Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue – Day Twenty-Six

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…..

To Bilk

The dictionary defines this as “to cheat. Let us bilk the rattling cove; let us cheat the hackney coachman of his fare”. This is one of those words that has somehow survived in its original form, with bilking today being the term for driving off without paying for petrol. So, pretty much the same meaning as running off from a taxi without paying, although the word can be used to describe any act of fraud or attempt to withhold money.

The dictionary was published around 1800, so the word was more common then. It nearly fell out of usage during the early part of the nineteenth century, but seems to be a little more in vogue again now. Back in the seventeenth century, the word bilk mean to spoil an opponent’s score in a game, so the word is some derivative of that.