus”—for which last word, by the way, kettenus might have been more correctly substituted.
COVE is not an elegant, though a very old, word, but it is well known, and I have no doubt as to its having come from the Gipsy. In Rommany, all the world over, cova means “a thing,” but it is almost indefinite in its applicability. “It is,” says Pott, “a general helper on all occasions; is used as substantive and adjective, and has a far wider scope than the Latin res.” Thus covo may mean “that man;” covi, “that woman;” and covo or cuvvo, as it very often does in English, “that, there.” It sometimes appears in the word acovat, or this. There is no expression more frequent in a Gipsy’s mouth, and it is precisely the one which would be probably overheard by “Gorgios” and applied to persons. I believe that it first made its appearance in English slang as covey, and was then pronounced cúvvy, being subsequently abbreviated into cove.
Quite a little family of words has come into English from the Rommany, Hocben, huckaben, hokkeny, or hooker, all meaning a lie, or to lie, deception and humbug. Mr Borrow shows us that hocus, to “bewitch” liquor with an opiate, and hoax, are probably Rommany from this root, and I have no doubt that the expression, “Yes, with a hook,” meaning “it is false,” comes from the same. The well-known “Hookey” who corresponds so closely with his untruthful and disreputable pal “Walker,” is decidedly of the streets—gipsy. In German Gipsy we find chochavav and hochewawa, and in Roumanian Gipsy kokao—a lie. Hanky-panky and Hocus-pocus are each one half almost pure Hindustani. 81
A SHINDY approaches so nearly in sound to the Gipsy word chingaree, which means precisely the same thing, that the suggestion is at least worth consideration. And it also greatly resembles chindi, which may be translated as “cutting up,” and also quarrel. “To cut up shindies” was the first form in which this extraordinary word reached the public. In the original Gipsy tongue the word to quarrel is chinger-av, meaning also (Pott, Zigeuner, p. 209) to cut, hew, and fight, while to cut is chinav. “Cutting up” is, if the reader reflects, a very unmeaning word as applied to outrageous or noisy pranks; but in Gipsy, whether English, German, or Oriental, it is perfectly sensible and logical, involving the idea of quarrelling, separating, dividing, cutting, and stabbing. What, indeed, could be more absurd than the expression “cutting up shines,” unless we attribute to shine its legitimate Gipsy meaning of a piece cut off, and its cognate meaning, a noise?
I can see but little reason for saying that a man cut away or that he shinned it, for run away, unless we have recourse to Gipsy, though I only offer this as a mere suggestion.
“Applico” to shindy we have the word ROW, meaning nearly the same thing and as nearly Gipsy in every respect as can be. It is in Gipsy at the present day in England, correctly, rov, or roven—to cry—but v and w are so frequently transposed that we may consider them as the same letter. Rāw or me rauaw, “I howl” or “cry,” is German Gipsy. Rowan is given by Pott as equivalent to the Latin ululatus, which constituted a very respectable row as regards mere noise. “Rowdy” comes from “row” and both are very good Gipsy in their origin. In Hindustani Rao mut is “don’t cry!”
CHIVVY is a common English vulgar word, meaning to goad, drive, vex, hunt, or throw as it were here and there. It is purely Gipsy, and seems to have more than one root. Chiv, chib, or chipe, in Rommany, mean a tongue, inferring scolding, and chiv anything sharp-pointed, as for instance a dagger, or goad or knife. But the old Gipsy word chiv-av among its numerous meanings has exactly that of casting, throwing, pitching, and driving. To chiv in English Gipsy means as much and more than to fix in America, in fact, it is applied to almost any kind of action.
It may be remarked in this connection, that in German or continental Gipsy, which represents the English in a great measure as it once was, and which is far more perfect as to grammar, we find different words, which in English have become blended into one. Thus, chib or chiv, a tongue, and tschiwawa (or chiv-ava), to lay, place, lean, sow, sink, set upright, move, harness, cover up, are united in England into chiv, which embraces the whole. “Chiv it āpré” may be applied to throwing anything, to covering it up, to lifting it, to setting it, to pushing it, to circulating, and in fact to a very great number of similar verbs.
