'So I went with them to a music booth, where they made me almost drunk with gin, and began to talk their FLASH LANGUAGE, which I did not understand.' - Narrative of the Exploits of Henry Simms, executed at Tyburn, 1746.

'Hablaronse los dos en Germania, de lo qual resulto darme un abraco, y ofrecerseme.' - QUEVEDO. Vida dal gran Tacano.

HAVING in the preceding article endeavoured to afford all necessary information concerning the Rommany, or language used by the Gypsies amongst themselves, we now propose to turn our attention to a subject of no less interest, but which has hitherto never been treated in a manner calculated to lead to any satisfactory result or conclusion; on the contrary, though philosophic minds have been engaged in its consideration, and learned pens have not disdained to occupy themselves with its details, it still remains a singular proof of the errors into which the most acute and laborious writers are apt to fall, when they take upon themselves the task of writing on matters which cannot be studied in the closet, and on which no information can be received by mixing in the society of the wise, the lettered, and the respectable, but which must be investigated in the fields, and on the borders of the highways, in prisons, and amongst the dregs of society. Had the latter system been pursued in the matter now before us, much clearer, more rational, and more just ideas would long since have been entertained respecting the Germania, or language of thieves.

In most countries of Europe there exists, amongst those who obtain their existence by the breach of the law, and by preying upon the fruits of the labours of the quiet and orderly portion of society, a particular jargon or dialect, in which the former discuss their schemes and plans of plunder, without being in general understood by those to whom they are obnoxious. The name of this jargon varies with the country in which it is spoken. In Spain it is called 'Germania'; in France, 'Argot'; in Germany, 'Rothwelsch,' or Red Italian; in Italy, 'Gergo'; whilst in England it is known by many names; for example, 'cant, slang, thieves' Latin,' etc. The most remarkable circumstance connected with the history of this jargon is, that in all the countries in which it is spoken, it has invariably, by the authors who have treated of it, and who are numerous, been confounded with the Gypsy language, and asserted to be the speech of those wanderers who have so long infested Europe under the name of Gitanos, etc. How far this belief is founded in justice we shall now endeavour to show, with the premise that whatever we advance is derived, not from the assertions or opinions of others, but from our own observation; the point in question being one which no person is capable of solving, save him who has mixed with Gitanos and thieves, - not with the former merely or the latter, but with both.

We have already stated what is the Rommany or language of the Gypsies. We have proved that when properly spoken it is to all intents and purposes entitled to the appellation of a language, and that wherever it exists it is virtually the same; that its origin is illustrious, it being a daughter of the Sanscrit, and in consequence in close connection with some of the most celebrated languages of the East, although it at present is only used by the most unfortunate and degraded of beings, wanderers without home and almost without country, as wherever they are found they are considered in the light of foreigners and interlopers. We shall now state what the language of thieves is, as it is generally spoken in Europe; after which we shall proceed to analyse it according to the various countries in which it is used.

