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Saint Benedict's Tongue

Saint Benedict's Tongue: Cant, thieves' cant, thieves' slang
Saint Benedict's Script: A series of symbols written by criminals in chalk or paint, or carved into walls, to communicate with other criminals. Also used to refer to letter-writing etiquette and codes among the criminal classes.
From Saint Benedict, who was executed because he refused to repent his beliefs in face of his captors and instead spoke only nonsense when questioned.  
  Saint Benedict's Tongue (also known as Thieves' Speech or simply Cant) is the slang spoken particularly by the criminals of [Placeholder: City Name]. It's made of a mixture of abbreviations, religious or cultural references, local slang and other disguised phrases, and at times can be spoken so thickly that it entirely disguises the real meaning of the sentence and seems like another nonsense language altogether.
  The written variant consists of symbols used to convey simple ideas, usually of a criminal nature.  

Thieves' Script

Saint Benedict's Script by Rey-Writes
The written form of Cant consists of a series of symbols, used to indicate things to other criminals. It is not suitable for writing full letters or long communications, as it has little in the way of sophisticated grammar or even a large vocabulary. The specific symbols are made to be largely abstract and are changed over time, to prevent wary homeowners or the city watch getting wise to their meanings.   Basic symbols can be combined to give more complex information, but are not really suitable for conveying messages, due to the lack of grammar or, for that matter, verbs.   The symbols are usually chalked onto walls in inconspicuous places, often where they are unlikely to be seen by anyone except a thief. (E.g. these symbols may be found on the chimney stacks of some houses, where only a climbing thief will see them.) They may be scratched or carved into wood or stone if the owner of the house is believed to be particularly unobservant, or if the symbol needs to be more permanent, such as a dire warning.  

Saint Benedict's Tongue: Dictionary

Where it is known, the origin of the slang term is listed in the far right. This final column is a work in progress.

Cant TermUseDefinitionOrigin
AnointVerbBeatFrom the idea that someone who has been severely beaten will need to "anoint" their wounds afterwards.
Ash treeNounGallowsGallows in the city were supposedly traditionally made from the wood of ash trees.
BlinkerVerbTo give someone a black eyeFrom the idea that a person with a black eye will have difficulty seeing, like a horse wearing blinkers.
BluebottleNounPolice constableFrom the Watch's blue uniforms.
BrassNounMoney, coinFrom metal coins (not that these have ever been made of brass)
BroadsmanNounCharlatan who cheats at cardsFrom Broads
ButtonerNounAssistant to a broadsman; someone who helps another person cheat at cardsUnknown
Canting crewNounA gang of thievesOriginally from the term "thieves' cant" meaning the jargon used by thieves and criminals.
Canting crowNounAn unlicensed doctor, usually one catering to criminalsOriginally from the term "thieves' cant" meaning the jargon used by thieves and criminals. Potentially a pun on "canting crew".
ChurchVerbRemove identifying marks fromFrom the idea of making the item "pure" i.e. untraceable.
CobblerNounFence; receiver of stolen goodsUnknown
CrowNounDoctorPossibly based on the shape of plague doctors' masks. Possibly based on the cynical idea that doctors show up to dying patients like crows to carrion.
Dance beneath the ashMetaphor/IdiomTo be hangedGallows in the city were supposedly traditionally made from the wood of ash trees.
Hemp feverNounHangedFrom the hempen rope used to make a noose.
MagpieNounWealthy businessmanFrom "magnate". May also be a reference to their attraction to shiny things (i.e. their large fortunes.)
MonnikerNounSignatureOriginally a term used to describe a thief's unique mark (see above) which acted as a kind of signature when scrawled near to other thief script. Now used to refer to traditional signatures as well.
NailsNounLockpicksFrom their shape.
NateNounWealthy businessmanFrom "magnate".
OutsiderNounSomeone who infiltrates premises by disguising themselves as staff or a guard, or posing as someone with a right to be there.From the idea of getting an "outsider" onto the inside. Self-evident.
PaperhangerNounForger, esp. of cheques or banknotesUnknown
RookeryNounSlumAs the slums have been said to resemble (both in sight, sound and smell) rooks' nesting colonies.
Saint Benedict's TongueNounCant; thieves' speak; thieves' jargonFrom Saint Benedict, a martyr who refused to repent or speak to his captors and instead spoke only nonsense.
SanctifyVerbRemove identifying marks fromFrom the idea of making the item "pure" i.e. untraceable.
SetterNounWatchman, guardNamed after setter dogs, who are known for obediently and persistently tracking prey.
SharpNounCard swindler, cheater at cardsUnknown
SighthoundNounLookout, guard at a fixed postSimilar to Setter, sighthounds are known for hunting by sight and speed.
SixteethNounA six-barrelled pistol or gunFrom the six barrels. Origin of "teeth" unknown.
SkipperNounSecond-in-command; sometimes leader of a small or temporary crewFrom naval slang.
SparkNounJewel or gemstone, esp. a diamondFrom their small, bright appearance.


32 Words.

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Author's Notes

Many slang terms from the list are borrowed from various lists of Victorian slang.
  The triangle base of the Thieves' Script is very loosely based on set of thieves' cant symbols by

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Dec 20, 2021 23:08 by Amélie I. S. Debruyne

That's very interesting slang and cant :D I do recognise a few of them from Victorian slang :p

Jan 3, 2022 20:16 by TJ Trewin

I LOVE GLYPHS! This script is fantastic and I particularly love the example of a glyph that combines several meanings together to convey a lot of information about a building or establishment.   I featured this in my inspirations article for the reading challenge! :D

TJ's WorldEmber 2021 Inspirations
Generic article | Nov 20, 2022

Get inspired and try out some of these techniques in your next article!

Journals of Yesteryear

Please consider voting for me in the 2024 Worldbuilding Awards!
Jan 4, 2022 11:06

Thank you so much! I had a lot of fun making it and I'm glad it interests you too!

Jan 8, 2022 07:39 by Tillerz

Oh I like that. Looks like a well thought-through little language for the thieving folks. I hoped I had the endurance to make one myself, too.

Jan 8, 2022 12:29

I would recommend trying it! :) Making slang or a dialect needs a lot less technical knowledge than a whole language, and you can always add more words as they occur to you, so it's a lot of fun!

Jan 30, 2022 21:34 by Adam Roberts

Really cool! I like the symbols a lot, and this seems really realistic.