There is, I think, no rational connection between the BUNG of a barrel and an eye which has been closed by a blow. One might as well get the simile from a knot in a tree or a cork in a flask. But when we reflect on the constant mingling of Gipsies with prizefighters, it is almost evident that the word BONGO may have been the origin of it. A bongo yakko or yak, means a distorted, crooked, or, in fact, a bunged eye. It also means lame, crooked, or sinister, and by a very singular figure of speech, Bongo Tem or the Crooked Land is the name for hell. 83
SHAVERS, as a quaint nick-name for children, is possibly inexplicable, unless we resort to Gipsy, where we find it used as directly as possible. Chavo is the Rommany word for child all the world over, and the English term chavies, in Scottish Gipsy shavies, or shavers, leaves us but little room for doubt. I am not aware to what extent the term “little shavers” is applied to children in England, but in America it is as common as any cant word can be.
I do not know the origin of the French word CLICHY, as applied to the noted prison of that name, but it is perhaps not undeserving the comment that in Continental Gipsy it means a key and a bolt.
I have been struck with the fact that CALIBAN, the monster in “The Tempest,” by Shakespeare, has an appellation which literally signifies blackness in Gipsy. In fact, this very word, or Cauliban, is given in one of the Gipsy vocabularies for “black.” Kaulopen or Kauloben would, however, be more correct.
“A regular RUM ’un” was the form in which the application of the word “rum” to strange, difficult, or distinguished, was first introduced to the British public. This, I honestly believe (as Mr Borrow indicates), came from Rum or Rom, a Gipsy. It is a peculiar word, and all of its peculiarities might well be assumed by the sporting Gipsy, who is always, in his way, a character, gifted with an indescribable self-confidence, as are all “horsey” men characters, “sports” and boxers, which enables them to keep to perfection the German eleventh commandment, “Thou shall not let thyself be bluffed!”—i.e., abashed.
PAL is a common cant word for brother or friend, and it is purely Gipsy, having come directly from that language, without the slightest change. On the Continent it is prala, or pral. In England it sometimes takes the form “pel.”
TRASH is derived by Mr Wedgwood (Dictionary of English Etymology, 1872) from the old word trousse, signifying the clipping of trees. But in old Gipsy or in the German Gipsy of the present day, as in the Turkish Rommany, it means so directly “fear, mental weakness and worthlessness,” that it may possibly have had a Rommany origin. Terror in Gipsy is trash, while thirst is trush, and both are to be found in the Hindustani. Tras, which means thirst and alarm or terror.
It should be observed that in no instance can these Gipsy words have been borrowed from English slang. They are all to be found in German Gipsy, which is in its turn identical with the Rommany language of India—of the Nāts, Bhazeghurs, Doms, Multanee or Banjoree, as I find the primitive wandering Gipsies termed by different writers.
I am aware that the word CAD was applied to the conductor of an omnibus, or to a non-student at Universities, before it became a synonym for vulgar fellow, yet I believe that it was abbreviated from cadger, and that this is simply the Gipsy word Gorgio, which often means a man in the abstract. I have seen this word printed as gorger in English slang. CODGER, which is common, is applied, as Gipsies use the term Gorgio, contemptuously, and it sounds still more like it.
BOSH, signifying nothing, or in fact empty humbug, is generally credited to the Turkish language, but I can see no reason for going to the Turks for what the Gipsies at home already had, in all probability, from the same Persian source, or else from the Sanskrit. With the Gipsies, bosh is a fiddle, music, noise, barking, and very often an idle sound or nonsense. “Stop your bosherin,” or “your bosh,” is what they would term flickin lav, or current phrase.
“BATS,” a low term for a pair of boots, especially bad ones, is, I think, from the Gipsy and Hindustani pat, a foot, generally called, however, by the Rommany in England, Tom Pats. “To pad the hoof,” and “to stand pad “—the latter phrase meaning to stand upright, or to stand and beg, are probably derived from pat. It should be borne in mind that Gipsies, in all countries, are in the habit of changing certain letters, so that p and b, like l and n, or k and g hard, may often be regarded as identical.
“CHEE-CHEE,” “be silent!” or “fie,” is termed “Anglo-Indian,” by the author of the Slang Dictionary, but we need not go to India of the present day for a term which is familiar to every Gipsy and “traveller” in England, and which, as Mr Simson discovered long ago, is an excellent “spell” to discourage the advances of thimble-riggers and similar gentry, at fairs, or in public places.
