The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue was first published at the end of the eighteenth century, and given that the Coronavirus crisis is giving too much time to read books, I thought I’d pick a daily word from it until I got bored…..
The dictionary defines this as “the twenty-third rank of canters, who carry pins, tape, ballads and obscene books to sell, but live mostly by stealing”. Canter seems to be a miscreant of various types, and the 23rd rank refers to a 1698 dictionary which tried to place the criminal fraternity in 27 different ranks, with the most important ranked highly.
The original meaning of a bawdry basket was someone (nearly always female) who carried a basket of clothes and then stole more clothing that they found, claiming to anyone asking that it was their own. Over time, this got corrupted in criminal slang to meaning someone carrying a basket of stolen goods.