Crooked Talk: A Penny Dreadful Review
Have you ever wondered how fellow thieves might describe a burglar specializing in second-story home entry? The answer in the late 19th century is “second-story mug.” How do I know? I’ve been reading Crooked Talk, by Jonathon Green.
This book is a comprehensive history of the strange, circuitous, and rather confusing language of crime for the last five hundred years. If you need to know what a prostitute is called in the year 1770 or when they started calling a gun a “gat,” this is the book for you. The correct slang can add an extra touch of authenticity to a persona or a work of fiction.
Mr. Green’s research is excellent and exhaustive. He’s composed an extremely useful resource for the casual Steampunk, the serious author, or the curious bystander. This text is organized by category of crime: all the slang for con men in one chapter, all the slang terms for the police, po-po, peeler, bobby, or Uncle Nabs in another. This leads me to the one glaring issue with this book: it’s a bit difficult to locate the particular slang word or the correct era of slang.
While the back of the book contains an index for looking up any given slang word, it does not contain resources listed by era. Someone setting up a slum’s marketplace in their novella is going to have to do a lot of page-flipping to find the right words for the inhabitants of their setting.
I give this handy blue book three and a half gears out of five. It’s an indispensible resource for the authentic sound of criminal cant, lingo, and speech.
Your Correspondent From The Bookstore,
Penny J. Merriweather