CHEESE, or “THE CHEESE,” meaning that anything is pre-eminent or superior; in fact, “the thing,” is supposed by many to be of gipsy origin because Gipsies use it, and it is to be found as “chiz” in Hindustani, in which language it means a thing. Gipsies do not, however, seem to regard it themselves, as tacho or true Rommanis, despite this testimony, and I am inclined to think that it partly originated in some wag’s perversion of the French word chose.
In London, a man who sells cutlery in the streets is called a CHIVE FENCER, a term evidently derived from the Gipsy chiv, a sharp-pointed instrument or knife. A knife is also called a chiv by the lowest class all over England.
COUTER or COOTER is a common English slang term for a guinea. It was not necessary for the author of the Slang Dictionary to go to the banks of the Danube for the origin of a word which is in the mouths of all English Gipsies, and which was brought to England by their ancestors. A sovereign, a pound, in Gipsy, is a bar.
A GORGER, meaning a gentleman, or well-dressed man, and in theatrical parlance, a manager, is derived by the author of the Slang Dictionary—absurdly enough, it must be confessed—from “gorgeous,”—a word with which it has no more in common than with gouges or chisels. A gorger or gorgio—the two are often confounded—is the common Gipsy word for one who is not Gipsy, and very often means with them a rye or gentleman, and indeed any man whatever. Actors sometimes call a fellow-performer a cully-gorger.
DICK, an English slang word for sight, or seeing, is purely Gipsy in its origin, and in common use by Rommanis over all the world.
DOOK, to tell fortunes, and DOOKING, fortune-telling, are derived by the writer last cited, correctly enough, from the Gipsy dukkerin,—a fact which I specify, since it is one of the very rare instances in which he has not blundered when commenting on Rommany words, or other persons’ works.
Mr Borrow has told us that a TANNER or sixpence, sometimes called a Downer, owes its pseudonym to the Gipsy word tawno or tano, meaning “little”—the sixpence being the little coin as compared with a shilling.
DRUM or DROM, is the common English Gipsy word for a road. In English slang it is applied, not only to highways, but also to houses.
If the word GIBBERISH was, as has been asserted, first applied to the language of the Gipsies, it may have been derived either from “Gip,” the nickname for Gipsy, with ish or rish appended as in Engl-ish, I-rish, or from the Rommany word Jib signifying a language.
KEN, a low term for a house, is possibly of Gipsy origin. The common word in every Rommany dialect for a house is, however, neither ken nor khan, but Ker.
LIL, a book, a letter, has passed from the Gipsies to the low “Gorgios,” though it is not a very common word. In Rommany it can be correctly applied only to a letter or a piece of paper, which is written on, though English Gipsies call all books by this name, and often speak of a letter as a Chinamāngri.
LOUR or LOWR, and LOAVER, are all vulgar terms for money, and combine two Gipsy words, the one lovo or lovey, and the other loure, to steal. The reason for the combination or confusion is obvious. The author of the Slang Dictionary, in order to explain this word, goes as usual to the Wallachian Gipsies, for what he might have learned from the first tinker in the streets of London. I should remark on the word loure, that Mr Borrow has shown its original identity with loot, the Hindustani for plunder or booty.
I believe that the American word loafer owes something to this Gipsy root, as well as to the German laufer (landlaufer), and Mexican Spanish galeofar, and for this reason, that when the term first began to be popular in 1834 or 1835, I can distinctly remember that it meant to pilfer. Such, at least, is my earliest recollection, and of hearing school boys ask one another in jest, of their acquisitions or gifts, “Where did you loaf that from?” A petty pilferer was a loafer, but in a very short time all of the tribe of loungers in the sun, and disreputable pickers up of unconsidered trifles, now known as bummers, were called loafers. On this point my memory is positive, and I call attention to it, since the word in question has been the subject of much conjecture in America.
It is a very curious fact, that while the word loot is unquestionably Anglo-Indian, and only a recent importation into our English “slanguage,” it has always been at the same time English-Gipsy, although it never rose to the surface.
MAUNDER, to stroll about and beg, has been derived from Mand, the Anglo-Saxon for a basket, but is quite as likely to have come from Maunder, the Gipsy for “to beg.” Mumper, a beggar, is also from the same source.
MOKE, a donkey, is said to be Gipsy, by Mr Hotten, but Gipsies themselves do not use the word, nor does it belong to their usual language. The proper Rommany word for an ass is myla.
