Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue – Day Seventy-Nine

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…..

Cloak Twitchers

There’s a sense of vibrancy to this phrase, defined in the dictionary as “rogues who lurk about the entrances into dark alleys, and bye-lanes, to snatch cloaks from the shoulders of passengers”. They were listed as 33rd in the “order of villains”, which was a list of how criminals were respected within the canting community and the phrase dates from at least the late seventeenth century. The word twitcher is probably best used to describe bird-watchers now, but it was originally defined as “to give a sharp tug”. I can imagine this being a profitable exercise in the dimly lit and narrow streets that once existed in many towns and cities across the country.