Pitiful Medicant Gives Way To The Cunning Beggar

This article is about the specialized vocabulary of beggars, and the scams beggars pull.

Each decade since begging in the United States became a popular calling has been productive of its own form of deception. There have been ingenious variations, but not very many different schemes, as many think. Old “Philly Pop” himself invented the “lye bug.” He was a Philadelphia veteran of the civil war anyway, and when he found that he could produce an ugly scar on his body by a lye burn which he could pass sometimes for an honorable wound received in the service of his country and at others as the result of a railway accident which incapacitated him for work, he thought himself fixed for life. He made an excellent living for many years, and passed the secret on to the “Erie Crip” and others until the game spread all over the country and was worked to death.

Mr. Forbes says there is hardly an old beggar in this country who has ever had the distinction of being a “burley” whose uprolled left sleeve does not reveal a series of lye-burn scars. In a short while, when “plinging” on that plan became unfruitful, a variation came in the production of scars and blisters by the application of cantharis, or blister beetle.

When this game got old and failed to work some ingenious “husky” invented the “throw-out,” which was popular for many years, and is yet to be met sometimes. In this the “burley” drops his left arm and hand out of joint and drags his left foot as if suffering from a severe form of paralysis. The simulation was well-nigh perfect, and it was a long time before the people discovered the deception. Some of the old-timers got so expert that though they have been taken to Bellevue Hospital and subjected to stiff electric currents to “shake them out,” have been able to lie crippled through it all.

Bonus fun fact: The word blend “slanguage” dates back to 1879. I would have guessed it was a more modern coinage. And some word blends were being used as far back as the 1400s. Here’s an in-depth history of word blends.

PITIFUL MEDICANT GIVES WAY TO THE CUNNING BEGGAR: A Special “Slanguage” Used in the New Fraternity and the Old Threadbare Wiles Are Displaced These Days by Ingenious Trickery to Get Alms. (PDF)

From August 28, 1910

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