The dialect used for their own peculiar purposes amongst thieves is by no means entitled to the appellation of a language, but in every sense to that of a jargon or gibberish, it being for the most part composed of words of the native language of those who use it, according to the particular country, though invariably in a meaning differing more or less from the usual and received one, and for the most part in a metaphorical sense. Metaphor and allegory, indeed, seem to form the nucleus of this speech, notwithstanding that other elements are to be distinguished; for it is certain that in every country where it is spoken, it contains many words differing from the language of that country, and which may either be traced to foreign tongues, or are of an origin at which, in many instances, it is impossible to arrive. That which is most calculated to strike the philosophic mind when considering this dialect, is doubtless the fact of its being formed everywhere upon the same principle - that of metaphor, in which point all the branches agree, though in others they differ as much from each other as the languages on which they are founded; for example, as the English and German from the Spanish and Italian. This circumstance naturally leads to the conclusion that the robber language has not arisen fortuitously in the various countries where it is at present spoken, but that its origin is one and the same, it being probably invented by the outlaws of one particular country; by individuals of which it was, in course of time, carried to others, where its principles, if not its words, were adopted; for upon no other supposition can we account for its general metaphorical character in regions various and distant. It is, of course, impossible to state with certainty the country in which this jargon first arose, yet there is cogent reason for supposing that it may have been Italy. The Germans call it Rothwelsch, which signifies 'Red Italian,' a name which appears to point out Italy as its birthplace; and which, though by no means of sufficient importance to determine the question, is strongly corroborative of the supposition, when coupled with the following fact. We have already intimated, that wherever it is spoken, this speech, though composed for the most part of words of the language of the particular country, applied in a metaphorical sense, exhibits a considerable sprinkling of foreign words; now of these words no slight number are Italian or bastard Latin, whether in Germany, whether in Spain, or in other countries more or less remote from Italy. When we consider the ignorance of thieves in general, their total want of education, the slight knowledge which they possess even of their mother tongue, it is hardly reasonable to suppose that in any country they were ever capable of having recourse to foreign languages, for the purpose of enriching any peculiar vocabulary or phraseology which they might deem convenient to use among themselves; nevertheless, by associating with foreign thieves, who had either left their native country for their crimes, or from a hope of reaping a rich harvest of plunder in other lands, it would be easy for them to adopt a considerable number of words belonging to the languages of their foreign associates, from whom perhaps they derived an increase of knowledge in thievish arts of every description. At the commencement of the fifteenth century no nation in Europe was at all calculated to vie with the Italian in arts of any kind, whether those whose tendency was the benefit or improvement of society, or those the practice of which serves to injure and undermine it. The artists and artisans of Italy were to be found in all the countries of Europe, from Madrid to Moscow, and so were its charlatans, its jugglers, and multitudes of its children, who lived by fraud and cunning. Therefore, when a comprehensive view of the subject is taken, there appears to be little improbability in supposing, that not only were the Italians the originators of the metaphorical robber jargon, which has been termed 'Red Italian,' but that they were mainly instrumental in causing it to be adopted by the thievish race in various countries of Europe.

It is here, however, necessary to state, that in the robber jargon of Europe, elements of another language are to be discovered, and perhaps in greater number than the Italian words. The language which we allude to is the Rommany; this language has been, in general, confounded with the vocabulary used among thieves, which, however, is a gross error, so gross, indeed, that it is almost impossible to conceive the manner in which it originated: the speech of the Gypsies being a genuine language of Oriental origin, and the former little more than a phraseology of convenience, founded upon particular European tongues. It will be sufficient here to remark, that the Gypsies do not understand the jargon of the thieves, whilst the latter, with perhaps a few exceptions, are ignorant of the language of the former. Certain words, however, of the Rommany have found admission into the said jargon, which may be accounted for by the supposition that the Gypsies, being themselves by birth, education, and profession, thieves of the first water, have, on various occasions, formed alliances with the outlaws of the various countries in which they are at present to be found, which association may have produced the result above alluded to; but it will be as well here to state, that in no country of Europe have the Gypsies forsaken or forgotten their native tongue, and in its stead adopted the 'Germania,' 'Red Italian,' or robber jargon, although in some they preserve their native language in a state of less purity than in others. We are induced to make this statement from an assertion of the celebrated Lorenzo Hervas, who, in the third volume of his CATALOGO DE LAS LENGUAS, trat. 3, cap. vi., p. 311, expresses himself to the following effect:- 'The proper language of the Gitanos neither is nor can be found amongst those who scattered themselves through the western kingdoms of Europe, but only amongst those who remained in the eastern, where they are still to be found. The former were notably divided and disunited, receiving into their body a great number of European outlaws, on which account the language in question was easily adulterated and soon perished. In Spain, and also in Italy, the Gitanos have totally forgotten and lost their native language; yet still wishing to converse with each other in a language unknown to the Spaniards and Italians, they have invented some words, and have transformed many others by changing the signification which properly belongs to them in Spanish and Italian.' In proof of which assertion he then exhibits a small number of words of the 'Red Italian,' or allegorical tongue of the thieves of Italy.