PARNY, a vulgar word for rain, is supposed to have come into England from the “Anglo-Indian” source, but it is more likely that it was derived from the Gipsy panni or water. “Brandy pawnee” is undoubtedly an Anglo-Indian word, but it is used by a very different class of people from those who know the meaning of Parny.
POSH, which has found its way into vulgar popularity, as a term for small coins, and sometimes for money in general, is the diminutive of the Gipsy word pāshero or poshero, a half-penny, from pāsh a half, and haura or hārra, a penny.
QUEER, meaning across, cross, contradictory, or bad, is “supposed” to be the German word quer, introduced by the Gipsies. In their own language atut means across or against, though to curry (German and Turkish Gipsy kurava), has some of the slang meaning attributed to queer. An English rogue will say, “to shove the queer,” meaning to pass counterfeit money, while the Gipsy term would be to chiv wafri lovvo, or lovey.
“RAGLAN, a married woman, originally Gipsy, but now a term with English tramps” (The Slang Dictionary, London 1865). In Gipsy, raklo is a youth or boy, and rakli, a girl; Arabic, ragol, a man. I am informed, on good authority, that these words are known in India, though I cannot find them in dictionaries. They are possibly transposed from Lurka a youth and lurki a girl, such transpositions being common among the lowest classes in India.
RUMMY or RUMY, as applied to women, is simply the Gipsy word romi, a contraction of romni, a wife; the husband being her rom.
BIVVY for beer, has been derived from the Italian bevere, but it is probably Gipsy, since in the old form of the latter language, Biava or Piava, means to drink. To pivit, is still known among English Gipsies.
RIGS—running one’s rigs is said to be Gipsy, but the only meaning of rig, so far as I am able to ascertain in Rommany, is a side or an edge. It is, however, possible that one’s side may in earlier times have been equivalent to “face, or encounter.” To rikker or rigger in Gipsy, is to carry anything.
MOLL, a female companion, is probably merely the nickname for Mary, but it is worth observing, that Mal in old Gipsy, or in German Gipsy, means an associate, and Mahar a wife, in Hindustani.
STASH, to be quiet, to stop, is, I think, a variation of the common Gipsy word hatch, which means precisely the same thing, and is derived from the older word atchava.
STURABAN, a prison, is purely Gipsy. Mr Hotten says it is from the Gipsy distarabin, but there is no such word beginning with dis, in the English Rommany dialect. In German Gipsy a prison is called stillapenn.
TINY or TEENY has been derived from the Gipsy tāno, meaning “little.”
TOFFER, a woman who is well dressed in new clean clothes, probably gets the name from the Gipsy tove, to wash (German Gipsy Tovava). She is, so to speak, freshly washed. To this class belong Toff, a dandy; Tofficky, dressy or gay, and Toft, a dandy or swell.
TOOL as applied to stealing, picking pockets, and burglary, is, like tool, to drive with the reins; derived beyond doubt from the Gipsy word tool, to take or hold. In all the Continental Rommany dialects it is Tulliwawa.
PUNCH, it is generally thought, is Anglo-Indian, derived directly from the Hindustani Pantch or five, from the five ingredients which enter into its composition, but it may have partially got its name from some sporting Gipsy in whose language the word for five is the same as in Sanskrit. There have been thousands of “swell” Rommany chals who have moved in sporting circles of a higher class than they are to be found in at the present day.
“VARDO formerly was Old Cant for a waggon” (The Slang Dictionary). It may be added that it is pure Gipsy, and is still known at the present day to every Rom in England. In Turkish Gipsy, Vordon means a vehicle, in German Gipsy, Wortin.
“Can you VOKER Rommany?” is given by Mr Hotten as meaning “Can you speak Gipsy,”—but there is no such word in Rommany as voker. He probably meant “Can you rākker”—pronounced very often Roker. Continental Gipsy Rakkervava. Mr Hotten derives it from the Latin Vocare!
I do not know the origin of WELCHER, a betting cheat, but it is worthy of remark that in old Gipsy a Walshdo or Welsher meant a Frenchman (from the German Wälsch) or any foreigner of the Latin races.
YACK, a watch, probably received its name from the Gipsy Yak an eye, in the old times when watches were called bull’s eyes.
