Martin Scorsese’s film Gangs of New York (2002) has a special feature on the DVD called ‘Five Points Vocabulary’. Five Points is a reference to the Manhattan district where the film is set, and the vocabulary is a glossary of slang from that era (1840s–60s) and place.
It looks like this:
The glossary is spread over eight such pages, so rather than add images, I’ve compiled the text below. Fair warning: it’s slang, and therefore not politically correct.
Amusers: fellows who carry snuff or pepper in their pockets, which they throw into a person’s eyes and then run away.
Anglers: small thieves who place a hook on the end of a stick, with which they steal from store windows, doors, etc.
Autum-divers: pickpockets who practice in churches.
Ballum-rancum: a ball where all the dancers are thieves and prostitutes.
Bene: good, first-rate.
Bludget: a female thief who decoys her victims into dark alleys to rob them.
Boarding–school: a penitentiary.
Cove: a man.
Crusher: a policeman.
Cutter: a peculiar instrument that first-class burglars use for cutting through iron chests, doors, etc.
Dancing: sneaking upstairs to commit a larceny.
Fidlam bens: thieves who have no particular lay; fellows that will steal anything they can remove.
Gander: a married man not living at home with this wife.
Groaners: thieves who attend at charity sermons and rob the congregation, steal the prayer books, etc.
Handle: a nose.
High tide: plenty of money.
Jack sprat: a small fellow.
Jigger: a door.
Laced mutton: a common woman.
Moneker: a name.
Mort: a woman.
Nimenog: a very silly fellow.
Partial: putting one’s hand into another man’s pocket, stealing.
Polisher: one who is in prison.
Prim: a handsome woman.
Quartered: to receive a part of the profits.
Queen dick: never; it never happened.
Rabbit: a rowdy (dead rabbit: a very athletic rowdy fellow).
Roughs: men who are ready to fight in any way or shape.
Sand: nerve, guts.
She–he: a transvestite.
Sneak–thief: a fellow who sneaks into doors or windows with latchkeys and steals anything he can carry.
Stag: one who has turned State’s evidence.
Star–gazer: a prostitute or streetwalker.
Steppling–ken: a dance house.
Tumbled: suspected, found it out.
Turtle–dovers: a pair of gloves.
Wooden–coat: a coffin.
It’s a curious, colourful set. Some are obvious loanwords, such as bene from Italian; others are more obscure or have a more characteristically underground flavour (crusher, wooden-coat). A few, like sneak thief and swag, are in more or less standard use today.
The entries appear to be from Vocabulum; or, The Rogue’s Lexicon, an 1859 dictionary of criminal cant by George Washington Matsell – New York’s first police chief. If you have an appetite for this kind of thing, you can browse or download the whole book from the Internet Archive.
In his slang history Language! 500 Years of the Vulgar Tongue, Jonathon Green writes that American cant in Matsell’s time ‘still appears to have been apeing its English origins’. He says Matsell ‘seems to have got it right’, citing reports that both criminals and police officers confirmed the authenticity of the Vocabulum‘s lexicon. (Matsell’s legacy as an agent of the law is a bit shadier.)
There’s no shortage of films of linguistic interest, but it’s not often I see a purely linguistic feature on a DVD. In fact, it’s the only one I can think of off the top of my head. If you know of others, let me know in a comment.