It is much to be lamented that a man like Hervas, so learned, of such knowledge, and upon the whole well-earned celebrity, should have helped to propagate three such flagrant errors as are contained in the passages above quoted: 1st. That the Gypsy language, within a very short period after the arrival of those who spoke it in the western kingdoms of Europe, became corrupted, and perished by the admission of outlaws into the Gypsy fraternity. 2ndly. That the Gypsies, in order to supply the loss of their native tongue, invented some words, and modified others, from the Spanish and Italian. 3rdly. That the Gypsies of the present day in Spain and Italy speak the allegorical robber dialect. Concerning the first assertion, namely, that the Gypsies of the west lost their language shortly after their arrival, by mixing with the outlaws of those parts, we believe that its erroneousness will be sufficiently established by the publication of the present volume, which contains a dictionary of the Spanish Gitano, which we have proved to be the same language in most points as that spoken by the eastern tribes. There can be no doubt that the Gypsies have at various times formed alliances with the robbers of particular countries, but that they ever received them in considerable numbers into their fraternity, as Hervas has stated, so as to become confounded with them, the evidence of our eyesight precludes the possibility of believing. If such were the fact, why do the Italian and Spanish Gypsies of the present day still present themselves as a distinct race, differing from the other inhabitants of the west of Europe in feature, colour, and constitution? Why are they, in whatever situation and under whatever circumstances, to be distinguished, like Jews, from the other children of the Creator? But it is scarcely necessary to ask such a question, or indeed to state that the Gypsies of Spain and Italy have kept themselves as much apart as, or at least have as little mingled their blood with the Spaniards and Italians as their brethren in Hungaria and Transylvania with the inhabitants of those countries, on which account they still strikingly resemble them in manners, customs, and appearance. The most extraordinary assertion of Hervas is perhaps his second, namely, that the Gypsies have invented particular words to supply the place of others which they had lost. The absurdity of this supposition nearly induces us to believe that Hervas, who has written so much and so laboriously on language, was totally ignorant of the philosophy of his subject. There can be no doubt, as we have before admitted, that in the robber jargon, whether spoken in Spain, Italy, or England, there are many words at whose etymology it is very difficult to arrive; yet such a fact is no excuse for the adoption of the opinion that these words are of pure invention. A knowledge of the Rommany proves satisfactorily that many have been borrowed from that language, whilst many others may be traced to foreign tongues, especially the Latin and Italian. Perhaps one of the strongest grounds for concluding that the origin of language was divine is the fact that no instance can be adduced of the invention, we will not say of a language, but even of a single word that is in use in society of any kind. Although new dialects are continually being formed, it is only by a system of modification, by which roots almost coeval with time itself are continually being reproduced under a fresh appearance, and under new circumstances. The third assertion of Hervas, as to the Gitanos speaking the allegorical language of which he exhibits specimens, is entitled to about equal credence as the two former. The truth is, that the entire store of erudition of the learned Jesuit, and he doubtless was learned to a remarkable degree, was derived from books, either printed or manuscript. He compared the Gypsy words in the publication of Grellmann with various vocabularies, which had long been in existence, of the robber jargons of Spain and Italy, which jargons by a strange fatuity had ever been considered as belonging to the Gypsies. Finding that the Gypsy words of Grellmann did not at all correspond with the thieves' slang, he concluded that the Gypsies of Spain and Italy had forgotten their own language, and to supply its place had invented the jargons aforesaid, but he never gave himself the trouble to try whether the Gypsies really understood the contents of his slang vocabularies; had he done so, he would have found that the slang was about as unintelligible to the Gypsies as he would have found the specimens of Grellmann unintelligible to the thieves had he quoted those specimens to them. The Gypsies of Spain, it will be sufficient to observe, speak the language of which a vocabulary is given in the present work, and those of Italy who are generally to be found existing in a half-savage state in the various ruined castles, relics of the feudal times, with which Italy abounds, a dialect very similar, and about as much corrupted. There are, however, to be continually found in Italy roving bands of Rommany, not natives of the country, who make excursions from Moldavia and Hungaria to France and Italy, for the purpose of plunder; and who, if they escape the hand of justice, return at the expiration of two or three years to their native regions, with the booty they have amassed by the practice of those thievish arts, perhaps at one period peculiar to their race, but at present, for the most part, known and practised by thieves in general. These bands, however, speak the pure Gypsy language, with all its grammatical peculiarities. It is evident, however, that amongst neither of these classes had Hervas pushed his researches, which had he done, it is probable that his investigations would have resulted in a work of a far different character from the confused, unsatisfactory, and incorrect details of which is formed his essay on the language of the Gypsies.

