Mose the Fireboy: The Slang of Glance at New York

Frank Chanfrau as Mose.

As I have mentioned, one of the really pleasurable qualities of “Glance at New York” is that it serves as a sort of omnium-gatherum of slang of the era, quite a lot of it from the character Mose, and, presumably, an accurate representation of the Bowery Boy’s distinctive cant, called Flash. It’s interesting to note that a few of Mose’s phrase’s read like dialect representation of an Irish accent — as an example, he says “I’ll spile” for “I’ll spoil” and says that he’s “bilelin’ over” for a fight when he means he’s “boiling over.”

I have gone through the script and made a list of the slang that appears there, with my best effort to define the slang, which involved pouring through old slang dictionaries, scouring old books for similar uses of the phrase, and just sussing out their meaning from context. What follows is a nearly comprehensive dictionary of the slang that appears in the play:

A dozen on the ventilator: A threat, possibly meaning “I will hit you a dozen times on the mouth,” or “I will hit the person who is supposed to leave”

Ain’t this high: Isn’t this great

Bilelin’ over: Very desirous of (boiling over)

Blinker: Black eye

Blow your horn: Sing

Bluff off: Rebuff

City pilot: Tour guide

Crib: Bar

Cross-grained: Irritable; hard to deal with

Cuttin’ round: Making romantic overtures

Dog line: Confidence game involving kidnapping dogs and returning them for rewards

Dodge: Any con game

Drop game: A confidence trick in which the con artist persuades the victim to pay money for a useless item

Drubbing: Beating

Foo-foos: Newcomers; interlopers

Gallus: Terrific

Gas: Nonsense

Give fits: Beat up

His Knibbs: His royal highness (spoken of an affectedly superior person)

Hurry up your cakes: Speed up

I’m blowed: Exclamation of disbelief — “I’m blowed if that ain’t slap up!” 

Lam: Thrash

Lemons: Anything worthless

Loafer fire: False alarm

Mopuss: Money

Muss: Fight

Nuff ced: Enough said

Perfect brick: Utterly fearless

Piece of calico: Woman

Plump: Fight; strike

Prig: Steal

Prime: Great; terrific

Puddin’-head: A stupid person

Run wid der machine: Be part of a volunteer fire department (literally: run alongside a pump on wheels)

Shanty: Apartment; home

Shine: Romance, perhaps from “take a shine to”

Shiner: A bright piece of money

Show the Elephant: Show off the sights of a town

Slap up: Excellent

Slope: Exit; leave

Slung to: Married to

Smack: Kiss

Smoke: Exit quickly

Smug: Steal

Sore-eye: Party (“soiree”)

Spile: Spoil

Stow your gab: Shut up

Take de butt: Hold the back of a portable water pump

Ticker: Pocket watch

Trotters: Feet or legs

Tuck up: To start, very similar to “tuck into”

What a swell I will cut: What a swagger I will effect

Wipe: Handkerchief

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Max Sparber

Max Sparber is a playwright, journalist, and history detective in Omaha, Nebraska.

One Comment

  1. It is not necessarily boinwg down, the Irish people were oppressed and most lost fluency in Gaelic. It takes time to regain a laguage, efforts have been made. Plus, the English spoken is its own (special)unique creation not a copy of London English

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