LUSHY, to be tipsy, and LUSH, are attributed for their origin to the name of Lushington, a once well-known London brewer, but when we find Losho and Loshano in a Gipsy dialect, meaning jolly, from such a Sanskrit root as Lush; as Paspati derives it, there seems to be some ground for supposing the words to be purely Rommany. Dr Johnson said of lush that it was “opposite to pale,” and this curiously enough shows its first source, whether as a “slang” word or as indicative of colour, since one of its early Sanskrit meanings is light or radiance. This identity of the so regarded vulgar and the refined, continually confronts us in studying Rommany.
“To make a MULL of anything,” meaning thereby to spoil or confuse it, if it be derived, as is said, from the Gipsy, must have come from Mullo meaning dead, and the Sanskrit Mara. There is, however, no such Gipsy word as mull, in the sense of entangling or spoiling.
PROSS is a theatrical slang word, meaning to instruct and train a tyro. As there are several stage words of manifest Gipsy origin, I am inclined to derive this from the old Gipsy Priss, to read. In English Gipsy Prasser or Pross means to ridicule or scorn. Something of this is implied in the slang word Pross, since it also means “to sponge upon a comrade,” &c., “for drink.”
TOSHERS are in English low language, “men who steal copper from ship’s bottoms.” I cannot form any direct connection between this word and any in English Gipsy, but it is curious that in Turkish Gipsy Tasi is a cup, and in Turkish Persian it means, according to Paspati, a copper basin used in the baths. It is as characteristic of English Gipsy as of any of its cognate dialects, that we often find lurking in it the most remarkable Oriental fragments, which cannot be directly traced through the regular line of transmission.
UP TO TRAP means, in common slang, intelligent. It is worth observing, that in Gipsy, drab or trap (which words were pronounced alike by the first Gipsies who came from Germany to England), is used for medicine or poison, and the employment of the latter is regarded, even at the present, as the greatest Rommany secret. Indeed, it is only a few days since a Gipsy said to me, “If you know drab, you’re up to everything; for there’s nothing goes above that.” With drab the Gipsy secures game, fish, pigs, and poultry; he quiets kicking horses until they can be sold; and last, not least, kills or catches rats and mice. As with the Indians of North America, medicine—whether to kill or cure—is to the Gipsy the art of arts, and those who affect a knowledge of it are always regarded as the most intelligent. It is, however, remarkable, that the Gipsy, though he lives in fields and woods, is, all the world over, far inferior to the American Indian as regards a knowledge of the properties of herbs or minerals. One may pick the first fifty plants which he sees in the woods, and show them to the first Indian whom he meets, with the absolute certainty that the latter will give him a name for every one, and describe in detail their qualities and their use as remedies. The Gipsy seldom has a name for anything of the kind. The country people in America, and even the farmers’ boys, have probably inherited by tradition much of this knowledge from the aborigines.
BARNEY, a mob or crowd, may be derived from the Gipsy baro, great or many, which sometimes takes the form of barno or barni, and which suggests the Hindustani Bahrna “to increase, proceed, to gain, to be promoted;” and Bharná, “to fill, to satisfy, to be filled, &c.”—(Brice’s “Hindústání and English Dictionary.” London, Trübner & Co., 1864).
BEEBEE, which the author of the Slang Dictionary declares means a lady, and is “Anglo-Indian,” is in general use among English Gipsies for aunt. It is also a respectful form of address to any middle-aged woman, among friends.
CULL or CULLY, meaning a man or boy, in Old English cant, is certainly of Gipsy origin. Chulai signifies man in Spanish Gipsy (Borrow), and Khulai a gentleman, according to Paspati; in Turkish Rommany—a distinction which the word cully often preserves in England, even when used in a derogatory sense, as of a dupe.
JOMER, a sweetheart or female favourite, has probably some connection in derivation with choomer, a kiss, in Gipsy.
BLOKE, a common coarse word for a man, may be of Gipsy origin; since, as the author of the Slang Dictionary declares, it may be found in Hindustani, as Loke. “Lok, people, a world, region.”—(“Brice’s Hind. Dictionary.”) Bala’ lok, a gentleman.
A DUFFER, which is an old English cant term, expressive of contempt for a man, may be derived from the Gipsy Adovo, “that,” “that man,” or “that fellow there.” Adovo is frequently pronounced almost like “a duffer,” or “a duvva.”