Having said thus much concerning the robber language in general, we shall now proceed to offer some specimens of it, in order that our readers may be better able to understand its principles. We shall commence with the Italian dialect, which there is reason for supposing to be the prototype of the rest. To show what it is, we avail ourselves of some of the words adduced by Hervas, as specimens of the language of the Gitanos of Italy. 'I place them,' he observes, 'with the signification which the greater number properly have in Italian.'

         Robber jargon    Proper signification of
         of Italy.        the words.

Arm      { Ale            Wings
         { Barbacane      Barbican
Belly      Fagiana        Pheasant
Devil      Rabuino        Perhaps RABBIN, which,
                          in Hebrew, is Master
Earth      Calcosa        Street, road
Eye        Balco          Balcony
Father     Grimo          Old, wrinkled
Fire       Presto         Quick
God        Anticrotto     Probably ANTICHRIST
Hair       Prusa (73)
         { Elmo           Helmet
Head     { Borella (74)
         { Chiurla (75)
Heart      Salsa          Sauce
Man        Osmo           From the Italian UOMO,
                          which is man
Moon       Mocoloso di    Wick of the firmament
             Sant' Alto
Night      Brunamaterna   Mother-brown
Nose       Gambaro        Crab
Sun        Ruffo di Sant' Red one of the firmament
Tongue   { Serpentina     Serpent-like
         { Danosa         Hurtful
Water    { Lenza          Fishing-net
         { Vetta (76)     Top, bud

The Germania of Spain may be said to divide itself into two dialects, the ancient and modern. Of the former there exists a vocabulary, published first by Juan Hidalgo, in the year 1609, at Barcelona, and reprinted in Madrid, 1773. Before noticing this work, it will perhaps be advisable to endeavour to ascertain the true etymology of the word Germania, which signifies the slang vocabulary, or robber language of Spain. We have no intention to embarrass our readers by offering various conjectures respecting its origin; its sound, coupled with its signification, affording sufficient evidence that it is but a corruption of Rommany, which properly denotes the speech of the Roma or Gitanos. The thieves who from time to time associated with this wandering people, and acquired more or less of their language, doubtless adopted this term amongst others, and, after modifying it, applied it to the peculiar phraseology which, in the course of time, became prevalent amongst them. The dictionary of Hidalgo is appended to six ballads, or romances, by the same author, written in the Germanian dialect, in which he describes the robber life at Seville at the period in which he lived. All of these romances possess their peculiar merit, and will doubtless always be considered valuable, and be read as faithful pictures of scenes and habits which now no longer exist. In the prologue, the author states that his principal motive for publishing a work written in so strange a language was his observing the damage which resulted from an ignorance of the Germania, especially to the judges and ministers of justice, whose charge it is to cleanse the public from the pernicious gentry who use it. By far the greatest part of the vocabulary consists of Spanish words used allegorically, which are, however, intermingled with many others, most of which may be traced to the Latin and Italian, others to the Sanscrit or Gitano, Russian, Arabic, Turkish, Greek, and German languages. (77) The circumstances of words belonging to some of the languages last enumerated being found in the Gitano, which at first may strike the reader as singular, and almost incredible, will afford but slight surprise, when he takes into consideration the peculiar circumstances of Spain during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Spain was at that period the most powerful monarchy in Europe; her foot reposed upon the Low Countries, whilst her gigantic arms embraced a considerable portion of Italy. Maintaining always a standing army in Flanders and in Italy, it followed as a natural consequence, that her Miquelets and soldiers became tolerably conversant with the languages of those countries; and, in course of time, returning to their native land, not a few, especially of the former class, a brave and intrepid, but always a lawless and dissolute species of soldiery, either fell in or returned to evil society, and introduced words which they had learnt abroad into the robber phraseology; whilst returned galley- slaves from Algiers, Tunis, and Tetuan, added to its motley variety of words from the relics of the broken Arabic and Turkish, which they had acquired during their captivity. The greater part of the Germania, however, remained strictly metaphorical, and we are aware of no better means of conveying an idea of the principle on which it is formed, than by quoting from the first romance of Hidalgo, where particular mention is made of this jargon:-

