It’s always interesting to note how much criminal slang, which is designed to defy common comprehension, eventually finds its way into the popular vocabulary. I believe this is a testament not only to the (arguably lamentable) glamour of transgression, but also to the accidental linguistic genius of those who rob and maim for a living. Words from the underworld manage to pack a lot of meaning into a modicum of characters, plus they often exhibit a certain visual flair that is lacking in more mainstream language. Which of these, for example, is more evocative of the notion of a fatal stab wound: “puncture” or “Harlem sunset”?
If you share my fascination with the lingo of the professionally malevolent, I highly recommend you spend a few sweet moments zipping through Ramaseeana: or, A vocabulary of the peculiar language used by the thugs, which documents the slang employed by India’s notorious stranglers of travelers. Because the Thuggees were such a superstitious lot, many of the words and phrases have to do with omens. Kalee kee manj, for example, is the non-fortuitous sound of fighting cats, while bara muttee is the welcome ululation of lizards in the night. Yet there are also much more prosaic pieces of the lexicon that deserve adoption by modern society, including sewalee (a fox), narta (a cop), and kootha (a thief who steals from other thieves).
(Image via Jonas Liveröd)