NIGGLING, which means idling, wasting time, doing anything slowly, may be derived from some other Indo-European source, but in English Gipsy it means to go slowly, “to potter along,” and in fact it is the same as the English word. That it is pure old Rommany appears from the fact that it is to be found as Niglavava in Turkish Gipsy, meaning “I go,” which is also found in Nikliovava and Nikaváva, which are in turn probably derived from the Hindustani Nikalná, “To issue, to go forth or out,” &c. (Brice, Hind. Dic.) Niggle is one of the English Gipsy words which are used in the East, but which I have not been able to find in the German Rommany, proving that here, as in other countries, certain old forms have been preserved, though they have been lost where the vocabulary is far more copious, and the grammar much more perfect.
MUG, a face, is derived by Mr Wedgwood from the Italian MOCCA, a mocking or apish mouth (Dictionary of English Etymology), but in English Gipsy we have not only mui, meaning the face, but the older forms from which the English word was probably taken, such as Māk’h (Paspati), and finally the Hindustani Mook and the Sanskrit Mukha, mouth or face (Shakespeare, Hind. Dic., p. 745). In all cases where a word is so “slangy” as mug, it seems more likely that it should have been derived from Rommany than from Italian, since it is only within a few years that any considerable number of the words of the latter language was imparted to the lower classes of London.
BAMBOOZLE, BITE, and SLANG are all declared by the author of the Slang Dictionary to be Gipsy, but, with the exception of the last word, I am unable to verify their Rommany origin. Bambhorna does indeed mean in Hindustani (Brice), “to bite or to worry,” and bamboo-bakshish to deceive by paying with a whipping, while swang, as signifying mimicking, acting, disguise and sham, whether of words or deeds, very curiously conveys the spirit of the word slang. As for bite I almost hesitate to suggest the possibility of a connection between it and Bidorna, to laugh at. I offer not only these three suggested derivations, but also most of the others, with every reservation. For many of these words, as for instance bite, etymologists have already suggested far more plausible and more probable derivations, and if I have found a place for Rommany “roots,” it is simply because what is the most plausible, and apparently the most probable, is not always the true origin. But as I firmly believe that there is much more Gipsy in English, especially in English slang and cant, than the world is aware of, I think it advisable to suggest what I can, leaving to abler philologists the task of testing its value.
Writers on such subjects err, almost without an exception, in insisting on one accurately defined and singly derived source for every word, when perhaps three or four have combined to form it. The habits of thought and methods of study followed by philologists render them especially open to this charge. They wish to establish every form as symmetrical and mathematical, where nature has been freakish and bizarre. Some years ago when I published certain poems in the broken English spoken by Germans, an American philologist, named Haldemann, demonstrated to his own satisfaction that the language which I had put into Hans Breitmann’s mouth was inaccurate, because I had not reduced it to an uniform dialect, making the same word the same in spelling and pronunciation on all occasions, when the most accurate observation had convinced me, as it must any one, that those who have only partially learned a language continually vary their methods of uttering its words.
That some words have come from one source and been aided by another, is continually apparent in English Gipsy, as for instance in the word for reins, “guiders,” which, until the Rommany reached England, was voidas. In this instance the resemblance in sound between the words undoubtedly conduced to an union. Gibberish may have come from the Gipsy, and at the same time owe something to gabble, jabber, and the old Norse or Icelandic gifra. Lush may owe something to Mr Lushington, something to the earlier English lush, or rosy, and something to the Gipsy and Sanskrit. It is not at all unlikely that the word codger owes, through cadger, a part of its being to kid, a basket, as Mr Halliwell suggests (Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words, 1852), and yet come quite as directly from gorger or gorgio. “The cheese” probably has the Gipsy-Hidustani chiz for a father, and the French chose for a mother, while both originally sprung thousands of years ago in the great parting of the Aryan nations, to be united after so long a separation in a distant island in the far northern seas.
The etymologist who hesitates to adopt this principle of joint sources of derivation, will find abundant instances of something very like it in many English Gipsy words themselves, which, as belonging to a language in extreme decay, have been formed directly from different, but somewhat similarly sounding, words, in the parent German or Eastern Rommany. Thus, schukker, pretty; bi-shukker, slow; tschukko, dry, and tschororanes, secretly, have in England all united in shukár, which expresses all of their meanings.