'A la cama llama Blanda
Donde Sornan en poblado
A la Fresada Vellosa,
Que mucho vello ha criado.
Dice a la sabana Alba
Porque es alba en sumo grado,
A la camisa Carona,
Al jubon llama apretado:
Dice al Sayo Tapador
Porque le lleva tapado.
Llama a los zapatos Duros,
Que las piedras van pisando.
A la capa llama nuve,
Dice al Sombrero Texado.
Respeto llama a la Espada,
Que por ella es respetado,' etc. etc.

HIDALGO, p. 22-3.

After these few remarks on the ancient Germania of Spain, we now proceed to the modern, which differs considerably from the former. The principal cause of this difference is to be attributed to the adoption by the Spanish outlaws, in latter years, of a considerable number of words belonging to, or modified from, the Rommany, or language of the Gitanos. The Gitanos of Spain, during the last half-century, having, in a great degree, abandoned the wandering habit of life which once constituted one of their most remarkable peculiarities, and residing, at present, more in the cities than in the fields, have come into closer contact with the great body of the Spanish nation than was in former days their practice. From their living thus in towns, their language has not only undergone much corruption, but has become, to a slight degree, known to the dregs of society, amongst whom they reside. The thieves' dialect of the present day exhibits, therefore, less of the allegorical language preserved in the pages of Hidalgo than of the Gypsy tongue. It must be remarked, however, that it is very scanty, and that the whole robber phraseology at present used in Spain barely amounts to two hundred words, which are utterly insufficient to express the very limited ideas of the outcasts who avail themselves of it.

Concerning the Germania of France, or 'Argot,' as it is called, it is unnecessary to make many observations, as what has been said of the language of Hidalgo and the Red Italian is almost in every respect applicable to it. As early as the middle of the sixteenth century a vocabulary of this jargon was published under the title of LANGUE DES ESCROCS, at Paris. Those who wish to study it as it at present exists can do no better than consult LES MEMOIRES DE VIDOCQ, where a multitude of words in Argot are to be found, and also several songs, the subjects of which are thievish adventures.

The first vocabulary of the 'Cant Language,' or English Germania, appeared in the year 1680, appended to the life of THE ENGLISH ROGUE, a work which, in many respects, resembles the HISTORY OF GUZMAN D'ALFARACHE, though it is written with considerably more genius than the Spanish novel, every chapter abounding with remarkable adventures of the robber whose life it pretends to narrate, and which are described with a kind of ferocious energy, which, if it do not charm the attention of the reader, at least enslaves it, holding it captive with a chain of iron. Amongst his other adventures, the hero falls in with a Gypsy encampment, is enrolled amongst the fraternity, and is allotted a 'mort,' or concubine; a barbarous festival ensues, at the conclusion of which an epithalamium is sung in the Gypsy language, as it is called in the work in question. Neither the epithalamium, however, nor the vocabulary, are written in the language of the English Gypsies, but in the 'Cant,' or allegorical robber dialect, which is sufficient proof that the writer, however well acquainted with thieves in general, their customs and manners of life, was in respect to the Gypsies profoundly ignorant. His vocabulary, however, has been always accepted as the speech of the English Gypsies, whereas it is at most entitled to be considered as the peculiar speech of the thieves and vagabonds of his time. The cant of the present day, which, though it differs in some respects from the vocabulary already mentioned, is radically the same, is used not only by the thieves in town and country, but by the jockeys of the racecourse and the pugilists of the 'ring.' As a specimen of the cant of England, we shall take the liberty of quoting the epithalamium to which we have above alluded:-

'Bing out, bien morts, and tour and tour
Bing out, bien morts and tour;
For all your duds are bing'd awast,
The bien cove hath the loure. (78)

'I met a dell, I viewed her well,
She was benship to my watch:
So she and I did stall and cloy
Whatever we could catch.

