Brian Chapman trawls through the language of roguish ne'er-do-wells, slovens, snook-cockers and other miscreants
Usage: A slobbering drunk person.
Etymology: Slubber is most likely derived from slobber, gullion is of uncertain origin but possibly from cullion, a Middle English word for testicle. In Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel, slabberdegullion is employed amid a torrent of insults including ‘slapsauce fellows’, ‘drunken roysters’ and ‘drowsy loiterers’.
Usage: A mischievous person, usually a youth, who ‘cocks a snook’ at social convention.
Etymology: Most likely a corruption of larking. In 19th-century Australia, impoverished teenagers who formed gangs to cause a ruckus and flout convention were known as larrikins. Still in use today, its meaning has softened to describe youthful high spirits.
Usage: Someone who acts in a crafty, stealthy fashion in order to get something for nothing.
Etymology: Sneck is a Scottish dialect word for latch, also used in the north of England. A snecklifter is a person who, upon arriving at an inn, would lift the latch on the door and peer inside to see if there was anyone likely to buy him a drink.
Usage: 17th-century term for a pickpocket or thief: literally one who cut purses to steal their contents.
Etymology: Unskilled as a nimble- fingered dip (pickpocket), a cutpurse would use a knife to cut through purse-strings attached to an unsuspecting victim’s belt, taking the whole purse rather than dipping in and stealing the valuable items.
hookum snivey, n
Usage: Someone who feigns illness to elicit compassion and money. Also known as hook’em snivey and hookem-snivvy.
Etymology: Hookum is likely to derive from hook and means to lure by trickery, and snivey is an old word for deceit.The expression was used in Victorian London to describe beggars who pretended to be sick or lame.