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I’ve been slowly making my way through the Dictionary of American Underworld Lingo, which is less of an endurance contest than reading the entire Oxford English Dictionary, to be sure.  I’m dividing the interesting entries up into categories, the first of which are the cute ones that make early 20th-century criminals seem like adorable ragamuffins.  Keep in mind that there are an enormous number of offensive and scary terms I won’t be posting at all.

I cross-referenced the online OED for all the terms and indicated if it was found with an identical or related meaning.

Axeman: a prison barber

Beagles: sausages

Cackle-factory: insane asylum

Camisole: a strait jacket [OED, c. 1881]

Chatterer: machine gun

Die: to leave the underworld and go straight

Diver: one who robs drunkards [OED: pickpocket, through 1887]

Dream gum: opium

Eel: a slippery and unprincipled fellow [OED: U.S. A nickname for a New Englander. c. 1840]

Eye-wash: tear gas

Fourth of July: a gun fight

Get out the crying towel: “stop complaining”

Giggle academy: insane asylum [OED: giggle-house Austral. and N.Z. slang c. 1919]

To have go-go in one’s eyes: to be determined to escape from prison

Googs: eyeglasses

Grab scenery: to ride the top of a freight car (“Hobo”)

Griddle: to interrogate [‘grill’ is not listed but the OED shows it already in common usage]


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