'This doxy dell can cut ben whids,
And wap well for a win,
And prig and cloy so benshiply,
All daisy-ville within.

'The hoyle was up, we had good luck,
In frost for and in snow;
Men they did seek, then we did creep
And plant the roughman's low.'

It is scarcely necessary to say anything more upon the Germania in general or in particular; we believe that we have achieved the task which we marked out for ourselves, and have conveyed to our readers a clear and distinct idea of what it is. We have shown that it has been erroneously confounded with the Rommany, or Gitano language, with which it has nevertheless some points of similarity. The two languages are, at the present day, used for the same purpose, namely, to enable habitual breakers of the law to carry on their consultations with more secrecy and privacy than by the ordinary means. Yet it must not be forgotten that the thieves' jargon was invented for that purpose, whilst the Rommany, originally the proper and only speech of a particular nation, has been preserved from falling into entire disuse and oblivion, because adapted to answer the same end. It was impossible to treat of the Rommany in a manner calculated to exhaust the subject, and to leave no ground for future cavilling, without devoting a considerable space to the consideration of the robber dialect, on which account we hope we shall be excused many of the dry details which we have introduced into the present essay. There is a link of connection between the history of the Roma, or wanderers from Hindustan, who first made their appearance in Europe at the commencement of the fifteenth century, and that of modern roguery. Many of the arts which the Gypsies proudly call their own, and which were perhaps at one period peculiar to them, have become divulged, and are now practised by the thievish gentry who infest the various European states, a result which, we may assert with confidence, was brought about by the alliance of the Gypsies being eagerly sought on their first arrival by the thieves, who, at one period, were less skilful than the former in the ways of deceit and plunder; which kind of association continued and held good until the thieves had acquired all they wished to learn, when they left the Gypsies in the fields and plains, so dear to them from their vagabond and nomad habits, and returned to the towns and cities. Yet from this temporary association were produced two results; European fraud became sharpened by coming into contact with Asiatic craft, whilst European tongues, by imperceptible degrees, became recruited with various words (some of them wonderfully expressive), many of which have long been stumbling-stocks to the philologist, who, whilst stigmatising them as words of mere vulgar invention, or of unknown origin, has been far from dreaming that by a little more research he might have traced them to the Sclavonic, Persian, or Romaic, or perhaps to the mysterious object of his veneration, the Sanscrit, the sacred tongue of the palm-covered regions of Ind; words originally introduced into Europe by objects too miserable to occupy for a moment his lettered attention - the despised denizens of the tents of Roma.


Those who have done me the honour to peruse this strange wandering book of mine, must frequently have noticed the word 'Busno,' a term bestowed by the Spanish Gypsy on his good friend the Spaniard. As the present will probably be the last occasion which I shall have to speak of the Gitanos or anything relating to them, it will perhaps be advisable to explain the meaning of this word. In the vocabulary appended to former editions I have translated Busno by such words as Gentile, savage, person who is not a Gypsy, and have stated that it is probably connected with a certain Sanscrit noun signifying an impure person. It is, however, derived immediately from a Hungarian term, exceedingly common amongst the lower orders of the Magyars, to their disgrace be it spoken. The Hungarian Gypsies themselves not unfrequently style the Hungarians Busnoes, in ridicule of their unceasing use of the word in question. The first Gypsies who entered Spain doubtless brought with them the term from Hungary, the language of which country they probably understood to a certain extent. That it was not ill applied by them in Spain no one will be disposed to deny when told that it exactly corresponds with the Shibboleth of the Spaniards, 'Carajo,' an oath equally common in Spain as its equivalent in Hungary. Busno, therefore, in Spanish means EL DEL CARAJO, or he who has that term continually in his mouth. The Hungarian words in Spanish Gypsy may amount to ten or twelve, a very inconsiderable number; but the Hungarian Gypsy tongue itself, as spoken at the present day, exhibits only a slight sprinkling of Hungarian words, whilst it contains many words borrowed from the Wallachian, some of which have found their way into Spain, and are in common use amongst the Gitanos.

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