Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue – Day Three

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 traditional meaning of this word is to describe the religious movement that believes baptism is only relevant and meaningful if it’s done by free choice. So being baptised as a baby wouldn’t count, as it wouldn’t be a conscious decision of behalf of the child.

Anyway, that’s not the slang meaning, which is “a pickpocket caught in the fact, and punished with the discipline of the pump or horse-pond” according to the dictionary. This ‘caught in the fact’ is interesting, not a phrase I’ve heard before, but it seems to be a common nineteenth century alternative to ‘caught in the act’. The link is that if a criminal is ducked into water for his crime that this is like a new baptism, hence the use of the word anabaptist.

I’m not sure how common the usage of this word was, nearly every mention on-line is from the dictionary itself, with no obvious usage in earlier newspapers. Given that we don’t tend to punish criminals by chucking them in water any more, I can’t see this being a word brought back into usage.